A Hong Kong nutritionist’s recipe for healthier turnip cake, a must-have for any dim sum experience – YP

Ask any Hong Konger and they will be sure to tell you Lo bak gou, or turnip cake, is a must-have dish for any authentic dim sum experience. Despite what its name suggests, this is not a typical confectionery; it’s neither sweet nor cooked.

Lo bak gou is made from grated Chinese radish and rice flour and has a delicious savory flavor. No one is sure why this dish is called “turnip cake,” but one possible explanation is that someone confused it’s up to you (turnip) and hi bak (radish) because the two root vegetables look very similar and the poorly translated name stuck.

Despite the confusion surrounding its English name, there is no denying the popularity of this dish, which is a staple at every dim sum restaurant. In addition to Chinese radish and rice flour, other ingredients include sausage, dried mushrooms and dried shrimp.

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The steamed dish is usually cut into rectangular slices or small squares and pan-fried. The result is a thin, crispy layer on the outside and a soft, almost gooey texture on the inside.

While it may be tempting to order multiple servings of turnip cake, especially when dining with friends or family, Kathy Ng Yiu-fan of Kat-Spirit Nutrition Center in Hong Kong recommended limiting yourself to one or two slices per serving. “Bitefuls can be deceptive, making it easier to overindulge,” she said.

According to the senior nutritionist, 100 grams of Lo bak gou contains 130 calories, 5.7 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbohydrates and 3.2 grams of protein. Although most of the ingredients used in this dish are reasonably healthy, the preparation method and dips are not.

Kathy Ng Yiu-fan, senior nutritionist at Kat-Spirit Nutrition Center in Hong Kong. Photo: Handout

“The first cooking involves steaming the ingredients, which is great. However, the second step of pan frying requires a good amount of oil to prevent the turnip cake from sticking to the wok. This adds unnecessary fat to the dish,” Ng explained. In comparison, 100 grams of steamed lo bak gou contains 87 calories, 3.6 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbohydrates and 2.3 grams of protein.

She added that at dim sum restaurants, lo bak gou is usually eaten with a generous drizzle of sweet, chili, XO or oyster sauce, all of which are high in sodium.

From the cooling effect of the herb jelly to its antioxidants, this versatile Cantonese ingredient is the ultimate treat.

Besides being gentle with the dips, moderation is key. Ng said that instead of skipping lo bak gou altogether, try pairing it with har gow (shrimp dumplings) and other steamed vegetable dumplings for a balanced meal.

“Alternatively, you can cook lo bak gou at home. This vegetarian version of the traditional recipe takes a little time to prepare, but it’s definitely worth it. And what’s better: You can still get that crispy exterior texture by air frying it or even grilling it,” she said.

Healthy vegetarian Lo bak gou

Ingredients (for 2 people)

  • 300 grams of grated Chinese radish

  • six dried Chinese or shiitake mushrooms

  • 50 grams of rice flour

  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper

  • 100 ml of water

  • a new onion

  • a teaspoon of vegetable oil

This delicious vegetarian turnip cake recipe may take some time, but it’s worth it. Photo: Shutterstock


1. Soak the mushrooms in boiling water for about 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, mix the rice flour, salt, garlic powder, pepper and water in another bowl until the ingredients are well combined.

3. Wash and cut the mushrooms and spring onion into small pieces.

4. Heat a large non-stick frying pan with a teaspoon of oil over medium heat. Brown the mushrooms and spring onions for two to three minutes. Add the grated radish and cook until it becomes translucent and all the water has evaporated. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

5. Reduce the heat and add the rice flour paste. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and resembles a paste.

6. Transfer the mixture to a lightly greased non-stick cake pan and cover with foil.

7. Steam the turnip cake over high heat for about 40 minutes. You can use a bamboo steamer or a wok with a lid. Make sure there is enough water in the pot while steaming and add more water if necessary.

8. Once the cake is cooked, carefully remove it from the steamer and serve hot. Optional: Cut it into smaller, thinner slices and air fry them or toast them in the oven for about 15 minutes.

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