Growing up, Jiu Hu Char was a dish that I watched my mother and her siblings prepare every Chinese New Year. In my teenage years, I too had a hand in helping to slice the ingredients for this dish. We would make a big batch to feed the family. So it was always a boisterous affair where all the women in my mother’s family did their part to prepare the CNY dishes – chopping, slicing, dicing, pounding chillies for sambal belacan, cooking, washing and so on.
2o years on and with my own family now, I still cook this dish every CNY. The taste of this dish always bring back vivid memories of my growing up years during the festive season. To me, this is the taste of home.
Yam Bean (Jicama)
Yam bean is also known by many other names. Among them are jicama (Spanish), bengkuang (Indonesia), sengkuang (Malay), sa kot (Cantonese), man pao (Laos), man kaeo (Thai), kesaur (India) and kuzu-imo (Japanese).
The flavour of raw yam bean is sweet and starchy with a crisp texture that reminds me of pears. Besides jiu hu char, yam bean is also an essential ingredient in popiah (fresh spring roll filled with jicama and other ingredients), kuih pie tee (a popular Peranakan dish), yu sheng and rojak (a Malaysian fruit salad).
Pictured above is the yam bean in various stages of being cut. Peel off the skin first with a vegetable peeler. Then cut them into half. Next, cut into slices as shown above. Finally, cut into strips. Don’t fret if they’re not uniform in size. They’re hand cut after all.
For this dish, the cooking is the easy part. It is the preparation that will take patience and time. The yam bean has to be painstakingly hand cut if you want to achieve a better texture and mouthfeel. I tried using a box grater before and the resulting dish turned out soggy and lacked the ‘bite’ of manual cutting. So forget about using a box grater.
Jiu Hu (Cuttlefish)
The shredded cuttlefish deserves a special mention here. Although it is not the main ingredient in this jiu hu char recipe, it is the star ingredient and is the essence of this dish. I love the unique flavor that permeates the entire dish and makes it very appetizing. In fact, this dish is named after this ingredient. Jiu Hu means cuttlefish in the Hokkien dialect.
Shredded cuttlefish are usually available in Asian grocery stores in the market. Note that this is not the same as seasoned cuttlefish sold in supermarkets but dried cuttlefish that is used for cooking. I bought mine from a Chinese medical shop where they sold them in larger packets and I found them to be more value for money.
Sometimes if my children are at home, I will get them to help me cut the ingredients. It is a good bonding time for us and I want them to learn how to cook this dish too just as I had learnt from my mother.
Use a wok large enough to accommodate everything to minimize spillage when you cook.
This dish will taste even better the next day as the flavours continue to develop. It also freezes well. Usually, we will eat half of it on the day it is cooked and save the other half for the next day. Sambal belacan and lettuce leaves are a must for me when I eat this dish. The spicy heat from the chili is a lovely foil to the crisp, fresh lettuce and savory vegetables.
Savor the explosion of flavors and texture as you bite into each lettuce wrapped parcel. I can eat a whole bowl of rice with this alone. Simply delicious.
More CNY Recipes:
Fish Maw with Prawn Meatballs Soup
Cantonese Style Steamed Fish
Lo Han Chai
Har Lok Prawns
Braised Shiitake Mushrooms with Broccoli
- 1 kg yambean - peeled and cut into thin strips
- 1 carrot - peeled and cut into thin strips
- 1 small cabbage (about 400g) - cut into thin slices
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms - soaked in hot water till soften
- 250 g pork belly
- 80 g dried shredded cuttlefish
- 4 shallots - chopped
- 4 cloves garlic - chopped
- ½ tbsp dark soy sauce (for color)
- ¾ to 1 cup water (adjust accordingly)
- Light soy sauce - to taste
- Salt - to taste
- Blanch pork belly in a pot of boiling water for about 8-10 minutes. Remove and cut into thin bite-sized strips and set aside.
- Cut off stems from mushrooms. Squeeze excess water away and cut into thin slices. You may pour the soaking water into the wok if you wish.
- Heat up oil in a wok. Stir fry shallots and garlic till fragrant. No need to brown. Pour in the shredded cuttlefish and fry till fragrant followed by the pork belly and mushrooms. Then add carrots, cabbage and yam bean and continue to stir-fry.
- Season with some salt, light soy sauce and dark soy sauce and mix everything well. Add some water so that it won't be too try. Cover the wok and let it cook for about 10-15 minutes until all the vegetables have softened.
- Taste before serving and adjust seasoning if necessary. Turn off heat and dish out. Serve with fresh lettuce leaves and sambal belacan.
2. Add more dark soy sauce if you prefer a darker color.
3. You may omit the pork if you are a vegetarian.
This looks like a real treat. I actually like hand preparing and cutting up food. It takes longer, but I think it is worth it in the end. I’ve never eaten some of the ingredients in your dish, but I would love to try it out some day. I love Asian food, and this dish looks like it’d be right up my alley to try out. Does the cuttle fish have a very fishy taste? I used to always have dried fish with some sticky rice for breakfast when I was younger, and i’m wondering if it is similar to that. Thanks for the post!
Thanks for writing in. Yes, Jiu Hu Char is something that I make only on special occasions or festivals like Chinese New Year so it is a treat for my family and I.
I’m used to the taste of cuttle fish so I don’t find it fishy at all. I don’t think it’s the same as the dried fish with sticky rice that you had before. It tastes similar to dried cuttle fish snacks.
For this dish, the cuttle fish has already been finely sliced and mixed evenly with the rest of the ingredients so you won’t taste anything fishy, if at all. Hope that helps. 🙂
Small small world… I’m from Singapore too! Just joined WA less than a month ago hehe..
First look at Jiu Hu Char, it reminds me of Popiah filings. So I guess using it for Popiah will be great as well. I am a follower of several food/cooking blogs as I like looking at the photos of delicious-looking dishes and fantasising that I can cook them as well 😛
As commented by another reader, it’ll be a better idea if you shift your “About Me” page to the top bar menu. Personally I would want to know more about the person “behind the scene” who magically turns all the food ingredients into something yummy 🙂
I’ll be checking back for recipe ideas. So, I’ll be back!
Nice to meet you Susan and welcome to my little space. Yes, yam bean is also an essential ingredient in popiah.
I’ve put up a little welcome note on my sidebar. Hope you like the update. haha!
See you again! 🙂
wow this looks soooo good! I am a big fan of jicama. It is a very simple ingredient but it can be put in so many different dishes. I cannot say that I have ever tried dried cuttlefish. I am trying to get a sense of what it tastes like. Does it taste like actual fish? I agree that hand cutting everything is worth it. Especially when it is a family tradition and recipe! I love the idea of eating this in a lettuce leaf with sambal (which I also like). Original and balanced!
Dried cuttlefish tastes something like dried squid snacks; not so much like fish. It reminds me of the sea. Yes, hand cutting will make a big difference to this dish. I love sambal too and it’s a must for me when I eat dishes like tau yew bak. I’m glad you like this recipe!
Hey there, your dishes look very delicious. I wish you had written a background on yourself. This information usually helps with understanding your niche. I would like to know how you got into cooking and from what your dish inspiration come from. Do you own a restaurant or work in the food industry
Thanks for your comments. I do have an About Page at the bottom of my site but I’ll try to see how I can get some information about me on the sidebar. Thanks for dropping by!