Yee Sang or the Prosperity Toss is a Cantonese-style raw fish salad which typically consists of strips of raw fish mixed with shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces as we as condiments. As for the vegetarian version, the fish is replaced with soy for its resemblance to a salmon. According to Chinese legend, ‘Ren Ri’ also called the Day of Humankind, is correspondingly celebrated on the seventh day of Chinese New Year. For the day celebration, the Chinese enjoy this special dish which comprises of seven symbolic delicacies.
There is also a legend originating from Southern China regarding Yee Sang which tells a story of a young man and his lover who found themselves stranded at a temple due to the bad weather with nothing to eat but then, they managed to catch a carp. Adding vinegar which they found by chance stripped to the carp, it became quite appetizing. Eating Yee Sang during Chinese New Year is a cultural activity for Chinese living in mainly Malaysia and Singapore. However, other Chinese-populated region such as Hong Kong rarely put this activity into practice.
Despite the claims of where this dish actually came from, this dish has been declared as a Malaysian heritage food by the Malaysian Department of National Heritage. Nevertheless, the story behind Yee Sang does have a certain historic root from Southern China. Nowadays, all races in Malaysia can be seen tossing this dish, but then, how much do you actually know about Yee Sang in Malaysia?
Yee Sang was invented by a man from Seremban
In the 1940s, a man named Loke Ching Fatt created his own version of China’s Yusheng which was a culture brought over to Malaysia in the 1800s by the Cantonese and Hokkien immigrants. Loke Chinng Fatt revived the Yusheng tradition with a much more elaborate Yee Sang recipe which become the Lo Hei Yee Sang Malaysians know and love.
The original recipe had about 30 ingredients
Loke’s complex Yee Sang recipe has about roughly 30 ingredients though many have been dropped or changed in today’s modern versions. His recipe was a multicolored combination of various Cantonese, Teochew and Hokkien Yusheng traditions, with an exquisite touch of his own creativity as well as his signature sweet and tangy sauce.
‘Lo Hey’ is shouted when tossing Yee Sang
It is a popular custom for all round the dining table to toss the ingredients high in the air with joyful exclamations of ‘Lo Hey’ which means to ‘move upward’. The significance of the tossing is to wish abundant luck and happiness for all. It is symbolic of the wish for the fortunes to rise and expand during the upcoming year.
Originally a business idea
After the war, Loke’s catering business was slowing down due to the Chinese community recovering from the harsh Japanese Occupation. Loke decided to serve his Yee Sang banquet-style in hope that a joyous atmosphere would attract more customers and it worked! With the killer recipe of nearly 30 ingredients, the customers fell in love and it unexpectedly became a Chinese New Year food tradition.
Each ingredient has its own meaning
Throughout Malaysia, Yee Sang comes in a variety of different ingredients but the most common ones include leek, cucumber, papaya, ginger slices, carrot, radish, crushed peanuts, oil, salt, vinegar and many more. Cucumber for example, is called ‘ja kua’ in Chinese which shares the same pronunciation as the word for ‘returns’ thus symbolizes of having many happy returns in all your ventures. Carrot on the other hand signifies mountains of treasure.
Malaysia and Singapore had fight claiming Yee Sang
In 2012, a Singaporean celebrity foodie shared a post regarding the Singaporean things that should be listed on UNESCO’s Intagible Cultural Heritage and one of them was Yee Sang. This suggestion quickly turned into a cross-border controversy. The spat was so intense that it even made CNN’s list of world’s fiercest food feuds.
Penang hosted a mass Yee Sang tossing ceremony
In 2014, hundreds of locals and foreigners tossed Yee Sang during a Chap Goh Mei Festival which marks the 15th day of the Chinese New Year organized by the Penang Chinese Town Hall. The organizers wanted to make it more colorful as it is their objective to promote and carry the traditional events as well as signifying Yee Sang as a focal point for unity.
14 States 14 Yee Sang – LOCCO Fact!
On January 18th 2020, Locco Malaysia organised ‘Yee Sang Kita’ which is a Chinese New Year celebration with a twist! 14 ingredients are used in the making of Yee Sang which represents the 14 states of Malaysia highlighting each state’s uniqueness. The Yee Sang is a unifying cultural dish that is not just Malaysian made but also has become a staple in Chinese New Year celebrations bringing a fun twist to CNY all over the world. Watch the event highlights below.
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