Yusheng means raw fish, but it’s pronounced the same as another word that means increasing abundance, which is why raw fish salad is eaten on Chinese New Years, when it is traditional to dine on foods whose names or shapes may augur good fortune in the year ahead. Yusheng, however, isn’t an ancient Chinese tradition – it was invented in a Chinese restaurant in Singapore in 1964, and it isn’t widely eaten in China proper, though its popularity has spread to Malaysia and Hong Kong.
Peninsula Malaysian Cuisine on Eat Street is offering yusheng (listed as Good Luck Rainbow Raw Fish Salad) as one of the courses in their 12-course Chinese New Years menu, available through Feb. 21. The complete banquet costs $268 for a party of 10, but you can also order the individual courses a la carte, and the yusheng ($12) is definitely worth trying. The new year – the year of the Rat, was actually last Thursday, but you aren’t too late for yusheng – it’s traditionally eaten on the seventh day of the new year (i.e., this coming Thursday, February 14), which happens to be the same day that everybody turns a year older, according to the Chinese way of keeping track.
The ingredients for yusheng are on display on a table near Peninsula’s entrance: mounds of shredded daikon and jicama in shades of bright red, yellow, orange and green, slices of raw squid, dried papaya and bags of wonton chips and sesame seeds. If you order the dish, the ingredients are brought to your table on a platter, and the server does the final assembly, adding a few small strips of raw salmon, pouring over a sweet plum sauce, and enthusiastically tossing it all together with chopsticks.
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We sampled a couple of other auspiciously named dishes, but our luck was mixed: the Good Luck Seafood Crabmeat Soup ($12/$18) was delicious, but the House Full of Silver & Gold Buddhist Yam Pot (actually, a basket of fried taro root stuffed with stir-fried vegetables just wasn’t very interesting, or very tasty. Still, I would gladly go back to try some of the other New Years Specials, like the Prosperity Seaweed with Chinese Mushroom and Dried Oyster, the Double Lobster, or the Coconut Butter Jumbo Shrimp. And I am a big fan of a lot of the Malaysian dishes on the regular menu, such as the nyonya laksa curry soup ($7.95), and spicy golden tofu ($10.95).
Peninsula Malaysian Cuisine, 2608 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis, 612-871-8282.
Just down the street at Rainbow Chinese Restaurant, chef-owner Tammy Wong is offering a list of a la carte specials through Saturday, February 16 that ranges from a starter of king crab salad, celery hearts and Belgian endive tossed with yuzu dressing and topped with caviar ($13), to entrees of tangerine beef fried with kumquat, ginger and rock sugar ($16), Chilean sea bass with black bean sauce over spinach ($30) .and an egg custard with asparagus and king crab ($16).
Rainbow Chinese Restaurant, 2739 Nicollet Ave.,Minneapolis,(612) 870-7084.