, we were assigned simpler tasks like peeling mountains of garlic, shallots and arrowroot. Woe to the one who had the unfortunate task of pounding chillies. In those days, there were no food processors and a stone pestle & mortar was used. The burning sensation on the hands would last for hours afterwards!!
Along with the aroma of bubbling broth and the clink of pots and pans, I loved the laughter and gay chatter shared among the cousins and aunts.
I didn't see it before but now I realize that this age-old celebration is like Thanksgiving. It's the time of the year when Chinese families gather together to give thanks for the bountiful harvest as winter nears its end and to ensure the new year brings happiness, health and prosperity. Instead of turkey, we have fish (yee), which is the homonym for abundance in Cantonese , sea cucumber (hoi sum) for happiness, Fatt Choy ( a kind of fungus) for prosperity and several other auspicious sounding dishes.
In Malaysia and Singapore, the "Yee Sang" has become a popular tradition among contemporary Chinese families.
Basically, it is a salad of finely sliced raw fish, julienned carrots, daikon, jellyfish, etc sprinkled with ground peanuts , roasted sesame seeds and shrimp crackers. Each ingredient has a special significance.
The "yee sang" is served as the first course. The fun begins with the communal tossing of the ingredients into the air with chopsticks while wishes are expressed out loud to mark the start of a prosperous new year and it's customary that the higher you toss, the greater your fortunes!
If you don't fancy laboring the whole day in front of a stove, the occasion can always be celebrated in a restaurant or hotel. Thanks to inventive and entrepreneurial chefs, set menus priced in auspicious numbers eg RM588, RM688 are available. The number 8 is homonymous with prosperity.
Even Pizza Hut has the Golden Fortune Cheesy Crown Pizza which is loaded with 8 prawns ( 'Ha' for laughter) and tuna ( 'yee' for prosperity) and surrounded by a golden ring of cheese crowns.
Not a pizza fan? There's always MacDonalds's Double Prosperity Burger!