Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy Lunar New Year everyone!
It’s funny what you miss when you’ve been away from home for a while. It’s been eight years since I lived in Malaysia and I’ve always loved Chinese New Year at home. It’s a lot like Christmas, but with more food, and ang pao instead of presents.
Yee Sang wasn’t high on the list of things I missed about Chinese New Year though. I wasn’t crazy about the vinegary aftertaste or the slightly rubbery taste of vegetables that weren’t as fresh as they should be. But after eight years of not having real new year’s dinner, I was itching to host my own. I’d already made a stack of cookies that are traditional at every festival, but what could I make that was unique to Chinese New Year?
Yee sang, it was. Not because I missed the taste, more because I missed the tradition. Yee sang – also called yu sang, yusheng, or lo hei – is made of various shredded and picked vegetables, tossed with raw fish (sounds weird, I know). It is meant to bring good luck for the year ahead because the word for fish sounds very similar to the word for abundance. After the bad start to my year, I wanted to make sure that from the lunar new year forward, it was good luck ahead.
The most fun of eating this dish, is of course, tossing it with your chopsticks while saying phrases that mean good luck, long life, abundance and all that good stuff. It is said that the higher you toss it, the more luck you will have in the new year.
Which makes for a rather messy table and floor. Just something to think about in case you want to do this indoors in your nice carpeted dining room.
I was surprised to find that yee sang isn’t actually Chinese, it’s of Malaysian/Singaporean origin (don’t get us Malaysians started on that argument – especially since Singapore used to be part of Malaysia). *cough*
Aaaanyway, moving on, here’s a rough guide to how to make it. It’s a very simple, no-fail recipe and you can omit ingredients that you don’t like. You only need to be able to put vegetables through a grater, and deep fry some ingredients. There’s only one thing though – I saw a recipe that suggested you can substitute corn flakes for wonton skins though, don’t do that. Just don’t. You’ll make the yee sang gods angry because you Americanised their food.
The verdict – home made yee sang is a dozen times better than in any restaurant I’ve eaten it in because you can ensure fresh fish, fresh vegetables and a balanced dressing that’s not too sweet. Make sure you keep your vegetables fresh by tightly covering them and placing them in the fridge – if needed, you can refresh them in some iced water before serving.
serves 12 as a starter
recipe from Hyatt Regency Kota Kinabalu
8 pieces wonton skins (the yellow/egg variety)
1 small taro, approx 400g (brown skin, white with purple flecks variety)
Red food colour
Green food colour
200g sashimi grade salmon, thinly sliced
90 g carrot, peeled and grated
90 g daikon (white radish), peeled and grated
90 g cucumber, grated with skin on for colour
30g pickled pink ginger (at Japanese groceries)
50g roasted salted peanuts, coarsely ground
2 tbsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted
300g pomelo, separated (you’ll need about a 500g pomelo as the skin is very thick)
150g plum sauce
Juice of 1 lime
Pomelo juice (reserve from when you peel the pomelo)
1½ tsp sesame oil
1½ tsp onion oil (optional)
½ tsp five spice powder
pinch of salt
- Cut each wonton skin in half, then into five portions across each half. They’re meant to resemble golden pillows when they’re fried.
- Peel the taro and coarsely grate into long strips. Divide into two portions and place into a ceramic or glass bowl. Colour one portion green, and the other red. I used gel colours, but liquid colours will work fine.
- Deep fry the wonton skins in two batches so that the don’t stick together. Remove and drain on paper towels, and repeat for the green, then red coloured taro.
- Grate the fresh ingredients as required and place in a separate covered containers so that they don’t dry out. Put in the fridge so that they are cold when served. If need be, refresh them in a little ice water before serving.
- Make the dressing and reserve.
- Just before serving, assemble ingredients on a plate, with salmon in the middle.
- The head of the dinner gets to pour over dressing, and everyone should toss the yee sang with their chopsticks for good luck.