Now when I say “carrot cake”, for most of you what comes to mind is that delightful dessert, often with a cream cheese frosting, sometimes with nuts in it, or with shredded coconut, and definitely with carrots in the batter.
But in Singapore, carrot cake or chai tow kway (in Teochew dialect), does not have carrots, instead has daikon or white radish, and is a delicious savoury dish found at most hawker centres and food courts.
It is one of my must-eat dishes when I’m back in Singapore. There are two versions, white or black. Black has the addition of a sweet black sauce so it has a slightly sweeter taste than the white.
But why “carrot cake”? Perhaps because in Mandarin (and other Chinese dialects), carrots are 红萝卜 (hong luobo) and daikon or white radish is 白萝卜 (bai luobo). The only difference between those two is the colour – 红 red vs 白 white. As for “cake”, the dialect word kway (which in Mandarin is 糕 gao) just means a cake or pastry of some sort. And the carrot cake does begin with a steamed “cake” of daikon and rice flour.
So now that you know a little bit about Singapore-style carrot cake, how is it made?
Part one: Make the steamed daikon cake (enough for 3-4 portions)
One medium-sized daikon, grated (it gave me about 600g grated)
50 ml water
Steam for about 30 minutes until the grated daikon turns translucent
200g rice flour
250 ml water
1 tsp salt
Mix the three ingredients along with the steamed grated daikon above. I placed it in a small metal cake tin, and into the steamer (which is for me, just a pot with a small metal rack on which to put the tin). Steam for 40 minutes until firm.
Let cool and then place it in the fridge. I did this overnight as it made it easier to cut up.
The radish cake from above is enough for 3-4 portions
5 eggs, beaten together (more if you’d like)
2-3 tbsp of preserved radish – I soak this for a few minutes as it can be really salty. Then drain in a sieve.
4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped (then again, I do like garlic, you can decrease this a bit)
fish sauce (to taste)
white pepper (to taste)
chili sauce (optional)
Cut the radish cake into small cubes.
I used a wok but you can use a nonstick skillet.
Heat oil, fry the radish cake cubes until slightly crisp and lightly browned.
Add the garlic and preserved radish to the pan. Fry it for a bit until the garlic smells good. Don’t burn the garlic!
Season with fish sauce, white pepper, chilli sauce. You can add salt if it’s not salty enough.
Add the beaten eggs and let it cook a bit before flipping. Some prefer carrot cake that’s more stirred up and messy, others may prefer it a bit more like an omelette.
Top with chopped spring onions.
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