to Get Michelin Guide Michelin, the world's most
prestigious publisher of restaurant guides is planning
to put out a guide
to the restaurants of Taiwan. The French company is
primarily a tyre maker (the Michelin Man), but in the hospitality
industry the awarding of a Michelin star is considered
tantamount to getting a licence to print money. The Taiwan
guide follows the company's other Asian guides to Japan,
Hong Kong and Macau.
Dec 17 2008
Reasons to Grow Your Own Food
Food has always been manipulated by adding other substances to it. Sometimes
it is done with good additives for good reasons (salt as a preservative,
for example), sometimes with dubious additives for dubious reasons (MSG
to make food taste better), and sometimes with bad additives for bad
reasons (melamine in milk to pretend there is more milk than there really
is). So hearing that the Chinese Government has just banned 17
chemicals commonly used to adulterate food only makes me want to
know more about what I am eating and where my food comes from.
is why I recently started a little rooftop garden.
From seed I have planted bok choy, water spinach,
romaine lettuce, sorrel, capsicums, scallions,
garlic, chillies, coriander, parsley, dill, and
basil. These join a kumquat bush, a mulberry tree,
a madeira vine, and chives. Everything has come
up except the capsicums.
I have sown vegetables before but usually my
enthusiasm wanes long before the plants produce
food and all I end up with a garden that is dry,
scraggly and full of weeds. But not this time.
I have no grand-delusion about self-sufficiency
– I just want to be able to absolutely vouch
for at least a little of the food that goes in
Dec 3 2008
is no feast that does not come to an end." With the pall of the economic
crisis hanging over us, and a really horrid 2009 looming,
what could be more appropriate than this Chinese aphorism?
For the well-off it looks like the party is coming to an
end, while for the poor, they are about to get an almighty
kick in the guts.
Nov 14 2008
the News is Bad
I often search Google
News using the term 'Chinese food.' There was a
time when you would get a variety of results: restaurant
reviews, recipes on lifestyle magazine sites, the
odd bit of new research; that sort of thing. The
news was never all good: there was the occasional
product recall, and nearly always a report along
the lines of, 'Chinese Food Delivery Man held up
in Chicago.' Now, of course, search results are
dominated by food safety problems. A quick search
today brings up headlines such as: 'Toxic Food
Scare Lingers,' 'Milk Scare Erodes Trust in all
Chinese Food imports,' 'China Destroys tons of
tainted Animal Feed,' 'Fears Mounting Over Chinese
Until some weeks ago, few
people, apart from pet owners in the United States, had
ever heard of melamine. Now we all know what it is, or
at least know that it is one additive our food can do
without. And it is not just about unscrupulous businesses
in China – that is just the current issue – the fact
that it has been exposed, and is dominating the news
is a good thing. What is more scary is the stuff
we don't know about. How many of us really know
what we are putting into our digestive systems? If, as
we have seen, 'respectable' Western companies genuinely
don't know what is going into their own products, how
Oct 16 2008
we have is guns and millet." – Chinese Vice Premier
Deng Xiaoping to Henry Kissinger, American Secretary of
State, Dec. 1974. read
June 12 2008
Zongzi we Cooked We left our zongzi making
until the last minute. A trip to the main market in Taichung
on Sunday morning netted everything we needed. Then it
was back to the house of friends, Chang Er and Mickey,
to cook and wrap. The bamboo leaves were not the choicest:
a bit on the small side, and overly dry. They cracked easily
– next time I am going to pick my own leaves fresh off
the plant. I still find the wrapping tricky, and most of
my packages were too small, split, or just plain wonky-looking.
40 rice dumplings went into the pot at 4 pm, then we sat
down for a rest and a beer.
Chang Er boiled the zongzi, and
some of the flavour leached into the water. In the case
of the zongzi I wrapped (it was obvious which
ones they were), actual ingredients leaked out. Not brilliant,
which is why I reckon steaming is the way to go. In any
case, an hour later, we ate, and the zongzi were almost
perfect. We had deviated from the original recipe when
Chang Er had added finely chopped dried tofu. I normally
defer to her in all things culinary, but I can't concur
this time. Being bland it does not contribute to the
flavour, indeed it diminishes it. Neither is tofu necessary
for texture as the mix already includes an assortment
of bits and pieces.
June 4 2008
Zongzi for the Dragon Boat Festival
The Dragon Boat Festival is upon us (June
8) so it's time to get your supplies of
bamboo leaves and sticky rice and make
some zongzi (rice dumplings in
bamboo leaves). This is a hard-to-beat Taiwanese
more about zongzi.
May 25 2008
Red Cooked Beef Noodle Soup A while back I put up a recipe
for Clear Beef
Noodle Soup. Since then a few people have asked for
the red cooked version, which is sold all over the place
in Taiwan. I have finally gotten around to doing it. Due
to a couple of quirky bits in the the original recipe I
was given, I didn't nail it on the first go and had to
cook it again. I am pretty confident I've captured the
taste now. What I have written here is an expanded quantity
for the stock, which I have not actually cooked, but it
should be all right. Will cook it this way in a few days
time. My house now smells like a beef noodle shop. That
might sound good, but believe me after two days,
I have lost any appetite for beef noodle soup. I need to
eat something else for a while.
Like most stocks this one for beef noodles
is hardly worth doing unless you do it in some volume.
The stock can be refrigerated or frozen and trotted out
whenever you feel in the mood. Though it is specific
to this dish, it has contains nearly the whole gamut
of standard Chinese seasonings and could but used in
stir-fries, soups or stews. Recipe
May 14 2008
a full belly conquers all."
– From the film Saving
Apr 25 2008
Evidence that Tea Drinkers are Better than Coffee
Drinkers L-Theanine is
a unique amino acid. Tea's got it, coffee
don't. It's the reason why us tea tipplers
have great memories and are so laid back,
while java addicts on the other hand, have
that familiar semi-deranged look on their
faces by mid-afternoon. Read
this article, it explains everything.
Mar 27 2008
Melon Fights Diabetes A new Australian/Sino study seems
to confirm what Chinese physicians have known for centuries:
that bitter melon is an effective treatment for diabetes.
Also known as bitter gourd (Momordica
charantia) is a
common ingredient in Chinese food. read
Mar 22 2008
Shui: Don't Sleep Near Your Kitchen "Harm will befall young people
should their bedrooms be located next to the kitchen. This
sounds superstitious but on closer examination it is a
practical point to consider. Should the kitchen be next
to the bedrooms the latter would be badly polluted. Moreover
fires often start from the kitchen in domestic buildings." –
Standard Rules-of-Thumb of Geomancy, from Chinese Geomancy,
Mar 6 2008
Great 'High Mountain' Tea Rort Taiwan's wulong (black dragon)
tea has a well justified reputation. Partially fermented,
it is not as strong as black tea but it is more fully flavoured
than green tea. It also has the fortunate habit of holding
its flavour longer than either black or green. Starting
out as a strong brew, a Taiwanese wulong will be much milder
but still pleasing to the taste several pots later.
Tea like wine comes in a range of styles and grades. Plant variety, soil, processing methods, and the skill of the tea maker are just some of the variables that effect the final product. And just like wine you can pay any kind of price. A decent wulong is not cheap but it doesn't need to be outrageous either. The tea I usually buy in Taiwan costs about NT$800 (US$26) a catty (600 g / 21 oz) – considerably less than what you would pay for the same thing in another country. Most aficionados in Taiwan would agree on a few basic characteristics necessary for a top notch wulong tea (or tea in general for that matter). Talk to anyone over 25 and you'll learn that the foremost of these is altitude. There is a fundamental demarcation between tea grown in the high mountains (optimum climatic growing conditions) and that grown on hills and mountains not so high (somewhat less than optimum climatic growing conditions). After altitude, a tea buff might have a preference for a certain region. He'll certainly tell you that only lime-green, shooting leaves should be used, plucked from the bush by experienced hands (never by machine). And if the harvest takes place in spring, even better.
Judging by the first criteria, Taiwan, dominated as it is by not only mountains, but high mountains, is in a great position to produce trainloads of great tea leaf. It would seem so given the thousands, no, tens of thousands of tea canisters sold all over the island marked boldly with the three magic words of tea marketing: High Mountain Tea. But there seems not to be any 'official' or generally accepted elevation that marks the division between the high mountains and other more lowly ones. Certainly I have never seen a road sign saying, "High mountains next 15 km." So for the sake of a benchmark, I am going to make one up. Taiwan is a country that has typical monsoonal sub-tropical weather patterns, so all else being equal, standing on a 1,000 metre peak in northern Europe will be a lot colder than standing on one in Taiwan. Here in Taiwan you need to get up quite high if you want to find the nearly year-round cool to cold weather that great tea apparently thrives in. I would say you would need to be at 1,500 metres or above. Let's make it 1,500.
I have travelled quite a lot in the mountains of Taiwan, particularly in the central region where most tea is grown, and I have stumbled across my share of tea farms. Seen through a screen of cool mist, a mountain tea farm is an inspiring sight: row after squat row of tea bushes running over mountain valleys and hillside slopes like lush contour lines on a 3D topo map. But mountain terrain, by its very nature is tough, formidable. Up in the clouds there are few roads or paths, and even when you are on one travel takes forever. Throw in volatile, often extreme weather, landslides, and the fact that much of the ground is too steep to support even trees. Mountains like deserts simply do not willingly support human habitation. The small numbers of people who live on them often live materially marginal lives. Some people do find niches exploiting the kind of bounty that only high mountains can provide: things like certain kinds of timber, game, herbs, or high quality tea. But not that many. If all the tea in Taiwan labelled High Mountain Tea is the genuine article (based on my arbitrary 1,500 metre boundary), then there must be a couple of 50 square kilometre plateaux that I am missing whenever I am in the mountains.
So when I saw this news story: Two tea dealers found guilty of fraud in Chiayi I was not surprised. No doubt they are the tip of the iceberg. One thing's for sure; I know I will be asking my tea vendor some hard questions before I fork over hard-earned cash next time.
Mar 5 2008
Expectations "Scientists at Caltech and Stanford recently published
the results of a peculiar wine tasting. They provided
people with cabernet sauvignons at various price points,
with bottles ranging from $5 to $90. Although the tasters
were told that all the wines were different, the scientists
were in fact presenting the same wines at different prices." read
more (from The Boston Globe)
Mar 2 2008
Quote The richer the ear of grain, the more the head bends. (The
greater the intelligence and learning, the more humble
one should be).
Feb 8 2008
New Chinese Recipes
It is the Chinese New Year break and the weather is cold; a great excuse
to stay at home and do nothing more than potter around. This has
meant lots of cooking and getting around to finishing some recipes.
Here are a few of them:
Ginseng Chicken Soup 人參雞湯
(which we cooked for our New Year's eve dinner), a tasty example
of Chinese medicinal cooking. Pineapple
and Bamboo Chicken Soup 鳳梨筍子湯, a home-style Taiwan soup. White
Cut Chicken 白切雞, a pure-flavoured
chicken dish – served cold it makes a great starter. The first two recipes
are great winter dishes. I will try to add more soon: check Recipe
page for updates.
Jan 26 2008
Steam a Fish for Chinese New
Chinese prefer their fish whole – head,
tail, skin, and often fins, all intact. Only very large fish are filleted.
Compared to fillets, fish cooked in its own package, so to
speak, is much juicier and more flavourful. Try this steamed
fish recipe for Chinese New Year (Feb. 7: Year
of the Rat).
Jan 24 2008
Steamed Fish Soup
Steamed a fish a couple of nights ago. After the meal I tasted the water
left in the wok. It was clear with just a hint of oil on top. What the
steaming had created was a robust fish stock, suffused with the flavour
of fresh fish and the light seasonings it was cooked in. It reminded
me of the sea, and when I say the sea I mean out
on the sea, and not
some stinking fishing pier or seaweed-strewn beach.
The next day I added water and brought
the stock to a boil. All I had to do then was toss in
some chopped scallion for a delicious fish soup, an almost
instant by-product of another dish. I used this steamed
fish recipe but
you should be able to get a similar effect from many
steamed Chinese fish dishes as long as the seasoning
is limited to basics like salt, pepper, ginger, scallions,
People tend to pigeonhole the wok as an instrument of stir frying. It seems to have been developed specifically for that use; that is the job it does to perfection. Yet this uniquely shaped cooking pot handles at least adequately: frying, deep frying, braising, stewing, boiling, smoking steaming, and soup making, though it is not used as a rice cooker. Woks are always better over flames, whether fuelled by wood, coal or gas, and never a great match for the electric stove top.