It goes by several names and its origins is still up for debate, but one thing’s for sure: The colourful platter popularly known as yee sang is a must-have for Malaysians during Chinese New Year, who will toss to health, wealth and all things prosperous in the weeks leading to and throughout the 15-day festival.
(Main photo credit: The Good Co)
(Photo credit: Antara Restaurant)
The dish itself is simple in concept – it’s essentially a salad of raw and pickled ingredients – but elaborate in execution as the various vegetables, condiments, garnishing and dressings are prepped separately. The variety of ingredients represents abundance and individually, each has its own significance: Carrots, for example, portend good luck while white radish heralds career growth, and pepper attracts wealth.
Each ingredient is placed in a neat, circular cluster on a large round plate or tray to resemble a cheerful paint palette that you’d want to dip your chopsticks in. But before you do, the condiments and garnishing – typically flour crackers, sesame seeds, peanuts, five spice powder, and pepper – are sprinkled on before the dressing and oil are drizzled over.
(Photo credit: The Good Co)
That’s just the presentation; the actual enjoyment of yee sang is practically a performance. Everyone at the table stands, chopsticks ready in hand and poised in the air. On cue, each person grabs a bit of what’s on the plate between their chopsticks and lifts their hand as high up in the air before dropping the ingredients back onto the plate. While tossing, they chant auspicious sayings to wish for good things in the coming year.
Much merriment and laughter usually accompany this act, creating a raucous ambience that matches the festive atmosphere that prevails during Chinese New Year. There is no fixed duration for the tossing; once everyone is satisfied with the amount of chopstick-in-the-air action and good wishes, they settle down to tuck into the refreshing mix of flavours and textures. The key to a good yee sang lies in its balance – between the soft and the crunchy, fresh and fried – and a plum sauce that should be sweet without being cloying and has a hint of zestiness.
(Photo credit: Nona Bali Restaurant)
Although yee sang is only available once a year (at cafes, restaurants, hotel buffets, and sold as pre-packaged sets at supermarkets), its popularity is such that chefs are driven to keep innovating on the traditional recipe each year. Here are 12 unique interpretations of yee sang to help you usher in the Year of the Fire Rooster.
What Organic vegetables, fiddle ferns, mango, ruby pomelo, kerisik (toasted grated coconut) and trout/salmon ikura (roe) with a homemade plum sauce.
Where Antara Restaurant
What Free-range pork slices, four types of Japanese seaweed, purple cabbage, radish, carrots, sweet corn, kyuri (Japanese cucumber), lemon, seasoned jellyfish, ebiko, walnuts and sesame seeds dressed in homemade wasabi wafu (dressing) and sesame oil.
Where The Bowls
What Mandarin oranges, pomegranates, pomelo, lychees, strawberries, pineapple cubes, dried cranberries, turnips, carrots and watercress are combined with Callebaut dark chocolate pearls, 54% dark chocolate cake, passion fruit-infused glass noodles, salted caramel truffle balls, almond 'prosperity coins' and roasted peanuts lifted by a honey yuzu sauce.
What Yuzu, fresh tropical fruits, dark chocolates, salted caramel sauce, and crunchy nuts.
Where Pretty On Plate
What An indulgent version that features rocket leaves, blue pea flowers, and a topping of your choice – pick between Hokkaido sea urchin and Australian green lip abalone.
Where DC Restaurant
What Enjoy a touch of Mexican with ceviche in place of raw fish slices.
Where Frontera Sol of Mexico
What Find unconventional yee sang ingredients in their version, including scallop sashimi, smoked duck, Thai fish cake, and fried red and green yam.
Where Rama V Fine Thai Cuisine
What Known for their pork dishes, ANTE’s yee sang is porcine perfection, topped with melt-in-the-mouth serrano ham.
What A fruits and nuts galore made even better with bacon.
Where Dian Huo Xin Wo
What Quail eggs shaped into baby chicks greet you from this colourful presentation that’s as cute as it’s satisfying.
Where Ruyi & Lyn
What Big, bold and beautiful – this new Macanese restaurant in Petaling Jaya amps up the enjoyment with no less than 28 ingredients, including haw flakes, pomegranate, lotus root chips and longan.
Where Fat Tea Macanese Food
What A guilt-free presentation of preservative-free ingredients that include organic granola, sea bird nest, young papaya, and daikon.
Where The Good Co
What Dining alone but don’t want to give yee sang a miss? Lima Tujoh’s version also comes in single servings.
Where Lima Tujoh (Kuching, Sarawak)
What Unexpected ingredients include pink ginger pickle, deep-fried beetroot, tempeh and kaffir lime leaves, with a homemade sweet-sour sauce.
Where Nona Bali Restaurant (George Town, Penang)