“Just get a tennis racket and push the carrot cake through it,” quipped JT, referring to the plated of black chai tow kway we were sharing at Bedok 85 market during a recent visit back home to Singapore. Everyone burst into laughter at his remark.
Three days later, when we were about to leave Singapore for Bangkok, chai tow kway came to us in a mini radish-cake bolster, weighing 2.2 kg like a small sack of rice. It was a last-minute souvenir from JT, who wanted to share an edible slice, or rather, a block, of Singapore’s food culture with Mr. P.
At the airport we wanted to check the edible bolster in but it over-weighted our luggage so we had to hand-carry it on-board instead. Papa was convinced that it was a liquid beneath the tight plastic packaging and thought it wouldn’t get past the customs. So we took a gamble: If it got through, we’d get to eat chai tow kway in Bangkok; if it didn’t, well, too bad.
At the customs, I saw the radish cake bolster going through and coming out of the scan machine…. and then back into the machine it went again.
“Miss, is that a food item inside your bag?” The lady customs officer asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“What’s that? A papaya?”
“No, a carrot cake.”
The radish cake actually went through the customs successfully, and I thought I saw the lady officer giving a tacit nod of approval. After all, it takes a Singaporean to understand a Singaporean’s love for food. ^_^
Since flying into Bangkok with us, the radish cake has been lying dormant in our fridge until I had the time to cook it on weekends. Chai tow kway turned out to be a rather simple dish to cook. I followed this RasaMalaysia recipe for guidance but tweaked it to my liking by adding bean sprouts and lap cheong (Chinese sausage).
Chai Tow Kway Recipe
* 2 tbsps of oil
* 400 grams radish cake
* 1 lap cheong, sliced into thin pieces
* 1 cup of bean sprouts
* 2 tbsps of chai poh (preserved turnip)
* 1 tbsp of minced garlic
* 2 eggs, lightly beaten
* 1 tbsp of fish sauce
* 1 tbsp of sambal chilli (optional)
* 2 sprigs of chopped scallions
* white pepper
* coriander leaves (optional)
1. Cut the radish cake into rectangular strips of about 1 x 0.5 x 0.5 inch each
2. Heat oil on a non-stick skillet on medium heat. Add in the radish cake chunks, stir-frying them until they are soft and the edges lightly charred.
3. Add garlic, lap cheong and chai poh. Fry until they are well mixed and aromatic.
4. Flavour the mixture with fish sauce, and add in the sambal chilli if you prefer it slightly spicy.
5. Flatten the mixture before pouring in the eggs slowly. When the eggs are set slightly, flip the pancake over to cook the other side evenly. Switch off the fire.
6. Place the mixture onto a plate. Sprinkle scallions and white pepper on top. Garnish with coriander leaves. Serve.
Black or White
It does matter whether you’re black or white when it comes to chai tow kway. I used to like the black version—which gets its dark colouration from sweetened soy sauce—when I was younger but my taste-buds have since veered towards the white version. So do you prefer your chai tow kway white or black?
Chai tow kway is also known as carrot cake in Singapore. Some people may wonder how the carrot cake namesake came about—it’s obviously not the Western grated-carrot dessert—but it’s actually very straightforward if you look at its Chinese name. Radish, or daikon, is known as white carrot (白萝卜) in Chinese, while the common carrot is referred to as red carrot (红萝卜). So ‘萝卜粿’, which means radish cake in Chinese, is probably then translated into English as carrot cake.