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, this dish is still a regular on my family’s table during CNY except that now I am the one who cooks it. Whenever I cook this Nyonya dish, it always bring back vivid memories of my growing up years during the festive season.
For this dish, the cooking is the easy part. It is the preparation that will take patience and time especially if you’re cooking a big batch.
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.
The yam bean has to be painstakingly hand cut if you want to achieve a better texture and mouthfeel. I have tried using a box grater before and the resulting dish turned out soggy and lacked the ‘bite’ of manual cutting.
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). Source.
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).
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. It has a 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.
I prefer to hand cut all the ingredients even though it will take a longer time compared to using a box grater. This way, the dish will have the texture that grating will not be able to achieve.
If you are a vegetarian, you may omit the pork in this dish.
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.
Jiu Hu Char is perfect eaten wrapped in fresh lettuce leaves and topped with sambal belacan. Sambal belacan and lettuce leaves are a must for me when I eat this dish. The spicy heat from the sambal belacan adds another dimension to the vegetables. This plus the crunchy texture of the lettuce and delicate sweetness of jiu hu char is what makes this dish so delicious and appetizing.
I can eat a whole bowl of rice with this alone. Savor the explosion of flavors and texture as you bite into each lettuce wrapped parcel.
With the CNY just a week ahead, here’s wishing everyone a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year in the Year of the Monkey. Have fun cooking and eating with your family and friends 🙂
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- 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 to 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)
- Salt - to taste
- Local lettuce
- 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 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 add more salt and water 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.