KF Seetoh: New takes on carrot cake
To the 2.2 million foreign friends and talents in our midst, you are forgiven if you wonder why our carrot cake is not sweet and does not look like it has any carrot in it.
It doesn't. We fry ours with steamed rice flour batter and radish - known in Mandarin as "luo bo" or "white carrot" - hence the name "fried carrot cake".
And for the longest time, it was nice. Fried with sweet caramelised soy sauce or "ti jio'' we have the black version. Done with fish sauce and white pepper, it is the white version.
For decades, my Ah Ma (grandmother) and Ah Kong (grandfather) swore by this southern Chinese dish.
Then, it started to get boring. We yearned for more.
So, over the last two decades, this signature hawker centre dish has evolved, with all sorts of interesting variations. It's like how today's fancy hamburgers have come from what used to be a simple offering of ground meat clamped by a sliced bun.
Some now fry the carrot cake like a frittata, eggy pancake-style and add ingredients like prawns, squid, bean sprouts, minced meat and ikan bilis.
Perhaps some day, typically expensive ingredients like lobster and abalone might find a place in carrot cake too.
For now, we just have to be satisfied with the cheese, tom yum and luncheon meat versions.
IKAN BILIS FRIED CARROT CAKE
1, Telok Kurau
The old lady who started this stall has happily retired and sold her recipe and business to a kopitiam boss, who in turn hired Mr James Loh to continue the heritage.
The only change I noted (and I have been eating here for 10 years) is that the "kway" or cake is less soft than it was originally.
But it is fried just as well and topped with even better and crispier ikan bilis that is fried daily.
The old lady used to leave the ikan bilis heads intact, which left a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Mr Loh uses a version that comes without the offending bits.
CHEESE AND TOM YUM CARROT CAKE
No Signboard Noodles
Ubi 33 Food House
Block 33, Ubi Link
8am-6pm (Mondays to Fridays), 8am-2pm (Saturdays),
closed on Sundays but will open specially for TNP readers today.
Kudos to the two Gen Y kids, Mr Aw Chee Wei , 23, and his girlfriend, Ms Wee Qing Xiu, 25.
He studied culinary arts at Shatec, worked in western restaurants and had always yearned to do local fare and be his own boss. She obtained a business degree from the Singapore Institute of Management.
His army mates told him just how rewarding being a hawker could be, though "I struggle to make $3,000 instead of the $10,000 they told me," he says with a laugh.
Still, like any good chef, over chats and drinks with friends, he came up with this version, merging his favourite kiddy snack - cheese fries - with carrot cake, dousing it with happy squirts of liquid cheese, the kind used in the devilishly addictive Philly cheesesteak.
He fries his store-bought cakes very well with plenty of egg.
He also does a mean tom yum version topped with pork floss. There's also a kiddy-favourite rendition with luncheon meat.