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::: Index 2012 / 11 / 10 / 09 / 08 / 07 / 06 / 05

Dec 16 2011
'Tis the season for dogs to be wary

dog in taiwan
For the pot?

Chinese eat dogs (that's the lurid opening line dispensed with). They do, some of them. But in modern times, the practice has been minor at best, and only relatively common in certain areas (hint: "Steamed buns are afraid of dogs; dogs are afraid of people from Guangdong). In any case, these days, a more varied diet, and the objections of a growing army of dog fanciers are contributing to the decline of dog meat eating.

Dog was never a famine food consumed only by the poor, or by others in times of desperation. Dog meat was enjoyed, and considered a 'warming,' strengthening food, and according to lore, stimulates the sexual appetite. Dog meat is man food.

There is an old saying, “Yellow dog best, white dog second, followed by black dog,” though most men in Taiwan (where eating dog is now illegal) will tell you that black is best.

Myself, I have always suspected that a dog's colour is of little consequence, and that the most delicious is the neighbour's barking-non-stop-in-the-middle-of-the-night dog.

 
 



Dec 7 2011
Spring onion flatbread
recipe
(蔥油餅 cōng yóu bǐng)

Spring onion / scallion flatbread (蔥油餅 cōng yóu bǐng)

Spring onion (also known as scallion, green onion) flatbread is something you will find all round China. I don't get why it is often called a pancake – it is bread, unleavened bread – pancakes are normally made from batter. 

For the last couple of weeks I have been churning it out in batches. I am now quite happy with the results, so here is the recipe.

Recipe

Serves
6 as snack or as part of a meal. 

Ingredients

2 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
1 cup warm water
Vegetable oil
1 cup spring onions
Salt
White pepper

Method

  1. Sift flour into a mixing bowl. Add water gradually and mix until blended well together.
  2. On a floured surface, knead unto a smooth, elastic dough. 
  3. Roll into a ball. Cover with a wet cloth and let sit for 30 minutes.
  4. Separate dough into 2 pieces. Roll into balls.
  5. On a floured surface, roll out the dough thinly 2 mm.
  6. Daub some oil over the surface of each piece of rolled dough.
  7. Spread spring onions evenly over the dough.
  8. Sprinkle salt, and add a pinch of pepper.
  9. Roll the dough tightly like a burrito.
  10. From end to end, roll each roll into a spiral like snail shell.
  11. Roll into a disc about 4 mm thick.
  12. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil to a flat-bottomed frypan, bring to a medium heat, and fry until golden brown.
  13. Slice like a pizza and serve immediately with or without a dipping sauce, or with other Chinese dishes, in place of rice or noodles.

More f-ing great Taiwanese recipes here.

 
 



Nov 21 2011
On food health trends

"The pattern is predictable: scientists open up a new area of knowledge, and before it has been entirely explored and understood, the popular theorists exploit it as the long-awaited Answer." – Harold McGee

 
 



Jul 20 2011
Radish cake recipe

10–12 servings

Ingredients
600 g (1.3 lb) daikon radish
900 ml water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon white pepper
300 g (11.5 oz) rice flour
Vegetable oil

Method

  1. Peel, and grate radish finely, put aside.
  2. Heat some oil in a wok, add radish to wok, mix in, fry at medium heat, stirring occasionally until radish threads are soft (10–15 minutes).
  3. Add sugar, salt, and pepper fry for 2 minutes more.
  4. Add 500 ml of water, stir, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 2 minutes.
  5. In a large bowl, add 400 ml of water to rice flour, mix till smooth. Add to wok gradually, while continuing to stir as mixture thickens.
  6. Lightly grease a large pan. Place mixture into a pan. Steam for 40 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool before running a knife around the inside edge of the pan and carefully turn the cake out onto a cutting board as you would for a sweet cake.
  8. Cut cake into 1 cm (1/2") slices, then cut into manageable size pieces for the frypan.
  9. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a flat frypan, and fry radish cake on each side until golden brown and crisp.
  10. Serve as is or with chilli or soy sauce.
 
 



Jul 1 2011
Chinese radish cake, the white one

delicious Chinese snack
The radish cake after steaming
 
Crispy turnip cake
Fried radish cake
 
 



Jun 25 2011
Recipe for radish cake with pork and mushrooms

Taiwan turnip cake
Chinese Fried radish cake

If you have eaten the popular commercially prepared version of radish cake in Taiwan or China, don't expect this to look or taste like that. Although you use four cooking methods (frying, simmering, steaming and frying) to complete the dish, it is fairly easy. Here's the recipe.

10–12 servings

Ingredients
600 g (1.3 lb) daikon radish
6 dried shiitake (black) mushrooms
200 g (11.5 oz) minced pork
10 cloves shallots
900 ml water
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
½ tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon white pepper
½ tablespoon five spice powder
300 g (11.5 oz) rice flour
Vegetable oil

Method

  1. Peel, and grate radish finely, put aside.
  2. Soak mushrooms until soft. Clean and trim stalks. Cut into short, thin strips.
  3. Cut shallots into short, thin strips.
  4. Heat some oil in a wok, add mushroom and shallots, and stir-fry at a medium heat for a few minutes until fragrant.
  5. Add minced pork, and continue to fry until brown.
  6. Add oyster sauce, sugar, salt, pepper and five spice powder. Fry for 2 minutes.
  7. Add radish to wok, mix in, continue to fry at medium heat until radish threads are soft (10–15 minutes).
  8. Add 500 ml of water, stir, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 2 minutes.
  9. In a large bowl, add 400 ml of water to rice flour, mix till smooth. Add to wok gradually, while continuing to stir as mixture thickens.
  10. Lightly grease a large pan. Place mixture into a pan. Sprinkle a little water on top of mixture and smooth it down with the back of a spoon. Steam for 40 minutes.
  11. Allow to cool before running a rounded knife around the inside edge of the pan and carefully turn the cake out onto a cutting board as you would for a sweet cake.
  12. Cut cake into 1 cm (1/2") slices, then cut into manageable size pieces for the frypan. 
  13. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a flat frypan, and fry radish cake on each side until golden brown and crisp.
  14. Serve as is or with chilli or soy sauce.
 
 



Jun 24 2011
Fried radish cake with pork and mushrooms (肉燥蘿蔔糕)

delicious Chinese radish cake
Fried radish cake

With the help of a Chinese cookbook and some advice from a friend, this week we made our first radish cake. This version is not like the commercially prepared white radish cake of breakfast shops in Taiwan. This is a homestyle recipe with ground pork and shiitake mushrooms. Apart from the shredded radish strips not being quite soft enough so that they melded into each other to form a complete mash, the dish came out really well. It was also easier than I thought. The second attempt a couple of days later was perfect. Once I have finished writing up the recipe I will post it here in a day or so.

Next radish project: The plain white version.

 
 



Jun 18 2011
Dried Chinese radish

oriental radish in Chinese food
Sun-drying Chinese radishes Diced dried Chinese radish
 
 



Jun 16 2011
The Chinese Radish

Asian radish (luobo)
Chinese (Asian) radish

Best known by its Japanese name, daikon, the Chinese radish* is an important vegetable in Chinese cuisine. This elongated, carrot-shaped radish (Raphanus sativus L.) is thought to have been developed in China after Western radishes were introduced, perhaps as early as 500 BC. Normally white-skinned – though it can be green or other colours – the Chinese radish can grow up to two or thee feet in length.

It is used fresh in soups and stews, and made into radish cake, a popular fried breakfast dish, and a standard on any dim sum menu. But as much of the radish crop is sun-dried to an unrecognisable rubbery-looking brown, diced into small pieces, and perhaps pickled, its presence in dishes or condiments is not always apparent. Radish leaves are eaten occasionally also.

The European radish is largely thought of as a spicy raw salad ingredient. That the Chinese radish has a milder bite than its European cousin is immaterial as radishes give up their heat when cooked, and Chinese rarely eat any vegetable raw.

To the Chinese, carrots are known as 'red radishes,' though the radish and the carrot share no lineage. To further distinguish it from a carrot, a radish is sometimes called a 'white radish.'

In China radishes and turnips are often confused, understandably enough considering that they share the same name: luobo (蘿蔔). Turnips are found in Chinese cuisine far less than radishes.

*Also known as Japanese radish, Asian radish, Oriental radish.

 
 



Jun 10 2011
Best Chinese dietary advice
We are so constantly bombarded by the media with conflicting, seesawing dietary advice that I usually just tune out. That is easier to do once you realise that 90 percent of it is coming from someone trying to sell you something.

More and more I think back to what our mothers and grandmothers told us. Not all of it was good ('finish everything on your plate,' for instance), but at least it was simple and well-meant.

The best dietary advice a Chinese grandmother would give you is, eat only until you are '7 parts full' (70 percent full).

What makes more sense than that; what could be simpler (in theory, if not practice)?

 
 



Jun 5 2011
Ever wonder how a rice cooker works?
I have been using rice cookers for years and thought I knew how they worked until someone asked me to explain, and I found my tongue fumbling for the words. This site to the rescue: How rice cookers work

 
 



Jun 2 2011
Dragon Boat Festival, again already!

Monday, June 6 is the Dragon Boat Festival (端午節 duān wǔ jié). God, it only seems like a few months since they held it last time. Next thing you know they will be holding it every year. It is a public holiday in Taiwan which makes this weekend a long one. I won't be making zongzi this year as I will be riding up to Wushe on my bicycle.

Read about the origin of Dragon Boat Festival: Dragon Boats and Rice Dumplings or make your own traditional Taiwanese zongzi

 
 



May 28 2011
Taiwan maltose biscuit sandwich

Chinese sweet snack: maltose cookie (麥芽餅)
Chinese sweet snack: maltose cookie (麥芽餅)

I was once asked by someone who had visited Taiwan, what local snacks or desserts there were that would satisfy his sweet tooth (Chinese sweets being considerably less sweet than Western), and I was at a loss. Not any more.

This is a maltose cookie (麥芽餅), a Taiwan snack that we bought from an elderly vendor stationed next to a toilet block in Daken, Taichung. It is as sweet as honey, and unless you too have a sweet tooth it is probably best eaten with a cup of coffee or a white tea. He spread maltose (like a harder version of treacle) on a traditional hard biscuit, then sprinkled chopped coriander, peanut powder, and plum powder (meizi fen) on top, before sandwiching it with another biscuit.

NT$50 (US$1.70) for three. Look for it in places like night markets.

 
 



May 25 2011
Confucius say, "Insect not bite poison vegetable."

Sweet potato leaves
Sweet potato leaves in my garden

It is a sadly homogenous world when supermarkets cannot sell vegetables with a few insect bites, even at a steep discount. It is not because they are not allowed to, it is because consumers won't accept it. We are so used to uniform-looking supermarket shelf produce – as if it has been stamped out at a sheet metal factory – that anything less seems like a defect.

Surely a couple of holes in a cabbage or a lettuce leaf is the easiest way to verify that it is not saturated in chemicals?

 
 



May 23 2011
"The vegetarian egg rolls were meaningless …"
I don't normally say much about restaurants, especially when they are not in China or Taiwan, but this brief, damming commentary on a Chinese restaurant in LA, made me cackle. It seems to fit into that category of eateries that are so bad they are worth going to for the enduring anecdote they provide. I actually would like to go to this one. Here's the full quote:

"The vegetarian egg rolls were meaningless, the dumplings were wrapped in near-raw dough, the soup was cold, the shrimp were over-cooked, the fried rice tasted as if it were days old and warmed up." more

 
 



May 15 2011
Working donkey in China

donkey cart in China

When I wrote here recently about donkeys (here & here) in China, I needed a photo to go with the post. I knew I had photographed donkeys in China, but could I find the images? I only happened on this donkey photo today while searching my computer (in vain) for a photograph of a radish. This picture of a donkey pulling a cartload of Chinese cabbages was taken in the town of Hunyuan in Shanxi province. At the time I was on my way to Mount Heng, the famous Taoist mountain.

 
 



May 10 2011
Fabulous fact about the eating habits of rabbits
This is a bit off the topic of Chinese food, but after my post about rabbits last week I did a little more research – OK, 'research' may be over-stating it; I looked up my son's Dorling Kindersley Children's Illustrated Encyclopedia to find this in the Rabbits and Hares entry: 

"Rabbits and hares have an unusual method of double digestion. They eat food, digest some of it, expel soft droppings, and then eat these to obtain more nutrients. Finally they leave small, hard pellets on the ground." more info

Who knew the diet of rabbits was so interesting? 

And then, in the quote, there is the use of that lovely euphemistic expression, to 'expel.' I tell you what, tomorrow, there will be no crapping, shitting, or even taking a poo; tomorrow, God willing, I shall enter the Cistern Chapel and undertake an expulsion.

 
 



May 6 2011
For a simple, filling, and spicy dish try ants

Chinese ants climbimg a tree

Home by myself last night. Didn't want to eat out. Didn't have much in the fridge. But when I poked around a bit to find some leftover mixed pork tucked away in the back, and a bag of mung bean noodles in the pantry, only one dish sprang to mind: ants climbing a tree. It is a well-known Chinese dish of Sichuan origin.

The main ingredients are minced pork, and mung bean noodles. If you cook regularly you will likely have most of the minor ingredients already. It is easy and quick to make: even though you need to marinate the meat mix for a while, you can be sitting down to eat 45 minutes after you start.

Like a lot of Chinese dishes it does not require military precision to end of with tasty food; you can add or vary ingredients a bit (for example, my recipe calls for chicken stock, I didn't have any, so I used beef; not as good but good enough).

Everyone I have ever cooked this dish for seems to like it, even those who normally avoid spicy food. Try it: recipe for Chinese ants climbing a tree

 
 



Apr 30 2011
Yikes! There is a giant yellow rabbit on the road

Giant rabbit with carrot

Really. It has been there in Taichung, Taiwan since the Chinese New Year celebrations, and now, as I finally have a working camera again, I have the evidence. Just in time too, as the rabbit was gone a couple of days later, presumably dragged off prematurely (the Year of the Rabbit is not even half over yet) to join the giant stick and cloth tiger from last year. More on Year of the Rabbit

There is plenty of interest in all things rabbit this year, especially in buying cute little baby bunnies. The Taiwan Government is getting in on the act too. With one of the lowest birthrates in the world, Taiwan has been in a baby slump for years. This year the Government is using the symbol of the rabbit to encourage baby making. Couples, it says, should “feel the energy of the rabbits,” a statement I assume is a decorous way of saying, go forth and 'breed like rabbits.'

Unlike in Australia, the land of my birth, where rabbits have run riot for a hundred years, wild rabbits are a rare sight in Taiwan – I have only ever seen one, and that was the hare I caught in my headlight beam on an isolated mountain track. That was likely the formosan hare (Lepus sinensis formosus) photo and more info here, as far as I know that is the only wild rabbit/hare in Taiwan.

Unlike rabbits, hares do not reveal their presence by their telltale housing (they don't live in burrows), and they are nocturnal, which of course make them harder to spot. But apart from that their just don't seem to be many stories of encounters with hares in Taiwan; it was hard enough just to find a single photo on the internet (above link), so I wonder if it is not just the humans that are less than prolific procreators – perhaps even the rabbits of Taiwan are not breeding like rabbits?

 
 



Apr 25 2011
Briton promotes Taiwanese bubble tea
Me, I'm not really a fan. I can't decide if it's a food or a drink. Assad Khan, on the other hand, loves it so much he opened his own store selling Taiwan bubble tea in London.
read story

 
 



Apr 20 2011
Eating meat sliced from a live donkey – true or urban myth?

Is live donkey meat Chinese food?

Chinese food has a reputation for 'exotic' dishes. Thanks to the Chinese bent for lyricism the only exotic thing about some of them is the name, (for example, 'tiger bites pig' is in fact pork in a steamed bun). Many dishes however are truly exotic, enough so to be challenging even for some Chinese.

Recently reading about donkey meat I came across disturbing 'reports' that there is a practice in China called huo jia lü (活家驢). A donkey is tethered on the ground, a patch of hair is removed, slices of meat are cut from the live animal's body, and then eaten. All the while of course, the poor animal lies braying in agony. See these sites (you'll need to scroll down): The 6 Most Sadistic Dishes From Around The World, Top 10 Foods From Around The World You Could Not Pay Me Enough Money To Eat 

A horrendous story, but is it true? 

There is nothing on either of these sites to indicate anything more than the regurgitation of sensational rumours – no credible source, or eyewitness reports. Of the two photos, one shows a donkey tethered on the ground, and nothing more; the other shows clearly a donkey being slaughtered; hardly evidence of slicing meat from live donkeys.

This article, Recipes for cruelty, appears somewhat more credible as it at least sources its claim. That source, Shanghai 'gastronome' Jiang Liyang, says the practice, "still persists among farmers in some villages in Henan and Hebei provinces. The legs and head of a donkey were held by cords fixed to five poles. The diners could choose meat from whichever part of the donkey they wanted. A butcher would pour boiling water onto the part selected, remove the hair and cut the meat off while the donkey was still alive. The process was similar to an ancient torture called "ling chi", to put a person to death by slow dismemberment." 

But again, where is the evidence? And, even in the event that the taste of these farmers of Henan and Hebei runs to such exotica, they must surely be wealthy if they can afford to waste a valuable work animal. Even if old and unable to work, a donkey would fetch good money if sold to a butcher.

I put the question to the UK-based The Donkey Sanctuary, which promotes donkey welfare in many countries including China. They are an organisation you would expect to have a built-in highly sensitive radar for this kind of misbehaviour, but they have never seen or heard of such a practice.

And with that, I would like to be able to file this story in the urban myth category, but in the interest of truth let's cast the net wider: has anybody seen or heard of people eating meat sliced from a live donkey in China? Post a comment or email me: stephen.jack at me.com

* Ling chi (凌遲) is also known as 'death of a thousand cuts.'

 
 



Apr 9 2011
In China, a donkey for the pot
I knew there were plenty of donkeys in China – the sight of rawboned animals pulling carts is still common in the north – but only recently did I find out just how many: seven million, more than any other country. The donkey's value as a workhorse however has never completely spared it from the butcher's block. Indeed, the regard with which donkey meat is held in some areas is encapsulated in this saying: "In heaven, dragon meat, on earth, donkey meat." (天上龍肉,地上驢肉上). In other words, only God in heaven can eat meat more delicious.

According to E. N. Anderson donkey was commonly eaten during the Song Dynasty (960–1279). In the past most donkey meat came from animals at the end of their working life – meat guaranteed to be about as tender as pine bark, unless stewed for a long time. These days with motorised transport, the donkey's value as a cart animal or beast of burden is not what it once was, and the donkey is increasingly raised for the pot, its flesh selling for higher prices than beef or mutton in Beijing markets.

I have eaten donkey meat many times on trips to Shanxi, and it is flavoursome, and perhaps depending on how it is cooked, is redder than beef or mutton. I remember eating on two or three occasions a cold, jellied meat dish, a donkey aspic, that was excellent. There are many other dishes including a donkey sandwich, (which sounds delicious), stewed donkey, and as with other animals, most parts of the donkey are eaten for food or medicine.

 
 



Mar 31 2011
Taiwan trains get dining upgrade
The bian dang (便當) or Taiwanese bento, is boxed, takeaway food, typically rice with meat and vegetables, and soup on the side. The best ones – and they can be very good – you make up yourself from a wide range of dishes sold in cafeterias. The Taiwan Railways has been selling their 'famous' version on station platforms and from carts on trains for decades: rice, pork, vegetables, an egg, and a slice of Japanese style yellow pickled radish. No choice of meat or veges, no soup.

'Famous' perhaps, but their meals are a bunch of overcooked crap that is in no way improved by the hours it sits stuffed in the box before anybody eats it (lunchbox photo). Unfortunately, it has always been hard to convince Taiwanese that fame and quality are not synonyms. The pull, if there is one (and let's face it, unless you bring your own food, once you board a train their bian dang is the only game in town), of the railway lunch boxes is a nostalgic appeal that harks back to days long gone when the country was poor, life was simpler and riding the rails with a box of takeaway food on your lap was an event to be treasured.

Now according to this story Taiwan Rail have updated their lunch boxes, promising nutritious food, and even choices. That is good news but still I hope they don't ever completely nix the classic lunch box. I have been Taiwan-side long enough to know that the Taiwan train journey would not be the same without that second-rate traveller comfort food.

More on lunch boxes

 
 



Mar 10 2011
Obama and Aussie PM at loggerheads over Vegemite
Barack Obama turns on the charm as he introduces Julia Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister, but the whole episode nearly spills over into a major diplomatic incident when he attacks Australia's culinary gift to the world, Vegemite

Watch video

 
 



Mar 9 2011
Pucker up – eating vinegar
If you have ever chomped, chewed, gulped, or even smelt something that shocked or repulsed your senses – chilli, wasabi, lemon juice, stilton cheese,  stinky tofu, (other?) spoiled food – doubtlessly you puckered up immediately. In China that unsightly creased face embodies resentfulness. For example, to speak of a person in a relationship with another as 'eating vinegar,' chi cu, (吃醋) indicates jealousy, the cause of which is likely a perceived interloper.

 
 



Mar 5 2011
Don't call me a foodie
Last time I was back in Australia, I was at a restaurant and was introduced to the owner as, "This is Steve. He's a major foodie." For a second I thought it was someone else being spoken of, then I slowly processed what was being said: Steve (that's me) … a … major … foodie.

You can imagine my reaction. Or maybe not.

I was taken aback, for sure, and really embarrassed. 

Later I thought about my reaction. I had never before thought of myself as a foodie, never called myself one, and no one had ever called me one (probably only because I live in a Mandarin-speaking environment), and now when someone had, it made me instantly uncomfortable. Yet by any definition I am a F-O-O-D-I-E. Why can't I just admit it, accept it? 

Maybe it's because I don't like voguish words (though foodie is not that new), or maybe I suffer the delusion that I am better than those mere foodies? Maybe I just can't face the truth?

Go on – I am telling myself now – just spit it out, a therapy-like type thing. Just say, I am a foo … I am a foooo … 

Silly isn't it?

 
 



Jan 29 2011
Is the Bunny Sweat Phenomenon a miracle?

Steve Fenton

You won't believe this but it's true.

Just days before Lunar New Year, the Year of the Rabbit, I was cycling in the hills east of Taichung. It was sunny but cool and windy, and I was with Pro-Lite Steve. We had done an easy circuit and were climbing one more hill before dropping down to East Mountain Road, then back to Daken. I was trailing Steve, when just at the crest of the hill I looked up and saw a dark stain form on his back. At first I thought it was just a shadow cast by bamboo, but we were moving and this 'shadow' was still on his back. I told him to pull up – by now we were in clear sunlight, and his shirt was sweat-marked in the perfect image of a rabbit's head! What's more, other than his back, neither of us were hot or sweating at all. 

Luckily Steve was packing a camera and I was able to get the shot above. When I went closer to examine the shirt, I smelt an odd but somehow familiar odour. It was the smell of rabbit; rabbit sweat. How do I know that? I know that because as a kid in Australia I hunted rabbits with a ferret. I know what a rabbit smells like (and believe me, they smell better than the ferret).

On the ride home I deliberately rode behind Steve to see what happened to the sweat mark, and I can tell you it did not grow, and it did not fade or dry out. 

And this is the final weird thing: Steve called me a day later and said after he had washed his cycling clothes using – "the full hot water cycle, like I always do" – and dried them on the line, the sweat mark was still on the shirt, and it was wet and still smelled of rabbit! I can't verify this as I didn't see the cleaned shirt but I am trusting him not to pull my leg.

What it means I can only guess. Neither he or I are even Rabbit people. I feel though it must be a good omen, at least for Steve, or perhaps the whole world? Is it too early to call it a miracle? 

This is bound to be the next internet sensation, so tell your friends now and get the kudos for breaking the Bunny Sweat Phenomenon to them before they hear about it on Twitter or the national news. 

 
 



Jan 19 2011
Tofu 'soaks up' the flavours of surrounding liquids – BULLSHIT it does!

tofu and soybeans

I have been reading up on tofu recently, and I keep bumping into the assertion that placed in a dish with other ingredients tofu 'soaks up' surrounding flavours. Here is a typical example: "In recipes, tofu acts like a sponge and has the miraculous ability to soak up any flavor that is added to it." It is a claim I can find no justification for, and after reading it again and again it seemed as parroted as 'Polly wants a cracker.' Is this just overreach by an over-enthusiastic soy-health food industry eager to negate the belief that tofu is bland? But I wondered too if there was not some logic to the sponge theory. It is, after all quite easy to express liquid from tofu; perhaps tofu can just as easily reabsorb liquid and any flavour it contains?

I thought a little experiment was in order, so I added three tablespoons of curry powder to half a litre of water and brought it to a boil. Then from a tub of firm or regular tofu, I cut out a roughly 3 x 3 cm cube and placed it carefully in this pungent, colourful liquid. I covered the pot and simmered for 30 minutes. Then I poured the curry sauce and tofu gently into a container, and covered it with an airtight lid.

12 hours later I poured off the curry sauce. The tofu was beautifully curry-stained for sure, but when I sliced it open, the stain had penetrated no further than 1 mm into the surface. Apart from that the cube was white. I spooned out some of the white centre and ate it, and in spite of the fact that without a peg on the nose it is hard to separate taste from smell – there seemed to be no curry flavour whatsoever.

Now, I am no chemist, so I will be happy to have someone in the know explain why I am wrong, but until then I cannot possible see why tofu, firm or soft, is thought to more absorbent than a potato, a carrot or even unglazed pottery. The only 'miracle' about this tale seems to be our miraculous capacity for received wisdom.

 
 



Jan 12 2011
Exotic Chinese food: Jellyfish

Chinese Jellyfish dish

"It came from the deep and became a 'happy meal.'"
A Kiwi tries jellyfish, shui mu ('water mother/medusa') and discovers a fascinating new texture.

 
 



Jan 11 2011
And the top 10 Chinese restaurants in America are …
The 7th Annual Top 100 Chinese Restaurants Ranking was held in San Francisco on Monday. Here is the top 10.

 
 



Jan 9 2011
Top 100 Chinese Restaurants Awards
The 7th Annual Top 100 Chinese Restaurants Ranking* is being held in San Francisco on Monday, January 10 with TV chef Martin Yan hosting. more

Awards shows, inclusion in Michelin Guides … what's all this? Looks like Chinese cuisine is finally earning some respect. That it ever needed recognition or respect will be a surprise to most of the 1.3 million people in China.

* In North America.

 
 



Jan 5 2011
Got a cold, bad skin? I know four gods that can help

Four gods soup

The cold saga continues. On Monday the temperature dropped to 8 ºC – that is considered really cold in these parts. As soon as the temperature drops below 15 ºC, Taiwanese insulate their heads with woolly hats and their bodies with Michelin man-like down jackets. And what do they use as feet warmers? Thongs, nothing but a pair of thongs!

Anyway, on Monday my wife's cold took a turn for the worse (that is when I suggested she put on a pair of socks). She lost her voice, not a good thing for a teacher. My son, not to be left out, caught the bug, notably with fever and headache. Both spent the day at home in the recumbent position. I couldn't feed them anymore chicken soup; we have all had enough of that. Then I remembered the 'four gods soup' (si shen tang (四神湯) from the Jungong First Home of Gua Bao. One of the owners, Mrs. Lin had told me, "It protects you from influenza and is good for your skin," so off I went for three gua baos and three bowls of the soup. The gua baos, of course were scoffed down quickly. Personally I am not a big fan of pig's intestine. It can be fatty and usually has the texture of a Staedtler eraser. These guts though were good guts. Very fresh, tender and not chewy in the slightest. My son, who I expected to turn his nose up at a bowl full of pig gut, slurped down his soup without a grumble. Perhaps it helped too that, as a teenage lad with a few pimples, he knows that jobs tears, another ingredient of the soup, are supposed by Chinese to be good for the skin.

 
 



Jan 3 2011
Gua bao
割包 Taiwan Pork Burger
Jungong First Home of Gua Bao

Taiwan steamed Pork Burger

It is as if long ago a voice from above instructed two cooks, an American and a Taiwanese, to each independently create a filling hot snack that consisted of a large piece of meat encased in a round bread bun. We all know the American came up with hamburger. The Taiwanese created gua bao, stewed pork belly garnished with peanut powder, cilantro, and pickled mustard cabbage wrapped in a steamed bun. 

While it is easiest to describe gua bao as a Chinese pork burger, it is best not to as gua bao is not some lame Sinofied hamburger but a genuinely original Chinese creation, and if you are looking for a minor variant on the hamburger experience, you'll be disappointed. That's why from here on I'm going to dispense with the term 'burger' altogether.

Gua bao is a traditional Taiwan snack typically sold from street stalls particularly at night markets. Sometimes it is known as 'tiger bites pig,' in reference to the white bun enclosing a lump of pork (tiger's jaws clamped around a pig, get it?). As a gua bao suggests a wallet enclosing money (the bun, the wallet; the filling, the money, get it?) eating it is thought to bring fortune (cash) in the coming year, though less common these days, it was once always on the menu for Taiwanese year-end weiya staff banquets, though often with high-end fillings.

A year ago in narrow Junhe Street, in the central Taiwan city of Taichung I discovered a small nondescript restaurant – Jungong First Home of Gua Bao –  that makes the finest gua bao I have eaten in Taichung or anywhere in Taiwan. 

Chinese pork belly
Pork belly & steamed buns
Mrs. & Mr. Lin of Jungong First Home
Mrs. & Mr. Lin of Jungong First Home of Gua Bao

Owners Mr. and Mrs. Lin sold gua bao in a Taipei night market for 20 years, before migrating to Taichung a couple of years ago in search of a quieter life, better weather, and relief for Mrs. Lin's respiratory allergies. As business is good at Jungong First Home, they failed on the first count, but succeeded on the latter two. 

Except for the bread buns the Lins make all the ingredients themselves, and that freshness shows through. Mr. Lin explains that using bread that is very 'Q' (chewy, supple) and cooking the pork belly to perfection are key to a great gua bao. Certainly the pork, which is stewed in a lu wei (spiced soy sauce) mixture for an hour and left to steep overnight, is succulent, but it is also the way they use pork at Jungong First Home that is important; and they use it unsparingly, cramming the buns full of it. 

One caveat: the peanut powder in gua bao is sugared, giving it a peculiarly Taiwanese sweet twist to an otherwise savoury snack. You can ask them to leave it out if you like by saying, Bu yao hua sheng fen.

As is the custom for gua bao vendors, the menu at Jungong First Home is brief, running to three items only. The other two are run bing and si sheng tang. Run bing (潤餅) is deep-fried pork slices with a varied salad wrapped in a crepe, a delicious and slightly crunchy spring roll. Si shen tang (四神湯), 'four gods soup,' is sliced pig's intestine, herbs, jobs tears, Chinese yam (the four gods), cooked up with a large pork bone in a generous measure of rice wine. It is a dish according to Mrs. Lin that is fortifying. "It protects you from influenza and is good for your skin." 

All three dishes are NT35 each. If you don't fancy gut soup, there is a good miso soup on hand for free.

Jungong First Home of Gua Bao is only five minutes from my house, so I am not moving until they do. 

Jungong First Home of Gua Bao
119 Junhe St,
Beitun District,
Taichung
(Near the corner of Dongshan and Jungong Roads). 
軍功一割包
台中市北屯區軍和街119號
Hours: 10.30 am – 7.30 pm
Tel: 04 2437 2501

This restaurant and Eating China are featured on the Wall Street Journal website.


View Jungong First Home of Gua Bao (軍功一割包) in a larger map

If you can't make it to Jungong First Home or buy gua bao somewhere else, you can try this recipe at Egg Wan or this one.

 
 



 
 
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