KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 28 — One of the most anticipated traditions every Chinese New Year is the tossing of yee sang, otherwise known as lo hei, to usher in wealth and prosperity in the coming year.
The dish is ubiquitous in Malaysia and Singapore, but it is almost unheard of in the rest of the world including China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Thousands of years ago, Kuai cuisine — or raw fish cuisine — was popular among the social elite in China, but the dish known as yusheng was very different to what we know today. There was no tossing or shouting involved, and the raw fish was the star of the show.
In the 1940s, a restaurant in Seremban started serving yee sang during Chinese New Year and an unexpected tradition was born.
Today, the dish has subsequently changed with the addition of local ingredients.
Some restaurants have even further updated the dish with unusual versions:
a vegetarian version at PurelyB and The Good Co substitutes raw fish with daikon and seabird’s nest
a signature yee sang recipe at Ante calls for ham instead of fish
lobster claw, scallops or soft shell crab versions are also popular
there is also a sweet version made with fruits, topped with anchovies and peanuts and finished off with plum sauce.
One such restaurant is Fat Tea in Kota Damansara, which serves yee sang with fruits.
“Since our restaurant just opened three months ago, we’ve had very good reception, especially for the yee sang, which has been all fully booked,” said the restaurant’s events and promotions manager James Sai, 39.
“We are giving yee sang a refreshing twist with pomegranate, lychee, walnuts and peanuts and it’s topped with apricot sauce to add a tangy flavour. Raw salmon is optional.
“I think it makes a good starter for any CNY meal, and it works for lunch and dinner.”
Sai added he was all for trying new ideas to update the traditional yee sang.
“The whole idea of it is getting the whole family together, and if they can still do the yee sang with a fresher twist to it, why not?” he said.
Celestial Court restaurant operations captain Lye Kar Meng, 22, said people were always willing to try something new. Five different platters — four seafood and one fruit — are offered at the restaurant.
“We always use vegetables as the base and top it with pomelo flesh, deep fried crab shells and various ingredients.
“We’ve tried various platters over the years, even a banana jellyfish one, and it always keeps the customers coming. They are always up to try something new even if it is not in the tradition.”
● This article first appeared in Malay Mail Afternoon E-Paper yesterday.