I have always loved Chye Poh ever since I can remember. Chye Poh (Chinese dried radish) ticks in at all the right boxes on my palette – anything, from its umami saltiness, the lingering sweetness, to its unique texture, makes it the perfect condiment-vegetable-pickle for many local Chinese dishes.
A lot of foodstuffs are imported into Singapore, but the rate of food contamination and unknown food handling scares is enough to put people off. Also, the ingredient list of packaged Chye Poh does not sound very appetising either:“traces of nitrates”, E211 (sodium benzoate), E975 (saccharine) as well as a host of other non-food-sounding, possibly harmful additives and ingredients, are making people sceptical about this traditional favourite.
It is actually not hard to make your own Chye Poh. It only requires 2 ingredients and the abundant sunshine we get on this island.
While most store-bought Chye Poh is slightly damp and broken up, this recipe is for Luo Bo Gan (萝卜干), the close sibling of Chye Poh. It’s bigger and drier, and can last up to half a year with proper storage. To cook, simply rehydrate in water (to also wash off the excess salt) and cut to the desired size.
Chye Poh/Luo Bo Gan (makes 400-500g)
Large white radish (about 1.5kg)
Salt (5% of the weight of radish after peeling and cutting)
Weigh the cut radish again and allocate fine table salt that’s 5% of the weight of radish (so that’s 50g of salt to 1kg of radish). People with sensitive skin may want to consider wearing plastic gloves as the “radish juice” emitted may cause some irritation and itching.
Leave this overnight in the open for the salt to draw out the water from the radish. By the next day, you’ll find that the radish would have released up to 30-50% of its weight in water! Remember to resist “washing” the salt off the radish, as we do not want to introduce any new moisture to it. This is to also prevent mould from growing during the drying process.
At the end of the first day of drying, weigh your radish again. This time, measure out table salt that’s 1% of the weight of this batch of semi-dried radish. Repeat the earlier steps of layering, salting and pressing, then leave it again overnight to draw out even more moisture. This will be the last round of salting as we do not want the Luo Bo Gan to be too salty.
Chye Poh is wonderfully versatile, and while it used to be poor man’s fare, it is now an indispensible favourite in many familiar dishes such as Chwee Kueh (steamed rice cakes), Hor Fun (flat noodles), Chai Dao Kueh (fried carrot cake) and the iconic Chye Poh omelette (affectionally known as Chye Poh Neng) that accompanies plain porridge.
Why not embark on this delicious experiment and try making some Chye Poh yourself?