In Singapore there’s a Teochew snack called Soon Kueh.
I first encountered it at a business event where with typical Singaporean hospitality, they served food during the intermission. (This is an unheard of practice in corporate America.) At my first look at the snack table I paid little attention to the steamed white dumplings. They looked like mass produced dimsum, unusual to our American guests but ho-hum for the rest of us. My Singaporean friend encouraged me to try, saying that it was uniquely Teochew and not at all like the regular Hong Kong fare.
I tasted it and was surprised. The filling was made with shredded chinese turnip, dried shrimp and black pepper. Salty, savory and slightly bitter. It is reminded me of my mother’s lopet ban.
Growing up, lopet ban was my least favorite ‘bao’ food. I much preferred the doughy goodness of her cha shu bao buns or even her dungu gai baos. The sweet charred flavor of BBQ’d cha shao pork and the unctious morsels of chicken (gai) and mushrooms (dungu) beat the turnip filled lopet ban every time.
However, in the crowded reception area of a then alien country, that unexpected taste of soon kueh swept me back thirty years and kindled my first emotional connection with Singapore.
I’ve since found out that soon kueh is relatively hard to find in Singapore. It is not commonly available in the local hawker’s markets and is not offered in the Cantonese style dim sum restaurants. It is not even in the many Singaporean / Peranakan / Malaysian / Hawkers food cookbooks. It is hidden in home kitchens, cooked by aunties for family and special occasions.
Recently I stumbled upon a food stall which specialized in savory kuehs. I purchased some and snagged a menu. Now armed with the correct spelling of soon kueh, it was relatively easy to search the web and find recipes and images. Closer inspection showed that soon kueh means bamboo shoots (soon) snack (kueh). The turnip was a cheap substitute for bamboo shoots. There is even a hakka version of soon kueh, with cooked yam mixed into the dumpling skin.
The problem with searching the web for recipes, is that they start to look less and less like the food you’re looking for. Much like my first taste of soon kueh the recipes looked similar but not the same to what I remembered.
One day, in a fit of enthusiasm I decided to make lopet ban from scratch. I resolved to recreate the filling from memory but use a web recipe for the dough.
The results? My filling was almost spot on. The dough … was a dud. A solid, hard, unchewable and indigestible dud. Luckily, after 3 hours of chopping, mixing and kneading, I had decided to check the dough by making a very small first batch of six dumplings. It was awful. I threw the dough out and we ate the lopet filling with rice for dinner – lopet ban became lopet fan.
Here’s the recipe for the filling. Eventually, I’ll have another spasm of enthusiasm and I’ll try the dough again.
Lopet ban – The Filling
600g lopet (aka daikon or chinese white radish) , julienned
3 tsp ground black pepper
3 tsp sugar., to taste
2 tsp (10g) dried shrimp, soaked and minced
100g ground pork
2 green onions, chopped
Stir fry pork with minced garlic, shrimp, black pepper, dark soy and oyster sauce. Add the lopet with a bit of water. Braise until it is soft. Taste and adjust flavor with sugar, soy and oyster sauce. Remove from heat and add green onions.