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What Is “yee Sang”, the Malaysian Appetizer for Chinese New Year

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Before pursuing his education, Nigel was a cook for two years in several restaurants specializing in Malaysian and international cuisine.

Homemade "yee sang"

Homemade "yee sang"

The Origins

Chinese New Year falls on 12 and 13th February in 2021, the first cultural celebration of the year in Malaysia which is celebrated mainly by the Chinese but everyone else participates in the celebration as well.

“Yee Sang” was a dish brought over to Malaya during the influx of Chinese migrants. However, you won’t expect that this modern Chinese dish is created by a person from Seremban, Malaysia in the 1940s by a man named Loke Ching Fatt. Back in China, raw fish cuisine was a popular dish thousands of years prior which died down by the early 20th century. To cut the story short, Cantonese and Hokkien people of China brought the reminiscence of the dish to Malaya (the former name for Malaysia) and created the “Yee Sang” we know today.

There are other origin stories as well, some say that the “Yee Sang” were created by Singaporeans instead. Several news articles wrote that Singapore created the “Yee Sang” by Singapore’s four master chefs nicknamed “Four Heavenly Kings” which made its official debut in 1964 in Lai Wah Restaurant in Singapore.

However, its safe to say that this dish was created in the South East Asian region when Chinese Migrants moved to Malaya and Singapore and it is loved by the communities of both multi-racial countries.

Several ways "Yee Sang" is prepared

Several ways "Yee Sang" is prepared

The name of the dish

Here’s a short section, before we begin, let’s start with translating the two words of “Yee Sang”. Yee or Yu means fish and Sang or Shang means raw, so the full translation is Raw Fish. “Yee Sang” is basically a Raw Fish salad. Besides being raw fish, the dish is also known as Prosperity "Yee Sang" as the whole dish itself consists of meaning behind its ingredients, which i will explain more later.

Here's a video on "Yee Sang"

The ingredients of Yee Sang

The ingredients of Yee Sang

What are the ingredients in a “Yee Sang”

When it comes to ingredients in a “Yee Sang”, it’s pretty much versatile as different restaurants serve different versions of the “Yee Sang”, for instance, a Japanese Restaurant has their own version of “Yee Sang” seen in the picture above. Well, here’s a breakdown of the usual ingredients we’ll find in a “Yee Sang”

  • Raw Fish (Typically Salmon)
  • Pomelo Fruit or Lime
  • Pepper
  • Oil
  • Carrots
  • Shredded Green Radish
  • White Radish
  • Peanut Crumbs
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Plum Sauce
  • Deep fried Flour Crisps
"yee Sang" being tossed

"yee Sang" being tossed

What does each ingredient symbolises?

  • Raw Fish (Typically Salmon)

Raw Fish Is added as a symbol for an abundant year ahead, fish is the main star of the show hence why it is associated with abundance.

  • Pomelo Fruit or Lime

Pomelo fruit or Lime is usually added to the fish as a symbol to add luck and auspicious value to the year, directly translated from the Chinese term, it means, Good luck and smooth sailing.

  • Pepper

Pepper is dashed all over the dish as a symbol of hope in attracting money and wealth for the year, after directly translated from the Chinese term, it means, Attract wealth and treasures.

  • Oil

Oil is poured all over the ingredients in circles as a symbol of encouraging money flow from all directions which after translating from the Chinese term, it means, numerous sources of wealth.

  • Carrots

Carrots are considered blessings of good luck, carrots are added to the dish to say, good luck to everyone, it means good luck is approaching in the Chinese term.

  • Shredded Green Radish

Shredded green radish is a symbol of youth and it is added to represent youthfulness. In the Chinese term, after translating, it means, forever young.

  • White Radish

White radish symbolises prosperity, for which, the significance of white radish in this dish is to wish everyone prosperity in business, school or work. In Chinese term, it means, Progress at a fast pace or reaching a higher level with each step.

Flour crackers that are served alongside the Yee Sang

Flour crackers that are served alongside the Yee Sang

  • Peanut Crumbs

Peanut Crumbs are added to the dish as a symbol of a household filled with gold and silver.

  • Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds are added to the dish as a symbol of wishing everyone a flourishing business and a prosperous year ahead for one’s business and other endeavours.

  • Plum Sauce

The sauce of this dish, also known as the “Yee Sang” sauce is made from Plum Sauce which will be drizzled all over the dish as a symbol of wishing someone may life always be sweet.

  • Deep fried Flour Crisps

The last component to this dish is the deep-fried flour crisps in a shape of pillow, which symbolises the wishes of everyone having a floor filled with gold.

what-is-yee-sang-the-malaysian-appetizer-for-chinese-new-year

When is it served?

Since “Yee Sang” is a type of salad, therefore, it is commonly served as an appetizer right before a heavy meal.

So, “Yee Sang” is a seasonal dish and it is only served throughout the Chinese New Year Period which usually falls on January or February once a year. Traditionally, “Yee Sang” is served during reunion dinners the day before the first day of Chinese New Year and throughout the 15 days after the first day, however, many people have at least 4 rounds of “Yee Sang” a year, with their families, friends, colleagues and more friends.

Most companies in Malaysia hold Chinese New Year gatherings right before the New Year Eve, so most restaurants start serving “Yee Sang” at least a week or two before the first day. Besides that, many people do homemade “Yee Sang” to be sold to anyone throughout the period.

© 2021 Nigel Koay

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