kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
[personal profile] kake
Three rectangles of pan-fried radish cake sit on a small plate.  Each rectangle is a little over 1cm thick, white and wobbly on the interior, and with brown marks from frying on the outside.

The second dish of my August dim sum series is 蘿蔔糕. This is not only a common dim sum dish, it's also a popular dish at Chinese New Year. The Mandarin pronunciation is luó bo gāo, but as with most dim sum items the more common pronunciation is the Cantonese one, lo bak goh.

蘿蔔 (luó bo) is daikon/mooli/Chinese radish, and 糕 (gāo) refers to some kind of cake (often a steamed one). In essence, 蘿蔔糕 is a steamed savoury cake/pudding made from grated daikon and rice flour, studded with little savoury tidbits such as Chinese sausage, dried prawns, and soaked dried mushrooms. When served at dim sum, this cake is sliced thickly and then grilled/panfried to get a nice browned crust on the two largest sides.

This often appears on menus as 臘味蘿蔔糕 (là wèi luó bo gāo), with the 臘味 part referring to the preserved meat included in the dish. The fact that the 蘿蔔糕 is panfried is not usually specified in the name, but the dish will most likely turn up in the "fried dim sum" section of the menu.

You can make your own lo bak goh at home; I haven't yet tried this, but I've bookmarked three plausible-looking recipes: one from Sunflower, one from Charmaine of Tasty Treats, and one from the Fresh From The Oven blog. (Sunflower also has another version which uses pumpkin instead of daikon, while Egg Wan offers a recipe including soaked puréed rice as well as rice flour.)

As Sunflower points out, the home-made version generally includes more of the "savoury tidbits", while the restaurant version is generally plainer. I am a fan of the restaurant version, since I prefer the soft, melting texture to not be impeded by too many chewy "bits". Some people like to have a few large visible chunks of daikon; others prefer all the daikon to be very finely grated so the texture is more homogenous. In this regard, I like both styles.

Happily, in London I can buy ready-to-fry restaurant-style 蘿蔔糕, from Lo's Noodle Factory in Chinatown. I find it pretty handy for breakfast, snacks, etc. I haven't yet tried freezing it, but I'm going to try freezing some next time (Lo's sells it in big blocks).

Be careful with the temperature you use to fry it — while you do want to achieve a nice browned crust, and while I have nothing against a burnt flavour in certain dishes, I think that the overall flavour of this particular dish is better if you keep it from burning even slightly. I would suggest a moderate heat for a longer time, rather than a high heat for a shorter time.

Another point is that if you want an evenly browned exterior then you should make a point of pressing the 蘿蔔糕 firmly down against the pan every so often as it cooks (just use a fish slice or spatula of some kind; don't worry about it sticking or breaking, since it's quite robust). I prefer to do this, though some people don't mind the browning being a bit uneven (as in the photo above).

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.

Date: 2010-08-06 08:15 am (UTC)
nanila: me (me: ooh!)
From: [personal profile] nanila
Ooh, I really want to try to make this now. I love daikon radish!

Date: 2010-08-06 08:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eatlovenoodles.blogspot.com
Considering how Chinese food vocabulary is usually quite rich, it's quite shocking that 'luo bo' or 'lor bak' covers so many veg. Parsnips, turnips, and carrots are all described as 'lor bak' although carrots are known as 'hung' lor bak (where hung = red)!

Date: 2010-08-06 09:17 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I've always heard this dish referred to as 'Turnip cake' (often repeatedly chanted by one of my friends who a) rather likes it and b) has just moved to Hong Kong), so this shows that my dim sum buddy's grasp of Cantonese isn't quite so bad as I thought it might be :)

Date: 2010-08-06 08:17 pm (UTC)
pulchritude: (2)
From: [personal profile] pulchritude
It would freak me out, actually, if my 蘿蔔糕 came evenly browned! I don't think I've ever seen it like that before...

Date: 2010-08-07 10:14 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I've made this a few times, only I cheated by using a blender instead of grating the radish. :P And I added too little rice flour the first time I made it, so it didn't turn out too well.

Will you be blogging about "phoenix claws" (aka chicken feet)? They're yummy! :P~~ Legend has it that the Imperial Kitchen created and served this dish to the Emperor when China and the Imperial family were in dire financial straits. That's what I heard...


Date: 2010-08-08 05:12 pm (UTC)
john: (::liftoff)
From: [personal profile] john
Turnip cake! [personal profile] watersword and I had some today, and it was actually really good. Notable grated pieces of turnip. A+++ WOULD NOM AGAIN.

Date: 2010-08-08 05:56 pm (UTC)
watersword: Keira Knightley, in Pride and Prejudice (2007), turning her head away from the viewer, the word "elizabeth" written near (Default)
From: [personal profile] watersword
ALTHOUGH NOT FOR A FEW DAYS OMG. ::goes thud with dim sum coma::

Date: 2010-08-08 08:55 pm (UTC)
john: Various candles, in multicoloured jars, under trees in the evening (::found (Cape Reinga))
From: [personal profile] john
Dynasty, in Bristol, which keeps being rated as one of the best Chinese restaurants in the country. I support this statement!

Date: 2010-08-09 10:10 am (UTC)
marshtide: (Default)
From: [personal profile] marshtide
Ohh, I used to make turnip cake a bunch, from a kind of half-guessed recipe based on something someone remembered their mum making in HK. So possibly a slightly odd version. But I'm really fond of it. Maybe I'll try making a fairly plain one with more shitake in and no meat so that partner can have some...


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