Water Chestnut Cake at Fan’s Restaurant in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
This Dim Sum specialty appeared as ‘Pan-fried Water Chestnut Cake’ on the menu at Fan’s Restaurant in Dartmouth. In Chinese, it was rendered as ‘馬蹄糕’ . which simply means ‘Water Chestnut Cake’ without specifying the cooking method. Not having had this before, I was rather expecting a savory dish rather like the more common ‘Turnip Cake’, or ‘蘿蔔糕’, in which a steamed cake of shredded Chinese Radish and other savory ingredients is sliced and then pan-fried before service. The traditional Water Chestnut Cake, it turns out, is nothing like that at all.
The ’Cake’ I was served, as you can see in the picture above, was divided into squares of a translucent, jelly-like substance with bits of white scattered throughout. On doing a little research, I discovered quite a number of recipes indicating that the composition of the jelly is essentially a paste made with Rock Sugar and a Chinese Water Chestnut flour. This is steamed, usually with fragments or shreds of Water Chestnut suspended in it, and then sliced into smaller pieces after cooling. Usually, although not always, the squares are lightly pan-fried before serving.
At Fan’s, and despite being listed on the ‘Pan & Deep Fried/Baked’ Category on the Dim Sum menu, this particular dish was most definitely fried at all. It was served warm, however, and, all in all, it wasn’t too bad. It was a very firm jelly, and rather hard to cut with a chopstick. You either had to persevere, or pick up a whole wodge at once and take bites, which was a bit unwieldy. As for the taste, it was sweet, but otherwise nondescript. The chunks of Water Chestnut did make for a moderately interesting taste and texture contrast with the jelly, but not enough to make the dish especially interesting. It was, I thought, the sort of thing one might enjoy when too old to handle anything more culinary adventuresome. It may well be a bit better if pan-fried before service, but, otherwise, it did not make me want to rush to try it again.