The thing about Chinese food is there’s a philosophy in just everything served on your plate. I mean, you put a naive peanut there and suddenly there is a complex lecture on either prosperity, fortune, vitality or perhaps fertility coming along behind it. And it’s not even fried yet.
Now, yee sang – or yusheng – literally means the toss of prosperity, and deemed as the food of God. And it’s a salad. It’s a salad with up to 27 ingredients. You actually can write a thesis on Chinese civilization based on this single dish alone, and claim yourself a philosopher. Being zen, I’d simplify it as one word: delifreakinglicious.
In Lai Ching at Four Seasons Jakarta, the yee sang contains carrot, radish, lime leaves, jelly fish, pumpkin, cucumber, papaya, orange peel, grapefruit, pepper, cinnamon, and topped with salmon. They are all tossed with peanut, sesame, onion oil, and plum sauce. It physically looks like a pile of veggies with salmon obviously, and with striking orange and gold color – surely means prosperity and wealth. Basically, you mix everything, and eat it with your chopsticks. But, not until you cast not less than seven mantras. Seven.
When placing the yee sang in the middle of our Lazy Susan. we must say, “Gong xi fat chai!” – better done in a high pitch, shrieking voice. Then, put an orange and pray, “Ta chi thali,” for lots of luck. The third mantra comes as we place the pepper, sow sauce, peanut and sesame, and it goes, “Shuang xi lin men,” for double happiness. Add the onion oil and plum sauce, and bless your sweet and easy life with sweet memory by praying, “Tian tian mi mi.” The salmon comes next, altogether with the mantra for annual abundance – “Nien nie yu yee!” My favorite is the sixth one, “Pien ti wang ching!” which means, “May each year will be full of gold and glory” – casted while putting the gold-colored cracker on top of the fish. And finally comes the last mantra, “Ta chia i chi law te fung sen swei chi lo hei lo hei!” which means let’s just get done with it and get friggin’ rich!
Now, the reason why it’s called Prosperity Toss is because you, and your relatives, or business partners, or triad members, should circle around a plate of yee sang, then use your chopsticks to mix that salad by tossing it to the air. The higher to toss the bigger the fortune. It’ll be a joyous mess on your table before that salad finally enter your mouth. All those rituals will finally have a payoff. Once again, a delifreakinglicious payoff.
Last night, the Salmon Yee Sang was followed by a beautiful and invigorating soup of braised bird nest with bamboo pith. It was then followed by the arrogant, showoff slice of abalone – braised and bathed in oyster sauce. The steamed lazy fish with soya sauce that came next had an elegant taste that made us craving for more. Then it’s Lai Ching’s roasted crispy pigeon that was really addictive. My low point was in the promised-to-be spicy fried rice that failed to make my taste buds dance. Thank God it came with Wagyu. The assorted mushrooms that followed had soothing effect both for my tongue and digestive.
I had the joy of sharing this Yee Sang dinner with newfound friends – food bloggers at best! – and greeted by Chef Suratno. The beauty of Lai Ching itself lies in its simplicity. The food speaks for itself without any need of extravagant presentation. Our table was in the private room, but even in the common dining are there was enough space to gave each table a sense of privacy. Being pork-free, Lai Ching still manages to serve excellent Cantonese with one of the best dim sum deals in town – starting from Rp108K++ for up to 30 varieties of dim sum and 3 additional dishes from the a la carte menu.
To close the dinner we were served with a long plate of Guilin Kao with honey, chilled almond bean curd and chilled mango pudding – each came in sampling portion. Next time, I’ll have the Guilin Kao in full portion and forget the other two. The very final offering for these gluttonous food bloggers last night was a plate of fried nian gao, or “basket cake”. Of course there is also a philosophy behind this cake that is sophisticated enough for you to write a book. But let me simply tell you what’s the most interesting thing for me about this cake that is made of glutinous rice and sugar; “nian” means “year”, and “gao” means “cake”, but the sound also similar to the words “going high”. So it’s like with this cake one can get high all year long? We should bring this to Amsterdam.
Lai Ching at Four Seasons Jakarta
Yee Sang Dinner is served only for 15 days after the Chinese New Year