It Is Yee Sang Time Again
CHINESE New Year is just around the corner and for some reasons, this year I keep thinking about my favourite dish Yee Sang as this dish is only available once a year.
A symbol of good luck, prosperity, health and all things auspicious, Yee Sang is a traditional dish and comprises thin slices of pickled vegetables and other ingredients which are mixed together thoroughly seconds before it is consumed. The taste of the dish is enhanced by its special sauce which imparts a distinctive flavour.
The popular custom is for all round the dining table to toss the ingredients high in the air with joyful exclamations of “Loh Hey” (toss high). The significance of the tossing is to wish for abundant luck and happiness for all. The enjoyment of Yee Sang during Chinese New Year is an age-old custom steeped in ancient tradition and culture.
To make it even more unique, it is only available in Malaysia and Singapore.
For the uninitiated, Yee Sang or Yu Sheng is a raw fish salad and is never eaten alone. You eat with group of people as it is meant to unite them during Chinese New Year.
Yee sang is a mixture of raw fish, cut in small strips, and mixed with shredded vegetables such as carrots, capsicum, kaffir lime leaves, young ginger, cucumber, red chili and Chinese parsley. It is then mixed with other condiments, which are chopped nuts, toasted sesame seeds and pomelo wedges. Finally, mix with a special sauce, which is a mixture of plum sauce, sesame oil, kumquat paste and rice vinegar.
The base ingredients can vary and you might have different versions if you try yee sang at different restaurants and homes. The fish however, is either salmon or mackerel.
Being brought up in Malay village, I didn’t know anything about Yee Sang. But it all changed when I joined The Star where having Yee Sang was annual event of sort in our company. During Chinese New Year, we would be served several Yee Sang dishes from well wishers and corporate bodies.
If that’s not enough, we would go on our own to find the best Yee Sang in nearby restaurant to fill our craving!
In the home front, John and I developed liking for this scrumptious salad that every Chinese New Year we would visit our favourite Chinese restaurant in Kuala Ampang, which is just a stone throw away from our home in Ukay Heights then to indulge our love for Yee Sang.
I still remember, the waiters who recognised our faces would smile everytime they caught us tossed our favourite Yee Sang (with salmon slices) minus that shouting of Loh Hey by the way. Lol!
As we both love authentic Chinese food, it was almost natural to complete our love affair (of Chinese cuisines) by having our annual Yee Sang every Chinese New Year.
How to Serve Yee Sang
The base ingredients comprising of shredded vegetables will be served. The host or a restaurant server will then add the other ingredients while shouting auspicious wishes (yes, they usually shout!). The rest of the diners will then, using chopsticks, toss and mix the ingredients while shouting Loh Hey. The higher the toss, the higher these wishes will be. This could be wealth, hence abundance of wealth! It is symbolic of the wish for our fortunes to rise and expand during the forthcoming year.
It was reported that yee sang originated from mainland China and was brought to Malaya (which later evolved into Malaysia and Singapore) by the Chinese immigrants in the early ’20s.
The dish has subsequently changed with the addition of local ingredients and flavors.
Although reported to be from mainland China, this dish is not heard of or eaten in China and Hong Kong during Chinese New Year. This is probably one of the reasons why Singapore and Malaysia are ‘fighting’ over the origin of this dish.
Significance of Yee Sang Ingredients
Although the reasons for the various ingredients were not documented, Time Out magazine Malaysian edition (January 2013) came out with an interesting version and the following was their take:
Lime and Pomelo: This is for prosperity
Oil: Sprinkle oil in circular motion to get wealth in all directions
Pepper and Five Spice powder: To attract wealth and health
Plum sauce: For sweet times ahead
Carrots: To welcome the arrival of good fortune
Shredded green yam: For eternal youth (really?)
Shredded turnips: For our business and career success
Peanut crumbs, fried crackers, sesame seeds and other condiments: For auspicious time and prosperity. A