A very popular Chinese dish, Happosai (Combination Stir Fry) is not modified very much from the original Chinese version. It is made with lots of vegetables, meat and seafood coated with a thick flavoursome sauce.
Happopsai (八宝菜) translates to eight treasure dish (八 – 宝 – 菜) and it comes from China. Apparently “eight” (八) in this context does not mean 8 kinds. It means “many”. That’s why I decided to call it “combination stir fry”, which is commonly available at Chinese restaurants in Australia.
The kanji character “八” for eight is pronounced “hachi” on its own in Japanese and it is believed to be a good luck number. The character starts from a narrow top and broadens to the bottom. This broadening pattern is called “suehirogari” (末広がり), giving the idea of growing prosperous. In the case of China, it is also a lucky number as the sound of this character is similar to the word meaning to generate wealth.
So, this is a lucky dish with plenty of goodies. Once you prepare the ingredients, it’s so fast to make, just like many Chinese stir fry dishes.
As with the combination stir fries at different Chinese restaurants, the meats and vegetables can vary. You can use scallops or crab meat if you want to go fancy or fried tofu, cabbage, shiitake or other mushrooms, beans, peas, choy sum, buck choy, baby corns, onion. The list is endless.
When I think of happosai (combination stir fry), I also think of chop suey (チョプスイ) as my mother called the dish chop suey. I thought chop suey was also a Chinese dish at first and that there must be a difference between the real Chinese version of happosai and chop suey, although at my home I could not see the difference.
But later on, I learnt that chop suey was actually invented in America by Chinese Americans (no wonder it is written in katakana in Japan!). Looking at the various recipe images, I think that my happosai might be closer to chop suey.
There are two different types of thick sauce you can use in happosai – light brown sauce and brown sauce. My sauce is a light brown sauce as I only use soup stock and a small amount of soy sauce. In the case of brown sauce, the colour comes from oyster sauce.
I guess just like any other dishes, the flavour and ingredients get slightly changed region by region, household by household and as long as it tastes good, it really doesn’t matter what you call it.
I used the Chinese style chicken stock powder you can see in the photo below, top right. I bought it at the Asian grocery store. It gives a touch of Chinese flavour but you could use a normal chicken stock cube or powder.
Incidentally, top left photo below is black fungus, also called wood ear fungus (or mushroom). It is sold dried at Asian grocery stores. When rehydrated, it expands a lot and gives a crunchy texture which I love.
When I was in high school, I ate a lot just like most school kids at the time. Chinese meals were one of my favourites as they were tasty and filled my stomach. You need high calorie food when you are a teenager.
Because both my parents were working as teachers and my mother was not a keen cook (father would not dare to step into the kitchen being a typical Japanese husband at the time), we sometimes ordered Chinese meals from the restaurant to be delivered.
Ramen with lots of toppings called “tanmen” (タンメン) was my favourite and it was almost like happosai topping on ramen. I also liked the dish called “chuuka-don” (中華丼) which means Chinese donburi. As the name suggests, chuuka-don is a rice dish in a bowl, i.e. “don” and the topping is happosai. I liked the topping with many different ingredients and the light salt flavoured thick sauce. It was really tasty.
Even today, every time I pass by a Chinese restaurant in Japan and look at the display models of dishes they offer, my eyes go to the ramen and chuuka-don.
The happosai in this recipe makes large serves for two or 4 small servings. After I cooked happosai, I shared half of it with my son. I ate one half of my share as it was but the rest was eaten as chuuka-don. See the photo above. So delicious and filling!
A very popular Chinese dish, Happosai (八宝菜) is not modified very much from the original Chinese version and it is similar to combination stir fry. It is made with lots of vegetables, meat and seafood coated with a thick flavoursome sauce. You can use different vegetables if you like. Please see notes for alternative vegetable suggestions.
- 100 g (3.4oz) squid or calamari skin removed (note 1)
- 100 g (3.4oz) medium size prawns peeled and deveined
- 100 g (3.4oz) pork thinly sliced into bite size pieces (note 2)
- 200 g (7.1oz) Chinese cabbage
- 50 g (1.8oz) carrot
- 50 g (1.8oz) boiled bamboo shoots (note 3)
- 40 g (1.4oz) snow peas ends removed
- 30 g (1.1oz) rehydrated black fungus cut into bite size (note 4)
- 30 g (1.1oz) shallots (scallions) cut into 5cm (2")
- 50 g (1.8oz) bean sprouts (note 5)
- 2 tbsp oil separated
- Salt & pepper
- 1 knob of ginger finely julienned
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 200 ml (6.8oz) hot water (note 6)
- ½ tsp Chinese style chicken stock powder (note 6)
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp sake
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp cornflour/corn starch diluted in 2 tbsp water
Squid: Using a sharp knife, cut the hood lengthwise to the tip and lay the opened squid flat on the cutting board. Score the squid diagonally (don’t cut all the way), then score again perpendicular to the first scoring to make diamond pattern. Cut into about 2.5cm (1”) x 4cm (1½”) rectangular pieces. Tentacles can be separated into 2-3 bunches if you have them.
Chinese cabbage: Cut each leaf in half lengthwise, then cut them crosswise into 4cm long pieces. Separate leaves from the stems (white hard parts).
Carrot: Cut into about 4cm (1½”) logs, halve the logs lengthwise, then slice into 3mm (⅛") thick rectangular pieces.
Bamboo shoots: If using a whole bamboo shoots, halve lengthwise and cut each piece into 4cm (1½”) long pieces perpendicular to the first cut. Place the cut side of the bamboo piece on the cutting board and slice into 3mm (⅛") thick.
Sauce: Mix all the Sauce ingredients, except cornflour, in water in a bowl.
Heat a wok or a large fry pan over high heat. When smoke starts coming up, add 1 tablespoon of oil to the wok/fry pan.
Add pork slices. Cook for 30 – 60 seconds (note 7) until both side of the pork pieces are sealed.
Add prawns and squid to the wok/fry pan, add pinch of salt & pepper and stir for 30 seconds ensuring that both sides of the prawns and squid pieces are sealed.
Remove pork and seafood onto a plate.
Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the wok/fry pan, add ginger and mix, then add carrots and white stem part of Chinese cabbage. Stir for 1 minute.
Add bamboo shoots and stir for 30 seconds. Add the rest of the vegetables and stir further 1 minute.
Add the sauce mix and bring it to a boil. Pour the cornflour mixed in water over the sauce and mix quickly so that the cornflour mixes into the sauce evenly.
When the sauce becomes thick and bubbling, add sesame oil, mix and turn the heat off.
1. I bought calamari, which has thinner and tenderer meat than squid. Please see the step by step photos of squid preparation below my recipe, Squid with cucumber and Wakame Nuta.
2. I used pork belly which was already thinly sliced into strips. I just cut them into short pieces. If you have a pork chop or steak, simply slice them thinly.
3. You can buy a bag of boiled bamboo shoots at Japanese grocery stores. You can also buy boiled bamboo shoots in a can at Asian grocery stores. The Japanese bamboo shoots come as a whole, while canned bamboo shoots are often halved.
At Asian grocery stores, you may find a can of boiled bamboo shoots that are already cut into rectangular shapes. They are very handy to use.
4. It is also called wood ear fungus (or mushroom), cloud ear fungus (or mushroom), or tree ear fungus. It is sold dried in a packet at Asian grocery stores. You need to rehydrate it to use. It has a hard jelly like texture and crunchy. I only rehydrated 6 or 7 dried black fungus. It expands a lot.
5. I had soy sprouts (sprouts with soy beans attached at the end) so I used them. But normal bean sprouts are more commonly used in happosai.
6. You can buy a tin of Chinese style chicken stock powder at Asian grocery stores. Please see the photo on the blog.
As an alternative, you can use a chicken stock cube diluted in 200ml (6.8oz) hot water. Or, you can use 200ml (6.8 oz) of chicken stock instead of hot water + stock powder.
7. Cooking time depends on the thickness and the size of the pork pieces. My pork was very thin and it needed only 30 seconds.
8. Alternative meats and vegetables: scallops, crab meat, fried tofu, cabbage, shiitake or other mushrooms, beans, peas, choy sum, buck choy, baby corns, onion.
9. If you place happosai on top of hot rice in a bowl, it becomes chukka-don which is rally delicious and filling.