Yee Sang: Experiencing the Prosperity Toss to welcome the Lunar New Year (GMA News Online)

Chef Richard Thong prepares the yee sang

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last January 26, 2014)

As the Lunar New Year approaches, many people are looking forward to doing the Prosperity Toss, also called Yee Sang. This interactive, must-have dish for Chinese New Year celebrations originated from the Chinese-Singaporeans in the 1960s and has become popular throughout other Chinese communities in the Southeast Asian region as well.

Those who are familiar with it would know that it is an enjoyable activity for the whole family and even for business associates to usher in the Chinese New Year, and this year is the most auspicious year of the wooden horse. I was only able to experience it for the first time at a lunch event in Shang Palace at Shangri-La Makati. I knew I was in for a treat when I discovered that it involves mixing over 20 salad ingredients in a large round plate and then tossing everything as high as possible using chopsticks.

My lunch mates and I were all smiles during the activity because we not only got to play with our food, but were also able to shout out our dreams and aspirations since the tradition calls for it. The higher the salad is thrown in the air, the higher the chances of the wishes being granted. Although I didn’t say my wish out loud, I made sure to toss the ingredients as high as possible. Maybe that would make up for the lack of vocalization.

Executive chef Richard Thong, a Singaporean-born chef with over 25 years of culinary experience, led the prosperity toss by asking everyone to shout “Gong Xi Fa Cai”, which translates to “Congratulations for your wealth.” After which, participants would need to say “Wan Shi Ru Yi”, which means “May all your wishes be fulfilled”.

The chef then added salmon slices to symbolize abundance and excess through the year. While doing so, he instructed us to shout “Nian Nian You Yu”, which is “Abundance through the year” in English.

Then he added pomelo or lime to represent luck and auspicious value, and then we uttered something that denotes “Good luck and smooth sailing.”

I discovered that each ingredient meant something, and each also had a corresponding greeting to be articulated. We participated in the salad preparation and I enjoyed the interaction between the diners. We then sprinkled pepper in the hope of attracting more wealth and valuables. Then the chef poured oil in a circular motion to encourage money to flow from all directions.

We then added carrots for blessings of good luck and said the words “Hong Yun Dang Tou” or “Good luck is approaching”. Director of communications Lesley Anne Tan said that the carrot indicates luck. “This is because the first character for carrot is also the same character to mean the color red, a lucky color in Chinese culture.”

The addition of shredded green radish signified eternal youth, so we said “Qing Chun Chang Zhu” (“Forever young”).

The final vegetable, shredded white radish, stands for prosperity in business and promotion at work.

To complete our salad concoction, we incorporated condiments such as peanut crumbs to symbolize a house filled with gold and silver; sesame seeds to represent a flourishing business; and deep-fried flour crisps in the shape of golden pillows so that the whole floor would be filled with gold.

After combining all the necessary ingredients, all of us diners armed ourselves with chopsticks and tossed the salad up in the air. The table was a mess after, but that didn’t stop us from partaking of the supposedly lucky salad. I made sure to eat everything on my plate—from the fish to the flour crisps—and didn’t leave a crumb on my plate. Who knows? It might actually bring me good fortune this coming lunar year.

Aside from the prosperity toss, diners may also enjoy set menus of traditional Cantonese delicacies at the Shang Palace. Some notable dishes are the suckling pig combination platter, stir-fried scallops with XO sauce, and steamed lapu-lapu Hong Kong-style in light soya sauce. The pig platter was a good palate teaser, but what stood out for me were the scallops that were practically the size of golf balls.

To complete our Chinese New Year lunch celebration, we munched on some tikoy for dessert. Shang Palace offers the traditional flavor, as well as yam and coconut. I liked this sticky treat so much that I ate a piece of each flavor even if I felt like my belly was going to burst.

It was truly a filling meal—fit to welcome the lunar year.