With such a traditional name, one could easily be fooled into believing that this is a very old Chinese custom. But ask any Chinese person, who has never lived in Malaysia or Singapore what the significance of Yee Sang is for Chinese New Year, and they will have no idea what you are talking about. ‘Yee Sang, Yu Sheng or Yuu Shang’ all mean the same thing here in Malaysia and in Singapore – a symbol of ‘good luck, prosperity, health and all things auspicious’ for the new year ahead.
It is believed that the dish originated from Guangdong province in Southern China. The people of the region known as the Teochew moved throughout South East Asia, bringing a dish of raw fish, Yee Sang, with them and adapting this dish into a tradition which signifies the other meaning of Yee Sang, ‘abundance’.
Yee Sang is a raw fish salad, dressed in oil and sweetened with plum sauce. The salad comprises, among other things, of finely shredded fresh vegetables, pickled vegetables, sesame seeds, peanuts, candied ginger, wonton casings and of course raw fish, usually salmon.
Tossing Yee Sang
Known as the ‘Prosperity Toss’, each person takes up a pair of extra long chopsticks and together tosses the salad high in the air shouting, ‘lo hei’, which pretty much means to rise high. The salad tossing continues whilst wishing the others at the table an auspicious year ahead, and possibly hoping for a little auspiciousness of your own. After the salad is tossed and the first course of Yee Sang is eaten, more courses are served. Delicious!
This tradition can be found all over KL, from fine dining establishments to halal Chinese restaurants and even organic vegetarian restaurants. However, for those of you who are not comfortable tossing your food in public, Yee Sang is also easy to make at home – there is an ‘abundance’ of recipes to be found on the net. So go ahead, throw all propriety aside and toss your salad while wishing for a year of good health, good fortune and happiness for all.
A bit about spillage: I have heard two different takes on the spillage of salad onto the table. My yee sang group very kindly informed me that it is a good thing to spill some on the table as it means ‘abundance’. However, having done a little reading I have also been led to believe that one should avoid spillage. Whatever the etiquette, Yee Sang is a really nice way to spend an early afternoon or evening with friends and, or family. How nice to come together to eat, to toss your food – without being stared at or asked to leave a restaurant, and to share good fortune.
I do enjoy this tradition.