Tossing the Yee Sang

17 Feb

Happy Chap Goh Meh! Today is the 15th and final day of Chinese New Year (take that, 12 days of Christmas)…and my last chance to post about yee sang, at least until next year. Yee sang is an old CNY tradition in Malaysia and Singapore, but not in China itself. It’s basically a salad of raw fish (yu sheng in Cantonese, from whence the dish gets its name — it’s a homonym for “increasing abundance”) various finely julienned vegetables, like jicama, radish, pomelo, cucumber, and pickled ginger, with colorful and non-colorful crunchy bits, dressed with oil and plum sauce. Lately, chefs have been trying to top themselves by adding “luxury” ingredients like abalone and sea cucumber, but most hew close to tradition, with salmon being the overwhelming favorite option for the fish.

The yee sang is presented with the components arranged artistically on a platter:

Yee Sang: Before...

The server squeezes a bit of citrus on the fish before putting it on the veggies, dresses it all with a flourish of oil and plum sauce, and adds the crunchy bits. (Both the ingredients themselves, and the order in which they’re added, have specific meanings.) Then comes the fun part: tossing the yee sang!

Lo hei! Lo hei!

All the people at the table — and keep in mind that this is a Chinese-Malaysian tradition, so there should be, at minimum, ten people spanning three generations — toss all the ingredients together, while making wishes for the new year, or just saying “Lo hei!”, which is Cantonese for “rise up,” and refers to how one’s fortunes are raised for the new year. Supposedly, the higher you toss, the better the coming year, but spillage means that you’ll lose money. (Either that, or the restaurant told us that to minimize table mess.) Note that it’s the first course served, before people have stuck their chopsticks in their mouths. Getting a cold from sharing yee sang would be most inauspicious indeed.

...and After: Yee Sang, post-tossing

Verdict: Like a lot of dishes with a traditional/ceremonial aspect, I suspect the popularity of yee sang is due to the festive presentation and the warm memories people attach to it. Both yee sangs I had this CNY were a bit on the sweet side, and I don’t know that I’d seek it out on a menu, but with all the tossing and ceremony, it was a fun way to start the Year of the Rabbit.

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One Response to “Tossing the Yee Sang”

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  1. Enter the Dragon « Straight Out of Kampung - January 25, 2012

    […] vegetarian), fried shrimp, tong yuen (rice dumplings in ginger syrup), and the inevitable yee sang. The reunion dinners (or luncheons) are where Chinese families gather to celebrate the new year. […]

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