Tag: Taishan

‘Faat tay’ – new year prosperity cakes

To celebrate Chinese New Year, here’s a recipe for new year cakes known in Taishanese as ‘faat tay’ . ‘Faat’ is the same word as in the traditional new year greeting ‘gung hei faat choi’. ‘Tay’ is the Taishanese word for cake. If you make these and then tell your average Australian what they are called, expect unfriendly jokes about how they are, in fact, ‘farty’ cakes. Or maybe that was just my cultured colleagues at the archives. And my five-year-old.

The recipe is simple (and vegan – no eggs, butter or milk) and they’re quick to make. As well as the name, expect comments about the topping – instead of icing, faat tay have black sesame seeds and faat choi (black moss or hair moss) on top.

Made the proper way – the way it’s done in the village – the cakes are steamed in a wok over a wood-fired stove (see the picture below). Since I don’t have an old-style Chinese stove at home, or an enormous wok, or the lovely little pottery dishes that the cakes are steamed in, I’ve had to improvise. I’ve also had to improvise with the recipe too. I’ve seen recipes for similar new year cakes in recipe books, but they included ingredients like yeast and eggs, which this recipe doesn’t.

You should be able to get the faat choi and black sesame seeds (haak jee ma) at your local Chinese grocer. You only need a tiny bit of faat choy for each cake, but you might just have to buy an enormous bag of it.

Faat tey cooking the traditional way in Taishan, Chinese New Year 2006

Ingredients

225 g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
150 g Chinese brown slab sugar (peen tong), broken into pieces
6 tbsp oil
225 ml water, plus water to use when steaming cakes
black moss (faat choi)
black sesame seeds (haak jee ma)

Special equipment

wok
bamboo steamer
24 small patty pans (cupcake molds) or Chinese teacups

Method

1. Dissolve the peen tong in the water. Either heat them together on the stove or boil the water and leave the peen tong in it until dissolved. Set aside to cool.

It’s best if you can break the peen tong up first – try whacking it with the handle of a heavy knife or chopper. The sugar can take a while to dissolve, so it’s best to do this step well before you plan to actually make the cakes.

2. Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl.

3. Stir sugar water and oil into flour mixture.

4. Mix well, and beat to get out the lumps if necessary.

5. Bring some water to boil in a large wok.

6. While the water is coming to the boil, put batter into patty pans. Depending on the type of patty pans/teacups you use, you might want to grease them with some oil to stop the cakes sticking. Put patty pans into bamboo steamer in the wok and cover.

7. Steam over a high heat, with water at a rapid boil.

8. When the cakes are about half done but still sticky on top (after about 2–3 minutes), sprinkle a small amount of faat choi and black sesame seeds on top.

9. The cakes are cooked when a skewer comes out clean, and the tops have ‘popped’ (they should crack). It will take between 5 to 10 minutes. The cakes will not be brown because they are steamed.

10. Remove the steamer from the wok and let cakes cool.

Other similar recipes

Similar recipes for steamed cakes can be found here:

  • Steamed rice flour cupcakes, in S.C. Moey, Chinese Feasts and Festivals: A Cookbook, p. 73
  • Sponge cupcakes, in Cecilia Au Yang, Dimsum (ISBN 7-80653-083-5), p. 98
  • Steamed sponge cake, in Grace Young, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing, p. 46

Taishan twins

This afternoon I stumbled upon something completely intriguing.

Regular readers will know that one of my research obsessions concerns the mixed race children of Chinese men who went to live in China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of the people I’ve been researching have white Australian (or New Zealand) mothers and Chinese fathers, but there were certainly children with other backgrounds who similarly went to live in their fathers’ homeland – including Aboriginal-Chinese, Mexican-Chinese and Hawaiian-Chinese.

I know from a range of sources that these children were in China and I have photographs of many of the Australians among them. But images of them actually IN China are a rarity. My afternoon’s find of two photographs is something pretty cool then.

The images are part of the photographic archives of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers (Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, Inc.) made available online through the University of Southern California Digital Library. The Maryknoll Catholic mission in China began in 1918, and was based in Jiangmen (one of the overseas Chinese qiaoxiang districts). Because of copyright restrictions I don’t think I can actually show you the two photographs of interest, but I can tell you about them.

The two photographs were taken at Father McDermott’s mission in Taishan in 1934 and 1935. They show a pair of twin boys, aged around five or six years old. The captions say that the boys are of African-Chinese heritage.

Have a look:

The captions say little else about the boys, no names and nothing about how they came to be at the mission. Were they orphans? Were they the children of a Chinese convert? Did they attend school there? Who was their mother? Where had they been born? How long had they been in China? What became of them?

This last question, at least, can be answered for one of the boys. A poignant note on the back of the later photograph, written in Father McDermott’s hand, notes that the lad ‘went to Heaven on Pentecost Eve’.