Singapore's Fried Carrot Cake Is Far Different From What You Likely Expect

Carrot cake may be as popular in Singapore as it is in America, but it may come as a surprise to visitors to either side when what they order isn't exactly what they expected. To Singaporeans, traditional carrot cake is a savory dish, not a sweet, and it is served at all hours of the day from breakfast to dinner and in between. It is also served on its own, or as one of the dishes enjoyed when the main course is served, per SBS. In another plot twist, Singapore carrot cake isn't made with any carrot at all, but with white radish or daikon, which has been grated and mixed with rice flour, according to Visiting Singapore

The treat, which is also known as "chai tow kway" has its roots in Singapore's Teochew community, which is also one of its main ethnic Chinese groups (via Singapore Infopedia). When it was introduced in the 1950s, the dish started off plain, with cakes that Malaysian Chinese Kitchen says are made primarily out of rice flour, corn starch, and water, and then fried up in dark soya sauce. Singapore Infopedia says the dish began to evolve when hawkers decided to spice things up a bit by adding other ingredients to the mix — from the white radish that gives the dish its name, to eggs, and garlic to give it a more flavorful kick.

How Singapore carrot cake is prepared

Today, SBS says chai tow kway is served two ways — black, where it is seasoned with dark soya sauce, or white, where it is served without, but still pan-fried until it is crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, per The Straits Times. A beaten egg and vegetables are then added to the cake, which can be soft and mushy, and doesn't break apart. Making a Singapore carrot cake is a much more fiddly affair than making a western one. According to Leite's Culinaria, this involves grating a daikon or white radish, steaming that until translucent, extracting the liquid, and then stirring the cooked veggie mash into rice flour and then steaming that for an additional hour. 

Some sites like Lee Sean say there is no difference between Singapore carrot cake and the radish cake you see in Cantonese dim sum restaurants, except for the presence of meaty bits in the radish cake itself — like sausage and shrimp (via The Woks of Life). Once your carrot cake has been made, cut the cake into small cubes and pan fry in a single layer until these are browned, set aside, then stir fry your vegetables (bean sprouts are highly recommended here), push aside then add beaten eggs. Scramble the whole lot, then add the carrot cake. Season with soy sauce, Indonesian kecap manis, and salt, cook further and serve.