Chinese Turnip Cake (萝白糕)

Learn how to make this classic Cantonese dim sum dish & Chinese New Year favorite!

Prep Time
30 min
Total Time
70 min
Yields
4 servings

A Recipe by Daddy Lau

My dad's been cooking Chinese food for over 50 years - as a kid fending for himself in Guangzhou, as the head chef of his own restaurant, and as a loving father in our home.

Hopefully, by learning this recipe, you'll get to experience some of the delicious joy we felt growing up eating his food!

- Randy

I don't think the Lau family has ever eaten dim sum without calling over a few orders of turnip cake.

We're not alone - turnip cake is one of the most popular dim sum dishes around the world.

Turnip cake is also commonly made around Chinese holidays, as a symbol of prosperity in Chinese tradition.

Turnip Cake: A Good Omen

Many Chinese superstitions, good and bad, are based on word play.

For the same reason that the number "4" is bad luck because it sounds similar to the word for "death", taro cake and other cake recipes are popular around the holidays because they symbolize higher growth and prosperity.

Particularly for "cake 糕", the word shares the same exact tone and pronunciation as the Chinese word for "high 高" - "gōu".

"cake" and "high" have different characters, but Chinese tradition has come to attribute cakes with higher success, rising happiness, better health, and prosperity.

There are several sayings that tie into the cake/high connection, such as:

  • bouh bouh gōu sīng 步步升 - climb step by step, rise steadily
  • faai gōu jéung daaih 快長大 - wishes for children to grow taller and bigger quickly

My family makes Lo Bak Go year-round, but it’s a must during Lunar New Year!

Steamed spare ribs is a classic dim sum dish, and actually one of the easier dim sum recipes to recreate for your loved ones at home.

Before we get into the recipe, you might enjoy these interesting tidbits about our beloved past time, dim sum, and our favorite dish.

Dim Sum: A Touch of Heart

The way most of us pronounce "dim sum" in English is very similar to its Cantonese pronunciation, "dím sām", which roughly translates to "a touch of heart".

It's a reference to the delectable snacks that 10th century teahouses would serve to traveling merchants in Guangzhou, one of the largest international ports along the Silk Road.

Even though dim sum is widely considered to belong to Cantonese cuisine, it evolved from a wide range of influences, largely because Guangzhou was and still is a critical hub for Chinese trade and a melting pot of different cultures. 

Ingredients

Weight: US
oz
g
Volume: US
cup
mL
Servings
4
  • 2 lb Chinese turnip (

    daikon also works

    )
  • 8 oz regular rice flour
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 oz dried shrimp
  • 1 piece Chinese sausage
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp corn oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 0.50 tsp white pepper
  • 2 pieces green onion

Choosing Turnip

Turnip - the foundation of this recipe!

Turnips are a type of root vegetable that belong to the cabbage (Brassicaceae) family. There are lots of different types of turnips, but my dad prefers using Chinese turnip, which is closer to a Japanese daikon than the round turnip that you might find in a Western grocery store.

Chinese turnips are wider and shorter than a Japanese daikon, and my parents prefer the Chinese turnip over daikon because it's slightly less bitter. (Although - daikon is still great for turnip cake if you're not able to find a Chinese turnip.)

Here are some of my parents' tips on picking a turnip:

  • It should be heavy! A heavy turnip means that it contains more water, which is what we want.
  • There should ideally be small sprouts at the top. If the head of the turnip is cut flat and there are no sprouts, then the turnip probably isn't good.

Choosing Rice Flour

At Asian grocery markets, there are typically two main types of rice flour: regular rice flour, and glutinous rice flour (also known as sticky rice flour).

We want regular rice flour. There are other lo bak go recipes out there that use glutinous rice flour, but my dad prefers the firmer texture that regular rice flour yields.

You can buy the exact rice flour my dad uses on Amazon.

Choosing Dried Shrimp + Chinese Sausage

If you don't live near an Asian grocery store, it's generally pretty easy to buy online. My parents prefer bigger shrimp, since they're generally more tasty (although more expensive).

For Chinese sausage (also known as lap cheong), you can buy this online as well (see below). Or, you can substitute it with bacon (cook it first) or ham.

Equipment Needed

There are a few things you’ll need: a steamer, a cake pan, parchment paper, and a food scale. 

For steaming, it’s best to use a dedicated steamer, but you might be able to get away with using a wok with a steamer rack. 

For the cake pan, you can use whatever you might have at home, but it’ll make your life easier to use one with a removable base and/or a springform buckle. You’ll also want parchment paper to line the base with.

With a food scale, you’re able to be much more precise and create a smaller mess than you would with measuring cups. Measuring cups are based on volume, which can vary significantly depending on how you scoop, the density of the ingredient, and etcetera. 

You might also want a grater to speed up the process of shredding the turnip.

Finding Asian Ingredients

Some of these ingredients are hard to find in a typical grocery store.

If you don't live near an Asian market, most or all of what my dad uses in this recipe can be found on Amazon:​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​

I've also included some other Chinese kitchen essentials, used in many of my dad's other recipes.

These links are affiliate links, which means that if you use our links to purchase these ingredients, Amazon pays my family a small amount for the sale - at no extra cost to you. If you use these links, we really appreciate the support!

We'll be prepping several ingredients here:

  • dried shrimp (1 oz) - wash, soak, and mince
  • Chinese sausage (1 piece) - wash, and mince. Save some for garnishing at the end!
  • garlic (2 cloves) - mince
  • green onion (2 pieces) - mince
  • turnip (2 lb) - cut off and weigh out the exact amount of turnip you need. Then we'll peel, wash, and shred it with a knife or grater.

For our regular rice flour (8 oz) - weigh out the amount you need, then mix with water (1.5 cups).

We'll need to cook everything for a bit and add some flavors before it becomes a turnip cake mix that we can steam.

Set the stove to high heat, and heat the pan for a few minutes with some corn about 1 tbsp of vegetable oil.

You should let your wok and oil heat up sufficiently until it starts shimmering, or forming ripples across the surface due to the heat, but not so hot that it starts smoking. 

Then, we'll cook in the following stages:

  • Cook the garlic and dried shrimp for about 30 seconds.
  • Cook the lap cheong (save some for garnish) for about 30 seconds.
  • Add the turnip, stir the wok, cover the wok, and cook it for 6-7 minutes.
  • Add salt (1.5 tsp), chicken bouillon (2 tsp), white pepper (0.50 tsp), and sesame oil (1 tsp).
  • Mix the flavors around the wok, cover, and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

The timing may vary on your stove (and my dad doesn't really use timers anyway).

The main cue he looks for is for the water to be released from the turnip, and then for the water to start boiling.

While our wok is cooking, we'll prepare our cake pan by:

  • cutting out a circle of parchment paper to line the bottom with
  • spreading oil around the inner rim of the cake pan (with your finger or a brush)

Really, any type of cake pan (square, non-removable base, etc) works as long as it fits in your steamer.

Next we will slowly add the rice flour mixture. Make you do not pour it all in at once and that you continuously stir the mixture to ensure you don’t produce lumps.

Stir and cook the mixture for about 2 minutes until it has thickened.

Once the turnip mix is done cooking in the wok, we'll prepare for steaming.

Fill steamer to the water limit and bring it to a boil on high heat.

Transfer our mix to the cake pan, flatten out the surface, and spread corn oil (1 tbsp) around the surface with a spoon. This is mostly so the cake comes out more looking more shiny and appetizing.

Once the steamer has come to a boil, we’ll transfer the cake pan to the steamer and cover it. 

How long do we steam for?

The cook time can vary by 5 to 10 minutes depending on the stove, container, and the amount of ingredients you’re using. Here, we’re cooking it for 20 minutes on high heat, and another 20 minutes on medium heat.

If the turnip cake mix is in a more shallow container, you can cook it for 30-35 minutes. Here, it was about 40 minutes. You can also use a standard 9x9 cake pan in the same exact way.

To tell if the cake is done, you can stick a chopstick straight into the pan.

It's done if when you pull the chopstick out, the cake isn't stuck to the chopstick.

While the cake pan is still in the steamer, we'll sprinkle some of our leftover Chinese sausage onto the pan and cover it for 30 seconds.

Afterwards, we'll carefully remove the cake pan from the steamer. If you'd like, you can garnish with green onion.

Let the cake cool to room temperature, and then let it cool in the refrigerator for 4-8 hours.

If you skip this step, it will be difficult to cut the cake into slices and it'll also be more likely to break into pieces if/when you pan fry it.

If you don't want to wait, you can also just go crazy with a spoon and eat the cake as is without cutting into it.

Once it's cooled, you can take the turnip cake out from the pan however you'd like, but my dad has a pretty elegant sequence:

  • Put a plate over the pan,
  • Turn the cake pan upside down onto the plate
  • Place another plate on the other side of the cake
  • Turn the cake upside down (so it becomes right-side-up)

Then, slice the cake however you'd like. If you're pan frying, then little rectangles are perfect.

Pan frying is optional but highly recommended. It takes a little longer but it brings out a nice, crispy and crunchy contrast.

We’ll heat up a pan with oil on high heat for a few minutes, and then pan fry them for about 4-7 minutes per side until they’re golden brown.

Some people also like to use chopsticks and pan fry literally every side, including the really thin edges.

Summary

Chinese Turnip Cake (萝白糕)
Learn how to make this classic Cantonese dim sum dish & Chinese New Year favorite!
  • Prep Time: 30 min
  • Total Time: 70 min
  • Yield: 4 servings
  • 2 lb Chinese turnip (

    daikon also works

    )
  • 8 oz regular rice flour
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 oz dried shrimp
  • 1 piece Chinese sausage
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp corn oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 0.50 tsp white pepper
  • 2 pieces green onion
Step 1 - Prepare ingredients↑ Jump to details

We'll be prepping several ingredients here:

  • dried shrimp (1 oz) - wash, soak, and mince
  • Chinese sausage (1 piece) - wash, and mince. Save some for garnishing at the end!
  • garlic (2 cloves) - mince
  • turnip (2 lb) - cut off and weigh out the exact amount of turnip you need. Then we'll peel, wash, and shred it with a knife or grater.

For our regular rice flour (8 oz) - weigh out the amount you need, then mix with water (1.5 cups).

Step 2 - Cook ingredients↑ Jump to details

We'll need to cook everything for a bit and add some flavors before it becomes a turnip cake mix that we can steam.

Set the stove to high heat, and heat the pan for a few minutes with some corn about 1 tbsp of vegetable oil.

You should let your wok and oil heat up sufficiently until it starts shimmering, or forming ripples across the surface due to the heat, but not so hot that it starts smoking. 

Then, we'll cook in the following stages:

  • Cook the garlic and dried shrimp for about 30 seconds.
  • Cook the lap cheong (save some for garnish) for about 30 seconds.
  • Add the turnip, stir the wok, cover the wok, and cook it for 6-7 minutes.
  • Add salt (1.5 tsp), chicken bouillon (2 tsp), white pepper (0.50 tsp), and sesame oil (1 tsp).
  • Mix the flavors around the wok, cover, and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

The timing may vary on your stove (and my dad doesn't really use timers anyway).

The main cue he looks for is for the water to be released from the turnip, and then for the water to start boiling.

Step 3 - Prepare cake pan↑ Jump to details

While our wok is cooking, we'll prepare our cake pan by:

  • cutting out a circle of parchment paper to line the bottom with
  • spreading oil around the inner rim of the cake pan (with your finger or a brush)

Really, any type of cake pan (square, non-removable base, etc) works as long as it fits in your steamer.

Step 4 - Steam turnip cake↑ Jump to details

Once the turnip mix is done cooking in the wok, we'll prepare for steaming.

Fill steamer to the water limit and bring it to a boil on high heat.

Transfer our mix to the cake pan, flatten out the surface, and spread corn oil (1 tbsp) around the surface with a spoon. This is mostly so the cake comes out more looking more shiny and appetizing.

Once the steamer has come to a boil, we’ll transfer the cake pan to the steamer and cover it. 

How long do we steam for?

The cook time can vary by 5 to 10 minutes depending on the stove, container, and the amount of ingredients you’re using. Here, we’re cooking it for 20 minutes on high heat, and another 20 minutes on medium heat.

If the turnip cake mix is in a more shallow container, you can cook it for 30-35 minutes. Here, it was about 40 minutes. You can also use a standard 9x9 cake pan in the same exact way.

Step 5 - How to tell if the cake is done?↑ Jump to details

To tell if the cake is done, you can stick a chopstick straight into the pan.

It's done if when you pull the chopstick out, the cake isn't stuck to the chopstick.

Step 6 - Garnish, let turnip cake cool↑ Jump to details

While the cake pan is still in the steamer, we'll sprinkle some of our leftover Chinese sausage onto the pan and cover it for 30 seconds.

Afterwards, we'll carefully remove the cake pan from the steamer. If you'd like, you can garnish with green onion.

Let the cake cool to room temperature, and then let it cool in the refrigerator for 4-8 hours.

If you skip this step, it will be difficult to cut the cake into slices and it'll also be more likely to break into pieces if/when you pan fry it.

If you don't want to wait, you can also just go crazy with a spoon and eat the cake as is without cutting into it.

Step 7 - Remove from cake pan, pan fry↑ Jump to details

Once it's cooled, you can take the turnip cake out from the pan however you'd like, but my dad has a pretty elegant sequence:

  • Put a plate over the pan,
  • Turn the cake pan upside down onto the plate
  • Place another plate on the other side of the cake
  • Turn the cake upside down (so it becomes right-side-up)

Then, slice the cake however you'd like. If you're pan frying, then little rectangles are perfect.

Pan frying is optional but highly recommended. It takes a little longer but it brings out a nice, crispy and crunchy contrast.

We’ll heat up a pan with oil on high heat for a few minutes, and then pan fry them for about 4-7 minutes per side until they’re golden brown.

Some people also like to use chopsticks and pan fry literally every side, including the really thin edges.

Step 8 - Take pictures
Whip out your camera (1). Begin taking photos (1,000,000). Pick your favorites!
Step 9 - Share and tag us on Instagram @madewithlau #madewithlau!
Did you have fun making this recipe? We'd love to see & hear about it. (Especially my dad. He would be THRILLED!)

Gifting these to friends / family

It's pretty common to make these for friends and family! Some notes:

  • You can use disposable aluminum cake pans, with the same exact recipe timing.
  • If you're gifting this during Lunar New Year and following Chinese tradition, it's ideal to gift a whole entire cake, not a portion of one that you made. My parents don't always follow this, but having a complete cake (or fish, or chicken, or etc.) is considered "yùhn méih 完美", which means perfect, consummate.
  • If you're making a smaller / bigger batches as a gift, you can use our ingredients section on the website to scale up / down the recipe, and adjust the steaming time accordingly.

Enjoy!

I have so many memories eating this with my family, especially during all of our heartwarming holiday celebrations.

Now, hopefully, you can create your own memories with this tradition with your loved ones.

Also, I cordially invite you to eat with us and learn more about the dish, Chinese culture, and hang out with our adorable son. We get into a lot of detail about how to pick the best turnip and the best tips on how to perfect this recipe.

Cheers, and thanks for cooking with us!

Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about the recipe.