Dear fellow tasters,
A few days ago, to welcome the lunar or Chinese year of the dragon, I was invited to a Yee Sang Dinner at Lai Ching (meaning a beautiful jade), a sophisticated and stylish Cantonese restaurant located on the second floor of five-star Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta. Prior to a couple of weeks before the dinner, I was not aware of what Yee Sang is. But after tweets from Erza S.T. who invited me to the dinner and googling through wikipedia and other websites, I became a bit acquainted with this salad dish which have been more popularized in Indonesia in recent years as a Chinese New Year cuisine.
Yee Sang or Yu Sheng (鱼生), literally means “raw fish” but also known as prosperity toss, is a raw fish salad, comprising of different shredded vegetables, slices of raw fish (salmon is commonly used these days), mixed with sauces and condiments, and other ingredients (in some version up to 27 ingredients are used). The Chinese philosophy behind yee sang is its homophone to the same Chinese words meaning “an increase in abundance”. Thus, yee sang is considered a symbol of wishes for abundance and prosperity in the coming year.
The Lai Ching version of the yee sang that evening consisted of carrots, radishes, lime leaves, jellyfish, pumpkin, ginger, cucumber, papaya, orange peel, grapefruit (pomelo), almond, pickled garlic, and salmon. Meanwhile the condiments included pepper, cinnamon, sesame oil, plum sauce, and crunchy golden crackers. The most interesting part before enjoying the yee sang, more with the Chinese philosophy, was that with the adding of ingredients, a spell related to each ingredient was mentioned as a notion of good wishes and hopes for the year to come.
Then came the tossing part involving every dinner guests picking up the chopsticks, stirring and tossing the yee sang while supposedly pronouncing more spells or the “Lo hei lo hei” (撈起, 撈起) – we kind of skipped the last part because of too much enthusiasm. It is believed the higher the tossing, the more abundant the fortune will be. For the eating part, we couldn’t even be bothered to pick up a small plate and just shared together the yee sang on the big serving plate. As for the taste (for me as a yee sang virgin), it was surprisingly delicious, with sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, salty taste as well as with a jumble of different textures from all the ingredients, crunchy and utterly refreshing.
Then after the yee sang as the focus and the first appetizer of the evening, the dinner continued with several courses of Lai Ching’s signature dishes, cooked by Chef Suratno with great balance and consistency. The braised bird nest with bamboo pith might look a bit plain, but the taste was elegant and delectable. It was then followed by the braised sliced abalone with oyster sauce on top of crunchy lettuce – simple yet flavorsome seafood choice, and the steamed soon hock with soya sauce – a clean and well-balanced fish dish.
Another winner for me was the roasted crispy pigeon, a bit of a hassle to eat but definitely a delightful scrumptious treat. The tiny yet tasty pigeon was good enough to eat on its own or with a dash or peppered salt and seasoned soy sauce. The following two courses were the garlic sautéed assorted mushroom – delicious and tasteful, and the spicy fried rice with wagyu beef cubes – a bit ordinary but quite enjoyable.
I was feeling a bit full after all the delicious dishes but the dessert was just too good to pass by. A dessert platter with three different samplers were served – from most favorite to the least, the “guilin” herbal jelly or guilinggao served with honey (supposedly made of turtle shell powder), the chilled mango pudding, and the chilled almond bean curd with fruits. To finish off the wonderful dinner that evening, another Chinese New Year specialty was presented, the nian gao (also known as kue keranjang or basket cake). The Lai Ching version is made using glutinous rice and white sugar, instead of brown sugar, and then flour coated and deep fried, resulting in crunchy on the outside and sticky sweet on the inside delight.
I certainly had a mind-blowing Chinese New Year dinner that evening, even though it was a little bit early. There were good conversation, good companies, a lot of good laugh and definitely good food on the lazy susan. I would like to thank Mr. Erza, Ms. Marlene as the Director of Public Relations of Four Seasons Jakarta, Ms. Uti as Lai Ching Restaurant Manager, and Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta for the wonderful Yee Sang dinner.
恭喜发财, 新年快乐! Gong Xi Fa Cai, Xi Nian Kuai Le! Happy Lunar New Year!
PS: Yee Sang at Lai Ching is available until 15 days after Chinese New Year for a price of 288k++, special Chinese New Year set menu is also available for lunch and dinner starting from 688k++/pax
The taster’s notes:
Favorite dish – yee sang, braised abalone, roasted pigeon
What to try next time – curious about the dim sums
Price rating unknown but I’ll put in