Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Mommy, is that a cake?

hmmm? Is that a white carrot cake?
Now, what does this look like to you? This white solid chunk sitting in a non-stick springform cake tin. This was taken way back when we had an outdoor barbeque to celebrate mid-autumn festival.

This white chunk sitting oddly inside a cake tin had all of us wondered. We touched it, pressed it, smelled it but none of us could tell what exactly it was. I was feeling slightly excited when I noticed this white chunk sitting on the table. My first instinct shouted 'chai tao kueh' but there were several different opinions on the floor. Some said it didnt smell like chai tao kueh and some said it was too hard to be any kind of kueh. I think some even suggested that it was nian gao, which literary means 'year cake': a type of chinese sticky glutinous rice cake usually enjoyed during chinese new year.

Chai tao kueh is a hokkien term for chinese radish cake. It is sometimes translated in english as carrot cake but as Dennis has pointed out in his post here: the term carrot cake is actually a misnomer because it is in fact made of white radish or daikon radish in japanese. This confusion probably stems out from the chinese term for white radish and carrots. The Chinese called white radish as bai luo bo and carrot as hong luo bo. Luo bo probably refers to the root vegetables families while bai (white) and hong (red) refers to the colour of the root vegetables.

However, sometimes we would just refer both of them as luo bo omitting the colour references. In the olden days when the Chinese still had very little knowledge in vegetables terms, bai luo bo was easily mis-translated as carrot (maybe even white carrot! :p) instead of white radish. So the next time you see carrot cake on a chinese menu, it might not be the red orangey type of carrot cakes you are looking for!

Cutting Cakes! Radish cake that is
chai tao kueh it is!
Anyway, back to the identity crisis of the white chunk in the cake tin. A heated debate was about to start up on the white chunk's identity when the answer was finally revealed upon the arrival of madame chef of the Liu family. (thanks so much~ Liu Mama)

*fake dry cough*
Your highness here was correct! Chai tao keuh it was. See, you should always trust a woman's instinct!

My heart was leaping with joy when it was officially announced that the white chunk was in fact chai tao kueh. This is one of my favourite savoury chinese cake. Strange enough, I have always only liked homemade chai tao kueh. It is the same with cantonese savoury taro cake (wu tao gou) which you can normally find inside the pan-fried radish cake carts at yumcha. My tastebuds have truely been spoiled rotten by my grandmothers' cooking. My paternal grandma is known for her savoury taro cake whereas my maternal grandma makes the best cai tao kueh! Sad enough, pinkcocoa hasnt inherited any of their cooking genes so to these days I still had no idea how to make any savoury cakes.

Pan Fried Radish Cake
♥ pan-fried chai tao kueh (jian luo bo gao)
This is an old photo that I digged out from my photo album way back in January this year. I am sorry the chai tao kueh doesnt look very appetizing here. I was the one to blame. I was skimpy on the oil when I was pan-frying the cakes so some of them were really burnt. Looks like I still have a lot to learn!

This is taiwanese radish cake that I am showing here. Taiwanese radish cake is in fact a little different from cantonese radish cake. Cantonese radish cake usually has chinese waxed or preserved sausages called lak mei in cantonese (la wei in mandarin) added inside. This type of radish cake is also called la wei luo bo gao. This is the one you get at yum-cha where they pan-fried the radish cake. This radish cake is chunkier and has quite a bit of bites with it. This extra addition of la wei marks the difference between cantonese and taiwanese radish cake. Taiwanese radish cake is a lot softer, smoother and silkier. Sometimes deep fried red scallions (hong cong tou) is added but usually it is just plain white radish. The flavour of the white radish is more intensed. This silkeness is not lost even after you pan-fried the cakes. You can find similar radish cake at yum cha called zheng luo bo gao (steamed radish cake).

My maternal grandma always have her homemade chai tao kueh ready on the dining table for me whenever I visit her. I would just feast on her chai tao kueh for breakfast, lunch and dinner for however long I stay with her. We usually pan-fried the radish cakes and eat it with soy-sauce paste (jiang you gao) or taiwanese sweet and spicy sauce (tian la jiang).

Stir fried Radish Cake
♥ south-east asian style stir-fry radish cake
I brought back a quarter of Liu Mama (this is how you would call your friend's mum in taiwan: surname + mother in mandarin) radish cake after the barbeque. I actually wanted to bring back half of the radish cake but I better not be such a greedy pig. *oink*

I was telling ShinChan about stirfry radish cake that we usually enjoyed at yum-cha when I was a kid in Brunei. He hasnt heard about it and have not seen it. In fact, many of my hong kong friends have not had stirfry radish cake before. So I guess this must be a south-east asian dish.

Once again, apologies about the rather eye-soring photo. I am one lazy pig. My stirfry radish cake was lacking so many ingredients (beansprouts and spring onions) but I was too lazy to go out to get them. I used whatever I had in the pantry. I couldnt find the wok in the kitchen. I wonder where my flatmate has taken it. So I have been cooking all my meals in a small saucepan lately. The dish didnt look very appetizing but it was quite well-received by ShinChan.

Stirfry Chinese Radish Cake
4 thick slices of chinese radish cake, diced into small cube
1/2 cup of minced pickled chinese radish* (cai pu in mandarin or cai poh in hokkien)
2 eggs, beaten
1 large handful of beansprouts
2 spring onions, chop into 4-5cm length
2-3 tbsp oil + extra 1-2 tbsp
1 tbsp spicy bean sauce** (la dou ba jiang)
2 tbsp sweet bean sauce*** (tian mian jiang)

1. Heat oil in wok. Add pickled chinese radish, spicy bean sauce and sweet bean sauce. Fry until you can smell the spicy aroma of the spicy bean sauce and the salty aroma of the pickled radish.
2. Add chinese radish cake and gently stir to coat them with sauce. Be gentle at this stage because the radish cake is very soft and fragile. If you stir too hard or too quickly, the radish cake would break up into even smaller pieces. Another way you can do this is to add whole slices of radish cake, undiced. Do your normal stir and turn (no need be so gentle here), eventually the radish cake would break up into bite-size pieces. If it doesnt, dice it up using the wok spatula.
3. Once the radish cake is evenly coated with the sauce and has already been heated through, push it to one side in your wok so that you are leave with an empty space in the wok. It doesnt have to be big. Add the extra oil to this empty space. Once heated, add in beaten eggs and stir. And stir. And stir. When the egg is almost set, stir and mix the radish cakes with the eggs.
4. Turn heat off, add in beansprouts and spring onions and stir to mix them in.
5. Serve and ready to eat!

extra notes:
* You can find ready-minced pickled chinese radish in the dried food sections at any asian groceries stores. If it is not available, you can buy whole pickled chinese radish (there's usually about 3 to 4 large chunk of pickled radish in a pack) and then chop them up yourself. Be sure to taste the pickled radish before you use them in cooking because some pickled radish can be overly salty while some is mild. If it's very salty, rinse them with water and squeeze them dry. Taste it again. If it's still too salty, rinse again and taste once again, else it is ready to use.

** The quantity of sauces here is only as a guide. You can adjust the amount to your liking. You can also use other sauces that you like e.g. oyster sauce, tomato sauce, bbq sauce. If you fancy it a lot spicier, omit the sweet bean sauce and add in a few more tablespoon spicy bean sauce, and vice versa.

*** I added more sweet bean sauce than the spicy bean sauce because we were after a very mild spiced dish. The sweet bean sauce is not a necessary ingredient. I had intended to use chinese bean sauce (dou ba jiang) but I didnt have any so I used sweet bean sauce instead. The result was a mildly spiced radish cake with a hint of sweetness from the sweet bean sauce.

Stir Fried Radish Cake in Spicy Bean Sauce
sui sui ping an
Here's a more presentable stir-fry radish cake. This dish made it to our chinese new year dinner earlier this year! We had a large plate of radish cakes in broken pieces. Talk about carelessness in transporting the very important radish cakes! We called this dish sui sui ping an because sui (age) rhymes with broken pieces in mandarin.

Sui sui ping an is a chinese proverb meaning a year older a year (sui sui) more cherished or safer (ping an). This is a term used extensively in a typical chinese family whenever something went broken into pieces. During the chinese new year, it is deemed bad luck if something broke into pieces eg. plates, vases. If this bad luck behold upon you, dont worry. Simply recite the term sui sui ping an 3 times and bad luck will go away!

In taiwan, cai tao is a lucky vegetable because it is believed that cai tao would bring good luck and blessing, thus the term hao cai tou (forseeing good luck). Hao meaning good or well. Cai tou (this is mandarin) which rhymes with cai tao (this is hokkien) means colourful blessing shining over the top of your head.

This hao cai tou and sui sui ping an dish was very well received and the bottom of the plate was soon sighted not long after dinner commenced. Pinkcocoa couldnt be prouder for bringing a piece of south east asian culture into a Taiwanese household.

Vegetarian Radish Cake
sui sui ping an - non-veg (left) and vegetarian version (top right)
If you have noticed, the ingredients I have listed are not for vegetarians. Most vegetarians of religious reason cannot consume food that has a hint of spiciness inside. Some examples are onion, spring onions and garlics. We have a few religious vegetarians in the household so we also had a vegetarian version stirfry radish cake. It is that tiny plate with a yellow and white mixture almost top right in the pic. The spicy bean sauce or any type of bean sauce was omitted and a sprinkle of salt and soy sauce was added in stead. Spring onions was also left out. The next day we had a vegetarian stirfry radish cake using vegetarian bean sauce. It was yummy too though I am not sure about the difference between a normal bean sauce with the vegetarian one.

mommy, is that a cake?
yes, darling. It is a cake: a savoury carrot (radish) cake.
ps. this is so much more healthier than the gweilo carrot cake! but i love them both :p