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8 Yee Sang Essentials

Chinese New Year is just around the corner—and with it comes the obligatory Malaysian tradition: yee sang. Dig in with confidence this year with these eight must-know facts.

by / Published: 30 Jan 2014

8 Yee Sang Essentials

Photo: Mandarin Oriental KL

Adapted from 8 Yee Sang Essentials by Emma Chong, Expatriate Lifestyle, January 2014

Chinese New Year is just around the corner—and with it comes the obligatory Malaysian tradition: yee sang. Dig in with confidence this year with these eight must-know facts:

 

#1 The Base
 
Yee sang is a dish of vegetables, fruit and raw fish, served to the table as a composed salad then merrily tossed by guests around the table as one of Chinese New Year’s opening festivities.
 
Every year new gourmet versions appear, but the basic base remains the same—fresh crunchy vegetables, raw fish for abundance and crunchy crackers and nuts.
 
 
#2 The Significance
 
Each ingredient used in yee sang has a special significance, either because of its flavour or the way it sounds. Honey and plum sauce are added to encourage sweet times; citrus fruits, especially lime and pomelo, are a sign of prosperity; shredded turnips indicate business success.
 
 
#3 The Flow of Wealth 
 
Oil is an unseen but integral part of yee sang, and it is poured around the dish, circling all the other
ingredients. This is said to encourage the flow of wealth in all directions.
 
 
#4 The Ritual 
 
There are traditional sayings and maxims to be stated as each ingredient is added to the plate. These days, waiters and waitresses are trained to recite these with each new element as they place it on the dish, explaining their significance.
 
 
#5 Its Origins
 
Though a staple of the Lunar New Year festivities in these parts of the world, yee sang cannot be traced directly back to China. As far as people can tell, the dish originated in 1964, at Singapore’s (then part of the Federation of Malaya) Lai Wah restaurant. As you might expect, this historical fact has become a bone of contention between Malaysians and Singaporeans as to whose country invented the dish.
 
 
#6 Toss it
 
When every ingredient has been added to the plate, guests at the table stand up and toss the salad with their chopsticks. Traditionally, the higher you toss the salad, the better, as this symbolises greater fortune.
 
 
#7 Shout it out Loud
 
While tossing the yee sang, diners should utter well wishes out loud, wishing each other good fortune and health. You can also announce your hopes and ambitions for the year—a good time to sneak in that wish for a promotion.
 
 
#8 When to Eat
 
Yee sang is also traditionally served on the seventh day of Chinese New Year, also known as renri—every man’s birthday. In common practice though, yee sang can appear at any time during the 15 days of
celebration.


Curious to get in on the dish and its customs? Check out our ELCNY listings for some of the best restaurants around Kuala Lumpur serving up the yee sang this Chinese New Year
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