Food is how I connect with my inner Mulan. I was born in Canada, and much of that defines who I am, how I think and many of my personal preferences (I’m basically a bruised banana). But when it comes to taste, only will certain flavours bring me home. Noodles. Soy sauce. The umami that only fish sauce and other fermented weird things can bring. And these flavours are all found in one dish which is popular among Southern Chinese (or in my case, Cantonese) families during Chinese New Year. My mother was not a fan of the mess (especially with three kids) that would come from this, but I did have an aunt who would promptly work through an entire weekend and deliver homemade versions of these delicious cakes to us every year. It is usually known by it’s misnomer, turnip cake, though it’s actually made of white radishes (or daikon) and rice flour. Dim sum connoisseurs will know this dish by it’s Cantonese moniker, lo bat go.
This is a dish flavoured from rehydrating dried shitake mushrooms, dried baby shrimp and dried Chinese sausage (called lap cheong). Those not accustomed to the smell of Chinese sausage might actually recoil at it’s distinct odour when removing it from its packaging. Eau de cat food? But hey, all good things come with a fishy smell, right?
So it was a gruelling +40°C in Phnom Penh this past week, yet I had to make this dish as a celebration of the Lunar New Year. I just had to. So in my little kitchen, which I should note is not air-conditioned, I went to work (see recipe here). Grating not one but two pounds of radishes (and realizing that this is the most unfulfilling vegetable to grind by hand in tropical heat). Squeezing (and keeping!) all that daikon juice through a cheese cloth.
Filling the kitchen with very distinct and pungent flavours of rehydrated baby shrimp and shitake mushrooms. It brought me back to childhood when my mom was stewing something suspicious. For a couple of hours, I was home again.
Making this dish is a long process. So definitely set aside an afternoon for cooking the daikon in its juices, and the flavourful fluids coming from rehydrating mushrooms and shrimp, putting together a not so visually appealing dough with the rice flour, steaming and then pan frying.
But the final product is oh so satisfying. Serve with other Asian goodies you might have in the freezer (basically any dumpling). And make sure you have soy sauce, with a sprinkle of white pepper for the perfect dipping sauce.
All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.