In Western culture, it's tradition to wish others a happy New Year. For the Lunar New Year, celebrated this past week, many people with roots in Southeast Asia have another tradition: a dish called Yusheng, which in English translates to "Prosperity Toss" — and which will probably end up on the floor.
This colorful dish, which can also be interpreted as "an increase in abundance," or simply "good luck," comprises raw fish, herbs, spices and fresh and pickled fruits and vegetables. And it is prepared for the specific purpose of throwing up in the air.
Alex Wong, who immigrated to the U.S from Malaysia in the 1980s, leaving his family behind, invited NPR and several of his American friends to his Laurel, Md., home to watch him prepare his mother's recipe for Yusheng.
Once the meal is done, the tossing process begins. All participants insert their chopsticks into the plate and toss the salad while loudly offering wishes of prosperity.
See the photo gallery above to join the celebration.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Finally today, we already mentioned Valentine's Day. Another occasion being celebrated right about now is the halfway mark of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Many people with roots in Southeast Asia will be celebrating with a traditional dish, a dish that is colorful, flavorful and will probably end up on the floor. It's called yusheng, and it's prepared for the specific purpose of being thrown up in the air. Alex Wong immigrated to the U.S. from Malaysia in the '80s. And he invited us into the kitchen of his home in Laurel, Md., to watch him prepare yusheng.
ALEX WONG: I am grating some radish. You have to grate it. You know, it has to be very, very fine. And the idea is to grate it long. The idea of long - you know, it's a sense of longevity in life.
MARTIN: He slices carrots, pomelo fruits, lime leaves according to his mother's recipe. It's a long list of herbs, spices, fresh and pickled fruits and vegetables - more than a dozen ingredients piled separately on the plate, each with its own meaning.
WONG: Chinese pickle, onions, so it gives it the slight pungent flavor so that, you know, it wakes up your senses when you eat it. And so it says welcome to the new year. You know, you're going to start the new year wide awake.
MARTIN: Even the red plate has meaning.
WONG: A very auspicious color to represent something that's, you know, celebratory, something that, you know, brings good fortune.
MARTIN: Wong may have left his family in Malaysia behind, but he's not celebrating alone. He's invited his American friends to share the new year's joy. Nearly two dozen guests crowd into Wong's dining room, mostly friends from work. Before getting started, Wong gives them a quick how-to lesson with a flash card with the Chinese greeting meaning rise.
WONG: In the tossing process, all partakers have to insert their chopsticks into the plate and toss a salad while loudly saying...
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Lo hei.
WONG: Thank you. You all passed the quiz. Thus throwing up and invoking the energy of good fortune to one's life for that year. You could liken this to an energy portal in a futuristic movie releasing all its energy all at once.
MARTIN: As the guests gather closely around the salad, Wong opens a red packet filled with spices and sprinkles it on the salad.
WONG: Ready, go.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Lo hei, lo hei, lo hei.
WONG: Toss it some more. Give it a good stir. Yeah, give it a good stir.
MARTIN: This will be the only time in the new year that this dish is served. After Wong has finished distributing the salad...
WONG: Wow, look at that mess around the plate. (Laughter) I've got to start cleaning up that. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.