The claws are out again – this time over yusheng, which BBC called ‘Singapore’s salad’

One of many yusheng types.
The Straits Times

This article was updated at 10:25am on Feb 22, 2019.

  • A BBC article titled “Singapore’s salad that makes you rich” sparked backlash in Malaysia when it referred to Singapore as the birthplace of modern yusheng.
  • Malaysians argued on Twitter that yusheng was created in Seremban, Malaysia, by a man named Loke Ching Fatt.
  • Some people called for the BBC to remove its article, and slammed it for “lazy research”.
  • However, a written documentary of yusheng in Singapore shows that a local variant of the dish was indeed found in the island from as early as 1933.
  • On Feb 21, the BBC updated its article to explain the differences between  Malaysian and Singaporean versions of yusheng. It also changed its headline to “Can tossing food make you rich?”

Food can be very divisive, especially in this part of the world.

Malaysians have barely gotten over the CNN “chendol” saga, and now, the BBC has given them something else to be irate about.

Read also: CNN just claimed chendol is a top Singapore dessert – and Malaysians got absolutely triggered

The latest food item to spark outrage on Twitterverse is yusheng – a raw fish and vegetable dish eaten in Malaysia and Singapore during Chinese New Year.

In a Feb 19 article published on BBC’s travel section titled “Singapore’s salad that makes you rich”, a journalist wrote that “the dish was brought to Singapore by Chinese immigrants in the 1930s”.

Read also: ‘Oh my honey, win more money’: Singapore just wrote a song about yusheng to promote the dish in China

This China-originated form of yusheng was later revamped in 1964, “when four Singaporean chefs created a recipe that would become the focal point of every Singaporean Chinese New Year celebration”, the article said.

The four chefs the article refers to are Singapore’s “Four Heavenly Kings” – Yoke Pui, Tham Yui Kai, and Red Star Restaurant co-owners Hooi Kok Wai and Sin Leong.

From left: chefs Hooi Kok Wai, Tham Yui Kai, Sin Leong and Lau Yoke Pui, who won a lifetime achievement award for creating their version of yusheng.
Dragon Phoenix

As with many Malaysian and Singaporean delicacies, the origins of how a dish came to be are often disputed, with foodies on each side also arguing over which versions taste the best.

Read also: Malaysians challenge McDonald’s Singapore’s Nasi Lemak Burger

Despite being eaten only during the 15-day Chinese New Year period, yusheng is not an exception, and BBC’s original article brought back a longstanding debate on who created the modern version of the “prosperity salad”.

BBC makes changes

By the end of Feb 21, the BBC had changed the contents of its article, presumably in response to the criticism directed at it. In this new version, the headline was changed to: “Can tossing food make you rich?”

The latest version of the article also adds that the dish was brought to both Singapore and Malaysia by Chinese immigrants.

In addition, a new paragraph was added to clarify that the yusheng described in the article was a Singapore-specific variant.

It now reads: “The new Singaporean yu sheng was also recognisable by its colourful mound of vegetables at the centre of the plate – shredded white and green radish and carrots, while the Malaysian yee sang laid its ingredients out in a flatter format like a serving dish of crudites.”

The backlash

When the original article was published, a number of Malaysians blasted the BBC on Twitter, accusing it of being “lazy” and “ignorant” in its reporting.

Some even called for the BBC to take down the article or be banned.

According to Malaysian media reports, the version of yusheng eaten today was actually created in Seremban, Malaysia, by a man named Loke Ching Fatt.

An article published by Cilisos says that Loke’s version of yusheng had as many as 30 ingredients, and a “signature sweet and tangy sauce“.

This version was called the “Tenth Sense Yee Sang”, and by the 1960s, many Malaysian Chinese restaurants were serving yusheng.

How yusheng evolved in Singapore

An article on Singapore’s National Library Board documents the dish’s transformations in Singapore from the 1930s.

Citing interviews done on a local documentary series, the website said that an early version of the dish served with sugar and vinegar was created and sold by Loong Yik Kee Restaurant in 1933.

Later, a restaurant from Kuala Lumpur which had been serving yusheng with a unique sauce – which likely included plum sauce – since 1945 opened a branch in Singapore in 1978.

The article goes on to explain that the Four Heavenly Kings’ creation is known as seven-coloured yusheng, and is the most common form of yusheng served in Singapore. This version involves using a pre-mixed sauce instead of having diners mix the sauce themselves.

“This new way of eating yusheng was not readily accepted until the 1970s when younger diners embraced it. From then on, the popularity of this yusheng recipe soared and spread overseas,” the article added.

Diners tossing yusheng during Chinese New Year.
The New Paper

There is no answer

While the topic remains hotly debated today, the families of those said to have created yusheng are perhaps more accepting to the different stories that add to the mystery of this legendary dish.

In 2012, Loke’s son told Sin Chew that there was no way to determine the exact origins of modern yusheng.

Shortly after that, an article by The Straits Times reported that the son of chef Hooi clarified that the Singapore chefs never claimed to have invented the dish. Instead, what they did was to put their own spin on a traditional dish.

So in the likelihood that there will never be an answer to the question of where yusheng was created, it seems Malaysians and Singaporeans will be having this food fight for a long time more.

Read also: MasterChef UK contestant who was eliminated because her chicken rendang wasn’t ‘crispy’ sparks online furore