Chinese New Year is around the corner again and it’s time to ‘lou hei’!! Check out the story of Yee Sang, which is only available during the Lunar New Year festivity. Article extracted from The Star paper.
The mounds of auspicious ingredients in the yee sang should be tossed as high as possible to bring about prosperity and abundance for the Lunar New Year.
NO Chinese New Year is complete if one has not had the chance to “lo hei” and that is one of the reasons why the yee sang is revered during this time.
Yee sang, or Yusheng, is a Chinese-style raw salad, a marriage of sashimi and European salads with a vinaigrette sauce as accompaniment.
However, the significance of the dish, which only makes its appearance during the Chinese New Year period, goes deeper into history than one might think.
It is believed to have been invented some 1,500 years ago during the Song Dynasty in southern China, in the coastal areas of Chaozhou and Shantou. It was said that a Chinese female deity, Nuwo, had created mankind from clay and mud.
This was supposed to have happened on the seventh day of the first month of the Lunar New Year and has since been known as the Birthday of Man.
To commemorate this day, yee sang would be prepared in feasts and religious ceremonies to mark not only the auspicious day but also as a show of respect for Nuwo. This was mostly practised by fishermen and seafarers.
The practice of having yee sang was later introduced in South-East Asia when Chinese migrants came to then Malaya and Singapore in search of a better life.
In the 1950s, yee sang was only available at restaurants after the Chinese New Year celebrations when the food outlets reopened and the dish served as a starter for “patrons to raise good luck for the coming year.”
Through time, many spin-offs have surfaced with more ingredients making their way into raising luck for those who participated in the chore of tossing the ingredients into the air and mixing it well with the sauce, which is predominantly plum sauce, before devouring the sweet and sour salad.
The dish usually consists of strips of fish, and they are mixed with a variety of vegetables that each has its significance in the yee sang. Its name itself, yee sang, actually means raw fish but can be taken to symbolise abundance, prosperity and vigour.
The common ingredients that make up the yee sang are raw fish, namely salmon and carp. But these days even raw tuna and any fish that makes up the sashimi plate can make up the yee sang platter, along with vegetables such as radish, carrot, red and green peppers or capsicum, turnip, ginger and jellyfish as well as crunchy and crisp toasted sesame seeds, chopped peanuts, Chinese shrimp crackers, fried dried shrimps and with a dressing made primarily of plum sauce and sugar and five spice powder.
The custom these days is not to “lo hei” just once during the Chinese New Year period. It has become almost a daily occurrence for some who do it with the family, extended families, friends, corporate partners and staff.
The custom has even started to make itself as one of the items on the home menu, with readymade yee sang packs of the crackers and other integral ingredients that are needed to be mixed in with the fresh ingredients. And the “lo hei” is done at home with family members doing it any number of times, as long as you can help out making the julienned strips of the vegetables and getting raw fish that are as fresh as possible.
Whether you are in for the fun or to partake in the custom, remember that it is not just tossing the ingredients in the air for luck that is important, but that this is an addictive activity that will have you coming back for more of the tasty dish.