Each ingredient has its own unique symbolism. The fish, often being raw salmon is the main ingredient of the dish, symbolizing abundance throughout the year. It is because “fish” and “abundance” both share the same pronunciation of “yu” in mandarin. The other common ingredients are pomelo, carrot, radish, pickled ginger, pepper, peanuts, sesame seeds.
The special sauce is a mixture of hoisin sauce, apricot or plum sauce, and honey to give it a sweet, tangy and savoury flavour. Some crackers will be added to give some crunchiness to the dish.
Rituals and the ingredients’ symbolism
The tossing takes place before the meal starts. On a big round plate, one representative of the diners will need to place the ingredients one after one while saying some auspicious wishes related to the ingredients. As mentioned earlier, the ingredients can be different, based on the family recipes. Hence, there are no specific steps and auspicious wishes.
RWSCooper suggested starting with adding the raw salmon while saying 年年有余(Nian Nian You Yu), meaning abundance year after year. Followed by carrot shreds and wishing everyone 鸿运当头 (Hong Yun Dang Tou) which bless everyone with good luck. Green and white radish shreds shall be added next with the wish of 青春永驻 (Qing Chun Yong Zhu) in hope of being youthful forever. Pepper and the five-spice powder shall then be sprinkled with the saying of 五福临门 (Wu Fu Lin Men) meaning may the five blessings descend upon you. Wishes related to good fortune and good luck like 招财进宝(Zhao Cai Jin Bao) and 大吉大利 (Da Ji Da Li) shall be stated while we drizzle fragrant sesame oil and lime juice. While adding a sweet flavour with plum sauce, the auspicious wish is 甜甜蜜蜜 (Tian Tian Mi Mi) wishing for a sweet and loving relationship. The final step is to add the cracker while saying 偏低黄金 (Pian Di Huang Jin) which is literally translated as may you find gold all over the streets as the crackers are often in gold colour.
Then, it is followed by the most exciting part of yee sang ritual which is tossing. This is also known as the most instagrammable session. Everyone will join in with their pair of chopsticks to toss the ingredients up high into the air while saying “lo hei” out loud. “Lo hei” literally means scoop it up. The higher the toss is, it is believed that the new year will be better, filled with good luck and good fortune. Finally, everyone will take a portion of the salad and enjoy it as an appetizer.