Born and raised in Malaysia, Mazlan is proud of his Malaysian and Asian heritage and likes to share its mysteries, culture & current issues.
Chinese New Year Food
Festivals and religious celebrations are always synonymous with certain foods. And for the Chinese, it must have symbolic meanings. So, the Chinese New Year food will be associated with happiness, wealth, prosperity, longevity and health. These foods include fish, noodles, spring rolls, dumplings, and niangao (glutinous rice cake).
Yee Sang or Yusheng
But there's a special dish unique only to Malaysia and Singapore that is served only during this festive season. This dish called Yee Sang or Yusheng, is a raw fish salad. It is an appetizer served before the multi-dish lunch or dinner course, available from the first to the 15th day of the Chinese New Year period.
What is Yee Sang
Yee sang or Yu Sheng is a raw fish salad and is never eaten alone.
You eat with a group of people as it meant to unite them during Chinese New Year.
Yee sang is a mixture of raw fish, cut in small strips, and mixed with shredded vegetables such as carrots, capsicum, kaffir lime leaves, young ginger, cucumber, red chili and Chinese parsley. It is then mixed with other condiments, which are chopped nuts, toasted sesame seeds, and pomelo wedges. It is then mixed with a special sauce, which is a mixture of plum sauce, sesame oil, kumquat paste, and rice vinegar.
The base ingredients can vary with different versions but fish, either salmon or mackerel, is always the main ingredient.
Yee sang, Yusheng is eaten only during the first 15-day of Chinese New Year celebration and is not available at other times of the year.
How to Serve Yee Sang
Yee sang is an appetizer and is part of a lunch or dinner course. This is a very symbolic dish that's 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 toss and mix the ingredients with the chopsticks while shouting all the auspicious wishes. The higher the toss, the higher these wishes will be. If it is wealth, then a higher growth in wealth!
Yusheng, Symbol of Prosperity
This is all very symbolic and is the highlight of the dinner or lunch. When all these are done everyone will sit down to eat yee sang and the subsequent courses.
Origin of Yee Sang
It was reported that yee sang originated from mainland China and was brought to Malaya (which later evolved into Malaysia and Singapore) by the Chinese immigrants in the early '20s.
The dish has subsequently changed with the addition of local ingredients and flavors.
Although reported to be from mainland China, this dish is not heard of or eaten in China and Hong Kong during Chinese New Year.
This is probably one of the reasons why Singapore and Malaysia are 'fighting' over the origin of this dish.
Singapore and Malaysia's Fight Over Yee Sang
Yee sang supposedly came from southern China, a Cantonese speaking region and eating yee sang is a Cantonese custom. In Malaysia, eating yee sang during Chinese New Year used to be a Cantonese ritual.
But the Singaporean Chinese are mainly of Teochew and Hokkien background. Singapore's claim to inventing yee sang has no merit as it is not a Teochew or Hokkien dish.
Singapore's claim is based on its four restaurant chefs' assertion that they 'invented' and popularized it in 1964. It was later clarified by one of the chef's son that they did not claim on its invention but on giving a new twist to the traditional recipe.
Reference: Straits Times newspaper published Feb 6, 2012.
Vegetarian Yee Sang Recipe
Irrespective of the origin of yee sang and who invented it, it is a popular dish during Chinese New Year celebration. So, various well-known chefs and restaurants have concocted several versions.
Yee sang is traditionally a raw fish salad dish but it does not stop others from reinventing it. I found this vegetarian version of yee sang on the web with an interesting combination of vegetables and fruits as its base ingredients.
The ingredients are radish, carrots, cucumber, green apples, pomelo wedges, unripe mangoes, jackfruit, turnip, toasted sesame seeds and peanuts, and crispy crackers.
For the sauce, it used plum sauce, honey, limes, five-spice powder, and pepper.
Significance of Yusheng's Ingredients
Have you wondered what are the reasons and significance for each of the ingredients in Yusheng?
Although the reasons for the various ingredients were not documented, Time Out magazine Malaysian edition (January 2013) came out with an interesting version and the following was their take:
- Lime and Pomelo: This is for prosperity
- Oil: Sprinkle oil in circular motion to get wealth in all directions
- Pepper and Five Spice powder: To attract wealth and health
- Plum sauce: For sweet times ahead
- Carrots: To welcome the arrival of good fortune
- Shredded green yam: For eternal youth (really?)
- Shredded turnips: For business and career success
- Peanut crumbs, fried crackers, sesame seeds and other condiments: For auspicious time and prosperity
Interesting observation and rationale, right?
Chinese New Year Traditional Food
Some of the common Chinese New Year traditional food will be dumplings (associated with wealth due to its shape that look like silver ingot), dishes that include fish (as it sounds like 'surplus'), spring rolls (associated with wealth/prosperity), and the glutinous rice cake, niangao (associated with higher income).
Read More on Chinese New Year here
Want to know why and how the Chinese calendar year is named after an animal? Check out the answer here.
Tossing Yusheng, a Noisy and Fun Affair
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Mazlan
Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on February 05, 2014:
Hi Suzanne, in Yee Sang, all the dishes including the fish are already on that one plate. Enjoy and have fun.
Suzanne, Hamilton, ON on February 05, 2014:
This dish looks beautiful with its vibrant colours! It shows here the base ingredients on a plate. I wonder if the Yee Sang/Fish is served on a separate dish? Centre? Can anyone tell me as I would like to make it this 15th day of CNY 2014. Thanks.
Nikolic Predrag from Serbia, Belgrade on February 05, 2014:
Looks delicious! Great an interesting hub. Thank you for sharing.
IslandBites from Puerto Rico on June 09, 2013:
Interesting. Nice hub!
Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on May 09, 2013:
@kidscrafts & teaches12345, Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Sorry to take this long to respond. Yee Sang unfortunately is available only during Chinese New Year, so it is only for about 3 weeks in a year!
Dianna Mendez on January 31, 2013:
This looks very good and fun as well. I have never had fish salad, but I certainly would like to try it sometime. Thanks for the cultural experience.
kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on January 29, 2013:
It lo0ks just delicious! I love those kind of food :-)
Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on January 28, 2013:
Hi Sarah, thanks for dropping by. Yes you can. Most corporate Chinese New Year lunches or dinners, as part of networking and keeping in touch with stakeholders, are done in restaurants.
Sarah from USA on January 28, 2013:
That looks so much fun! Can you eat that in a restaurant in Singapore or Malaysia?