Celebrating Food! Celebrating Life!

Posts tagged “Taiwan

金子半之助天丼 Kaneko Hannosuke Tendon @ Taipei

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You know when you’d tried a certain dish at a new joint, and after that tell yourself that the “gastrorgasmic” experience you’d gone through had just breached the boundaries of what you’d think was the best rendition that could possibly exist out there for that particular dish, hitting all the right spots, making you nod your head periodically, albeit uncontrollably as you close your eyes in attempt to shut off the other senses so as to concentrate on extracting every ounce of gastronomic pleasure from each bite, smiling to yourself without even knowing you are smiling, only to be overwhelmed by that oddly tingling sense of sadness that creeps in as you partake that last mouthful or slurp, savouring every bit of lingering morsel in the mouth, or waft of aroma in the air, bittersweet as you can’t help but let out a sigh of contentment and gratitude for the experience, interspersed with hopeful yearning for the next episode. Sounding both phenomenal and incredible at the same time while wondering how could that be even mortally possible. Well you could be if you live a life to eat. We’d experienced that before, on several occasions in fact, most notably with Mutekiya Ramen when we first visited a couple of years back and also my first personal encounter with Sugino’s mousse creations, and most recently, 金子半之助天丼 Kaneko Hannosuke Tendon.
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南機場夜市 Nanjichang Night Market, Taipei

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To experience truly Taiwanese food and pop culture, one must surely pay a visit to their local night markets. Some even say that going to Taiwan without a firsthand experience of their local night markets is like not having been to Taiwan at all. I definitely agree with that. To many Taiwanese, night markets are where they take care of their daily needs. This is especially so for the those who work from dawn till dusk, and have to settle their meals mostly outside. This is analogous to our hawker centres and more currently “food courts” here in Singapore, but it is not just the tummies that are taken care of here, as Taiwanese can buy practically everything they need at home here from stationery to toiletries. As such, there are night markets everywhere in Taipei, but we only visit a selectively few and 南機場夜市 Nanjichang Night Market is one of them.
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吳寶春麥方店 Wu Pao Chun Bakery @ Taipei

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I began noticing master boulanger 吳寶春 Wu Pao Chun when he first appeared in one of my favorite Taiwanese forum talk shows 新闻哇哇挖 upon returning to Taiwan, after winning the prestigious Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie aka Bakery World Cup in Paris five years ago. Since then, he has been hailed as a 台湾之光 “Glory of Taiwan” alongside acclaimed director, Lee Ang, an honour accredited by the local Taiwanese press to their fellow countrymen who had achieved worldwide recognition and acclaim of sorts. This does not come easily for anyone from Taiwan, a country which has yet to be formally acknowledged by UN, and whose existence is constantly under pressure and threat across the straits from Mainland China. Since returning to Taiwan, Wu set up his first artisan bread bakery in Kaohsiung before opening another in Taipei the next year. Our previous trips to Taiwan had always been filled with pastries and cakes more than anything else, so for our most recent trip, we finally decided to make our way to Wu’s bakery located at Eslite Spectrum Song Yan Store.

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燒仙草 – Hot Grass Jelly

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Grass Jelly is a dessert which many of us enjoyed since our childhood days. The Cantonese folks call it 凉粉 “leung fun“, while it is 草粿 “cao kueh” for the Teochews and 草粄 “cao ban” for the Hakkas. Its popularity spreads throughout Taiwan, as well as the rest of Southeast Asia where it can be easily cultivated as well, to Vietnam, Thailand and of course Malaysia and Singapore. It is usually eaten as a cold drink or dessert, especially welcoming when the weather is hot and humid but in Taiwan, it is also enjoyed during the winter months, where a hot version would be available and is no less gratifying. And the way 燒仙草 Hot Grass Jelly is eaten seem to be uniquely Taiwan indeed!

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金瓜櫻花蝦炒米粉 – Pumpkin & Sakura Ebi Fried Bee Hoon

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米粉 Rice vermicelli or what is colloquially known as “bee hoon“, is much of a staple like rice in Taiwan. It doesn’t matter if you are a Hokkien or a Hakka, bee hoon is served in every occasion, from daily meals to family gatherings and celebrations. There are many ways of frying bee hoon, with recipes varying not just across dialectal groups but also from family to family. It also very much depends on what is available in the pantry and could be as simple or as elaborated as one can think of. 金瓜櫻花蝦炒米粉 Pumpkin and Sakura Ebi Fried Bee Hoon counts as one of the traditional Taiwanese dishes, a 手路菜 “chew loh cai” which most 台湾媳妇 “taiwan sim boo” Taiwanese housewives would know how to prepare at home, as it is imbued with a deep and profound sense of 古早味 “koh zah bee” and more importantly for many, 妈妈味.
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四神湯 – Si Shen Soup

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I remember enjoying my first bowl of 四神汤 Si Shen Soup about 10 years back during my initial trips to Taiwan. It was the period before Chinese New Year and my friends brought us to 寧夏夜市 before visiting 迪化街 for the Chinese New Year bazaar. Just gotten off the plane, we hadn’t eaten dinner so my Taiwanese friends suggested going to 阿桐阿寶四神湯 located near the night market first. Being largely a “herbal soup”, it tasted rather plain and smooth, with a lingering sweetness in the mouth. Void of pungent odours and bitter aftertaste, the flavours of Si Shen Soup defies what I had expected Chinese herbal soups are traditionally like. The soup was a relief, not only against the fattiness of the bak chang and large steamed pork buns we had, it also helped to warm our constitution amidst the cold and rainy weather.
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台南擔仔麵 – Tainan Dan Zai Noodles

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Taiwan is famous for many of their local snack-like delights called “小吃” which literally means “small eats“. As the name implies, many of these snacks come in small portions which aren’t enough to fill the stomach at one go. Nor is it meant to, as that is the exact intention, i.e. to allow one to sample as many of these different local “small eats” as possible. Tainan, as I’d written previously, is the origin of many local “small eats”, largely brought over by the migration wave from China during the mid Qing Dynasty. Many of these have very humble beginnings as street food stall vendors which we call “hawkers” in this part of the world. Some of these hawkers did not even have a permanent stall, but instead, carried their food, cooking ware, and everything else wherever they go , in two large bamboo baskets delicately balanced by a thick bamboo pole called 擔仔 Dan Zai or “tah-ah” over the shoulders. This was most characteristic to those who sold glutinous rice dumplings colloquially known as “bak chang” (肉粽), often heard before they are seen walking down the alleys of residential areas peddling their bak chang late in the evening.  Wafts of aroma from these freshly steamed glutinous rice dumplings wrapped into a pyramidal shape by bamboo leaves permeated the cool air of the night as one hears the familiar calls “烧肉粽!” or “shio bak chang!” in Taiwanese Hokkien. This often set one’s tummy a rumbling, dashing down to buy a bak chang or two from the hawker before his calls fade away as he vanishes around the corner.

Like bak chang, many other street food vendors too make use of these baskets with bamboo poles to peddle their ware. Another signature “small eat” from Tainan comes in the form of small bowls of fresh noodles in piping hot soup, embellished with an assortment of condiments. The noodles were also initially peddled around the streets of Tainan with makeshift stoves and baskets carrying crockery straddled across a 擔仔 bamboo pole, and that is how its name 擔仔麵 Dan Zai Noodles came about…
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