Fried carrot cake is not made with carrots and is not a cake in the traditional sweet sense. It is a Chinese dish better known as Chai Tow Kway. It is one of many dishes known as dim sum in Cantonese and is present in many Chinese cuisines in China, Malaysia and Singapore. Chai Tow Kway is made from deep-fried radish cubes, but may have a hint of carrot on occasion.
The odd name fried carrot cake comes from the fact that the Cantonese word for daikon or radish is the same as that of carrot. The daikon is a large white radish that forms the center of a number of Asian cuisines and is also used as a garnish. In Japanese cuisine, the daikon is grated over meals such as tonkatsu and dashimaki. Cubed daikon are referred to as cakes in Chinese.
It is possible that daikon carrot cakes can be bought in Chinese or East Asian shops. If not, they are easy to make. Flour and grated daikon are mixed together. The proportions depend on whether the cook wants a texture with more flour or more taste with a larger proportion of daikon. This mixture is mixed with water to make a batter mixture, which is boiled then poured into a tray for steaming.
Chai Tow kway takes about two hours to prepare if the carrot cake has not been prepared in advance or per-bought. It's mixed with other ingredients such as garlic, chai poh and spring onions and is then cooked with eggs. The finished product tends to be enhanced with fish and chili sauces. Fried carrot cake can be made extra spicy with the addition of more chili sauce; other ingredients can be added depending on what the cook wants. This includes meat such as pork or prawns.
Fried carrot cake varies from location to location, but the basic daikon cake plus flower and eggs remains the same. It is extremely common in Teowchew expat communities as found in Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia. In Malaysia, for example, the dish is combined with bean sprouts and a dark soy sauce rather than chili sauce. Dried shrimp are a favored ingredient in the Singaporean version.
Chai Tow Kway or deep fried carrot cake can be eaten at any time of the day. Residents of South China, Malaysia and Singapore have been known to eat it as breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is a nutritious and flexible dish.