The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Making Chai Tau Kueh

Not long ago, we ate one of my all-time favourite Malaysian food: Chai Tau Kueh which is a stirfried white radish cake made from giant white radish known as chai tau in the Chinese dialect of Hokkien, and daikon in Japanese. My dad makes a very good version of this dish, but unfortunately as with most Asian cooks, his recipe is only an estimate of this and that. I still remember Rob jotting down the recipe when my dad made chai tau kueh for us on his visit to Japan in March '07. Since then, we've been meaning to replicate this dish at home - or rather, Rob's been waiting for me to replicate this dish. Meanwhile I've been afraid to make a disaster of our favourite food because it is not an easy dish to prepare - unless you have the correct ratio of flour, daikon and liquid, you can end up with a too-firm or too-mushy cake. I think Rob finally figured out that it'd have to be something we do together, and opportunity came up three weekends ago for us to tackle this food project. We were lucky to get the correct texture (not too firm, not too mushy) on our first try, so the ratio of flour, daikon and liquid, and the steaming duration in the recipe should work.

This is just the basic recipe for making the white radish cake itself, and not the stirfrying process as we were not able to get our hands on all of the necessary ingredients for the stirfrying process. Extra seasoning can be added to the cake if you desire something like lo bak go (or luo bo gao in the Mandarin dialect), a dimsum dish of daikon cake containing dried shrimp and lap cheong (aka Chinese sausage). However, for chai tau kueh, the stirfry ingredients adds plenty of flavour and taste.

(By the way, just a bit of food trivia here. This dish is commonly called 'carrot cake' in English which is a misnomer because clearly it is not made from carrots. The mis-translation probably stemmed from the fact that part of the Chinese names for white radish and carrots share the same title. I'll use the Mandarin dialect as an example: white radish is called bai luo bo and carrot is given the name hong luo bo, with bai meaning white and hong meaning red.)

The finished product using the limited stirfry ingredients we had:

Serves 2

160g giant white radish (aka daikon/chai tau)
200mL water
120g rice flour

1) Grate the daikon, add 50mL water to it and bring to a boil.
2) Meanwhile, pour the remaining 150mL water into the rice flour and mix well.
3) Combine the daikon mixture with the flour mixture and stir well to achieve a uniform consistency. Pour the mixture into a container (we used a round cake tin) so that a relatively thin layer (~2cm thick) is sitting in it.
4) Steam for approximately 20minutes or until the cake is set. Remove from steamer, let cool then remove the cake from its container.
5) Cut into small pieces.
6) It's now ready for stirfrying!

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