Landlady’s Ngor Hiang/Loh Bak/5-Spice Crispy Beancurd Sausages
Traditional dishes that transport me back to my childhood are the ones I love to re-create time and again especially for the benefit of my young children, to keep those traditions and old stories alive. Ngor Hiang means ‘five-spice’ in the Chinese Hokkien dialect and refers to the predominant aroma and flavour of this flavourful Chinese deep-fried ‘sausage’. It uses ground five-spice powder as its main seasoning. In Mandarin, it is called ‘Wu Xiang’ (pronounced ‘woo shiang’). A special mention is the dual-step method of cooking Ngor Hiang—first by steaming it to ensure the filling is cooked, then by deep-frying the ‘sausages’ to a crisp, golden delicious brown.
Ngor Hiang (or Lo Bak as it is called in Malaysia) must be one of the oldest and most loved family dishes in our lineage, and one that I remember my late maternal grandmother fondly by. There were two things the matriarch was known for—first as ‘old landlady’ of the Joo Chiat kampong she lived in during my childhood days and secondly, for her delicious signature dish of piquant Ngor Hiang that attracted both young and old like flies.
Making Ngor Hiang/Loh Bak involves a great deal of patience and in those old days it was reserved mainly for special occasions like birthdays or festivities like Chinese New Year and other special celebrations calling for a feast. With her wrinkly hardworking hands my grandmother used to spend special weekend afternoons lovingly rolling these Asian versions of meat sausages wrapped in beancurd skin. Hers were always crispy and crunchy as she would fashion them into large knots of bite-sized morsels, always juicy and generous and most of all, bursting with fillings of flavourful prawn and pork mince.
Ngor Hiang remains a popular fried snack well-loved by everyone in Singapore. Though its origins are Hokkien, it is enjoyed and well-loved by most locals in Singapore including those from the other different dialect groups who have each added their own touches to make the basic recipe of Ngor Hiang proprietary to themselves. This is an interesting common practice in all parts of Asia that has spun off sub-cultures and varieties in many favourite local dishes. Some have even added fish to their Ngoh Hiang!
I’m proud to share this adapted recipe from my family and have named it in memory of my grandmother, the landlady of a corner in Joo Chiat where great food still lives. May you love it as much as we do in our family.
Ingredients for Ngor Hiang:
400g raw prawn mince
250g pork or chicken mince (either use lean with some pork belly or chicken thigh mince for more fat and flavour)
6 shitake mushrooms (dried or fresh is fine)
1 carrot, finely shredded
150g water chestnuts (diced)
3 tsp five-spice powder
1 TB Shaoxing chinese rice wine
2 tsp cornflour
1 TB oyster sauce
sprinkle of sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, (crushed finely through a garlic press)
juice of 2 cm ginger, crushed finely through a garlic press (discard bits left in the press cavity)
4 TB soy sauce or to taste
1 tsp salt or to taste
chopped spring onions
2 tsp white ground pepper (or to taste)
1 large egg, beaten
Translucent bean curd skins; a packet
Peanut or vegetable oil for deep frying
small bowl of beaten egg white (as ‘glue’)
Directions for Landlady’s Ngor Hiang (Lo Bak) Crispy Beancurd Sausages:
Marinate the prawn mince and meat mince (pork or chicken depending on which you prefer) in a large bowl with the marinade seasoning ingredients, then toss in the shiitake mushrooms, carrots and chestnuts and mix it all together with your hands till it is like a sticky dough.
Using a damp cloth, smooth out a piece of the beancurd skin by dabbing gently at it without tearing the skin. Slice the large piece of beancurd skin into rectangles about at least 15cm by 10-12 cm. Leave a small margin of roughly 3-4 cm from the left of the skin empty, then with a small spoon, start applying little by little—the sticky dough mix in a long thinnish line about the width of a thin sausage. Leave another margin of about 3-4 cm empty on the right-most side.
Now the fun bit! Start rolling up the beancurd skin like you’re trying to make a spring roll. Ensure you’re keeping everything nice and tight so that the filling is secure and won’t fall out when you fry it later. Roll away from yourself about two rolls in, then fold the left and right sides inwards, followed by more rolling away from yourself. Using a sharp knife, slice the excess beancurd skin away in a straight line. Seal up the edges with the edible ‘glue’—with a dip of your finger into some beaten egg white. Repeat until all the sticky dough mixture is used up.
Heat a steamer to a boil and lay the ‘sausages’ of Ngor Hiang side by side one another on a plate or in a bamboo basket lined with greaseproof paper. Steam for about 8-10 minutes till cooked. Put aside to cool.
Dab at the Ngor Hiang with kitchen paper towels to dry them as much as possible. I do sprinkle some flour on the surface of each sausage to minimise splattering during frying and also to add a bit more crispiness.
In a wok, heat the oil of your choice to a hot temperature and lower the Ngor Hiang ‘sausages’ carefully and gently. Do not overcrowd the wok otherwise they become soggy. Drain on paper towels and slice into bite-sized cylindrical cubes. Serve hot with Sriracha chilli sauce mixed with a little tomato ketchup to add sweetness.