Nyonya Chap Chye
It came to me randomly. One day at work, I just suddenly wanted to make Nyonya chap chye. It must be 4-5 years of not eating this dish that finally crept up on me. Fatbooo’s belly simply looked up and asked “wu chap chye boh?” (Hokkien: have you got chap chye or not?).
Chap chye is a stewed vegetable dish that contains interesting ingredients like black moss, lily buds and mock abalone. When cooked together, it brings out a unique fragrance and flavour that’s quite different from any other vegetable stews you’ve eaten. Once you manage to procure all the ingredients at a good Asian grocer, cooking it is actually very easy.
This recipe is Nyonya-style. Mum passed the original to me from a Penang Straits Chinese Cuisine recipe book and I’ve adapted it. Mum tells me that Nyonya cooks are very secretive about their cooking. So their recipe books are usually not that authentic, with missing ingredients and wrong cooking steps. My first test batch was overcooked and the timing of the ingredients was wrong, so I’ve adapted the recipe into something more culinarily sensible.
After making my first test batch, I brought it to work for lunch. My ang mohcolleagues seemed to like the smell of the dish. In fact, I gave EC a small tasting bowl and she loved the textures and flavours. How odd! I’d thought the weird looking rubbery shrooms and slimy black moss would freak them out. KH now wants me to cook a vegan version, which is easy, just omit prawns.
Nyonya chap chye has two styles and I had an interesting time chatting to @chillipadi1 about it on twitter. The darker style uses taucheo (fermented soy beans) and it is more commonly seen in Melaka and Singapore. This is the type I’ve grown up eating. The lighter style uses taujoo (fermented beancurd) instead, it has Cantonese influences and is more commonly cooked by Penang Nyonyas. I’ve tried cooking both versions, both tastes quite different, both very good!
I’ll now sprinkle a number of pictures showing the prep work and cooking process before putting in the recipe at the end of the post.
Nyonya Chap Chye (Adapted)
- Soak the black fungus, mushrooms, lily buds, beancurd sticks in water for 15 mins or until soft. Drain
- In separate bowls, soak the fatt choy for 5 mins and glass noodles for 10 mins. Drain.
- Remove any hard bits from the black fungus and tear the larger ones into smaller pieces
- Cut away the hard stems from the mushrooms and half or quarter the larger caps
- Snip off the hard tips from the lily buds and tie a knot in the middle of each strand
- Cut the beancurd sticks into about 4 cm lengths
- Peel carrot and cut into flower shapes
- Cut cabbage into 6 cm square pieces
- Heat Oil in wok, add the garlic and fry until fragrant
- Add the taucheo (or taujoo) and continue to fry for another 2 mins or so.
- Add carrot, cabbage and lily buds, fry for a further 3 mins or so
- Add remaining soaked ingredients (except fatt choy and tung hoon) plus the mock abalone and prawns, stir fry for 2 mins
- Add the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 5-10 mins.
- Just as you start simmering add the fatt choy
- Add the glass noodles at the last 2-3 mins of cooking
- The stew is ready when the sauce starts to thicken up and the ingredients start to soften. The cabbage should turn translucent. If you don’t have enough sauce, simply add water.
- Season according to taste with salt or soya sauce
- Serve with a plate of chillie belachan and cut limes, eat with an accompanying curry-type dish