By Circle Editorial Team
As the return of the “dong-dong-chiang” melodies indicates, the Lunar New Year festivities are upon us! With it comes the indulgence of palatable traditional goodies like love letters, pineapple tarts, and more. Reunion dinner aside, one of the biggest meals during this festive period would be Yusheng (also known as Lo Hei).
Literally meaning “raw fish” in Mandarin - Yusheng is a salad dish comprising thin slices of raw fish and various seasonings that are mixed together as diners toss the ingredients. Since “fish (鱼)” in Mandarin is a homonym for “abundance (余)”, Yusheng (鱼生) became widely accepted as an allegory for Yúshēng (余升), which means ever-increasing abundance. As a symbol of abundance, prosperity and vigour, the dish is a definite staple for anyone celebrating Lunar New Year.
Prosperity isn’t the only thing that Yusheng has an abundance of. It is rich in oil and sugar, and the fact that most people eat multiple servings of Yusheng over the 14-day festive period makes it a serious belt buster. To many, this would be a surprising conclusion. After all, vegetables and raw fish are typically associated with being healthy.
This leads to a dilemma for avid Yusheng fans. Cutting the amount of, or even an entire category of condiments may be the easy way out, but doing so would be compromising the symbolism that it also brings.
We are sure you don’t really want to lose those gains and losses made from your sports and fitness routines. Hence, we’ve compiled a list of substitutes and/or ways you can consider to achieve the best of both worlds. Huat ah!
- Salmon belly is the most commonly used meat in Yusheng. However, when compared to other lean fish, it is not only high in fat but also provides barely any protein. The higher proportion of fat leads directly to more caloric intake.
- The most straightforward, healthier alternative, would be to replace the commonly used salmon belly, with a salmon fillet, which is lower in fat.
- One could also opt to replace raw salmon completely with the aforementioned lean fish, which would include swordfish and tuna.
- For Yusheng, plums (Prunus salicina) in Mandarin (李) is a homonym for “gifts” (礼). As part of the Chinese proverb (投桃报李), it symbolizes the strong ties between family and friends (possibly via the trading of gifts). Yet, the thing about plums is that they can refer to two different fruits. The other variant, Prunus mume, in Mandarin (梅) is actually a homonym for “nothingness” (没) or even rot (霉)!
- Store-bought plum sauce (itself a popular Cantonese condiment)? Usually made of the latter. Yikes! Maybe it is time to go homemade, especially if the supposed symbolism is one that you and your family treasure for the upcoming year. One easy way to differentiate the two is to look for the one that doesn’t have fine hair on the skin.
- If you aren’t confident in picking the correct plum, how about swapping it out completely for apples? An apple a day keeps the doctor away, after all. Apple skin is red, and when the fruit is made into sauce, comes in an equally auspicious yellow. Apples are homonyms with peace in Mandarin too! That said, it is generally better to make your own apple sauce by blending it raw, than to go for a store bought option that is higher in sugar.
- Also known as the “fruit of longevity”, peanuts are icons for eternal youth. When used in Yusheng in its crushed form, it also symbolizes a house filled with gold and silver. Yet, despite being a good source of protein, peanuts are a high-calorie food. It is also a common and most severe allergen. Not a good look if you have an eye on health.
- A great substitute with a similar symbolism is the pecan. These tree nuts are known for their ability to lower bad cholesterol, improve brain function, and control blood sugar levels.
- Another alternative that you can consider is crushed almonds, which typically represents bliss. Almonds have more calcium and iron, calcium and Vitamin E, the latter great for boosting your immune system.
- The deep-fried “golden pillow” crackers are harder to find close substitutes for. They do share a similar role with crushed peanuts in symbolizing prosperity, so one can probably settle for alternatives that retain the crunchy texture of the cracker.
- Enter multigrain crackers. Unlike its flour-based counterparts, the multigrain cracker is usually baked instead of being deep-fried. This is great news for those seeking to cut down on their fat intake, while still getting that satisfying crispiness in their Yusheng serving.
Of course, there is always the option to tweak the traditional recipe even further by adding other ingredients to spruce up the plate. As always, remember to go for healthier options, use healthier cooking methods, and eat in moderation. Above all else, bask in the festivities. You’ve earned it!
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