This dish has many names and variations. It’s a popular dim sum item and street food across Cantonese, Taiwanese, Teochew, and Southeast Asian cultures. I know it as lo bak go in Cantonese, luo bo gao in Mandarin, and chai tow kway in Taiwanese Hokkien. Apparently, it’s called “carrot cake” in Singapore, but it doesn’t actually contain any carrots. Also, it’s definitely a savory dish, so don’t let the “cake” throw you off.
The common essentials are daikon radish (also known as Chinese radish or Chinese turnip; the closely-related Korean mu radish also works here) and rice flour, which is made into a batter, steamed in a mold, and then pan fried. On the simple end of the spectrum, they are simply made with just the daikon and rice flour batter. Or you can make it fancy with all sorts of umami-laden bits.
This recipe is my own personal take. The recipe works best made one day of ahead of when you want to eat it, since it really benefits from a night in the fridge. Now here’s the recipe:
Turnip/Daikon Cake Ingredients
Note that I use grams for my weight measurements and US cups and tea/tablespoons for liquid volume. Using a kitchen scale has been game-changing for my cooking. Refer to the ingredient notes at the bottom of the post for additional context and explanation.
- ~900 grams fresh daikon or mu, peeled, and julienned
- 150 grams plain white rice flour
- 30 grams tapioca flour (or corn starch)
- 3 grams finely ground white pepper
- 3 grams fine sea salt
- 5 grams white sugar
- 20 grams fried shallots (optional)
- 10 grams fried garlic (optional)
- 4 scallions, finely chopped (optional)
- 150 grams bacon, chopped into small bits
- 4-6 small or medium dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water, then chopped into small bits. Be sure to save the soaking water!
- 100 grams chai bo, a salted, preserved radish product, rinsed, soaked, and chopped (optional)
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce (optional)
- 2.5-3 cups of water
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
Put the bacon into a cold pan or wok, and bring up the heat to medium-high. If your bacon is lean, you might need to add some oil, but I rarely do. Stir fry until browned and crispy, then add the shiitake mushrooms and chai bo, and stir fry on medium heat for 3 minutes. Next, add the scallions (if using) and stir fry for 1 more minute. Scoop out the solid umami ingredients and set aside for later. You can leave some bacon grease in the pan. There is no need to clean out the pan before the next step.
Add the julienned daikon and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender and translucent. This usually takes about 15 minutes. Add more water if it gets a little dry.
Once cool enough to handle, scoop out and drain the daikon, saving the cooking liquid. Add more water to the cooking liquid if needed to get to 2 and a half cups.
Add the strained daikon and previously pan fried umami ingredients back into your pan or wok (with the stove turned off). Stir in the oyster sauce now if you are using it.
Whisk the cooking liquid into the bowl of dry ingredients until incorporated. Pour the batter into your pan or work. Turn the stove to medium-low and stir the mixture together until it thickens. If it thickens too much, add an additional half cup of water. The batter should have the consistency of mashed potatoes.
Transfer the mixture into a greased heat-proof casserole or loaf pan. Cover with foil and steam for 1 hour. I don’t actually own a steamer large enough to make this recipe, so I put the foil-covered casserole in the oven along with another casserole full of boiling water, and baked at 300 F / 150 C for 1 hour.
Check for doneness after one hour. Insert a toothpick or skewer. It won’t come out clean like a dessert cake, but the batter that sticks should be milky white rather than translucent.
Allow everything to cool completely. Then put in the fridge for a few hours or preferably overnight.
Remove the chilled daikon cake, slice, pan fry, and serve.
There are many different regional and local variations for serving this dish, but I divide them roughly into the “dim sum style” and the “street food style.”
In the dim sum style, you cut the daikon cake into slices, pan fry in some oil until browned on two sides. Using a non-stick pan or griddle for this helps a lot. Garnish with some chopped scallions or chives if you like, then serve with the dipping sauce(s) of your choice. I like soy sauce, Sriracha sauce, and a tiny dab of mustard. XO sauce also works well, and some people use oyster sauce or a thick sweet soy sauce (a product known as soy paste in Taiwan or kecap manis (alternately spelled ketjap manis) in Malay and Indonesian.
In the street food style, you cut the chilled daikon cake into cubes, and pan fry until brown. Then scramble in an egg or two, and add chopped scallions. Some variations also add bean sprouts or other vegetables at this point. When I make these street food style, I squeeze some soy sauce, Sriracha, and ketchup on top, which is reminiscent of my favorite Taiwanese street food breakfast version of the dish. The mixture of ketchup and Sriracha is a good approximation for Taiwanese sweet chili sauce.
To make a vegetarian version of this, leave out the bacon and oyster sauce. And perhaps increase the amount of fried shallot and garlic.
I used two small Korean mu for the recipe in the pictures. Mu are shorter and rounder than Japanese daikon, but the two are interchangeable in this recipe. After cleaning, peeling, and julienning, it came out to 710 grams.
Despite the name, I don’t recommend using Western turnips or radishes for this, as they taste quite different from daikon or mu. Some people prefer to grate the daikon, which is even easier if you have a food processor. I prefer a chunkier texture (and couldn’t find my grater) so I just julienned the daikon with a knife.
Be sure to use plain white rice flour and NOT glutinous rice flour or “mochiko” in Japanese. They are different products. Plain white rice flour is softer and more tender, which is more appropriate for this dish.
Traditional recipes call for Cantonese laap cheong sausage and sometimes Chinese ham, but those require a trip to the Asian market, and I always have bacon at home.
Some recipes also add dried shrimp and dried scallops that have been reconstituted by soaking for a few hours in water and then finely chopped. These make the dish more luxurious for sure, but also usually require a trip to the Asian market or an online order.
The fried shallots and garlic are optional. A lot of recipes don’t call for them at all, but they add flavor and texture, and I always have them on hand in my pantry. You can buy jars of fried shallots and fried garlic at an Asian market or online.
The scallions are also optional, but I like adding them to liven things up a bit.
Chai bo is a salted, preserved radish product. In some versions of the dish, they are stir fried with the daikon cake, but I think they are nice mixed into the batter as well. They provide a salty, funky, umami and crunch.
If you leave out the oyster sauce, you can substitute fish sauce, or just double the amount of salt you add.