Posts filed under ‘chinese’

Marking the end of Chinese New Year

flower market
Taken at the flower market in Hong Kong last year

Western new year is over in a flash (or in some cases, prolonged only by an enduring post-party hangover), but Chinese New Year is celebrated over two weeks. I hadn’t really observed tradition this year (no relatives in London means there’s no bai neen for me – visiting houses to wish relatives good fortune and such) apart from making radish cake and giving my parents the requisite phone call on New Year’s day… ;-)

The last day of the Chinese New Year (the 15th day) is called yuen siu, also known as the lantern festival. In Hong Kong, Victoria Park would have no doubt been alight with massive lit floats and structures (though, I don’t think they did it last year…hmm!) and with children running rampant with (health and safety approved) plastic lanterns depicting the cartoon character du jour, though more traditionally one would carry paper lanterns lit with a single candle; another popular lantern is the ubiquitous bunny-shaped one, which is my personal favourite (though, I remember my childhood days when it was the epitome of cool to have a plastic Sailor Moon lantern.)

Families will also indulge in the making of and eating of tong yuen (湯圓), sweet glutinous dumplings. More of the latter, as modern times means most people would rather buy ready-made varieties from the supermarket chiller… but as someone who had never made tong yuen before, I can vouch for how easy it is to prepare in your own home! My black sesame filling is a tad rudimentary and not molten and silky like I prefer, but it definitely sated the craving for tong yuen on a chilly London night!

Sesame-filled tong yuen

Black sesame tong yuen
Based on a recipe from Flavour and Fortune
For the black sesame filling
1 1/2 cups black sesame seeds
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup solid shortening (I substituted some unsalted butter, which probably contributes to a much richer taste).
For the dumplings
2 cups glutinous rice flour
3/4 cup hot water (approximately)

1. For the filling: place the sesame seeds into a dry pan and toast over a medium low heat until fragrant. Tip into a mini food processor and pulse until powder-like.

2. Mix in the icing sugar and knead in the shortening/butter until you get a well-mixed paste. (In reality I didn’t read the instructions thoroughly and bunged everything into the food processor. It worked okay but kneading by hand will probably make a smoother paste. My food processor isn’t very good either at ‘powderising’ the black sesame seeds, so my mixture was rather coarse.) Refrigerate until firm (again I didn’t do this as I didn’t have time – but this will make filling your tong yuen much easier as you can shape the filling into small balls and work the tong yuen dough around it).

4. For the dumplings: Sift the glutinous rice flour into a bowl and slowly add the water, stirring with long chopsticks until the mixture comes together to form a dough. Knead with your hands until smooth and elastic (you may not need all of the water – and this recipe is so simple, you can just add more rice flour or water as you need to get the right consistency).

5. Break off a small piece about the size of a 50p coin (smaller or bigger depending on how large you like your tong yuen to be – it’s easier to fill a bigger one though!). Roll between your palms to create a ball.

step by step
6. Now make an indentation in the middle of the ball and work, using your fingers, to make the hole deeper – forming a ‘cup’ if you will – large enough for a nice wodge of filling. If you’ve refrigerated your filling you can roll little bits into small balls and fit it inside the hole before drawing the edges together and rolling again into a smooth ball. With my slightly liquidy filling this proved more difficult, so I didn’t put as much into each ball as I would have liked! (And sometimes the filling leaked out… as you can see from some of the tong yuens in the background in the picture below!) I find it easier to pinch the open ends together and then draw the two corners together again before rolling. Roll between your palms until completely smooth.

7. Put a pan of water onto a rolling boil (gee, lots of rolling in this recipe…) and carefully drop the tong yuens in. They’re ready when they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and place into a serving bowl.

Tong yuen
8. In a separate pan, bring more water to the boil and drop in one piece of rock sugar or peen tong (a brown slab of sugar, readily available in Chinese supermarkets) and a knob of ginger. Bring to the boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Taste. It should be lightly sweet and gingery but not syrupy. Ladle over the tong yuen and serve.

February 12, 2009 at 1:21 am 11 comments

Making Chinese New Year radish cake (蘿蔔糕)

First, get your radish...
First, get your radish…

It’s Chinese New Year tomorrow and it’d be a travesty not to have lor bak go (蘿蔔糕/ radish or turnip cake) to eat in celebration. It’s always been one of my favourite dim sum items, and the fact that it’s a vital part of CNY lends the perfect excuse to make it at home. ;)

Last year I was lucky enough to be able to head back home to Hong Kong to celebrate CNY, but this year not so much. So in the past few weeks I’ve been trying to cast my mind back to 2008 when my mom taught me step by step how to make radish cake at home. Of course, I called a few days before and grilled her on the various steps, since I didn’t note down any quantities last time around! Her tips were to make sure your radish:rice flour ratio is high (minimum 4:1, though according to my calculations the ratio we used at home is more like 7:1); that you don’t add too much water when you cook the grated radish (as the veg will release enough of its own juices when cooking) and to sift the rice flour well to avoid lumps.

Vital ingredients

The vital ingredients are simple. With the ingredients I had, I made about 4 containers worth of radish cake paste, which makes a LOT – it would probably feed a family of four for at least a few days. To cook the radish cake, I use those simple aluminium foil loaf tins. You’ll also need two fresh, long white radishes, rice flour, 4-5 sticks of Chinese laap cheung (wind-dried sausage), 8 shiitake mushrooms and a small handful of dried shrimps. And we keep the seasonings simple with a small amount of salt and white pepper.

Grating the radishes

Step 1: peel and grate your radishes. This is the most physically exerting bit – my upper arms ache a bit the day after (er, which is probably a sign of how little exercise I’ve been getting lately…). I weighed all the grated radish afterwards so I could work out the ratio of flour I should be using. My two large radishes came to about 1.6kg’s worth.

* Now I should say now that my radish cakes in the end came out a bit too gluey because I got confused with my mom’s instructions – she told me to use a 4:1 ratio, so I calculated 400g worth of rice flour but used 300g to make sure it wouldn’t be too sticky. Turns out I noted in the margins that they used 200-250g of flour for their 1.8kg worth of radishes – a 9:1 ratio! D:

ANYWAYS, so make sure you don’t have too much rice flour. You can always add more if your mixture is too soft, but it will be hard to rectify a stiff radish cake!

Fillings

Step 2: chop up your sausages and shiitake mushrooms (soaked beforehand, naturally. Reserve the soaking liquid for later!) so that they’re quite small. Wash and drain your dried shrimp. Heat a large pan and add the sausages (don’t add any oil) and fry for several minutes over a medium low heat until the fat in the sausages has rendered out. Then add the mushrooms and then the dried shrimp. Fry lightly until fragrant but don’t allow them to brown. Transfer the mixture to a bowl (keeping most of the oil in the pan) and set aside.

Cooking the grated radish

Step 3: tip your grated radish into the pan, along with about a small cup of the water used to soak the shiitake mushrooms, and cook for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occassionally, until softened. Make sure your radish isn’t swimming in liquid, but are comfortably moist. Season to taste with salt (not too much as the sausages and shrimp are quite salty already) and white pepper. Turn off the heat.

Step 4: measure out your rice flour, then sieve it. Add small quantities of the flour into the pan with the radish, stirring well to incorporate it before adding more. You want a mixture that isn’t too stiff, but not too watery either. It should be relatively loose and have a dropping consistency. Then, stir in your goodies – the sausage, mushrooms and shrimps from earlier!

Steaming the turnip cake

Step 5: pour the mixture into your containers of choice (they should be heatproof). Set up your steamer. I didn’t have one large enough, so improvised with a wok, a steam rack, and another wok to act as the lid… haha. Set your radish cakes into the steamer (don’t let it touch the water) and steam for about 45 minutes to an hour. My mom says the water should be bubbling, not simmering. So keep an eye on the water level and top up with hot water often. When ready, a skewer (or chopstick ;D) inserted into the middle should come out clean.

At this point we take it out to cool, and we like to add a sprinkling of chopped spring onions and a drizzle of sesame oil. You can eat the cake now as is, but I much prefer radish cake pan-fried… (If you’re not eating immediately, allow to cool completely then put into the fridge. It’ll last about 3-4 days).

So, if you want to pan-fry…

Pan-frying the turnip cake

T’is simple. Heat up a good non-stick frying pan, add a drizzle of oil and pan-fry on both sides for about 3-4 minutes, or until golden-brown and crisp :-) Best washed down with copious amounts of Chinese tea…

Two pieces are not enough...

Every family’s recipe is different, so you don’t have to take this as gospel. I have to say, my first attempt came out pretty decently, but I’m still a bit miffed with my messing up the radish:flour ratio as I like my radish cake a bit less firm (the crisp exterior/melting interior is king!). But essentially the recipe works. If you have any tips to add, please do!

In two weeks’ time, I’ll be looking forward to making tong yuen (glutinous rice balls) to mark the end of the new year… :-)

January 25, 2009 at 8:31 pm 29 comments

chinese new year eats

tray of togetherness
The ‘Tray of Togetherness’ (全盒) – one of the many sources of my non-stop snacking

Today is already the 6th day of the Year of the Rat, so there’s obviously been lots and lots of eating going on. I haven’t been able to celebrate CNY with my family for three years because of uni, but thankfully I had the time to come back this time! So many things I’ve forgotten about – all the noise, the jubilous new year songs (which become rather irritating after the first day), red red everywhere, and of course, the sheer amount of food that is consumed. I have something of a bottomless stomach, but lately the eating has caught up to me. I am stuffed to the brim, every single day. Click under the cut for more about the fooooood.

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February 12, 2008 at 5:05 pm 10 comments

mmmmacau: lai kei, wong chi kei and tai lee loi kei

The Chinese really like their kei’s. It’s almost like the Cantonese version of the Japanese attachment of ‘-san’, except there’s a greater sense of closeness and familiarity when tacking ‘kei’ onto the end of something. It’s casual and homely.

Like snippets of a daydream, my recollections of my trip to Macau this August are hazy. But one look at the photos I took there and like some Pavlovian puppy, I start to salivate. How embarassing. Here are three of the best places I went to (though I only went to four, Solmar wasn’t really worth mentioning even though it claims to be the best, and the oldest, Portuguese restaurant in Macau).

lai kei red bean ice
1. The nostalgic ice cream joint

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October 12, 2007 at 5:34 am 2 comments

the wedding banquet

xi yan

I’m not as informed within the Hong Kong foodie world as I’d like to be – so it was only this past week that I finally made a visit to Xǐ Yàn Sweets down in Wanchai’s Wing Fung Street. All credit goes to my mom, who is always reeling off names of restaurants that I should try out, for varying reasons!

Xǐ Yàn Sweets is the brainchild of artist-come-restauranteur/chef Jacky Yu. The original Xǐ Yàn started in 2000 as a ‘private kitchen’, or speakeasy/underground restaurant, that are popular in Hong Kong. The menus change constantly and you eat what the chef decides to prepare that day, a good indicator that the food served will be fresh and seasonal. In fact, written at the bottom of the sample menu for the speakeasy is the following disclaimer:

Note : the menu may be subjected to slight changes if the chefs believe that certain ingredients available for the particular day is not as satisfactory for serving.

To find out more, check out a wonderfully written and comprehensive review of the original Xǐ Yàn over at Cha Xiu Bao!

The name of the establishment, Xǐ Yàn (囍宴), is a nod to the traditional Chinese wedding banquet, but the dishes couldn’t fall further from the rigid, set styles of banquet fare, where there will be one chosen regional cuisine throughout the entire course progression. The marriage, if you excuse the pun, of many different regional Asian cuisines at Xǐ Yàn means that in one night you’ll be able to sample delectable dishes ranging from sweet Japanese tomatoes with sesame sauce (which my tomato-aversive mother declared as the best she had ever tasted) to coconut chicken soup. A peek at the sample menu from their website also reveals dishes such as foie gras somen, tofu ice cream, and scallop on glutinous rice with olive & black bean paste – showing a true fusion of some of Asia’s best cuisines, with a slight Western/European touch.

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August 18, 2007 at 8:12 pm 6 comments

are you in the mood for love?

goldfinch restaurant

Goldfinch Restaurant may not be a familiar name to most, but perhaps its dimly lit interiors, smoked mirrors and characteristic leather booths will stir up memories of one of Wong Kar-wai’s most famous films, In the Mood for Love, where the small, intimate restaurant is the unique setting for So Lai-chen (Maggie Cheung) and Chow Mo-wan’s (Tony Leung) first dinner together.

It can be said that restaurants like Goldfinch laid the foundations of Hong Kong’s first ‘fusion’ movement; it opened in the 1960’s when the economy was only starting to see some light, and dining out was more of a luxury. With a nod to Hong Kong’s colonial identity, restauranteurs and chefs began integrating more ‘Western’ style dishes into their menus, such as steak and pasta, while adding a Chinese twist – thus serving ‘see yau sai chaan’ (literally ‘soy sauce Western meals’), the colloquial description that has come to characterise such unique eateries.

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August 12, 2007 at 4:00 pm 17 comments

chinese treats from the north

stir-fried potato shreds

I used to have a flatmate who came from Beijing, and this is a dish that she made for me once that I immediately fell in love with. It’s a popular northern Chinese dish of shredded potatoes with chilli and vinegar, and from what I can glean from the internet, it’s original name is qing jiao tu dou si (青椒土豆丝), or ‘green chilli potato shreds’. It was nothing like I’d ever eaten before – a testament to the vast differences between northern and southern Chinese cuisine (the latter of which I am more familiar with, having lived/living in Hong Kong). The potatoes are shredded finely (a skill in itself) and quickly stir-fried with hot chillies, splashes of vinegar (usually Chinese black rice vinegar), and seasoned with soy sauce. It’s cooked very quickly so that the potatoes still retain a crunch; this was definitely a strange experience at first, having only eaten potatoes in their starchy softness, in the form of mashed potatoes and chips. But it definitely works – it’s refreshing and the texture resembles the radish, somewhat. It’s difficult to liken it to anything, really.

I’ve converted quite a few people onto this dish, and it’s easy to see why. It’s simple, yet novel (for us ignorant people not familiar with northern Chinese cuisine anyway!). It’s light and tasty – spicy, sour, and savoury all at once. And it’s incredibly easy to make – the most grueling part is just slicing the potato meticulously into thin shreds, something you will undoubtedly get used to. I usually only quickly stir-fry the potato for about 5-6 minutes, just until the starch of the potato comes out and the liquid in the wok (from the soy sauce, vinegar, and any water in the potato) starts to thicken.

Potato shreds with chilli and vinegar
Serves 1-2
1 medium potato, peeled (avoid floury potatoes)
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I’m just a garlic fiend!)
1/2 red chilli, finely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
pinch of sugar
1 spring onion, chopped

1. Prepare the potato by cutting it in half lengthways. Place each half flat side down, and slice each thinly (3-4mm, if you can manage, the thinner the better!). For every 4-5 slices, lay flat and slice again lengthways, to create long matchstick-like pieces. Leave to soak in a large bowl of cold water to prevent the potatoes from going black.
2. Heat the sesame oil in a non-stick wok, and add the garlic and chilli. Saute for about a minute. Note: You can leave out the chilli at this stage if you want a really spicy flavour, and add them in the final stages of cooking. I tend to add them at this stage because I’m a wuss and can’t take the heat of the chilli and so cook most of it out! I know, defeating the purpose…
3. Meanwhile, drain the potatoes in a colander. Add to the wok and quickly stir fry for another minute. Add the rice vinegar, soy sauce and sugar. Keep tossing the potatoes for another 4-5 minutes until you start to see the liquid in the pan thicken.
4. Add the chopped spring onions, toss once more to mix in, and serve.

So what’s the best dish you’ve ever learned from a friend? :)

August 1, 2007 at 12:09 am 43 comments


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A freelance journalist and full-time gourmand, eating her way mostly through London and Hong Kong.

Current location: London


    supercharz

Charmaine currently digs: the smell of coffee; adding ponzu to everything; bill granger; still eating natto with every meal; caressing her Nikon FM2n.

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