Cap cai (“Chahp Chai”) is best known as a Straits Chinese dish popular in Malaysia and Singapore, but more generally, most Southeast Asian cuisines have some sort of version of this dish. Overseas Chinese immigrants settled all over the region, bringing a dish like this with them. It is not surprising to
find something with a name like “chap chay” on the menu at Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Filipino, and Cambodian restaurants in the US. Even in Indonesia, we often found cap cai available at restaurants that had no other discernable Chinese influence at all. In many Cantonese or Shanghainese restaurants, you may also see this dish written as Char Chap Chye.
Cap cai is a vegetable dish with just some noodles in it as well. Done correctly, the dish is something between a soup and a stir-fry…it should be quite wet with a pretty thin sauce. The taste depends very heavily on tauco and oyster sauce; please do not try to make this dish without using both of these, because it will taste like bland vegetables. If you are a vegetarian who simply cannot eat oyster sauce, well, it won’t taste right. You can use water instead of chicken broth with no problem, though. Many recipes include different kinds of vegetables, but the heavy mushroom component here is essential as well. You shouldn’t venture too far from this list of vegetables, although bamboo shoots or a couple baby corns or even some thinly sliced jicama probably wouldn’t make too much of a difference. We add a little bit of egg to thicken up the dish a little bit, but that’s probably not authentic. Leave it out if you like.
Fresh and dried shiitake mushrooms are available at most gourmet
groceries, and black jelly mushrooms are normally available dried at
Chinese groceries. Black jelly mushroom is our English translation of the Malay term, which is probably a translation from a Chinese word. It refers to the fungus Auricularia polytricha, sometimes called wood ear fungus in the US. Us both mushrooms fresh if you can find them.
This makes enough for two dinner portions, or for four to six side dishes.
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch fresh ginger, minced
2 Tbsp. tauco
2 Tbsp. oyster sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, halved
1 cup black jelly mushrooms
1 cup green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large carrot, cut into thin rounds
1 cup chicken stock or water
1 cup loosely packed broken bihun
1 large egg
1 block tofu, thinly sliced crosswise
2 cups Chinese cabbage, slice crosswise
Start by heating the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the minced ginger and garlic and stirfry, stirring constantly, until very fragrant, making sure that they do not brown. Add the tauco and oyster sauce and stirfry for 1-2 minutes more, until very fragrant. Add both groups of mushrooms, green beans, carrot, and water or stock, raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat again and cook for 10 minutes, adding water to ensure a soupy consistency. Add the broken bihun and cook for five minutes more, again adding water to maintain the consistency. Crack the egg and add to the wok, and mix thoroughly so that the egg thickens the mixture. Add the tofu and Chinese cabbage (again, adding water if necessary), and simmer for three minutes until the cabbage has wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and serve, or into a serving dish as a side dish.