Sunday, October 24, 2004


Fried Radish Cake (Chai Tow Kway)

Fried radish cake, or chai tow kway (in Hokkien), is a popular Singaporean snack and breakfast dish. It is commonly sold in hawker centers and air-conditioned foodcourts. Often, it is sold as "fried carrot cake".

Now, those who know of carrot cake as that sweet, spongy confection made with grated carrot, nuts, and cream cheese frosting, will be in for a surprise if you come here and order "carrot cake". Our misnomer is probably the legacy of unenlightened translation. Apropos, in Mandarin, carrot is hóng luó bò (hóng = red), and radish is bái luó bò (bái = white). Ergo, someone must have mistakenly thought that "carrot" means luo bo, so it could refer to both the carrot and the radish. Concordantly, we have "fried carrot cake".

(Are you scratching your head over the last paragraph, just like I did after watching the scene where Neo meets The Architect in The Matrix Reloaded? Four words: forget what I said.)

So what is fried radish cake? First, steam a mixture of grated radish, rice flour and water. Let the rice cake cool, preferably refrigerate overnight. Cut into small pieces and fry till soft and slightly charred. Add chopped salted turnip and beaten egg. Pour a thick, sweet-savoury dark sauce over the radish cake pieces, then fry till evenly mixed. This sauce, the key to the success of this dish, is a closely guarded secret.

The plate of fried radish cake in the photo is from a corner stall at Tanjong Pagar Food Centre (opposite Amara Hotel). The stall's name, literally translated from Chinese, is called The '50s Fried Radish Cake. I have my breakfast there nearly every Saturday. I've been told that the present stall-owner is the grandson of the original owner, so their recipe must be decades old! And it still tastes great! I've tried other stalls, but I think this version at Tanjong Pagar is a hard one to beat.



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