“Don’t eat that, it’s yeet hay”!
These are words that most overseas Chinese children have heard from their parents endlessly whilst growing up. Typically, just before they are about to bite into some yummy (and often unhealthy) food.
So what is “yeet hay”? And how do I explain it to my western friends?
When a Chinese person says they have “yeet hay”, what they are usually describing is the symptoms – sore throat, mouth ulcer, acne, nose bleeding, sore eyes, tiredness. “Yeet hay” can be used to describe a person – “you have yeet hay” (ie. you are ill), or it can be used to describe a food – “that cheeseburger is yeet hay” (ie. that cheeseburger is yeet hay (“hot”) and it’s not good for you).
In Cantonese, “yeet hay” literally means “hot air”. In Mandarin the equivalent is “huo qi da” (火气大), which literary means “fire air big”. This is a concept which most Chinese people learn from an early age and plays a key part in Chinese healthy living. However, frustratingly, outside of the Chinese community, this seems to be an unknown concept. Indeed, I have yet to come across any East Asian (Japanese, Korean, Philippino etc) friends who understand this concept, let alone any Western friends.
In a nutshell, “yeet hay” is referring to the fact that there is Yin and Yang in food and anything which is too “hot” (or “cold”) is bad for you.
“Yin yang”, “hot”, “cold” – what are you on about?
Sounds strange huh? No wonder non-Chinese people have no idea what we’re talking about!
Chinese medicine believes in “Qi” energy. You’ve heard of “Qi” right? ”Qi” (like the Force) flows through the living human body. This is tied to the concept of Yin and
Yang (you know, that cool black and white circle symbol). When the body is “in balance”, we are healthy. When it is “out of balance”, we get ill.
So what does this have to do with “yeet hay”?
Tied to the concept of yin and yang, is the concept of “hot” and “cold” – “hot” – yang energy, “cold” – yin energy. In this context, “hot” and “cold” is not talking about temperature, it’s about the type of energy. Chinese belief divides all food into “hot” or “cold”. When there is too much “hot” energy in your body, your body is “out of balance” and you have “yeet hay” – which makes you ill. Crispy or fried foods, beef, chilies and peppers are considered “hot” foods, while soy beans, lettuce and oranges are considered “cool” foods. According to Chinese beliefs, an imbalance of “hot” and “cold” in the body is thought to cause sickness. A healthy person is in good balance between cold and heat. When a person eats too many “hot” foods, there is a hot imbalance called “yeet-hay.”
How do I get yeet hay?
Yeet hay is typically brought on by eating lots of fried and greasy foods such as burgers, fried chicken, chips, crisps etc. Hot and spicy food like curries can also bring on ”yeet hay”. Lack of sleep can also bring on “yeet hay”. The symptoms of yeet hay can vary. If you are only a little yeet hay, you may have a sore throat and a breakout in spots. If you are very yeet hay, then you may have mouth ulcers and nose bleeds.
It varies from person to person. Some people are more susceptible than others. Ie. When having a hot and spicy curry with friends, one will break out into spots the next morning and the other one will be fine.
So, what do I do if I get yeet hay?
If you have yeet hay, then according to Chinese medicine you are “too hot”, so the cure is eat or drink something to “cool down”. Typically, you would drink “liáng chá” (凉茶) (literary “cool teas”) such as Chrysanthemum tea and “yah-sei mei” (24-flavor tea). These are traditional Chinese herbal teas.
If you have yeet hay, then another important “cure” is to get a good night’s sleep.
This sounds like a load of [*****] hot air!
Having grown up in the western world, it does sound a bit hard to believe. Qi energy? “Hot” and “cold” food? It may be easier if you simply conceptualize ”yeet hay” as a shorthand way of diagnosing symptoms of an illness. When a Chinese person has a sore throat, nose bleed, mouth ulcer etc., they will normally simply say “I have yeet hay”. The normal Chinese way to “heal” this “illness” is to eat/drink Chinese herbal “cooling” remedies – various teas and other herbal drinks. This can be seen as similar to “home herbal remedies” in the western world for colds and flus.
A lot of modern Chinese people, having grown up in the western world, do not believe in the concept of “yeet hay”. In fact some of the “modern” Chinese youth believe that the whole concept of “yeet hay” is a control mechanism by Chinese parents to stop them from eating junk food. Coincidentally everything that is tasty – pizzas, coca-cola, chocolate etc is all yeet hay, whilst everything that is not yeet hay is not very tasty – basically – vegetables and rice!
The main contention is that many people in the western world who eat hot and spicy foods don’t get sick at all. Indeed, a lot of people would call the whole concept of “yeet hay” a myth as there is no scientific basis in saying that all spicy foods can make you sick.
I would suggest that the best way to look at this is that it’s not about what makes you sick. Eating too much of anything will make you ill. Chinese medicine takes this one step further to group what it terms as “yeet hay” food (which happens to be mostly junk food), and explains that we shouldn’t eat too much of it. Conversely, when we have the symptoms of yeet hay, Chinese medicine tells us to drink more cooling foods.
Ultimately the message is not a mystical one – it’s simply about having a healthy diet and eating in moderation.