Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ah Po's Chinese New Year Vegetarian Stew ("Jye" or "Jap Chye")

A festive dish that is eaten by many Chinese Malaysian households on the 1st Day of Chinese New Year. Also known as "Jye" or "Jap Chye".

Chinese New Year is undoubtedly the most important time of the year for us (as well as being most fun). The main reason? My late Grandmother (阿婆 or "Ah Po", as we call her).

Ah Po was hands down the most important person in all of our lives. What all of us know about having a strong bond and love for our family, showing kindness to strangers, putting other people's needs before ours, forgiveness towards others, working hard to achieve our goals, we learned it ALL from her. She's touched the lives of so many people (and not just those in our family). She really brought our entire family and extended family together like no one else can. CNY always remind us so much of her because we would fly to her hometown to visit her every year without fail. I didn't know any other grandparent growing up (they've all passed before I was born) but Ah Po was all the grandparent I needed. 

Each of us has had so many cherished memories with our beloved Ah Po. I love how that out of all her many grandchildren, she always knew that I was the peckish and hungry one so she would always come and sit next to me in the living room to feed me rice in her homemade soup in the afternoons. Ah Po would blow each spoonful to make sure the temperature was just right before feeding it to me and I would always tell her "it's really yummy, Ah Po!" with glee in Hakka. I felt SO loved from every single bite.

I also remember how there was also a mentally challenged couple that always used to pay her a visit in the afternoons. Even though they were shunned and struggled with being accepted by many in society, Ah Po always spent the time talking to them, giving them food and making sure that they were doing alright on their feet. 

No matter how exhausted she was, she'd still take care of her family as a widow and go out of her way to help others. No matter how much a person's wronged her, she still chose to forgive, forget and embrace them like no other. Ah Po really was a remarkable human being. We were so blessed to have her in our lives and we love her so, so much. Her Passing was hands down the hardest thing any of us had to go through and it really shattered us to pieces. I still remember it like it was yesterday. It's been almost 10 years since we lost her but we still miss her tremendously. 

In loving memory...

Anyway, this was a dish that we would eat on the 1st Day of Chinese New Year. A tradition that most Malaysian Chinese families share. This recipe was passed down from my late Grandmother, to my mother, and now to me. 

Ah Po's version is slightly different because even though this dish is meant to be vegetarian, she always added Dried Oysters because it added a fantastic flavour and it is one of those premium ingredients that cost a lot (sometimes more than AU$100/kg) so we like to eat it on special occasions. The dried oysters I got from the Asian Grocery here in Melbourne aren't as extravagant in quality and price (about $19 for a generous box) but they do the job. Another twist to the tradition is that Ah Po would also always make this Dried Oyster, Red Dates and Radish Soup to go with the Vegatarian Stew (or "Jye").

Dried oysters that I bought from the Asian Grocery (along with all the other ingredients for the dish)

I learned this dish from Mum when I was back in Malaysia over Christmas. This was the first time I made this and as it was very important that I made this for my relatives when we had CNY dinner at my place last Saturday. Let's just say, Ah Po was definitely remembered at the dinner table that night. 

It is a huge privilege and joy for me to make this dish in remembrance of her and then share it with everyone today. I'm sure that she's looking down right now, smiling, and I cannot wait to see my Grandmother again one day… 

Miss you so much, Ah Po!


Ah Po's Chinese New Year Vegetarian Stew ("Jye" or "Jap Chye")


2 cups dried bean curd sheets (soaked overnight)
1/2 cup wood ear fungus (soaked overnight)
1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked overnight)
3/4 cup dried lily flowers (soaked overnight)
1 pack (approx 15 pieces) tofu puffs (soaked for 1/2 hour)
250g glass vermicelli (soaked for 1/2 hour)
1 large handful hair moss (soaked for 5 minutes)

1 tbsp oil 
3 cloves of garlic (smashed)
10 large Chinese cabbage or wombok leaves (cut to 1 inch strips)
4 small or 2 large carrots (sliced diagonally into strips)
10 pitted dried red dates
4 tbsp oyster sauce
1 piece rock sugar (approx. 1 inch cube)
5 cubes of fermented red tofu (approx. 2cm cubes)
1 tbsp of the fermented red tofu liquid
Water to cover

Optional but recommended:
7 dried oysters (soaked overnight)

To finish:
1 tbsp of oil


1. Remove all the liquid from the oysters (if using), beancurd sheets, wood ear fungus, mushrooms, lily flowers, tofu puffs, glass vermicilli and hair moss. 

2. Squeeze out the liquid from the mushrooms and slice in half. Cut the beancurd sheets into 2 inch strips. Cut the tofu puffs in half. Tie the strands of lily flowers into a knot.

3. Heat up a large wok. Add the oil and fry the garlic until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and wood ear fungus. Fry in high heat until it begins to sear and become fragrant, stirring occasionally. 

4. Add the dried oysters, beancurd sheets, lily flowers, Chinese cabbage, carrots and red dates. Stir to mix evenly.

5. Add the oyster sauce and stir to mix evenly.

6. Add enough water until just covers the ingredients. Add the rock sugar, fermented red tofu, tofu liquid and stir to mix evenly.

7. Add the tofu puffs and cover the wok. Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.

8. Remove lid and stir in glass vermicilli and black moss. Taste to see if extra red tofu liquid or oyster sauce is required (usually not necessary).

9. Switch off heat. Drizzle final tablespoon of oil for extra sheen. Serve hot with rice.

Dried Oysters, Red Dates and White Radish Soup


8 dried oysters (soaked overnight)
10 pieces dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked overnight)
2 slender or 1 large white radish (aka daikon)
12 pitted dried red dates
2.5 litres of water
Small handful of black moss


1. Drain the oysters and mushrooms. Squeeze the mushrooms to release the liquid and slice in half.

2. Peel the white radish and slice diagonally, 2cm apart.

3. Add in all the ingredients in the pot (except the black moss) and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover the pot with the lid and reduce to simmer for 2 hours.

4. Finally, stir in the black moss. Serve.

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