SINGAPORE – Each year, restaurateurs rack their brains to come up with new ideas to make their Chinese New Year dishes stand out.
The top makeover candidate is usually yusheng. Few items get dressed in as many fresh guises as the beloved raw fish salad, which kicks off almost every Chinese meal during this festive period in Singapore.
Yusheng is also known as lohei, literally “tossing up” in Cantonese, as everyone at the table joins in to mix the salad while spouting propitious sayings.
Believed to have been created in Singapore in the 1960s, it has become synonymous with the festival here and in Malaysia, though it has not quite caught on with Chinese communities in other parts of the world.
Over the years, what started out as a mishmash of shredded vegetables like carrot and radish – plus candied ginger, winter melon, and raw wolf herring fish tossed with plum sauce and crispy crackers – has evolved into new renditions.
Salmon is now the favoured fish, though more upmarket restaurants may use hamachi, lobster or abalone as well. Instead of vegetables, there are fruit versions as well. The dressing is more varied, with chefs experimenting with fruit like raspberry and yuzu, or infusing it with truffles.
Another trend is to style the vegetables in the shape of the zodiac animal of the year. This being the Year of the Rabbit, chefs have been churning out cute and bouncy bunny iterations. And shredded radish is perfect for modelling white rabbit fur.
But some chefs are opting to keep it chic, taking the theme a little less literally by using calligraphy or making the animal aspect more subtle.
Whatever your fancy, here are six hopping fun designs to nibble on over the next 15 days.
1. Shang Palace
Shangri-La Singapore, 22 Orange Grove Road, tel: 6213-4398
Dish: Auspicious Rabbit Yusheng
Price: $388 (for six persons)
Available: Until Feb 5
This happy bunny is cute enough to appeal to both kids and adults. The rabbit face is constructed using shredded radish, with a cherry tomato for a nose and red pickled ginger forming the inside of the bunny ears. It sits in a nest of shredded carrot and other vegetables.
The yusheng is amped up with South African abalone, Hokkaido scallop, local lobster and Scottish smoked salmon – hence the hefty price tag. It is available only for dine-in, with minimum two days’ advance order.
2. Min Jiang @ Dempsey
7A and 7B Dempsey Road, tel: 6774-0122
Dish: Auspicious Abundance “Lo Hei”
Price: $238 (large portion)
Available: Till Feb 5
The chefs of this Chinese restaurant run by Goodwood Park Hotel deserve top marks for originality in their take on the bunny theme.
The zodiac animal is invoked in an oblique way with a platter of raw salmon fashioned to look like two fat carrots. Two small rabbits made of osmanthus jelly, with goji berries to mark out their ears, play second fiddle at the side. There are also whole abalones topped with tobiko.
For a twist, the vegetables, which include romaine lettuce and edible flowers, are added to the seafood, instead of the other way around. And there is plenty of crunch from deep-fried spring roll skin and Vietnamese rice paper coated in salted egg and pork floss, as well as crushed peanuts, pine nuts and sesame seeds. The dressing, too, is an invigorating mix of sour plum, calamansi, strawberry sauce and pineapple sauce.
This design is available only for dine-in.
3. Man Fu Yuan
Level 2 InterContinental Singapore, 80 Middle Road, tel: 6825-1008
Dish: “Prosperity Rabbit” Yusheng
Price: $588 (extra large)
Measuring 60 inches (1.5m) across, this majestic-looking yusheng is enough for two or three tables of 10 persons each, making it perfect for company gatherings or a big extended family.
Shredded carrots are used to form the Chinese character for rabbit, “tu”. A colourful bevy of vegetables like radish and purple cabbage make up the background. Seafood such as mini abalone, lobster, sea urchin, ikura, dried shredded Hokkaido scallop, salmon and crispy fish skin are added for the toss, along with a dressing of honey and pink guava.
Representing the obligatory shower of gold are grains of puffed rice.
The dish is available only for dine-in.
4. Jade Restaurant
The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, 1 Fullerton Square, tel: 6877-8188
Dish: Premium Year of the Rabbit Gold Rush Yu Sheng
Available: Till Feb 5
You get an adorable rabbit with flyaway ears made out of julienned radish, with cherries for its eyes and nose. There is even a bow tie of sorts, fashioned out of mandarin orange wedges and sliced strawberries.
The seafood comprises Norwegian smoked salmon and 10-head South African abalone, while the dressing is made with kumquat. For added sparkle, the yusheng is topped with housemade champagne jelly to represent “gold cubes”.
This is available only for dine-in with minimum three days’ advance order. It is also available upon request at Town Restaurant and The Courtyard at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore.
5. Peony Jade
Level 2 Amara Singapore, 165 Tanjong Pagar Road, tel: 8886-8913
Dish: The Gold Rush Prosperous Rabbit-shaped “Lou-Hei” Yusheng
Price: $488.88 for large
Available: Till Feb 5
The rabbit, seen in its side profile, is made completely of shredded organic daikon (Japanese radish), except for the grape that forms its eye. Adding some colour is a smattering of candied vegetables and pickles.
Seafood such as Asian lobster carpaccio, whole abalone, hamachi, Atlantic salmon and ikura bring up the luxe factor, as does the champagne jelly. The passion fruit sauce adds acidity while the lychee pops provide some fun.
This is available only for dine-in.
6. Ya Ge
Level 3 Orchid Hotel, 1 Tras Link, tel: 6818-6831
Dish: Prosperity Smoked Salmon Yu Sheng
Price: $68 (six persons) and $98 (10 persons) with added fish skin; $98 (six persons) and $128 (10 persons) with added abalone
Available: Till Feb 5
Ya Ge, a modern Chinese restaurant that opened last year at Orchid Hotel Singapore, is celebrating its first Chinese New Year with a selection of dine-in and takeaway dishes.
Instead of fashioning the vegetables into the shape of a rabbit, the chef has interpreted the theme with bunny puddings made with mango juice and milk. These are served on the side, to be added in just before the tossing.
The salad itself is a refreshing mix of fruit and vegetables like julienned strawberries, jackfruit, carrots and radish. There are also pieces of crispy deep-fried lotus root, adorned with edible flowers. The dressing is a tangy mix of roselle and hawthorn that awakens your appetite for the rest of the meal.
There is a choice of added crispy fish skin or baby abalone, and you can have it for dine-in or takeaway.