Yee sang (yu sheng/lou sang/lou hei), a prosperity dish unique to Malaysia and Singapore, translates to “increase in abundance”. Therefore, having yee sang at the beginning of the year symbolises the abundance and prosperity that you will have for the year.
Origin of Yee Sang
There isn’t any documentation on where this dish originated from but it is thought to be from the coast of GuangZhou, China. It was eaten only on the seventh day of the Chinese Lunar calendar, which marks mankind’s birthday known as “Ren Ri” (people’s day). It is believed that it was brought into Malaysia by Chinese immigrants. However, the yee sang as we know it now is very different from what it was before – different ingredients and a different way of serving the dish. The modern day yee sang is thought to be a Malaysian creation and has become synonymous with Chinese New Year in Malaysia, but not so much in other Chinese-populated countries such as Hong Kong or China. This special practice has also spread to other Asian countries like Singapore and Indonesia, and unlike before, it is no longer a dish only enjoyed on the seventh day of the new year. Yee sang is now consumed in the weeks leading up to the Chinese New Year.
The Ingredients and Symbolism
Traditionally, the yee sang is served on a large plate with a colourful array of ingredients that are attached to different meanings. The ingredients include raw fish (most commonly salmon or jelly fish), something green (usually a green vegetable), white (like a white radish) and red (carrot, or red-coloured crackers), pickled ginger, crushed nuts, and pomelo or lime. The ingredients are topped with various condiments like deep-fried flour crisps, crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, cinnamon, pepper and five spice powder; laced with a sauce made of plum sauce, rice vinegar, kumquat paste and sesame oil.
Apart from the different textures and delicious flavours that the ingredients impart, they have also been selected based on their Chinese names and their meanings or interpretations.
- The raw fish (年年有余) – abundance and excess throughout the year (fish in Mandarin sounds like abundance)
- Pomelo or Lime (大吉大利) – good luck and smooth sailing
- Pepper in red packet (招财进宝) – attracting wealth and treasures
- Sesame oil (一本万利) – good fortune for the year
- Red (鸿运当头) - good luck
- Green (青春常驻) - forever young
- White (eg. white radish, 风生水起) – may your fortune rise
- Plum sauce (tastes sweet 甜甜蜜蜜) – sweet life always
- Peanut/biscuit crumbs (金银满屋) - household filled with gold and silver
- Crackers （遍地黄金）- may you have land that is full of gold
Overall, yee sang brings with it the promise of riches, success, youth and vitality.
The Higher, the Better – The Art of Tossing
The base ingredients are first served in a plate or platter. Then the other ingredients such as the fish, crackers and the sauce, are added while auspicious wishes are uttered. Once all the ingredients have been added, everyone then proceeds to toss all the ingredients together high up in the air with their chopsticks while calling out various wishes. And yes, the louder the better, the higher the better. The act of tossing the dish as high as possible signifies how high you will climb in your career, wealth and prosperity.
Is Yee Sang Good For Your Health Too?
Yee sang is delicious and many think of it as a salad - unfortunately it’s not a very healthy one. If you take a look at the ingredients of most packaged yee sang, you’ll find that they contain many artificial colours, additives, and preservatives. The sauce also contains a high amount of sugar. So your best bet to having a healthy one is making your own yee sang!
Enjoy your yee sang, and have a good and prosperous year ahead.