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Yee Sang Chinese New Year Dish
Dish for Chinese New Year
Festivals and religious celebrations are always synonymous with certain foods. In some cases, these foods will only be available during festive seasons.
Roast turkey may not be exclusively a Christmas dish, but is always THE dish for Christmas in most countries including the USA.
Yee Sang however, is a Chinese New Year dish and is only available during this festive season. It is unique to only Malaysia and Singapore.
What is Yee Sang
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.
Yee sang is eaten only during the 15-day of Chinese New Year celebration and as mentioned earlier will not be available at other times of the year.
How to Serve Yee Sang
Yee sang is an appetizer and is part of a lunch or dinner course.
How this dish is served is very symbolic and all geared towards abundance in wealth, luck and prosperity.
- 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 all the auspicious wishes. The higher the toss, the higher these wishes will be. This could be wealth, hence a higher growth in wealth!
Yee Sang, Symbol of Prosperity
As I said earlier, this is all very symbolic and is the highlight of the dinner or lunch. When all these are done everyone will sit down to eat the yee sang and the subsequent courses.
Personally, this is an anti-climax as the eating is not as fun as the shouting and tossing!
Origin of Yee Sang
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.
Singapore and Malaysia's Fight Over Yee Sang
Singapore's claim over the origin of yee sang came about from the four restaurant chefs who claimed to have 'invented' and popularized it in 1964. One of the chef's son subsequently clarified that they never claimed to invent it, but rather give it a new twist to this traditional recipe.
As mentioned earlier, yee sang came from mainland China, southern China to be exact. People from this part of China are mainly Cantonese and eating yee sang is a Cantonese custom. Even in Malaysia, eating yee sang during Chinese New Year used to be a Cantonese ritual.
Chinese in Singapore are mainly Teochews and Hokkien. Therefore, Singapore cannot claim to have invented yee sang as it is not a Teochew or Hokkien dish.
Reference: Straits Times newspaper published Feb 6, 2012.
Vegetarian Yee Sang Recipe
Irrespective of the origin of yee sang and who invented it, it is a popular dish during Chinese New Year celebration. As a result, various well-known chefs and restaurants have concocted several versions.
Yee sang is traditionally a raw fish salad dish, but it does not stop others in reinventing it. I found this vegetarian version of yee sang on the web and it has an interesting combination of vegetables and fruits as its base ingredients.
The ingredients are radish, carrots, cucumber, green apples, pomelo wedges, unripe mangoes, jackfruit, turnip, toasted sesame seeds and peanuts, and crispy crackers.
For the sauce, it used plum sauce, honey, limes, five-spice powder and pepper.
Significance of Yee Sang Ingredients
Have you wondered what are the reasons and significance for each of the ingredients in Yee Sang?
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
Interesting observation and rationale, right?