IT’S Chinese New Year on Sunday, February 10, 2013. The Chinese New Year, which follows the Lunar Calendar, happens to fall on this auspicious date this year, which is the start of the Year of the Water Snake. And since we have a huge Chinese community here in the Philippines, Chinese New Year is a big holiday in the country, which will usher in the New Year with fireworks, Dragon and Lion Dances, lucky red envelopes called ang pao or hong bao, the giving away of tikoy (or Chinese sticky rice cakes), and, of late, the tossing of a prosperity salad called Yee Sang or Yu Sheng.
While the tradition of tossing a raw fish salad for good luck can be traced to Old China, the tossing of the Yee Sang prosperity salad is believed to be more of a recent tradition started by the Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese. The Yee Sang is a raw fish salad arranged on a big platter with shredded vegetables, peanuts, condiments and a variety of sauces in small bowls. Family members gather around it and, armed with chopsticks, mix up the ingredients and toss the salad high up in the air. It is believed that the higher you toss the salad, the more lucky you will be throughout the year. So, for once, making a mess – and sometimes hitting the ceiling with the salad – is desired. After tossing the salad while shouting “Lo Hei!” or “Huat Chay!” the family partakes of the prosperity salad, which signals the start of a bountiful celebration meal.
Last Tuesday (February 5, 2013), my husband Raff and I joined an intimate group of media practitioners at Makati Shangri-La for a Yee Sang Prosperity Toss and a full-course Prosperity Meal prepared by Chef Richard Thong of The Shang Palace. Hosted by Director of Communications Lesley Tan and Assistant Communications Manager Mica Siquijor-Cordero, the Prosperity Lunch had all of us tossing the huge platter of Yee Sang Salad in the center of the round lauriat table’s lazy Susan.
The Shang Palace’s Yee Sang Salad, which is available to diners for the duration of the Chinese New Year celebration, consists of shredded carrots (which symbolizes good luck that is approaching), white radish (progress at a fast pace), green radish (forever young), peanuts (a household filled with silver and gold), pomelo (numerous sources of wealth), sesame seeds (prosperity for business), smoked salmon (abundance throughout the year), lime or calamansi (riches and safety for the whole family), pepper and cinnamon (may all your wishes be fulfilled), deep-fried crisps (floor full of gold), plum sauce (attract wealth and treasures), and oil (good luck and smooth sailing).
The carrots and other shredded vegetables and pomelo are arranged on the platter, which we seasoned with pepper and cinnamon, topped with smoked salmon and deep-fried crisps, squeezed with calamansi, and poured with plum sauce and oil before tossing the entire thing high up into the air as part of the Chinese New Year tradition.
We then took small amounts from the mess of a salad that we made and ate it together like one whole family. From there, we proceeded to the other courses of the Chinese lauriat lunch, all in one way or another prosperity dishes meant to bring us good luck in the Year of the Water Snake – Prosperity Noodles, Assorted Dim Sum (Siu Mai and Hargau which we Filipinos know better as Pork Siomai and Hakao, respectively) plus BBQ Pork Pies, followed by Dry Oysters with Tofu Skin, Steamed Lapu-Lapu and Fried Rice with Chinese Sausage in Lotus Leaf, and ending with Fried Tikoy, Pineapple Cakes and Egg Tarts.
Of all these prosperity dishes, we Filipinos are most familiar with the tikoy, which has become a part of our own Chinese New Year tradition. We usually prepare it by cutting the round sticky rice cake into thin strips, then dipping each strip in beaten egg and pan-frying. But Chef Richard Thong, who has other suggestions on how else to prepare the tikoy. One is to cut the tikoy into strips, dip it in beaten egg as we do, and then coat it with flour before pan-frying them. Another way to prepare the tikoy, a lighter and healthier way, is to cut the tikoy into strips, steam them, and then either eat them as is or coat them with desiccated coconut. Well, you can also wrap tikoy strips in lumpia wrapper before frying them for added crunch, but Chef Richard’s steaming suggestion seems to be the best. Shall we try them, then, this Chinese New Year?
Gong Xi Fa Cai or Kung Hei Fatt Choy, everyone! May the Year of the Water Snake bring us all good health, good fortune, good family ties and career success!