A plain, healthy treat for a fussy little eater

A plain, healthy treat for a fussy little eater
Chawan Mushi with Flaked Fish.

I am cooking for my granddaughter and it is challenging.

She will not eat meat or vegetables and has outgrown porridge.

Her taste range is narrow and even her likes are unpredictable as they seem to come in phases.

These days, it's fishcake and rice. That's it.

While I have not quite cracked the code, her preferences seem to do with texture (smooth, though she does like crunch) and flavour (plain, though she loves keropok).

While she will eat rice, she hates porridge as she does anything mushy, like mash.

Nor does she like creamy stuff, though she will lick the sweet butter icing off cakes.

It is clear that there are inherent contradictions in her likes and dislikes but who can tell a two- year-old that?

Before Emma came along, I had always thought that children could be trained to eat right, if caught young enough.

And before she turned two, she seemed to be a young person with a good palate, enjoying both a crisp, green apple as well as a soft, creamy avocado.

I rejoiced too early.

When she hit the terrible twos, she loved saying no, even to the foods she used to like. Nutrition goes right out of the window if all you are concerned about is where she will eat something, anything.

With trepidation, therefore, I am trying out a recipe for a dish that perhaps the little miss will eat.

It is for a bowl of chawan mushi (Japanese savoury egg custard) boosted with flaked fish.

While children seem to be happy with plain rice, bread, pancakes and noodles, few will eat enough protein to sustain a growth spurt.

But, of course, this is a distant worry when the immediate problem seems to be getting food into that little stomach.

For those of us not fortunate enough to have children who really will eat anything - and I have watched with amazement as a young mother fed her 22-month-old daughter rice with gravy and shredded meat in 10 minutes flat - this recipe may work.

It is chawan mushi with some fish flakes added to the egg mixture before steaming.

The texture is soft like tofu, and the dish is nutritious.

It is relatively plain, made with dashi or bonito stock or, if you prefer, chicken stock.

No vegetable in sight and the fish is disguised.

No chicken, mushroom or soya beans either, as is common in chawan mushi, as the little children will likely reject it.

When cooking it, just watch the proportion of egg to liquid - one cup of stock to one egg to obtain that soft consistency - and watch the fire.

It has to be medium hot to cook, but not boil, the custard so that the smooth surface is maintained.

But I wonder to myself, would a two-year-old notice if there are little bubbles on top?



1 egg
1 cup of bonito stock (either from a packet that is monosodium glutamate-free or homemade) or chicken stock
1 tsp mirin wine (sweetened rice wine), a pinch of salt and, if liked, light soya sauce to taste
1 small piece of white fish fillet, skinless
A pinch of sesame seeds


5 cm sq piece of dried kelp or kombu
1 small handful of dried bonito flakes


To make the dashi or bonito stock, boil a cup of water.

Add the fish to cook for a few minutes. Remove and flake it, taking care to check there are no bones.

Add the kombu and bonito flakes to the pot. You can obtain both from a Japanese supermarket.

Leave to seep for 30 minutes.

Beat the egg just enough to break it up. Don't do it too vigorously for then you might create little bubbles in the final custard.

Add the cooled-down stock and flaked fish into the beaten egg, beating gently all the time with a fork.

Flavour the mixture with mirin and soya sauce.

Add the egg mixture into a heatproof bowl.

Bring a pot half full of water to boil. When steaming hot, place bowl on a steamer stand in the pot and steam covered on medium heat for eight minutes.

The custard is done if a toothpick pricked into the centre of the custard emerges clean.

Allow it to cool before serving with some sesame seeds sprinkled on top.


This article was first published on December 8, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.