One of my fond memories of Hong Kong in wintertime is having bo chai fan at taipaidong. Taipaidong literally means, “big licence stall” and it generally refers to food stall operating in open air. You could say al fresco a la Chinoise. Bo chai fan and bo chai choy refer to dishes prepared in clay pot and they are a winter speciality.
The mouth of the pot is much wider than the base, which is usually flat and it comes with a tight fitted lid to keep the moisture in. Another unique feature of the pot is the wire mesh that criss-crosses the outside of the pot. This pot is excellent for stewing, especially tofu/tempeh and root vegetables like yam, sweet potatoes in combination with other tasty bits like shitake mushrooms and winter greens like chrysanthemum shoots.
A clay pot’s biggest advantage is its heat retaining property. Dishes cooked in a clay pot can retain heat for well over an hour, plus the food has a subtle earthy flavour to it. Clay pots are available from most Asian groceries or shops that specialise in Asian cookware. You will need a gas stove to cook with clay pot. Electric or induction just doesn’t cut it.
Bo chai fan refers to rice cooked in clay pot, usually in combination with other ingredients like meat and vegetables. For a vegetarian variation, substitute the meat with tempeh, tofu and faked chicken, beef or lamb. Bo chai choy refers to dishes prepared in clay pot.
Here’s a very simple bo chai choy adapted for vegetarians
- 1 packet of fried tofu (brown cubes of fried tofu about 2.5cm x 2.5 cm)
- 8 dried shitake mushroom, cooked in 1 teaspoon of raw sugar, 1 tablespoon each of light and dark soy sauce and a ¾ of water, retain cooking juice and add to the clay pot
- 3 stalks of pak choi, washed and halve lengthwise
- 150 gm of snow peas
- 1 small bundle of mung beans vermicelli, soaked until soft
- 1 tablespoon of Chinese rice wine or mirin
- 1 tablespoon tamari
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 piece of kombu
- 1 piece of ginger, shredded
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1½ cups of water
- Finely sliced spring onion for garnishing
Place everything, except for the greens and sesame oil, in the clay pot, cover and let simmer over a low heat until shitake is well cooked and soft. Add more water to the pot is necessary. When mushroom is done, add the pak choi and snow peas replace the cover and cook for a further five minutes or until pak choi and snow peas are just done but not over cooked. Remove the pot from the heat, drizzle with sesame oil and spring onion and serve immediately with steamed rice.