cait +tiff


T / new year cake

happy-nom-yearFood 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?

daikon---whole-and-gratedSo 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.

chopped-ingredientsMaking 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.

in-the-potUnsteamed-Radish-CakeBut 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.

Plated-Cake3Gong hay fat choi!

PS – Also check out The Woks of Life for one fam’s take on Chinese cooking from a non-traditional lens. Thanks for the recommendation Becky!


All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.


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T / happy monday / happy new year

The year of the goat is upon us! And I could spend the next few lines telling you about what that means.  But what I really want to focus on is the most important thing about Lunar New Year…the food.

Most cultures will tell you they are total and complete foodies.  Well, the Chinese are EATERS.  And we are loud ones on every parameter of consumption (sorry about that).  And as with most eaters, I credit my mom for introducing me to the nuances of food and cooking. The difference between a dried longan and a dried lychee.  Which types of condiments are appropriate for which dumplings (black vinegar for pot stickers, people!).  The benefits of developing a near flirtatious relationship with your local fishmonger.  My parents have even dragged me to Chinatown in Havana to have an adventure in exploring what happens to cuisine when you’ve got a trade embargo.

I’ve encountered Chinese food in nearly every place I have visited.  From Lahore, Pakistan to the islands of Belize.  I love what fusion has come from Hakka migration to India and Jamaica.  Don’t even get me started on the merger of Jewish and Chinese cuisines on Christmas day whether you’re at home or at Mile End in Brooklyn (and have you met Molly Yeh?).  One of the most important things that my parents imparted to us first-generation kids, is that food, like one’s culture, is a smorgasbord.  Go crazy.

So without further to do, I have two little meditations on Chinese food.  One on it’s art (of the dumpling that is), and the other on where one dish came from and how far it went.  And remember: Chinese New Year festivities officially go on until the Lantern Festival (which lands on March 5 this year); and there are over 300 types of Chinese dumplings and 56 different ethnic groups in China. Just sayin’.