Chinese New Year Series: Yee Sang


Check out our other Yee Sang post and video here.

Eating Yee Sang in Malaysia and Singapore is a tradition every Chinese New Year. Yee Sang is basically a Chinese raw fish salad. Unlike Japanese, Chinese do not eat raw fish, preferring it cooked. However, this is the only Chinese dish which we know contains raw fish. However, I must add that this is a dish invented in Singapore and is popular only in Malaysia and Singapore. So, if you ask Chinese outside of Malaysia and Singapore, they will very likely not know what Yee Sang is.

Half the fun in eating Yee Sang is by a communal tossing of the salad with chopsticks. The action of tossing is known as Lo Hei which symbolizes increasing prosperity, abundance and vigor. That is why this dish is very popular among businessmen.

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We gathered around the table with the kids to toss the Yee Sang. We had to make sure we briefed the kids how to toss or else, heaven forbid, they will throw the salad all over the place! They were excited over this alright. However, most of the kids does not like Yee Sang but the adults do.

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The Yee Sang is characterized by it’s colorfulness. It is served in a large flat platter with vegetables arranged around a small serving of raw fish in the middle. It had been many, many years since Suanne and I have last eaten Yee Sang. So, we were glad when Jess told us she knows how to make it. It looked really good and it smells great too … just like the Yee Sangs I used to know.

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It is a lot of work preparing this dish. Jess told us that she worked until midnight doing all the preparation and shredding of vegetables. Suanne did not get the exact amount of ingredients from Jess but Jess did provide a lot of details of how she made this. She is an expert cook and have done a lot of exotic dishes which Suanne had not even dare to try … dishes like Hokkien Mee. Jess is so expert she does not use measurements!

Here are some of the ingredients. For the raw fish, she uses salmon. For the vegetables, which provides the crunch to the salad, she uses the following:

  • Green Papaya
  • Daikon
  • Carrots
  • Turnip
  • Jicama
  • Yam
  • Ginger
  • Other vegetables suitable for this dish are cucumber and red cabbage. Any fruits or vegetables that can be thinly julienne and dont turn brown will be great for this dish.

The sauce (or salad dressing, is you may), consists of

  • Plum Sauce
  • Sesame Paste (1/3 volume of the Plum Sauce), and
  • Honey (also 1/3 volume of the Plum Sauce)

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The hardest work is to shred the vegetables into long thin strips. Mark found a way to use a serrated vegetable peeler to help the process. It sure cuts down the time taken but the strips are not fine. Good enough. Anyone knows another way to do this better?

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Another important ingredient is the pomelo which is a fruit native to South East Asia. It is like a green orange the size of a basketball.

The ones below are shredded yam and coloured and fried in hot oil. This gives the dish a vibrant green and red. Other ingredients not shown here are some crispy fried dough or you can use fried wonton skin.

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For the sauce, Jess cooked all the three sauces in low heat until one can smell the fragrance of the sesame paste.

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The next important thing is presenting this on the platter. First off, arrange all the vegetables on a ring around the platter. Arrange it so that the colour balances. Next, the raw fish is places in the middle and topped with some sliced ginger. Squeeze some lime juice over the raw fish. Sprinkle the crispy dough (or fried wonton skins) around the dish, not covering the raw fish. Next, season the platter with five spice powder and pepper. Finally, drizzle the sauce with equal amount of vegetable oil around the entire dish. This gives a gloss to the dish.

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Thanks Jess (and Mark for taking pictures!) for sharing this recipe. We all enjoyed this Yee Sang very much. I know where to go for a good Yee Sang the next Chinese New Year!

15 thoughts on “Chinese New Year Series: Yee Sang

  1. I’m not saying that it’s invented in Malaysia but Malaysians have been eating yee sang since 1952. So, the Chinese (guangzhou) created this dish (in a much simpler form)- and thus the name ‘yee(yu) sang’in cantonese, passed it down southwards to our region, made popular, improved and with more and more varieties to it. Singapore marketed it well :)Check wiki sources/reference under page.

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  3. It was invented in Seremban, Malaysia, according to a newspaper report I read when it first became popular in the 80’s.

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    • Thanks for posting this. I am Malaysian living in the States and yee sang is one of the most wonderful rituals I look forward to each year. My husband and I will attempt to make our own this year, though it probably won’t be as extravagant as the one you had posted here.

      Happy Chinese New Year (xin nien kuai le)!

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  8. Sis, your Yee Sang looks a bit difference from ours here, ours one is very commercialise, you can find them even weeks before CNY in most restaurant. Frankly I can’t figure out what are most of the ingredient.

  9. Ooooh… Yu san. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this dish. I had it once or twice in Taiwan, but it’s definitely a SE Asian thing. The Vietnamese, Thai, and Indonesians have versions as well.

  10. It looks really interesting and I’ve never heard of it before. But after I read the ingredients, it’s a bit look like Thai seafood salad… Yum Yum.

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