Niouk yen is hands down my favourite food from home. It must be a Mauritian-Chinese thing, because I have never heard of niouk yen in the Chinese restaurants in Vancouver. And Vancouver has a huge selection of amazing Chinese food! See, we’re even supposed to have the best Chinese food in the world! So if even Vancouver didn’t have niouk yen, then that’s when you know it’s a local Mauritian thing. And so, when a niouk yen craving hit, I knew I had to make my own. From scratch. I’d heard that making niouk yen was a sort of tedious procedure, so the task was daunting, and I was nervous that I’d mess it up. Normally at home, you don’t make your own niouk yen, you go eat it at a cafe downtown with egg noodles and plenty of chili sauce to dip them in. No one actually makes them! Except my grandma. Who has the patience and time for good food. And so, I considered it a sort of challenge for myself! First, I had to locate the main ingredient of niouk yen: chayote. Now, I have never heard of chayote in Canada, and while the vegetable is common in Mauritius, we call it “chou chou” there. I have no idea what other dishes chayote can be used in, but I knew they sold them at T&T downtown! So I made a short trip and picked up 4 of them.
Here you can see a picture of the chayote. I’ve already chopped off the heads and started cutting out the deep grooves for easier peeling.
The ingredients required for niouk yen are very few (yay! no heavy grocery bags!!):
- 4 chayote
- Dried shrimp
- Corn starch
- Cooked pork, cut into small pieces (optional)
- Cooked vermicelli (optional)
- Soy sauce
- Chili sauce
First, peel the chayote and grate them. Salt the grated chayote and leave for an hour. When an hour has passed, squeeze out as much of the water as you can. Soak the dried shrimp for about an hour as well.
Then drain, chop into small pieces, and pan-fry. When I did this part, I knew I’d stink up the place, and dried shrimp is one of those things you do NOT want your place to smell like, along with curry and dried fish. So I turned on the air system, opened up all the windows, and turned on the fan. The smell dissipated after about an hour, so it wasn’t too bad! Soak the vermicelli in hot water and drain when it’s soft. You can cut it up into small pieces for easier incorporation into the niouk yen balls. When all that is done, you should have these ingredients in front of you:
Mix the drained chayote, dried shrimp, and some vermicelli. You don’t need too much vermicelli. In fact, I ended up throwing out quite a bit of what’s in that picture above. Also add the cooked pork if you’ve decided to use any. Add the corn starch. You’ll need to add more and more until you get a tacky consistency. When the texture feels right, i.e. you don’t think the balls are going to fall apart, you can start forming the balls. About 3cm in diameter maybe. When the balls are formed, steam for 20min. In the meanwhile you can prepare the dipping sauce. I like a mixture of soy sauce, pepper, and chili, but green crushed chili paste would work too.
While the niouk yen were steaming, I was pretty nervous that they wouldn’t turn out alright! In fact, they were great. I think next time I make them, I will add the pork for extra yumminess, and maybe a teensy bit more corn starch to make them more gluey in consistency. Mine did not fall apart and maintained their shape, but I think a bit more corn starch would have made them sturdier. I was delighted with the outcome, and ate them for lunch over the course of 2 days, alone, since no one understands what niouk yen is here! When I told people what I was cooking “I’m making chayote dumplings!” I got the expected puzzled look, and to be honest, I’m not sure if they’d be so appealing to me if I didn’t grow up eating them! Try it if you want to experiment with exotic new food one day!