The term "capcay" in Indonesian actually means "10 kinds of vegetables." However, in reality, many people prepare fried capcay using only a few types of vegetables. They often add ingredients they have at home, such as squid, shrimp, fish stomach rinds, chicken liver, and more, depending on personal preferences and tastes.
Capcay is a familiar dish in Peranakan cuisine. In Hokkian, capcay translates to "various types of vegetables." Sometimes, it's also interpreted as a dish made from ten different types of vegetables. Given its abundance of vegetables, capcay is known as a super healthy menu choice, not to mention its delightful taste.
Although the written history of capcay remains elusive, its popularity is widespread in Indonesian society. It's not only found in Chinese food restaurants but also in noodle and fried rice street vendors—making it a common culinary delight.
The Origins and Variations of Capcay
The story behind the origin of capcay comes in various versions, making it difficult to pinpoint a single narrative. Here, I will share some of the historical perspectives of capcay:
Capcay was initially known in mainland China during the Qing Dynasty era (1644-1911). At that time, capcay consisted of vegetable pieces mixed with animal offal.
Capcay is believed to be a dish brought by Chinese immigrants as they traveled from place to place. They would cook whatever ingredients they found that day, cutting everything into pieces and cooking them together. If they found an abundance of vegetables, the capcay would become more lavish. Interestingly, capcay is not known in China itself. It's only recognized in the Taisan region, where a majority of the population consists of travelers and immigrants.
In a popular American version of the story, capcay's appearance in the United States is linked to Li Hung Chang, the Chinese ambassador to New York, during his visit on August 29, 1896. During a dinner reception, Li Hung Chang declined all extravagant dishes and instructed his personal chef to prepare a more suitable menu. The chef created a dish that would appeal to American and European palates, resulting in the birth of capcay.
Making Your Own Capcay
Creating capcay at home is not a complex task. In fact, you're free to include a variety of vegetables and complementary ingredients. You can choose to make fried capcay or capcay with broth.
However, we have our own tried-and-true recipe that we've been using for years. Here's the recipe along with the ingredients:
Capcay with Meatball
- 50 grams of finely chopped chicken
- 200 grams of chopped Chinese cabbage
- 5 meatballs, sliced to preference
- 1 bunch of bok choy, chopped
- 150 grams of cauliflower, chopped
- 1 carrot, sliced lengthwise
- 1 teaspoon of fish sauce
- 2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- ¼ teaspoon of black pepper
- ½ tablespoon of cornstarch, dissolved in a little water
- Sauté the garlic until fragrant, then add the chicken and meatballs. Stir until they change color.
- Add fish sauce, oyster sauce, salt, and black pepper. Stir briefly, then add a little water.
- Add carrot, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, and cauliflower. Stir until well combined.
- Add the cornstarch solution and stir until the dish thickens.
- Remove from heat, and your fried capcay is ready to be served.