Claim on yee sang tossed out

  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 31 Jan 2012

PETALING JAYA: First it was bak kut teh and Hainanese chicken rice that became a heated dispute between foodies in Singapore and Malaysia.

Now an academician from the island wants to lay claim to the Chinese New Year tradition of yee sang by listing it as an intangible cultural heritage of Singapore.

The suggestion has been quickly tossed out of the window by many Malaysians.

The issue erupted when the academician stated in his Facebook page that he wanted to see six things in Singapore on Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Five others are the popular yam seng toast, the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, the Hungry Ghost Festival stage performances, Singaporean cuisine and Singlish.

Klang Hokkien Association president Dr Ler Cheng Chye said simple logic would denounce even the remotest possibility that yee sang was from Singapore.

“The custom of eating yee sang during Chinese New Year belongs to the Cantonese and given that people of this dialect are mostly from Kuala Lumpur, it must have originated from here,’’ said Dr Ler.

He pointed out that most Singaporean Chinese used the Teochew and Hokkien dialect.

“So how can yee sang be theirs?’’ asked Dr Ler, adding that Malaya also existed way before Singapore came into the picture, and tossing of yee sang was already practised even before the republic was born.

Kwang Siew Wai Kuan Johor Baru Cantonese Association member Elaine Yai said yee sang was very likely to be a Cantonese dish from the way it is prepared.

“Our style of preparing food is to use minimal seasoning like plum sauce and fresh ingredients, while the Teochew and Hokkien love to braise their food,” she said.

She concurred with Dr Ler that it was very likely that the dish did not originate in Singapore as most Singaporean Chinese were Teochew and Hokkien.

Yai said both countries should “share” the dish since it is said to trace back all the way to Malaya when Singapore was still part of it.

“It doesn’t matter who claims it belongs to since there are no historical facts to support it at this time.

Universiti Malaya Chinese Studies Department head Dr Thock Ker Pong said it was difficult to determine whether yee sang belonged to Malaysia or Singapore.

“The Chinese in both countries, a long time ago, were from the same country. By virtue of this, they have a lot of things in common,’’ he said.

Dr Thock said detailed research should be carried out to determine the origin of yee sang.

In 2009, Singaporeans were all riled up when Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen had said that bak kut teh and Hainanese chicken rice belonged to Malaysia.

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