I finally found a pack of facai – the “human hair vegetable” – which prompted me to make this dish that is normally reserved for Chinese New Year. It is the first time that I made this ‘the proper way’ because in my family, we often leave the lettuce out. This is the real Cantonese recipe which has as many puns on the words as the complex taste the ingredients produce.
What is the significance of the name “Haoshi Facai”?
In Cantonese, the name is pronounced as “ho si fat choi”.
As mentioned before, “facai” 髮菜 is a sort of slow-growing moss found in deserts. The name can be literally translated as ‘hair vegetable’. The sound however, resembles ‘get rich’ 發財, which accounts for its over-exploitation in recent years when many Chinese want to eat it during the Chinese New Year. Also, in the past, it used to be a rarity eaten only by the rich. Eating facai is also a sign of affluence.
The word “haoshi” 蠔豉 isn’t really used in Mandarin Chinese. In Cantonese Chinese, it refers to dried oysters. This is because the province of Canton (Guangdong) is a sub-tropical region by the South China Sea, rich in seafood culture. Fresh seafood are much appreciated, often steamed with very little condiments to capture the pure taste of nature. Dried seafood, such as dried oysters, dried shrimps, dried anchovies and dried scallops, are used to enhance the umami taste of stews, meat dishes and stir-fried vegetables. In Cantonese, it sounds similar to ‘good events’ 好事 or ‘good market performance’ 好市.
Together, these two main ingredients form the main taste and texture of the dish, and also its meaning when eaten during the Chinese New Year – for good things to come and for great wealth and prosperity.
On top of that, the name of lettuce – “shengcai” 生菜 – also sounds like ‘to grow wealth’ 生財.
*Note: I did not have dried oysters, so I have replaced it with dried giant scallops (which disappeared into the sauce after simmering… You can use frozen fresh oysters as well. You can also add other types of dried mushrooms which I did, like velvet pioppini.
- 8 dried oysters
- 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
- Half a lettuce
- 15g facai (1 pack)
- 500ml chicken stock (1 can)
- 2cm fresh ginger, sliced
- 2tbs corn flour
- 1tbs vegetable oil
- 1tsp white pepper powder
- 1tsp salt
- 1tsp sugar
- 1tsp sesame oil
- 1tbs oyster sauce
- 1tbs dark soy sauce 老抽
- 1tbs Shaoxing rice wine
Serving: 4 persons as a sidedish
- Soak your dried mushrooms in a bowl of water till soft, cut away the stem.
- Soak your facai in a bowl of water for 2 hours. Rinse, then rub with 1tbs corn flour. Rinse again, then set aside.
- Soak your dried oysters in a bowl of water till soft. Dry, then marinate with salt, sugar, sesame oil, a dash of white pepper. Set aside.
- In a saucepan, heat up 1tbs vegetable oil on medium heat and sautee your ginger until the fragrance is released. Add your oysters.
- Add 1tbs Shaoxing rice wine, the mushrooms, half of the chicken stock, 1l water, 1tbs oyster sauce, 1tbs dark soy sauce 老抽 to the saucepan. Turn to low heat and cover. Let it simmer for 1 hour.
- 10 minutes before the time is up, bring to boil the rest of your chicken stock and 500ml water in a pot. Add leaf by leaf your lettuce into the pot. Once cooked, drain well and your cooked lettuce into a ball and place in the middle of your serving plate.
- Add your facai to the simmering saucepan and let it cook for 5 minutes.
- Using a pair of chopsticks, place your oysters, facai and mushrooms around the lettuce ball on the serving plate.
- Add 1 tbs corn flour to 150ml water, slowly stir it into the rest of the sauce in the saucepan to thicken it. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour the sauce over the other ingredients on the serving plate and serve immediately while it is still piping hot.