‘Jiu hu char’ is delicious stir-fried yam bean with dried squids and is a common favourite in Peranakan households especially in Penang. Stir-fried yam bean or jicama is delicious on its own as it is crunchy and contains a unique combination of vitamins, fiber and minerals. There is so much to like about this dish being low in fats and calories. As the actual cooking process do not take too long, jiu hu char is a popular choice during Chinese festivals or reunion meals.
As yam bean is rather hard, allow some time for the dish to simmer at low heat. If you noticed that the water had lessened but the yam bean has not softened, feel free to add more hot water. Just give the dish a few stirs before allowing it to continue simmering.
History of jiu hu char
Jiu hu refers to cuttlefish which is one of the two main ingredients in the dish. The word ‘char’ refers to stir-fry. Hence jiu hu char actually means stir-fried cuttlefish. The other main ingredient is jicama. The combination of jicama and cuttlefish makes it a favourite stir-fry dish especially during Chinese festivals or reunion meals such as Chinese New Year and Qing Ming (Tomb-Sweeping Day). Just as many other Nyonya or Peranakan dishes, jiu hu char contains dried shrimps for the extra pungent flavour. The other obvious Peranakan style of eating this dish is with sambal belacan.
Soak ingredients before cooking
Do soak the julienned yam bean to remove the starch or the dish might end up in a gooey mess. Also, you will need to soak the dried squid strips overnight in room temperature water. If the dried squid strips are too thick and you would like to ensure that they are soft enough for cooking, here is a tip for you. Just add half a teaspoon of baking soda when soaking them.
Adding meat to jiu hu char
For those who wish to enjoy the dish with some pork belly or minced pork shoulder, you may also add it when stir-frying the aromatics. The flavour of the rendered pork fats would further contribute to the aroma of the dish.
Vegetarian jiu hu char
To prepare vegetarian jiu hu char, simply omit dried shrimps and dried squids from the dish. Adding kombu broth to the dish helps to provide the seafood flavours which is usually provided by dried shrimps and dried squids. Making kombu broth requires one to combine 300 ml water and kombu (ca. 5 cm x 5cm) for about 8 hours. Besides, julienned king trumpet (pleurotus eryngii) mushroom may be added to the dish.
Sambal for jiu hu char
Enjoy it with some fresh lettuce and a few dollops of sambal belacan or sweet Thai chili sauce to tantalize your taste buds. It will be quite an explosion of flavours, I can assure you.