Turnip cake is one of the most iconic dishes to order at dim sum. The savoury dish, sometimes also called radish cake or lo bak go, has been etched into the childhood memories of those growing up in a Chinese household.
The dish is traditionally served up during Chinese New Year but is also often made as breakfast. Some will prefer it freshly steam while others will prefer it steamed and then pan-fried to give it that crispy brown outer layer. Have a slice like it is or dip it in oyster sauce, chilli sauce or even siracha? The options are endless.
Steamed or fried, homemade Chinese turnip cake will always be better than the ones you will find in dim sum restaurants. For cost and speed, restaurants will typically use more rice flour and starch and less of flavourful ingredients like lap chueng (Chinese sausage) or gong yu chu (dried scallops). This will give you a softer texture and blander taste rather than a strong umami punch. If you can’t taste the Chinese radish then there’s probably not enough of it.
Satisfy those dim sum cravings by making this savoury snack at home!
Chinese Turnip Cake Recipe (Lo Bak Go)
This recipe was kindly submitted to us by Katrina Au. Having learnt the recipe from her mum, she has now perfected the family recipe and enjoys making this for a filling breakfast meal!
Cook Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
Usually, you will make a large batch for the whole household to have over the next few mornings. These will keep well in the fridge if you’re making these for a smaller group.
- Large pot
- Grater (optional)
- Steamer – I used one that has three-levels (2 for each lo bak go and 1 for the water)
- Two rounded tins
- 3 large turnips – ideally find ones that are heavier meaning they will contain more water
- 2 small bags of rice flour (450g each)
- 3 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- White pepper
You can find Chinese radish and rice flour in your local Asian supermarket. Depending on your preference, you could add or remove the ingredients below. I’m sure there are other things you could add into this too!
- 2 – 3 Chinese sausages (lap cheung)
- Handful of dried scallop (gong yu chu)
- Handful of baby dried shrimp (ha jai)
- Roughly 6 – 8 Chinese mushrooms (doong gu)
1. Before starting, wash the dried scallops and Chinese mushrooms and then soak them for an hour. The same goes for the dried shrimp, however, if they were just in the freezer, feel free to use hot water to defrost and also leave for an hour.
2. After the ingredients are nice and soaked, dice the Chinese sausages and Chinese mushrooms, peel the dried scallops apart, and cut the dried shrimp into tiny pieces. Note: Save the water you soaked the ingredients in. For the ingredients, feel free to dice them up as small or as big as you want, I tend to dice them around 1/2 cm wide.
3. Using the pot (no oil needed), start frying the Chinese sausages on medium heat. When the sausages’ oil starts coming out, add the mushrooms and fry for another 2 minutes. Then add the dried scallops along with shrimps and fry on high heat until it’s all cooked through. You will know when to stop when you start to smell the fragrance of the dried scallops!
4. Set aside in a bowl. Feel free to leave any residue left in the pot as you can use the same pot for the turnips! Now let’s move onto preparing the turnips.
5.Peel the outside of the turnips and wash it under cold water. Make sure not to press too hard otherwise you will lose its flesh.
6.Using a grater, grate the turnips into a large bowl. If you prefer your turnip cakes to be more textured, feel free to not use a grater and just cut the turnips thin strips with a knife.
7. On low heat, using the same pot as earlier, add the turnip and add a small amount of the water you used to soak the mushroom and dried scallop. Place a lid on top of the pot slightly ajar. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking to the pot. The turnips will also release some water in the process too.
8. Cook until most of the water has evaporated and the turnip is translucent.
9. Empty the pot of turnip into a large bowl. Add the 2 bags of rice flour, salt, sugar and white pepper to the bowl. Mix this until you get a sticky consistency.
10. Add the cooked ingredients (sausages, mushrooms, shrimps and scallops) to the mixture and mix.
11. Pour the sticky mixture into the tins.
12. Add water to the steamer and start on high heat.
13. Once the steam begins, place the tins in the steamer. When the water in the steamer almost starts to boil, turn it down to medium heat. Leave the cake to steam for an hour.
14. After an hour, check on the mixture. If you poke a chopstick into it, and nothing sticks to the chopstick, then it’s ready. If not, let it steam for a few minutes longer until nothing sticks to the chopstick.
15. If you are not eating it now, then let it cool down and put them in the refrigerator. Otherwise, move onto step 16.
16. Once the turnip cake has cooled down, scoop it out of the tin and cut it into squares around 6cm wide and 1cm thick depending on your preference.
17. Heat a wok on medium heat with oil. Once the oil is warm, add the slices into the wok. Lightly fry on both sides until the pieces are slightly browned.
Set aside onto a plate and enjoy!
Vegan or Vegetarian Turnip Cake
You can also easily adapt this into a vegan or vegetarian friendly dish by removing the shrimps, sausages, and scallops in this recipe! Substitute the ingredients with more mushrooms or keep it as a plain radish cake recipe.
Is Chinese Turnip Cake Healthy?
On average, one slice of fried turnip cake is slightly oilier and contains about 130 calories. Whilst, in one slice of steamed lo bak go there’s an average of 86kcal. Despite the calories, the main ingredient has some great nutritional values. The main ingredient for this dim sum dish is Chinese radish (bai luo bo) and is said to help with digestion.
In the UK, this is more commonly known as mooli or daikon (Japanese radish). The variations of the vegetable can be used interchangeably but some Asian mums prefer to stick to Chinese radish when making Turnip cake as they claim it has a sweeter taste than its Japanese counterpart. Unfortunately, Chinese radish is not a well-explored ingredient in the Western community and there are very few English recipes online. See our mooli recipes for more inspirations on how to use Chinese radish.