When the National Environment Agency (NEA) banned the sale of raw freshwater fish in all food establishments in December 2015, hotels and restaurants came up with alternatives for their yusheng, or raw fish salad, during the last Chinese New Year.
With the ban still in place this year, many hotels and restaurants are using cooked ingredients in their yusheng dishes, while some have introduced more exotic seafood options.
At least three restaurants are featuring poached crab on their platters. As it is the Year of the Rooster, some restaurants are also using chicken or chicken bak kwa.
Yusheng is a quintessential part of the lo hei tradition, in which diners toss the salad while spouting auspicious sayings.
In a statement to The Sunday Times, the NEA and Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said that consuming raw freshwater fish “poses a significant food safety risk as they have higher bacterial contamination than saltwater fish”.
The ban came after an outbreak of more than 350 Group B streptococcus bacteria infections and two fatalities. About 150 cases were linked to the consumption of raw freshwater fishes such as toman (snakehead) and song fish (Asian bighead carp) that are typically eaten with Chinese porridge.
While the traditional yusheng dish does not use freshwater fish, but saltwater fish such as ikan parang and salmon, hotels and restaurants remain mindful that diners may still be wary of consuming raw fish.
Stalls in hawker centres and coffee shops require approval from the authorities to sell raw saltwater fish dishes. Restaurants do not as they source the fish from AVA-approved suppliers and follow stringent food hygiene and storage standards.
As of last month, 32 eateries, including restaurants and hotels, have been approved to sell raw saltwater fish dishes.
Park Hotel Clarke Quay is offering a yusheng with poached Sri Lankan crab. The hotel’s banquet chef, James Wong, 51, has noticed that about 60 per cent of customers who have booked festive dinners have opted to upgrade from yusheng with raw salmon to its Tower of Fortune crab meat lo hei.
He says crabs are a symbol of prosperity and success, as the first word of the Chinese term for crabs (pang) sounds like the term for top scorers in the ancient Chinese imperial examinations.
Man Fu Yuan at InterContinental Singapore is rolling out a black truffle yusheng with poached Hokkaido crab meat, fried silver bait fish and fruit (pictured above).
The hotel’s executive chef Eric Neo says: “Hokkaido crab meat retains its natural sweetness even when cooked.”
The restaurant also offers yusheng with other cooked ingredients such as lobster and abalone and also with raw salmon.
Chef Neo still expects a “positive response” to the traditional yusheng as “raw fish has always been a key ingredient in yusheng for its auspicious significance”.
Other restaurants are upping the ante by using more exotic raw seafood.
The restaurant has added more options for cooked ingredients such as poached conch and blue swimmer crab, as well as launched a vegan-friendly fruit yusheng this year.
Some diners are split between sticking to yusheng with raw fish and trying other versions with cooked ingredients. Creative director Wilson Wang, 28, who eats sashimi regularly, says: “To be safe, I buy sashimi-grade tuna and salmon from Japanese fish markets to add to my yusheng at home.”
Music producer Magdalene Chow, 37, is not bothered by the raw fish scare. “I eat Japanese food regularly. It is weird to have cooked food in yusheng.”