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Spring Festival: Malaysia

The Spring Festival is a holiday celebrating family as much as it is about bringing good fortune, and what better way to do that than through food? Traditionally, almost everything eaten over the course of the Spring Festival represents something auspicious. Long noodles represent a long life. In the local Hokkien (a dialect of Chinese), tangerines are a homonym for ‘luck’ and oranges are a homonym for ‘wealth’. There exists a very long list of auspicious foods commonly eaten over the Spring Festival, but in Malaysia, there exists a very special food tradition called “Yusheng”. This tradition is both fun and accessible, even to those not living in Asia. Although most commonly eaten on the seventh day of the Spring Festival, it’s eaten any time before Chap Goh Mei, the Hokkien name for the Lantern Festival.

Yusheng, also known as Yee Sang or the Prosperity Toss, is all about throwing food as high as possible. This dish is made up of many raw or pickled vegetables and seasonings, topped with raw fish. Every single ingredient has a connotation of good fortune to it, for example the fish being a homophone for ‘abundance’ or sesame seeds representing a prosperous business. Even the color of the spices carries symbolism, such as red pepper being lucky. Some of the more common ingredients include peanuts, carrots, radishes, five-spice powder, leeks, pepper, sesame oil, plum sauce and raw salmon.

The assembly of this dish is very simple and very fun. One person is chosen to lead the meal, and adds ingredients to the dish one at a time. Each time an ingredient is added, a wish is made for the new year, typically related to the meaning of the ingredient. When everything has been added, all diners stand and toss the dish into the air shouting “Lo hei!” and making wishes. The tradition is that the higher one tosses the food, the more prosperous their year will be.

As difficult as meeting friends and family might be right now, we wish everyone many joyous meals this Spring Festival: 恭喜发财 (Gong hei fat choy, or "wishing you prosperity and wealth")!

by S. Howie Immortal Staff

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