Kung Hei Fat Choi! – Radish Cakes with Kimchi

kung-heiEvery year lunar new year is a wonderful opportunity to gather friends, make lots of food and celebrate together.  In true Cantonese spirit we had a rowdy time.  Some glimpses of traditional practices that I remember from my childhood growing up in Hong Kong –  Late night flower markets with strings of naked tungsten lights strung overhead.  Spring so fully embodied by pink peach buds poking out from a tangle of bare branches and glossy bulbs of narcissus bursting white and gold from sleek green leaves.  Huge round tables filled with food and five separate conversations juggled with skill by fast talking aunties, hands waving and voices rising in a merry mashup of indignation, mirth and scandal.  Daylong preparations in the kitchen where clever hands and patient steps work steadfastly towards the glory of consumption. New clothes, lucky packets filled with money, trays of candy, dried fruits and watermelon seeds. Bright red paper with fresh black calligraphy inviting prospects with a few well placed words, joss sticks and fire crackers and visits to spruced up grannies who ply you with ancient candy and squeeze your arms. In true South China style I remember a cacophony of good will and a tumultuous amount of good food. 🙂

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I started my preparations the week before curing pork belly from a friend’s farm. This method “laap yuk” works wonderfully well in Colorado’s dry and temperate climate.  I keep my house cooler than most (around 67 degrees) which also worked out perfectly.  The technique was simple first I submerged 2×4 inch strips of pork belly in a half and half mix of tamari and rose scented rice wine (mui gwai lo), pressed the meaty pieces under the liquid for 24 hours (room temperature).  I then used butcher’s twine to hang the bacon in my kitchen with a steel bowl under on the counter to catch any dripping fat etc.  It then hung and cured for 5-7 days.  As it cured you could see the outer skin dry out, a sweet rice wine smell emanate and a matte sheen from the fat curing on the surface.  I still have two pieces of this precious cured pork in my fridge it is so simple and really is a marvel.

This year I decided to make Radish Cake a traditional new year dish and also a favorite dim sum dish.  (You know the cart with the griddle top that goes around… in Cantonese “Lor Bak Go”).  I got the recipe from my best friend Des who lives on Cheung Chau Island in Hong Kong.  He got the recipe from asking his Aunties.  He said it was very difficult to decipher because they were all talking at once and arguing.  I am allergic to shellfish so I substituted the shrimp and scallop with shitake mushrooms, my home made bacon and some finely chopped kimchi.  Next year I think I might use dehydrated kimchi for better textural contrast…  however the kimchi worked out fantastically giving the Radish Cake a great spicy flavor.

 robert cake8 pounds of Daikon Radish (grated – traditionally done by child labor)
600g of sharp rice flour (plain rice flour NOT glutenous or sweet rice flour)
1tblspn salt
a small lump of rock sugar
1 cup of small diced cooked pork belly (crispy is good!)
1 cup of squeezed dry finely chopped kimchi (next year I will dehydrate!)
1 cup of diced shitake mushrooms
black and white pepper
dried shrimp dried scallop dried fish – (if you’re not allergic to it it’s great! soak in water first then dry fry to prepare)

In a massive wok..fry up the radish with salt/sugar/seasoning

cover wok allow to soften and release juice

once radish is soft drain out the radish juice and mix it with rice flour to make a solution

prep other ingredients. (fry bacon, squeeze and chop kimchi etc.)

mix rice paste solution with soft radish and mix in other ingredients.

at this stage do a taste test by making a small pancake in a frying pan.

make your final adjustments. (we like lots of white pepper!)

Steam for 1 hour (small tin) 1hour 30 min for a big one.  Cool completely before cutting.  Cut in slices and fry up on a griddle til outside is crispy.

Serve with cut spring onions, srirracha and hoisin sauce.

Benishoga’s Birthday

With grand aplomb I am pleased to announce another installation of Zukémono’s Adventures Beyond Culture.  Thanks to Andy Gladstone for this magnificent piece of creative prose.  Andy took some of my own memories and remixed them into his maybe-not-so imaginary heroine’s creative endeavours.  So please enjoy the following perhaps-rather plausible series of indomitable events.



Zukemono awoke (as if that begins to cover it) with the dawning of the day.

eagerly bounding from her bed refreshed, excited, energetic, imbued with the dream she had so smilingly snoozed into reality.  a dream which ceded no ground, paid no credence and proffered no nevermind to the alleged duality of awake/asleep.  holistically speaking, our girl could never be bound by the unwholesome restraints of a black/white, “this is it & that’s all there is” seriousness of a culture that has confused wisdom with the ability to jam a round world into ever shrinking square containers, regardless of the damage done.  sure those boxes could be neatly stacked, and, from a full frontal view, do indeed appear to be ever so properly & logically constructed.  however, a quick peak behind those frigid boxes (& whom who knew would not expect Zukemono to pull back the curtain) reveals our precious spirituality oozing out the back.  the infinite and ever expanding laws of the universe cannot be so easily constrained by the transient powers that be, those purveyors of modern rationale, no matter how strong their current tenuous grasp.  their folly no different than the oft repeated myth that all we paid was trinkets for the island of Manhattan, when in fact the cost included an ever increasing diminution of our decency, the further sacrificing of our soul, and the additional ravaging of the richness & depth of the knowledge that we are all one.


Benishoga awoke, just as his cousin Zukemono had seen in her dream.  rocking to & fro, at one with the clattering of the iron horse along the steel tracks, softly drifting his gaze out the massive window into the world of wonder which is deepest China.  a potpourri of brilliant images filled his head, overwhelming his senses.  towering glaciers miraculously rising over desert sand, tattooed with ancient cave paintings deep within their frozen bellies, five hundred year old marketplaces framed by thousand year old city gates, a town linked by terraced grapevines and ancient waterways along which groups of women slowly simmered horseshoe crabs.  yes, horseshoe crabs, biologically more closely related to spiders than crabs, categorized as “living fossils” for their status as the last remnants of a once proud & enormous biological family, dating back over 250,000,000 (some say 400,000,000) years and whose rare blue-blood (calm down you jealous red-blooded european noblemen, a fact’s a fact) is today considered a medical miracle with properties which may, dear reader, one day save your very life.


a deep thirst welled up inside Benishoga, as if; blazing desert sun had parched tongue and throat, fiery desert sand had infiltrated each & every breath, glistening waters cascading off majestic glaciers were an isolated unknowable delight.  he did not yet suspect that his desiccated longing was a mere magical prelude to the manifestation of a dream.  he reached around his seat feeling for his tea jar, wrapped within a ball jar cozy which had been lovingly crocheted by Zukemono as a bon voyage gift.  securing the jar, he headed towards the front of the rail car and the old-fashioned thermos of steaming “kai shui” (open water) to add to the tea leaves in his jar.  as he lurched forward he suddenly felt quite hungry.  this mysterious hunger appeared as swiftly as had his overwhelming thirst and still, he remained unaware of the mirthfully magical powers at play in his longings.  he slowly poured the scalding water into his jar, fully appreciating his cousin’s cozy which permitted him to hold the jar with no discomfort, and made his way back to his seat.  he sank down with a welcome sigh & closed his eyes for a moment.  a vision of his favorite boyhood treat danced in his head as with sight gone, hunger, for the moment, ruled the roost.

as Benishoga opened his eyes, his mouth too opened wide with surprise.  on his small table, built in to the railcar, next to the open window, adventure had surely begun.  a gilded platter of brilliantly colored (and beloved) umeboshi (pickled plums) danced beside his freshly poured steaming tea.  slowly, a smile of loving recognition spread across his face.  with the dawn of the day came the dawn of the realization that Zukemono was making merry magic.  at that very moment, as if she sat beside him, he heard her whisper “happy birthday cousin” and felt her kiss his cheek.


his silent thank yous echoed off the glaciers, majestically rising above the dry arid desert, and rode the four winds to simultaneously arrive at Zukemono’s door.