Thursday, 30 August 2012

Fried Carrot Cake



I haven't been home in a year. As I touch down on the gleaming un-littered grounds of Singapore, I feel a sudden sense of worry--I don't know what about, that I might have forgotten to switch the stove off in my flat? That my luggage has, like before, been lost in transit? That Singapore has changed so much in the space of a year that I'm more like a stranger in my home, stubbornly insisting on but not actually belonging to this place, that I've been out of the loop so long that I can no longer join in conversations and self-assuredly complain about the latest fad/mall/government policy?

And then all these doubts and worries disappear. I'm greeted warmly by my mum, and by carrot cake from my favourite hawker stall.

I love so many foods from Singapore it would be cruel to make me pick one, and I can't even say for sure that fried carrot cake is my favourite, but I do know that I periodically develop strong cravings for it whilst in London. The way I deal with cravings doesn't involve joining a club of anonymous fellow addicts; it's a rather more cowardly approach of well, giving in to it. This is a dish I've done in London quite a few times, it does take a fair bit of work especially as everything is made from scratch, but it keeps my mind sane and my tummy happy. I made this again just a week before I flew, and ate it from the brown wax papers often used for takeaways (thanks Goz for your magic store of quirky Singapore kitchenalia), because I had dreams of it twice in a row as the date for my trip home drew closer.



I'm sure everyone has this one special dish that they must have when they return home. It might be a hotdog with a squirt of the most radioactively-coloured ketchup and mustard for a New Yorker, or a takeaway of the greasiest fish and chips for an Englishman, but for me, it's this messy slapped-together plate of radish cakes scrambled with eggs and salted preserved radish, the best ones fried in a generous amount of old-school healthy lard and smeared with a spicy sambal. Yes, in the world I grew up in, carrot cake does not come with cream cheese frosting. It's hardly a cake in the dessert sense of the word, and it's not even got carrots in it (it's because radish is referred to as bai luo bo or "white carrot" in Chinese), but this is carrot cake.

FRIED CARROT CAKE (Chai Tow Kway)
serves 1-2
Ingredients
for the radish cakes (makes 2 portions)
200g radish (aka daikon or mooli), finely shredded
100g fine rice flour
150ml room temperature water
150ml boiling water
1/4 tsp sea salt

for fried cakes
one portion of radish cake from above
2 free-range eggs
3 tbsp of salted preserved radish (chai poh), soaked in warm water for 5 min and drained
4 cloves of garlic
drizzle (1-2 tbsp) of fish sauce
4 tbsp of lard (from happy pigs)
(kind of opt, but I'll judge you) dollop of sambal chilli paste
(opt) chopped spring onions, to garnish


Method
I like to split this into a two-stage process, making the radish cakes the day before, and cutting up and frying the day after. I make more radish cakes, to easily satisfy future cravings.
1. Stir rice flour and room temperature water together. Add the boiling water to the shredded radish, and pour everything (boiling water and now-blanched-radish) into the rice flour mixture.
2. Add the pinch of salt, and set the bowl over a boiling pot of water, stirring the mixture until it starts to thicken up into a smooth sticky paste. Pour into a greased shallow dish, and steam over med-high heat for about 20 min, or until cooked and kind of firm. (It firms up more as it cools)
3. Cut into little cubes when it's fully cool, don't worry about ragged edges as these are the bits that get irresistibly crispy (think roast potatoes).
4. Melt half the lard in frying pan. When lard is hot, add the radish cakes and fry till crispy around the edges. I press on it with my spatula for maximum crispy edges. Remove and set aside.
5. Add the rest of the lard to the pan and fry the garlic and chai poh till fragrant, before returning the radish cakes to the pan with a drizzle of fish sauce. Spread everything around the pan.
6. Beat eggs with some fish sauce, and pour the mixture evenly over the radish cakes. Let set until the bottom is nicely browned, before flipping over and browning on the other side.To make it easier on yourself, just cut roughly into smaller portions with the sharp edge of your spatula before flipping, hawker-style. Hawkers here do servings of 20 at once (see above photo of my pan v.s. theirs), so an impressive single-move flip is not only idiotic but plain impossible. It's okay for everything to be semi-falling apart.
7. Smear sambal chilli paste over. You can also fry it directly with the sambal but that's how my favourite hawker does it. Finish with chopped spring onions.



The pieces of homemade radish cakes are soft, but not mushily so, and sandwiched among fluffy layers of fragrant fish-sauce-spiked egg, with just enough fried surfaces and crisp edges to keep things interesting. And of course, you get that periodic umami bite from the chai poh, and the periodic sweet-spicy kick from the sambal.

FYI, there exists, also, a black version of fried carrot cake- fried with sweet thick dark soy sauce instead and usually less eggy/ chunky/ crispy. It seems the black version is more popular in Malaysia, but I do have friends in Singapore who go for the black version, and whom I totally judge. There of course exists the Cantonese dim sum version of fried carrot (radish) cake which most are more familiar with- panfried slices sans egg but dotted with little nuggets of shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimps and chinese sausage to make up for it. I may be biased, I am biased, but my best carrot cake needs neither colour nor sausage, and definitely no icing.

44 comments:

  1. You make me 'homesick' for Singapore, have such a great trip home. I'm writing a post about carrot cake today too, but the ang moh version!!!

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    1. just went to read yours, and ok I admit I also do like ang moh carrot cake, but in a very different sort of way! thanks for linking me up too, I'm quite amusedly imagining the confused expressions on all the ang mohs who came over from your blog!

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  2. Mmmmm. That looks really good. I'd say a lot better than the bland carrot cakes slathered in sweet sweet frosting (although I do like a nice flavoursome homemade carrot cake with a wee drizzle of water icing).
    Somehow, though, flavoursome savoury dishes like this tempt me so much more. A neighbour used to grow daikon so we got lots of it and I'm afraid I never did anything terribly interesting with it, not knowing any better. I know what to do now if I get my hands on some more.
    How long are you home for?

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    1. Not putting down the dessert carrot cake, esp homemade, liek the one little macaroon just blogged about! But this sort of carrot cake is a different animal altogether ;)

      Yes, please do love your daikon (: It's also really good in soups, just simple broths made with pork ribs and maybe some wolfberries, very cleansing too, according to tcm.

      I'm home for a month, but will make sure I eat 2 months worth of food.

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  3. I think this is my most favourite dish ever! I cheat and use premade loh bak. Hehe. Yay!

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    1. Yay hifive! Hah I'm a bit anal, and also, I can buy daikon more easily than I can loh bak.

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  4. hope you don't mind, I linked to your carrot cake from mine ;-)

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  5. This looks like my kind of version of carrot cake (I also didn't know the daikon radish is called white carrot in Chinese and hence the name of the cake). This looks wonderful. Also dirty water dogs and New Yorkers: I would probably say bagels with lox from your favorite bagel shop (at least that's always the craving for me)!

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    1. glad you learnt something (: oooh bagels! ok I admit I just instantly thought of hotdogs when I think american, oops, I feel I have much to learn about american food on my end!

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  6. I've never been to Singapore, but if this is a normal offering from street vendors, sign me up! I had a very different idea of carrot cake in my mind at first--the western kind with lots of sugar and cream cheese frosting. But I think this version is even better!

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    1. Hah I can just imagine you curious/ grossed out about this weird fried carrot cake concoction until you clicked and read on ;)

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  7. "Lard, from happy pigs" - that's the cutest. You totally had me fooled at the name of the post, but I'll gladly have a slice of this cake ;) Have a great weekend!

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    1. Hah another one who though it's carrot cake cooked on the stovetop or something eh? Have a great weekend too, emily x

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  8. Nooo......it's got to be the black ones.....! :)

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    1. ah, that's the penang side of you coming out eh! nooooo white all the way for meeeeee

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  9. How very interesting! When I read the title of this post, I was expecting some fried carrot cake batter! Looks and sounds delicious.

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    1. I suspect many people expected that too .. ;)

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  10. Wow kid, you just blew my mind. This looks so good and that they serve it on the street, that just might be the 'icing' on this particular cake. Great photos and I really appreciate your drawings!

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    1. Aw thanks so much gene! Yes, in singapore, and most of asia, street food really is pretty amazing!

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  11. God, I love carrot cake so much, but haven't had it since I was in SG all of 5 years ago now.

    I need to make this at home.

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  12. Oh gosh, Shu Han. Your recipes really whet my appetite like no one else's. I don't know if I should thank you or not for making me so hungry late at night haha! I love this so much and have always preferred the "white" version (sans kicap). I have no doubt in my mind that your recipe is just as good (if not better) than the ones in the hawker centres. And serving it on the brown paper is the REAL DEAL hahaha

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    1. yay another fellow "white"y!

      thanks so much winston, you always make my day with your comments! (brown paper thanks to my friend goz hur hur)

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  13. I'm also always worried I have left the stove or iron or something else one... This carrot cake looks very intriguing and tasty, even though there is no carrot in it ;-) I discovered the sweet carrot cake about ten years ago and even though I love it and make it from time to time (but not very sweet and without frosting! I hate white frosting, only dark bitter chocolate frosting is worth my attention), it still seems weird to use carrot in a sweet treat.
    I hope you are having a wonderful time in Singapore!

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    1. I quite like the idea of using vegetable in sweet treats actually, I do like courgette cakes and beetroot brownies, they just add a yummy moistness and reassurance that it's *slightly* better for you what with the veggies in it haha. I actually also do like carrot cakes, but nothing compares to this fried carrot cake ;)

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  14. Shu I know how you feel, I have the same fears and worries going through my head whenever I go back to europe. Its not easy, but we chose such a life far from home.

    I ll bookmark your recipe. Need to make this!! thanks fro sharing and I enjoy the rest of your sunday. =)

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    1. I'm one of the clumsiest most scatterbrained people you'll ever know.. D:

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  15. This looks great. I've made the Cantonese loh bak goh before, so it sounds like the next logical step is to make this ;)

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    1. Very logical I agree. The next logical step on my part is to make the canto loh bak gao then:)

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  16. Funny how the dishes we miss usually involve some degree of lard (or similar fatty, bad-for-you thing)... Mine would probably be pasties - not those sadly degraded ones you get in 1001 station boothes, but the ones with lardy crubly pastry, packed full of peppery beef. Sigh.

    This not-actually-carrot-cake sounds absolutely delicious. I love the all the textures that you can see in the pictures, I bet it tastes just wonderful. And, for the record, I would probably slather it in sambal!

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    1. I've never tried one of those lardy crumbly pastry, oacked full of pepper beef. ARGH now I really feel like I must get hold of one!

      Hah, I will slather everything in sambal if I can help it.

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  17. I can't imagine what it felt like returning home after a whole year! This carrot cake looks amazing--I totally get why you missed it so much. There's actually so much food that I love that I can only get in Toronto that I'm almost certain that I'm going to get food sick (as opposed to home sick) when I go away to university.

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    1. Well, at least you won't be TOO far away from home, so the foods are likely to be still similar, I hope for your sake, at least! Good luck for uni kyleen xxx

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  18. I prefer black version and must have a lot of bean sprouts..

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  19. That's real good stuff...you are really daring to cook this dish. Cheers !

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  20. Have a great time at home Shu Han! It must be wonderful to revisit all your old haunts and all your favourite foodie places-plus the biggest treat of all-your mum’s cooking!

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  21. This looks amazing. Would love to see what a black version looks like!

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  22. i was going to say that i do not like carrots but that i would be into eating this. imagine my glee when i see that carrots are not in this dish, that it's due to a chinese word for radish (which i do like...) i looked at this some more and then i realized that i've had the dim sum version before, many times but now i'd like to try the singapore version...

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  23. Yeah I'm homesick for Singapore, and I've never been there! You're food always makes me dribble, so exotic, so damn good! And the prettiest blog ever.

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  24. Dear Shu Han,

    I think your "white" version is very tasty on its own because you have just the few essential ingredients so flavours are not clouded. I can appreciate this version because, like you said, you can savour the periodic taste of sambal, egg and chai poh.

    I do agree with Sonia that I like lots of fresh beansprouts too for the textural crunch - I'm sure it's a Malaysian thing too. The "black" version in Singapore uses the sweet dark soy sauce which transforms this dish to become slightly sweet which I dislike, just like how Singaporean char kway teow uses the same sweet dark sauce and I find it a bit sweetish for my liking.

    The "black" version in Malaysia uses dark caramel sauce (not sweet dark soy sauce) which is not sweet but slightly bitter and also just for colouring. Malaysians like their food to be a little darker in general eg hokkien noodeles. So Malaysian chai tow kway and char kway teow compared to the Singaporean versions are more savoury than sweet, which is the taste I personally prefer.

    Here's a piece of Singapore-Malaysia food fight that I thought you might be interested in :)

    http://chopinandmysaucepan.com/the-debate-on-the-origins-of-food-a-futile-food-fight

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  25. I LOVE this mann! Thanks for sharing the recipe! I'm so gonna make this! DROOLING!

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  26. where do you buy your chai poh in london from?

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  27. hey! you mentioned that you'll make more to satisfy future cravings, do you freeze it? i've tried making and freezing leslie tay's recipe before and it became all mushy and gross :(

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