Thursday, September 16News For London

Yee sang: The prosperity salad for a better new year

Everything you need to know when you get invited to partake in the festivities by your Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese friends – A Westminster World’s attempt of a Pass Notes explainer.

The yee sang is a prosperity salad served during the Lunar New Year festivities.
Illustration by Leanne Tan.

Name: Yee sang or yu sheng (if you want the official Mandarin name) 

Age: 80 years plus if you count the origins from Malaysia. But let’s not bring up the whole Malaysia vs Singapore debate.  

Appearance: A huge plate with different coloured shredded vegetables arranged neatly, drizzled with plum sauce, pepper powder, and crisps. Oh and salmon or fish slices in the middle. 

Wait, is there a reason why they are all laid out like that? It’s just for presentation. We eat food with our eyes as well when it’s aesthetically plated. If you want, you can even arrange the vegetables into shapes like the zodiac animal of the year. That said, the ingredients do have their own significance in being part of the dish. 

And you would assemble it with the sauces and powders while saying things? We’re getting to that. So each ingredient has the following significances and the well wishes associated with it that is placed as the finishing touches:

Fish sounds like abundance in Chinese 

Say: Nian nian you yu 年年有余
Meaning: May you have abundance every year

Pomelo is sprinkled or lime is squeezed for luck 

Say: Da ji da li 大吉大利 
Meaning: Wishing you good luck and prosperity

Pepper and spices are sprinkled to attract more wealth

Say: Zhao cai jin bao 招财进宝 
Meaning: May you attract wealth and treasures

Oil is poured all around the ingredients to encourage money to flow in from all directions

Say: Yi ben wan li 一本万利 or Cai yuan guang jin 财源广进
Meaning: May you make 10,000 times of profit with your investment / May money flow in from all directions

Peanuts are to symbolise your house being filled with gold and silver

Say: Jin yin man wu 金银满屋
Meaning: May your household be filled with gold and silver

Sesame seeds are for a flourishing business (if you own or started one)

Say:  Sheng yi xing long 生意兴隆
Meaning: May your business prosper 

Plum sauce is drizzled for the sweet life

Say: Tian tian mi mi 甜甜蜜蜜
Meaning: May your life be sweet

Deep-fried crisps or crackers is added in hopes that your floors be filled with gold 

Say: Bian di huang jin 遍地黄金 
Meaning: May your floors be full of gold

The anatomy of a yee sang and what each ingredient is for. Illustration by Leanne Tan.

I don’t remember most of that except gold, luck, and prosperity. Basically, this giant salad is about getting all the good things in life, right? Right and don’t worry about remembering any of those phrases. That’s probably more Chinese than you can remember. The fun part is tossing it collectively. Together. 

Okay… Do we all get a pair of tongs for this? No, but here are your chopsticks.

Maybe I should use a fork instead. …Dishonour on your cow. Look, just hold the chopsticks like you would hold a pen, push them through the nearest stack of veggies, and lift! Rinse and repeat. 

Whoa okay okay I’m doing it – wait, what are you all shouting for? This is called lou hei aka the tossing. While tossing the yee sang, we shout out auspicious phrases we want to manifest for the new year like more money, good health, good grades, you get the idea.

Do I have to say them in Chinese? English is fine but if you want, you can just say “Gong hei fatt choi/Gong xi fa cai” (Disclaimer: It doesn’t mean happy new year. It means wishing you wealth and abundance.) You can also throw in the occasional “Huat ah!” [pronunciation: hoo-uht ah, say it really fast, almost sounds like hot] which means prosperity.

This is an awful lot of mess, isn’t it? It’s part of the fun and the higher you toss, the more luck you bring in. This mess is inevitable. But you can always put a plastic sheet or placemats under the giant plate or surround our serving plates around the main plate to catch the falling pieces. 

Ah smart, saves the trouble of filling my plate. Not so fast. There’s plenty to go around and no salmon pieces are going to conveniently fall onto your plate. Best to start getting your share, if you know what I mean. 

Oh. So it’s not that type of salad that you can help yourself throughout dinner. Exactly, my friend. This is truly an appetizer before we lay the table with the main courses. 

I want seconds. Sorry, everyone loves this prosperity salad and there are almost no leftovers. You snooze, you lose.