Dim sum. It’s something we have on weekends, when work doesn’t get in the way of nibbling exquisitely made Chinese hors d’œuvres and bosses don’t breathe down your neck as you sip Chinese tea. It’s leisurely, it’s relaxing and let’s face it, it’s one incredibly tasty lifestyle.
I don’t know about you but whilst dim sum is very accessible now, it wasn’t always so when I was a kid. Dim sum lunches were a real treat and rarity when I was growing up. It was expensive in those days, and if Dad took us out for dim sum lunch, we put on our Sunday’s best, as we would do if we were going to Jack’s Place for a candlelight dinner on its green-and-white checkered tables. Yes, these two food outings were like Disneyland trips to me.
We used to head to C & West club (not sure if that is how we spelt the name, I wasn’t very literate then…anyway the club is now defunct as the shareholders ran away with people’s money, I think). I was a chicken in the water but I’d get to have that rare ride on my dad’s or brother’s back as they swam in the pool. All that with my bright orange fake Superman arm floats, and my garish green-and-yellow swimsuit. Mum would watch us play in the water, take me to the showers and then we would head to the restaurant for dim sum.
I don’t remember much about the restaurant, except the dim sum trolleys that would swing by with everything anyone could promise you with in the world. Oh, that and the incredibly high table that practically reached my chin when I sat down; I was a little vertically challenged then. I recall feasting on my favourite dim sum dishes – glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf (荷叶饭), fried radish cake (萝菠糕) and honeydew sago (西米露). I was particularly enamoured with the honeydew sago then, the little chewy bubbles were quite fascinating, and it was the only version that I would have then. I still like the dessert now, but what I really love about dim sum is the fried radish cake. It’s a savoury sweet pan-fried piece of heaven that is packed full of flavour, thanks to the ingredients that weren’t quite obvious to a primary school kiddo, other than Chinese sausage (lap cheong). Even as I cross into adulthood, I still love fried radish cake, I must and will have it at every dim sum lunch I go to and no one could stop me. But, I could never quite fathom how vegetables (daikon radish) could turn into something so delicious. That is, until curiosity hit me in January this year (yes, this is a super backdated entry, as with another 22 recipes that are still waiting to be told to you). I did my research and landed on some answers.
It turns out that the fried radish cake is made of the simplest of ingredients that are commonly found in Chinese cooking. Lap cheong is a must to impart that distinctive sweet savoury taste. Dried mushrooms are added to give an earthy fragrance to the dish, and dried scallops and shrimps are needed for deep, deep flavours.
It is also ridiculously easy to put together, so to the dim sum lovers who live overseas and can’t quite have ready access to dim sum, I hope this satisfies your craving. Even though I can get dim sum easily in London, making this was a real good thing for me; it was nice to have it homemade and even better to take a trip down memory lane.
Here’s the recipe:
Pan-Fried Radish Cake (Lor Bak Gou)
(adapted from Taste Hongkong)
825g shredded white radish
200g rice flour (those you get from Asian stores, these are different from the ones in Western supermarkets)
60g tapioca flour
1/3 teaspoon salt
80g lap cheong (Chinese sausage), diced
20g dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water to soften, stems removed and diced
20g dried scallops, soaked in hot water to soften, roughly chopped
10g dried shrimps, soaked in hot water to soften, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fried shallots
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 and 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon light soy sauce
1. Mix the flours, water and 1/3 teaspoon salt to form a batter.
2. In a non-stick frying pan, heat up oil and fry fried shallots for 1/2 minutes. Turn up the heat, add in scallops and shrimps and fry for another minute.
3. Add the mushrooms and lap cheong to the pan, and fry till fragrant.
4. Add the radish and fry till liquid oozes out of the radish and that radish is wilted. Add sugar, salt and soy sauce. At this point, turn off the stove.
5. Stir up the batter from Step 1 to reconstitute it and add the batter to the radish in the pan. Stir till combined.
6. Place the thick gooey batter in a steaming dish and steam for 1 hour on high heat, cool and then keep refrigerated. Do note that it’s easier to handle the radish cake when it’s cold and a lot less sticky.
7. Cut the cake up into rectangular pieces, and pan fry one side on a really hot non-stick pan with some really hot oil. When that side crisps up, turn the cake over and fry it on each edge. Repeat this process until all edges are golden-brown and crispy.