Archives for category: umami

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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While visiting Kyoto last week I was enchanted by the Gion District–the variety of food and shopping is stunning. Many of the stores are small businesses, still family owned. One beautiful clear evening I walked with the happy throngs until I limped and still couldn’t see it all.

The restaurants, candy and tea stores, and ice cream shops all are beautifully appointed, spotless, and showcase uniquely Japanese plastic replica food art in big shiny windows. Here is my favorite display of the night: img_0205The middle rows show really unique parfait ice cream pairings with matcha cubes, mochi balls, and chunks of sweet potato with sesame seeds. But zoom in on the top row: from left to right you can spot french fries, breaded pork cutlets, fried prawns, and my boyfriend’s pick, ‘American Dog Parfait’–by which is meant corn dog complete with ketchup and mustard. It might seem bizarre to us, but I think it is a perfect example of that flavor called ‘umami’ in Japanese that combines salty/savory/sweet.

I was stuffed from dinner so will have to return to Kyoto, starve myself all day, and then go to this amazing parfait joint.