Sunday, April 11, 2010

Malaysian "carrot cake"... not quite what you'd expect

If you are a foreigner in Malaysia or Singapore and see hawker stalls advertising "Carrot Cake", don't be misled. The Malaysian dish (also called chai tow kway) bearing that monicker is a world away from the sweet Western-style carrot cake, which would seem like an unusual thing to find amidst the noodles and roast pork dishes of a hawker centre.

Malaysians seem to like playing fast and loose with naming their vegetables. Thus the terms "taro" and "yam" are used interchangeably, while "turnip" refers not to the Western definition of turnip, but to two different vegetables which are vaguely turnipy - the daikon or white radish, and the bangkwang or jicama. The white radish, with its long pointy shape, looks something like a large white carrot, which is how we get the name of this dish.
If you have ever been at yum cha and encountered something called "turnip cake" (lo bak gow), you will have an idea of the origins of this dish. Grated radish is mixed with rice flour and water to make a steamed savoury cake, often served on its own accompanied by spring onion and dried prawns, or with bits of ham cooked into it. It is a common dish all over the Chinese-speaking world.

Malaysians and Singaporeans have taken the turnip cake / carrot cake idea to another level (although I have read that this may instead be a Teochew innovation from China). It is treated somewhat like a noodle, and is fried up with garlic, bean sprouts, chili, dark soy sauce and scrambled egg, resulting in something resembling char kway teow.

Other variations can include spring onions, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and chopped Chinese sausage.

We spotted this fellow at the Thursday pasar malam (night market) at Jalan SS2/10, Petaling Jaya (near Kayu Nasi Kandar). And his wares were delicious.

See also:

The guide to ordering food in Malaysia

Roti chanai terbang - The Way of the Flying Roti

Addicted to kuih

The Malaysian-Indian food experience

Lina's Popiah, SS3 Petaling Jaya


  1. YUM!! my mum orders turnip cake every time we go to yum cha... now you've got me seriously craving it!

  2. Heh. You would be so confused if you thought you were getting Western carrot cake.

    PS - I looooove those big flat rice noodles. Yummmm!