Chai Tau Kway – Carrot Cake Without Carrots

Smoke and more smoke from black stir fried woks are a common sight in Malaysia’s hawker stalls and centres. But rather than choking, the smoke from Chai Tau Kway being fried with dashes of oil fills the air with a tantalizing fragrance of garlic and spring onions which is enough to make anyone salivate.

Chai Tau Kway is a common Chinese dish found in Malaysia originating from the Teo Chew clan. It has since influenced the taste buds of Malaysians as an everyday breakfast dish because it is packed with carbohydrates energy and serves as a good pick-me-up in the morning.

Chai Tau Kway which means Radish Cake, is made from mashed radish, rice flour and water. The finished product of steaming this is an off-white cake which is then cut into bite-sized rectangular blocks for frying with eggs, garlic, spring onions, light soya sauce, fish sauce and chilli.

There are two types of Chai Tau Kway that hawkers will always offer at their stalls: the black version and the white version. The black version comes with the extra dash of black soya sauce which makes the dish really black and sweeter due to the natural sweetness of the black soya sauce. The white version is a simple combination of the typical ingredients as mentioned earlier without the black soya sauce and is lighter to taste.

Another key ingredient for the Chai Tau Kway is the preserved radish bits, called chai poh in teo chew that are fried together to add the extra crunch and sweetness to the dish. Go without that and the regulars to this dish would be able to tell the difference and know what is missing.

In most hawker centers, Chai Tau Kway is labelled as Fried Carrot Cake. The carrot part of the name refers to the Chinese name for radish, which literally translates to “white carrot”. To the amusement of locals, this has caused much curiosity among foreigners who are confused by the lack of orange carrots in this cake. It has become somewhat of a joke in Malaysia and Singapore and even inspired to title of a Singaporean food Guide for foreigners  – There’s no carrot in carrot cake by Leslie Tay.

A variation of hawker-style Chai Tau Kway is commonly found in Dim Sum restaurants. The mashed radish is compacted into rectangular blocks and lightly fried. It is served with chopped shallots, dried shrimp and a chilli dipping sauce.

To try out Chai Tau Kway in Malaysia, one need not travel too far to experience this local delight as it is very popular at night markets, street-side vendors as well as streets strewn with pop-up stalls. One famous street many would know about is Petaling Street in Chinatown, KL where finding the Char Kway will not be such a tough feat.

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