What is tjap tjoy?
Tjap tjoy, or cap cai, translates simply as ‘mixed vegetables’. It’s a Dutch-Chinese dish made up of, unsurprisingly, a medley of vegetables. Often you’ll find a recipe of peppers, cucumbers, bean sprouts, carrots and mushrooms fried alongside chicken, pork, beef or tofu. Whatever the vegetable and meat elements you’ve decided on, you can always count on a mild, salty sauce bringing the whole thing together.
In English-speaking countries, tjap tjoy is also served as chop suey, which translates roughly as ‘mixed pieces’. Although the dishes are very similar, there are slight differences between the two. Tjap tjoy is a vegetable dish that sometimes contains pieces of meat, while chop suey has meaty morsels as its chief ingredient. Both sides are served with white noodles.
Dishes like tjap tjoy and foe yong hai came to Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century thanks to an influx of Chinese and Indonesian sailors. The first Chinese restaurants established themselves in port cities and towns, where sailors would stay and cook for fellow countrymen. It wasn’t until the fifties that appetites broadened beyond home-grown fare, in part due to the end of wartime rationing and culinary restrictions. Very quickly, Asian cooks were getting to work in restaurant kitchens to devise milder versions of exotic dishes more aligned with European tastes.
Tjap tjoy is a perfect example of this. Flavours weren’t too spicy, vegetables were readily available, and pork and chicken proved incredibly popular with a wide range of diners. As such, tjap tjoy has become a go-to order for many frequenting their local Chinese takeaway.
Did you know...
Groups of Chinese people have been living in Indonesia for centuries, with Chinese-Indonesian cuisine offering a deliciously eclectic set of recipes that are wholly unique when compared to more conventional Chinese and Indonesian cuisine.
How to make tjap tjoy
The chosen vegetables are stir-fried together with pressed garlic. Ideally, this is done gradually so that cooking can be optimally timed to ensure ingredients aren’t fried for too long. Chicken is also added to the pan and cooked alongside the selected vegetables. All elements are then simmered in a distinctive sauce made from broth, oyster sauce and – sometimes – a hint of soy sauce thickened with cornstarch.
How to eat
This dish can be served alongside simple white rice.
Chow mein is very similar to tjap tjoy, but is served with stir-fried noodles instead of boiled or steamed rice.