Hordes in Chinatown: Chinese New Year Eve, and Mom's Turnip Cake

Being either stupid or brave, I went to Chinatown yesterday. In ways it was kind of stupid because of the hordes of people in Chinatown because it’s Chinese New Year’s Eve. (I should say, “Gong Hay Fat Choy” (in Cantonese), “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (transliterated in Mandarin), or 新年 愉快). I’m just brave enough to walk or sometimes shove my way through the crowds. It’s a zoo there. The reasons why I wanted to go to Chinatown were the food and the Flower Market.
I went to the Flower Market in Columbus Park first since I’m hoping it won’t be packed and the flowers will be fresher during the earlier part of the day.
So here’s my photoset in Flickr that you may click through. The food’s after the jump.

I didn’t really get real food I just want to snack on some stuff just because later on the evening, I have to go to my cousin Amanda’s wedding (which will be briefly talked about on the next post). I randomly went in and out to different bakeries just looking at what they have and see if it appeals to me. However, the one I really wanted to go to, 9 Chatham Square, was packed with people that there’s no more standing room in the restaurant, and the others were not tempting me to eat their stuff.

Eventually, I went into Golden Dragon Boat Café since there was seating and their food is not bad.
I ended up getting an egg custard tart (dan tat) and a deep fried sesame seed ball (jien duy) for a mind blowing total of $1.35.
Here’s the food photos:

The egg custard tart was good. The crust was slightly buttery, crumbly, and sweet. The custard was smooth, creamy and sweet. Not mind blowing greatness but it alleviate my egg custard tart craving. The deep fried sesame ball was even better. Why? It’s because their kitchen is making copious amounts of these fried balls of goodness since it’s Chinese New Year Eve.

Sesame seed ball (jien duy) has a symbolic meaning for prosperity for the new year. Even though these are available year-round but it has more significance for the next 2 weeks (since Chinese New Year is usually celebrated as a 15 day holiday).

Another new year food would be these:
These containers are filled with fa gao which means “prosperity cakes.” It’s basically a steamed cake that comes in the basic yellow from the eggs or dyed to a pinkish red, occasionally topped with a cherry or a red dot.

Speaking of food, my mom made some homemade turnip cakes (lo bak gao) a few days ago. This is what I always look forward to every Chinese New Year ever since my mom know how to make these from scratch (about a decade).

Turnip cakes are served on New Year’s Day as a symbol of prosperity and rising fortune, the gao is a homonym for the Chinese word for tall or high, so you’ll want to dig into this dish if you’re hoping to grow taller or move up the corporate ladder. My mom makes this with soaked rice instead of the traditional rice flour, the turnip (or known as daikon) dried shrimp, ground pork and reconstituted shitake mushrooms. It is first cooked in a wok slightly, to get the rice batter and the filling a bit thickened then it’s steamed. The option is pan frying but my mom prefers it steamed.

Take a look at the turnip cake:

Close up of the turnip cake: steamed but not pan fried
Just flipped…with the other side browning

They look yummy! It also tastes as good as it looks. The only change is that this year my dad helped. In ways this changes a good bit in the texture of this cake. You see, my mom’s knife skills are pretty bad whenever she cuts or chops anything it just looks well, bad…like someone just haphazardly hacked the poor chicken (or beef, pork, etc.) or vegetable blindly. So, with the aid of my dad, instead of the trademark texture of the turnip cake being chunky, now it’s smooooth. When I first ate this, I asked my dad, “Did you add less turnip (technically it’s daikon) this year?” He replied to me, “No. I just cut the turnip; not mom.” So this could mean two things: either my dad’s handy knife skills changes it or the daikon is really good this year.

I shoot, eat, and drink. My full time job is a hospital administrator. Moonlighting as a freelance photographer and food and travel writer.