Welcome Chinese New Year with a 'prosperity toss'

By Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Feb 05 2013 06:27 PM | Updated as of Feb 06 2013 02:27 AM

Makati Shangri-La's Chinese executive chef Richard Thong demonstrates how the prosperity toss is done. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

MANILA, Philippines – It may just look like a salad to most people, but for those who celebrate the Chinese New Year, yee sang is a way to attract wealth and good luck.

Also called yusheng or lo hei, yee sang is a raw fish salad used for the “prosperity toss,” a ceremony done in Chinese New Year festivities in China, Singapore, Malaysia and, slowly, in the Philippines.

Richard Thong, Chinese executive chef of the Makati Shangri-La hotel, said yee sang became popular in the 1960s as the chefs’ way of including foreigners, particularly the Indians and Malaysians, in Chinese New Year celebrations.

“The Indian and the Malay can’t eat meat, so in Singapore, they came up with this salad to celebrate together with different cultures and diets,” Thong told a select group of food writers during the preview of Makati Shangri-La’s Chinese New Year offerings, which include the yee sang, on Tuesday.

“We use fish as a sign of respect [since they don’t eat meat],” he added.

The ingredients

Like most dishes served during Chinese New Year, each ingredient in the yee sang symbolizes something auspicious.

There is the raw fish, which is believed to bring in abundance throughout the year. Thong’s version of yee sang included salmon, but any type of fish may be used.

“The word ‘fish’ in Chinese means you go very smoothly for the entire year,” he explained.

“And the fish is always like a sea dragon,” he added, noting that the dragon traditionally symbolizes luck and power in Chinese mythology and folklore.

The rest of the salad include raw vegetables and fruits sliced thinly to look like noodles, deep-friend flour crisps, plum sauce, calamansi, sesame oil, sesame seeds, peanuts, cinnamon and pepper.

Yee sang may also include abalone and other types of seafood. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Thong said carrots symbolize that “good luck is approaching,” while pomelo will bring in “numerous sources of wealth.” The bright green radish, preserved in very thick syrup and rinsed, is said to make one “forever young,” while the white radish represents “progress at a fast pace.”

The deep-fried crisps are said to bring in a “floor full of gold,” while peanuts will also “attract gold and silver to the household.” Sesame seeds symbolize “prosperity for business,” calamansi promises “riches and safety for the whole family,” while pepper and cinnamon will help grant wishes.

Plum sauce, Thong said, will “attract wealth and treasures,” while a coat of oil on the salad will bring “good luck and a smooth sailing year.”

The toss

Unlike most salads where the dressing is already added, the ingredients of yee sang are separate from the oil, juices, spices and sauces.

The prosperity toss ceremony begins by putting the thinly sliced vegetables and fruits together with the peanuts in a huge plate, looking like a mountain of noodles.

The calamansi is then squeezed over the raw salmon, which is placed on top of the vegetables and fruits.

Oil is then added to the mix, as well as plum sauce, pepper, cinnamon and the deep fried crisps.

Yee sang ready to be tossed. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

When all the ingredients have been added, everyone at the table must stand up and toss the yee sang as high as they could, shouting their wishes as well as auspicious Chinese New Year phrases such as “lo hei” or “hwa la.”

The higher the toss, the more luck and money will come to you, said Thong, who shared that some even stand on the chair to toss the yee sang so high that the ingredients reach the ceiling.

While the prosperity and luck brought by tossing raw fish and vegetables has yet to be proven, Thong said the ceremony has become an important part of the Chinese New Year festivities, with some families taking it very seriously.

Yee sang can be prepared every day, but the prosperity toss can only be done annually, when welcoming a new lunar year, he said.

Luck or no luck, Filipinos can prepare yee sang at home and use it as a way to bond and get messy (the ingredients will end up all over the table, even on the floor), and to familiarize themselves with Chinese culture.

The prosperity toss can get a little messy. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

The salad itself provides refreshing flavors and lovely textures, and is a great way to start a meal.

So, will you try doing the prosperity toss this year?

Makati Shangri-La lets guests enjoy different types of yee sang this Chinese New Year at its Shang Palace restaurant, with each plate priced between P1,298+++ and P4,888+++. The offer is available from February 8 to 14, 2013.