Archives for category: recipe

I’ve just returned from a short stint circumnavigating Taiwan with family, and we ate really well. Americans are not too crazy about glutinous texture dishes (that’s sticky-starchy, not wheat-based). But Asians adore gooey glutinous food in many forms: main dishes, desserts, even drinks.

There is a little street-side joint with stools on the sidewalk just a block from my Dad’s place in Taichung, the township where he was born. As we walked past, a wonderful aroma floated out, wrapped us up, and pulled us in. The specialty of the house: Taiwanese meatballs!

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Known as rou yuan in Mandarin (肉圓) or Ba wan in Taiwan’s Hokkien dialect, the dish is a delicately steamed ball of minced pork wrapped inside a translucent, gelatinous bubble made of rice and sweet potato flour and steamed or deep-fried. The meat ball is usually flavored with minced bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms. The whole thing is served drenched in a sweet chili gravy that can be a mixture of ketchup, sugar, garlic paste, chili and rice flour. You dip your ba wan in the gravy, then bite into the glutinous pocket and piping hot meatball juices burst into your mouth to form sweet/hot/salty awesomeness.

My father’s family have loved these goodies for more than a century and I can picture my Dad, uncles, and auntie as teenagers in the 1950s running out to the vendors to buy them.

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If you are in Taichung and are a breakfast lover, roll out of bed and hustle over to Chen Ji Early (陳記早點). Dodge through the scooters to take your place in line. When you get the front, grab wildly at a cup of warm soy milk to your right, and fill your plate with amazing breakfast fare to the left.

This pic with a savory turnip cake, a perfectly fried egg over easy, and foreknowledge of a heaping plate of potstickers and cabbage-filled pan-seared dumplings, makes my belly growl. If I acquire sufficient merit to achieve Nirvana, THIS will be waiting for me.

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Here is the address and FB page for Chen Ji Early: across from the National Library of Public Information, at No. 1737, Jiancheng Road, South District, Taichung City, Taiwan.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/%E9%99%B3%E8%A8%98%E6%97%A9%E9%BB%9E/172117926188091

Here’s A view of self with Dad snarfing in the background. Happiness is potsticker juice all over your phone.

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Have you ever heard that dandelion greens are edible? Amis tribal gardeners of Taiwan who make ‘wild’ greens an everyday part of their menu. These little volunteers were growing in my Boise, Idaho backyard.

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Common dandelions (Taraxacum spp.) were introduced to North America from Europe and are become a familiar sight in yards, parks, and lots. After briskly invading, they are now ‘naturalized’ — in a state of balance. Neither wild, nor tame.

The leaves can be harvested before blooming, and ideally before the buds form. But you have to keep an eye out, because dandelions are very speedy bloomers. It’s very important to harvest from areas that are chemical-free!

 

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I soaked my dandelion leaves in water with a little salt, then rinsed and blanched them (pop quickly into boiling water and remove). They can be chopped lightly and sauteed in sesame oil with minced garlic and ginger and a touch of rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. Dandelion greens have a pleasantly bitter ‘zing’ that pairs well with fatty meats or cheesy dishes. Most Amis gardeners sautee them like I did or put in soups with salty pork bits, rather like Southern collard greens.

 

Back in Idaho now, on a warm summer evening I sip a cup of Taiwan tea…organic, from the high mountains.

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Holding the tea canister, a gift from Fulbright Taiwan. This is from V&L Organic Tea Farm, in the central mountain range above Taitung in the south.

Amazingly, the tea is cooling as well as fragrant, smooth, full-bodied, and all out wonderful. The flavor of that wonderful place.

 

I’ve been lucky to enjoy Taiwan tea in peoples’ kitchens, living rooms, dorm rooms, offices, forest ranger cabins, and indigenous villages. Everyone there loves it and knows how to brew it. The health benefits of drinking lots of tea are well-documented, maybe this is why most Taiwanese are so slim…?

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Red Oolong Tea brews up to a lovely color!

Here’s an abbreviated guide to getting the most out of your Taiwan tea.

The main point is, you need two teapots, one to brew in and one to serve from; also you need to have hot water (with small bubbles but not a rolling boil) on standby, and a small bowl or bucket to pour off excess.

First, rinse the pots and cups with hot water. In your brewing teapot, add the tea. Don’t stint–fill your pot about 1/4 to 1/3 full with dry leaves. If the tea is organic, steep for about 45 seconds and pour into the second teapot for serving. You can drink the tea after the first steeping although it won’t be its best. If the tea is non organic, just pour it out, this is a ‘rinse’.

The second steeping should be a bit longer, about 60 seconds. If you have enough leaves, you should see them reach the top of the teapot. Pour into your serving pot. While sipping, always leave the tea leaves as dry as possible with the lid just propped up over the top.

If the tea is truly good, you should get at least 5-6 steepings and each one will taste different! There are many good web pages. and of course any Taiwanese person can show you how. I intend to spend a lifetime discovering Taiwan tea.

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This is how the tea leaves look after the fifth steeping: their fragrance lingers even after so many cups.

I’ve returned from Taiwan now for the past two weeks and boy, do I miss stinky tofu!

As you walk through the streets of anytown, Taiwan, you might find your nose assaulted by a uniquely dreadful smell. It’s especially poignant in the night markets, when darkness makes your sense of smell keener.

There is something cheesey about it, with overtones of rotting vegetation and something more primeval. When the earth was young and ruled by single celled organisms, the smell of stinky tofu existed. Before human noses to wrinkle at it, human language to describe it, hands to make it, tongues to savor it.

In the 1960s my young father, homesick for tastes of his homeland, bought 臭豆腐 in jars. For breakfast he garnished old-school rice porridge with nice crisp pickled turnips, bits of scrambled egg, and stinky tofu. My sister detested it, but I adored its pungent creaminess.

For the stouthearted among you: Cook some calrose style rice with a little more water than usual. Scramble an egg with sesame oil and soy sauce, add some kimchee or chinese pickled veggies, and maybe 1/3 block of stinky tofu. Stir well, and sprinkle with chopped green onions and/or skin-on peanuts. It’s lowfat, gluten free, nutritious, and delicious!

For a cool video about how this stuff is made, check out https://www.greatbigstory.com/stories/taiwan-s-mother-of-pungent-foods-stinky-tofu?iid=ob_homepage_deskrecommended_pool

 

 

 

 

 

After waiting nearly a week for it to be ready, I can enjoy my own version of Taiwan’s delightful fruit vinegar drinks (known as ‘shrub’ in English speaking countries).

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To make this drink, I infused fresh mango pieces (2 1/2 cups) in vinegar (1 1/2 cups) for three days at room temperature, then added turbinado sugar (1 cup) and refrigerated, stirring occasionally, for one more day.  I strained through cheese cloth, allowing some pulp to come through. Then diluted with water to just a bit stronger than preferred, and poured over plenty of ice.  Aaaaah.

 

 

Fruit vinegar drinks are common in Taiwan. I was served some at a dinner party recently and really enjoyed it. This drink, known just about everywhere except America, is wonderfully refreshing and offers many health benefits. Before you make a face, just try it once.

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Dad is really good at cutting slippery mangos.

You can order it on Amazon. But I’m making my own batch using mangos right now.

Below is a recipe I derived from Taiwanese friends (rooftop kickboxing buddies), who love to drink a cold cup of this over ice after a workout.

  • 5 parts fruit pulp of your choice (mango, berries, apples, etc.)
  • 3 parts Cider Vinegar or Rice Vinegar – organic apple cider vinegar recommended
  • 2 parts sweetener of choice (Turbinado Sugar or Raw Honey recommended

Put the pulp in a large jar and pour the vinegar over it. Let it sit for 4-5 days, and strain through a cheesecloth slowly. For sweetener; either include it right from the start and shake from time to time to incorporate — or slowly heat the fruit vinegar mixture after 4-5 days along with sweetener to create a syrup. You can pour over a lot of ice, or dilute with a bit of water depending on your taste.

The hip bartending crowd calls this a ‘shrub’.

Virgin or not, this tangy sweet fruity drink tastes fabulous in the hot weather, especially after over-indulging in the grilled or greasy foods that always show up at backyard get-togethers!

 

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Red eye of the sun winks at the horizon, it’s twilight in the Taipei mountains.

After riding the gondola up to the beautiful mountainside town of Maokong that overlooks the vast metropolis of Taipei, Dad and I stroll around looking for tea cuisine.

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The city below us; Taipei 101, once the tallest building in the world, is to your right.

High above the sultry humid city, cool breezes rustle. A small opening in the green beckons us down to a delightful restaurant whose laid-back, Japanese ambiance in the evening calm evoke a Miyazaki moment.

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Shan Shui Ke Tea House: ‘Mountain Water Guest’. There are flowers and frogs tucked in everywhere. Seemed like kodamas, the tiny forest spirits of Princess Mononoke, were perched just out of sight.

The tea-oil chicken is so tender it falls off the bones, with a delicate tea-flavor throughout. It is graced with paper-thin crispy ginger slices that are so awesome Dad and I duel with chopsticks to grab them.

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The fragrance of tea rises from all three dishes…is your mouth watering yet?

A heap of crayfish have been shaken with sweet potato starch, salt, and white pepper, then fragrant oolong tea leaves are tossed in. The crayfish are fried to crisp perfection and scattered with chiles and scallions.

The fried rice also has crushed tea leaves along with shreds of egg, scallion, and pork. The delicacy of the tea flavored food and beauty of the setting are a treat never to be forgotten as the lights of the city wink on below us. The proprietor of Maokong Shan Shui Ke Tea House, proudly tells us that the chef working the miracles in the kitchen is his wife. For those of you in Taipei: go, go; for everyone else, I hope this entry gave you a few relaxed minutes in your day.

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Lights twinkling and trees rustling in the evening cool.

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The color of the bountiful ocean off of Lanyu; home to big schools of flying fish!

In Taiwan, if you want an amazing seafood meal, you need to go the source: the harbors. Next to the big busy warehouses where the fishermen unload and auction off their catch, small eateries attach themselves like limpets. Their humble appearance (tiny stools, sticky tables, cooks and waitstaff in Disney character tee shirts and rubber boots) belies the unbelievable quality of the food you can get there. Are you ready for some serious foodie writing?

In Chenggong Harbor on the east coast, we ordered four red and pink squirrel fish, their eyes a-goggle. Two were cooked in a savory sauce of brown bean, wine and chile with plenty of garlic and white pepper, garnished with crispy sweet slivers of green and red peppers. The other two fish were seethed in a delicate soup flavored with a hint of garlic, ginger matchsticks, and baby basil leaves.

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The weatherbeaten but colorful boats of Chenggong harbor. This photo from http://tour.taitung.gov.tw/en-us/Travel/ScenicSpot/619/Chenggong-Fishing-Harbor

Dad also grabbed a plate of ‘whatevers’—scraps like heads, eyeballs, a golden wad of fish eggs, mysterious bony fish bits, handed it to the cheerful, pretty cook, and asked her to do her best. Her best was delightful: the odds and ends were stirfried in a sweet dark umami sauce redolent of brown beans and garlic; the meat fell off the bones, the eggs melted in your mouth, and even the tough head pieces became flavorful and fun to pick apart for small savory rewards. We needed two bowls of fragrant sticky Taiwan fonglai rice to soak up all the sauces.

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Flying fish, sacred to the Yami People of Lanyu (Orchid Island), are hung out to dry in the fresh sea air.

Next, we travelled by ferry to the tiny island of Lanyu (Orchid Island). There we encountered the evolutionary and culinary wonder that is flying fish! After we sweatily dragged our bags to an indigenous lodging house, we hit the streets at twilight looking for dinner. A busy little local joint served us one crispy fried flying fish each. Their winglike fins and pretty tails were so crisp they shattered in the mouth and the flesh was firm, fresh, nutty, and delicious.

Side dishes included tender strips of pale white and pink raw clam meat on a bed of fresh cabbage, topped with handmade mayo and sprinkled with chili flakes; sea cucumber shreds in a salty black bean and soy sauce; and tender green ferns (a new species to me, curled like baby fingers) lightly braised with garlic and more chilis. Alongside was a bowl of delicately flavored algae broth and a savory dried shrimp omelet finished with fresh scallions. Oh what a dinner! For both of us it was just over $7 US.

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This is a public domain photo–they look exactly like this! So pretty, beyond words really.

On the ferry ride home Dad and I stood on the back deck in gale force winds, reveling in the clean air and huge beautiful rolling waves like dark blue glass. Lo and behold! A flying fish burst from the waves, wiggling like mad, its glassy fins blurring like a dragonfly’s. It seemed to float above the waves, a tiny miracle of evolution, before vanishing again. Underneath, a big predator — probably a swordfish — was chasing them. The flying fish continued to zing above the waves in silvery flocks, soaring for hundreds of meters. In these choppy seas when they hit a crest they somehow ‘skipped’ themselves to add another flight just like I would skip a pebble on a pond. Exquisite! Dad, I and several Taiwanese passengers whooped as each flock took to the air!

Have you ever eaten a fern? The young uncurling leaves, called fiddleheads in the US, can be amazingly tender and delicious. The Amis people love ferns, called ‘lokutl’ in their language, and gather them wild or cultivate them in gardens and forest plots.

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Mr. and Mrs. Wang’s fern garden. Can you see where the leaves have been harvested?

Our Amis friend Mr. Wang showed us a beautiful mountain spot, in his family for many generations, where he and his wife carefully grow the ferns for the local market.

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The stuff in the middle is damp, partly rotten, and smells like the soul of the forest.

The mulch that collects in each fern is collected as clean organic mulch for their gardens in town. Sadly, all of their children are working in modern jobs in remote cities with little interest in this Amis style of cultivating wild vegetables.

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A muntjac, or barking deer, spotted in the central mountains. They adore ferns, as Mr. Wang complains…

You might remember that Mr. Wang sold us fern leaves last month and the local restaurant covered them in a light batter, flash fried them, and provided a dipping mixture of salt and Taiwan white pepper (a more fragrant and complex cousin to the familiar black pepper in your shaker. To die for!! The tiny barking deer agree, and raid his garden regularly…