Eating Yee Sang during Chinese New Year is a cultural activity for Chinese living in Singapore and Malaysia, but not so much in other Chinese-populated countries such as Hong Kong, China , Taiwan and other places in the world where the practice is almost unheard of.
Yee Sang Symbolism
Lime – 大吉大利 best of luck
Fish – 年年有余 abundance throughout the year (fish in mandarin sounds like abundance)
Pepper in Red packet –招财进宝 attracting wealth
Oil -一本万利 Make 10,000 times profit
Carrot – 鸿运当头 good luck at your end
Green radish -青春常驻 forever young
White radish – 风生水起 may your fortune rise with the wind and tide
Plum sauce – 甜甜蜜蜜 sweet life always
Grinded Peanut金银满屋 household full of gold and silver
Crackers – 遍地黄金 may you have land full of gold
A prosperity dish unique to Malaysia and Singapore is the “Yee Sang”, which means easy to prosper. It is also commonly referred to as “Lou Sang” and “Lou Hei”, which means prosperity toss. Many people believe the most you toss the more prosper you are.
Yee Sang is actually a salad with 27 ingredients that includes raw fish strips, such as salmon, mixed with shredded vegetables, sauces, condiments and other ingredients chosen for the meanings they denote such as riches, success, youth and vitality.
The main ingredient is fish which symbolizes abundance throughout the year. Then there are carrots for good luck, pomelo for wealth, sesame seeds for prosperity in business, lime for riches and safety, pepper and cinnamon for wishes fulfilled, peanuts for silver and gold, white radish for progress, green radish for youth, deep-fried crisps for a floor of gold. There’s also plum sauce for flavoring to attract treasures and of, course, oil to swirl the good fortune around and for smooth sailing all year.
The Legend Behind Yee Sang
According to Chinese legend, the goddess Nu Wa spent six days creating animals out of mud, while on the seventh she created humanity.
Ren Ri, the Day of Humankind, is correspondingly celebrated on the seventh day of Chinese New Year. To celebrate this day, the Chinese enjoy a special dish comprising seven symbolic delicacies which we know as Yee Sang.
Malaysians Were The First To LO HEI!” Yee Sang ?
It was said that this auspicious dish was brought into Malaya during the 1940s or 50s, and later started to gain popularity in Kuala Lumpur and Melaka.
Despite its origins in Canton, yee sang has been given the polishing touch by Chinese Malaysians, making it very much different from its original version in China, including the ingredients and how the food is served.
Today, the Malaysian yee sang comes with a score of accompaniments, and some families even make yee sang the introductory dish for their reunion dinners. – Sin Chew
Chinese immigrants brought their love of fish and raw fish salads with them to Malaysia and Singapore in the early 20th century. But it wasn’t until some 50 years ago that chefs standardised their own raw fish salad to celebrate Chinese New Year. Eventually it took off and by the 1970s, the Cantonese community had popularised the tradition and it had become part of the Chinese New Year celebrations in Malaysia and Singapore.
There was a controversy between Singapore and Malaysia regarding the origins of this dish. It was said that a restaurant (陆祯记) in Seremban, Malaysia first refined this dish from a Cantonese dish and sold it during Lunar New Year around 1940s. However, the son of the chef acknowledged that it is hard to dispute the “ownership” of the dish. This dish has been declared a Malaysian heritage food by the Malaysian Department of National Heritage. One thing is certain though, that this dish has its roots deep in the Southern part of China. – Wikipedia
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!
Higher Toss Means More Money
When Do People Eat Yee Sang?
When Putting The Yee Sang on the table offers New Year greetings
1. 恭喜发财 (Gong Xi Fa Cai) meaning “Congratulations for your wealth” 万事如意 (Wan Shi Ru Yi) meaning “May all your wishes be fulfilled”
2.The FISH is added, symbolising abundance and excess through the year. 年年有余 (Nian Nian You Yu) meaning “Abundance through the year”, as the word “fish” in Mandarin also sounds like “Abundance”.
3.The POMELO or LIME is added to the fish, adding luck and auspicious value. 大吉大利 Da Ji Da Li meaning “Good luck and smooth sailing”
4.PEPPER is then dashed over in the hope of attracting more money and valuables. 招财进宝 Zhao Cai Jin Bao meaning “Attract wealth and treasures”
5.Then OIL is poured out, circling the ingredients and encouraging money to flow in from all directions. 一本万利 Yi Ben Wan Li meaning “Make 10,000 times of profit with your capital” 财源广进 Cai Yuan Guang Jin meaning “Numerous sources of wealth”
6.CARROTS are added indicating blessings of good luck. 鸿运当头 Hong Yun Dang Tou meaning “Good luck is approaching”. Carrot (红萝卜) is used as the first character 鸿 also sound like the Chinese character for red.
7.Then the shredded GREEN RADDISH is placed symbolising eternal youth. 青春常驻 Qing Chun Chang Zhu meaning “Forever young”. Green radish is used as the first character 青 also sound like the Chinese character for green.
8.After which the shredded WHITE RADDISH is added – prosperity in business and promotion at work. 风生水起 Feng Sheng Shui Qi meaning “Progress at a fast pace” 步步高升 Bu Bu Gao Sheng meaning “Reaching higher level with each step”
The condiments are finally added.
9.First, PEANUT crumbs are dusted on the dish, symbolizing a household filled with gold and silver. 金银满屋 Jin Yin Man Wu meaning “Household filled with gold and silver”
10.SESAME SEEDS quickly follow symbolising a flourishing business. 生意兴隆 Sheng Yi Xing Long meaning “Prosperity for the business”
11.Yu Sheng sauce, usually PLUM SAUCE, is generously drizzled over everything. 甜甜蜜蜜 Tian Tian Mi Mi Meaning “May life always be sweet”
12. Deep-fried FLOURS CRIPS in the shape of golden pillows is then added with wishes that literally the whole floor would be filled with gold. 满地黄金 Man Di Huang Jin meaning “Floor full of gold”