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Num Kou-chhai
Garlic Chive Cakes

Num Kou-chhai
Garlic Chive Cakes

This simple vegetarian dish is an ideal snack or quick lunch and is also savoured by meat-eating population. It is quite filling, satisfying and surprisingly tasty. It is a street food, commonly sold from a mobile trolley seen in most urban areas.

Little story
As a child, I didn’t like these cakes. However, during my late teens when I was at teacher training college which was like a Western boarding school, I began to change my mind.

 At the college, it was compulsory to have all our meals in the canteen. Although the food was nutritious, we soon tired of its regular menu and were tempted to look for something different. 

Once a month, we were allowed out to go to the local village market. We could then be found swarming around the market food stalls sampling the local produce. The sellers noticed our craving for snack foods and spotted a business opportunity. They then suggested that they could bring the food to an agreed spot near the college if we could let them know what we wanted and when. The three most popular snacks requested were: this dish, ‘num kou- chhai’ (garlic chive cakes), num banh-chok samlor Khmer’(Khmer green curry noodles) and ‘damlaung & cheik chien’ (sweet potato & banana fried in batter). 

True to their word, the hawkers came as planned. It was against the rules to leave the college grounds but, as the college was surrounded by hedges and a barbed wire fence, we naughtily moved some branches and carefully made a big enough gap in the fence to get the bowls/plates of food passed through. Excited but apprehensive, we took turns to watch out for the college supervisors. Somehow, this clandestine food seemed to taste much nicer….

Garlic Chive

Yields 8-10 cakes 


Rice flour or plain flour 2 cups (220g)1
Glutinous rice flour 3 Tbsp (23g)
Melted lard or butter 1 Tbsp (olive oil is also a good substitute)
Boiling water 260 ml (8½ fl oz)
Extra rice/plain flour for dusting 

Kou-chhai (garlic chives) 1 bunch or 200g (7¼ oz)
Sea salt 1 tsp
Sugar 2 tsp
Vegetable or olive oil 2 Tbsp 

Dipping Sauce
Soy sauce 4 Tbsp
Rice Vinegar / cider vinegar 1 Tbsp
Sugar 1 Tbsp
Boiling Water 2 Tbsp
Ginger 2.5 cm (1 inch), peeled and finely grated
Spring onion (scallion) 1, finely chopped (use both green and white parts)
Finger chilli ½, sliced into rings and then chopped 

Red sweet chilli saucesee recipe 


1 - Preparing the dipping sauce
In a small mixing bowl add the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, water and ginger. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Then add the chopped spring onion and chilli. Set aside. 

2 - Preparing the filling
Wash and pat dry the garlic chives, and then cut into 1.5 cm (¾ inch) pieces. In a bowl, thoroughly mix the garlic chives, salt and sugar, and leave to rest for 5 minutes. Heat the oil in a wok or skillet over high heat until very hot, add the garlic chive mixture and stir-fry until soft for a few minutes. Drain off the excess liquid and set aside. 

3 - Preparing the dough
Sift the two types of flour together into a bowl and stir in the melted lard/butter/olive oil. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Gradually pour in the boiling water whilst stirring continuously (using a pair of chopsticks or a wooden palette) to draw in the flour from the sides. Do not try to bring the mixture together at this stage. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave to stand for about 10 minutes. Now bring the mixture together to form a soft and pliable dough, add some water if necessary to achieve the required consistency. Then cover the bowl again with a damp cloth and leave to rest for about 15 minutes. Then, dust a surface with flour and knead the dough until soft, smooth and springy – for about 10 minutes.

4 - Wrapping & cooking the cakes
Divide the dough into two equal parts. Roll each part into a long sausage shape about 4 cm (1¾ inch) thick, and then cut the sausage into 4-5 equal pieces. Repeat the same process with the other half of the dough. Roll each piece into a ball and then flatten it in the palm of your hand to form a disc of about 10 cm (4 inch) diameter. Place a tablespoon of the filling in the centre of the disc, bring the edges together, seal and roll to make a ball with the garlic chives filling in the centre. Then slightly flatten the ball to form a round flat cake about 1.5 cm (¾ inch) thick. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces. (see technique)

Steam the cakes for 15 minutes to cook through2 (remember to oil the base of the steaming tray first). Serve hot with sweet soy sauce or sweet chilli sauce. 


1  As it takes time to prepare the dough, and as the garlic chives are only available when in season, I normally make a larger quantity of these cakes and freeze them. These can be re-steamed directly from frozen for approx. 20 minutes. 

Some people like to shallow-fry the cakes after they have been steamed.  This will crisp up the outside of the cakes and could add flavour.