With the lunar new year typically beginning at around this time, my family — a rather superstitious lot of folks — tends to turn its attention to eating specific foods that have special significance. Noodles, for example, are a must as they represent longevity. Fish is a compulsory, too, as the Chinese word for it — yu — sounds like the word for abundance. Of all the lucky foods eaten at this time, yu sheng, a Singaporean tossed salad that combines fish with a melange of ingredients like plum sauce (added for sweetness) and chopped peanuts (which resemble bits of gold), is supreme. (Big kudos to Cathy over at Show Food Chef for putting this incredibly complex dish together!)
When my Let’s Lunch bunch decided to do lucky foods for our February virtual lunch date, several of the dishes I’ve celebrated past lunar new years with immediately came to mind. Of them all, though, I have a soft spot for one that I only rather recently learned: Lo Bak Go, a steamed turnip cake that I adore at dim sum — one that my Auntie Hon Tim took the time to teach me last Chinese new year.
While I’ve had lo bak go numerous times at dim sum — and also for breakfast in Singapore, where the cake is sometimes sliced up, fried and served with chili sauce — I’ve never even thought to make it. It always seemed too difficult to even try, in my mind — a sentiment Auntie Hon Tim’s daughter, my Auntie Donna, shared, too. “When your Mom knows how to cook it, you don’t have to learn!” Auntie Donna said.
Since my mother doesn’t know how to make it, I figured I should try to learn — especially since I’ve been rather devoted recently to collecting my family’s recipes. (Check them out in A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family, which hit bookstores this week!) And Auntie Hon Tim, who owned a Chinese restaurant in Denver for many years, was more than happy to teach me.
The process is fairly easy once the ingredients are all prepped. First, you heat up a wok and dry fry some softened dried shrimp together with the sliced mushrooms, minced ginger and garlic until the mixture is fragrant. (This should take a few minutes.)
Next, 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and a dash of soy sauce goes in. “You just want a little bit of a taste of it,” Auntie Hon Tim says as she mixes the oil and sauce into the ingredients.
Next, you take 1 cup of rice flour and add that to 1/4 cup of vermicelli flour, add 12 fl. oz. of water and mix that together well, adding it to the wok, which should still be on high heat at this point.
If the mixture looks lumpy, you can gradually add more water — up to another 1/2 cup — to smoothen it out a little. Then you want to stir it all up and fry it until the mixture starts to congeal a little.
When it kind of looks like this (see below), then place it in an eight-inch foil dish…
Now, to make things a little pretty, Auntie Hon Tim chops up some carrots, taking care to show me the proper way to chop things (pushing your fingers against the blade of the knife so it doesn’t get close enough to slice off your fingertips as you press the knife down) as she does it.
This cake can be eaten steamed or sliced and pan-fried — it’s entirely up to you. The great thing about it is, it’s as delicious as it is lucky.
Happy year of the Rabbit, everyone!
Don’t forget to check out other Let’s Lunchers’ lucky new year foods below! If you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch — or, post a comment below.
Anastasia‘s Asian Stock at Can It You Nit!
Cathy‘s Yu Sheng at Show Food Chef
Emma‘s Korean Rice-Cake Soup at Dreaming of Pots and Pans
Linda‘s Gluten-Free Fortune Cookies at Free Range Cookies
Mai‘s very cute roundup of February’s Let’s Lunch at Cooking in the Fruit Bowl
Rashda‘s Long Life Noodles at Hot Curries & Cold Beer
Steff‘s Lucky Orange Muffins at The Kitchen Trials
Auntie Hon Tim’s Lo Bak Go (Steamed Turnip Cake)
1/2 of a large “white carrot” (turnip), peeled and coarsely grated
1/2 cup lap yoke (dried smoked pork belly), very thinly sliced
1 lap cheong (Chinese sausage), very thinly sliced
1/2 cup dried shrimp, soaked in water until they’re soft
1 cup rice flour
1/4 cup vermicelli flour
2 dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked until they’ve softened, then thinly sliced.
1/2 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
1 TB oyster sauce
1 dash of soy sauce
Carrots and scallions for garnish
Heat up a wok and dry fry some softened dried shrimp together with the sliced mushrooms, minced ginger and garlic until the mixture is fragrant. (This should take a few minutes.) Then add the sliced lap yoke and lap cheong to the wok and mix that all up.Once that’s fragrant, take the coarsely grated turnip and add that to the wok, stirring it all up. Turn up the flames so the wok is over a high heat at this point. Stir fry the mixture for 10 minutes.
Next, add 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and a dash of soy sauce and mix well. Then take 1 cup of rice flour and add that to 1/4 cup of vermicelli flour, add 12 fl. oz. of water and mix that together well, adding it to the wok, which should still be on high heat at this point. If the mixture looks lumpy, you can gradually add more water — up to another 1/2 cup — to smoothen it out a little. Then stir it all up and fry it until the mixture starts to congeal a little.
When the mixture is smooth, place it in an eight-inch foil dish and steam it for one hour.
Once the mixture has been steamed until it’s firm, top it with the carrots and minced scallions and serve immediately.