Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tossed Salad of Prosperity

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

The direct translation is "Wish You Good Fortune," but in my mind, it's always meant "Happy New Year!"

January 23 kicked off the multi-week celebration that is Chinese New Year. Growing up in America, I never realized that the festivities lasted more than one day. Here in Malaysia, it's just party after party for 15 days. The first two days are even a public holiday since people go home for a big family reunion.

Chinese New Year is determined by the lunar calendar, so the date floats around on the Gregorian (Western) calendar. Some years, it's as late as Valentine's Day, but it was extra early this year. Our school even delayed the start of Spring Semester to accomodate all the Chinese who needed to travel home for the occasion.

A big group from hubby's company went out for a celebratory Chinese New Year lunch, and the locals had a good time teaching all the expats about food traditions. When my hubby came home and told me about Yee Sang, I just knew the whole family needed to try it. "Yee Sang" is a near homophone to the word for "abundance", so it's considered very lucky. It's such a popular dish here in SE Asia, that Malaysia and Singapore are actually battling over who gets bragging rights for inventing it.

When we sat down for the restaurant's Chinese New Year dinner, a big platter of Yee Sang was waiting for us on the table.

All the elements were arranged in tidy little piles around the center of crispy fried wanton strips that symbolized a floor full of gold. You could tell that someone in the kitchen had been busy with the food processor. There were julienned strips of carrots, radishes, pickled ginger, maybe some jellyfish, halved limes and a few other crunchy bits I couldn't quite identify. We added in the thinly sliced raw salmon but skipped the five spice powder.

Then came the fun part! Everyone sticks their chopsticks in the salad and starts tossing. The higher the toss, the greater the prosperity in the upcoming year.

Come on kids! Let's see how high we can toss it. Okay that's high enough. No, no. You must at least attempt to have it land on the plate. No, there are no extra points for hitting other diners. Ack! Sorry m'am. Didn't mean to hit you. I guess some of our prosperity is coming your way.

You're also supposed to say various auspicious wishes out loud, so I just kept repeating, "Good Fortune! Abundance! Prosperity!" This is what the platter looked like when we were done.

See, most of it is still on the plate. Afterwards, we all dug in and started eating. It was delicious — really crunchy with a citrusy tang. We are definitely doing it again next year.

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