Taiwainese classics made easy for the Kiwi kitchen
Back when I was a professional chef working in restaurants, I did a two-week stint as guest chef for the Taipei Hilton. That was my first eye-opening experience of the great food of Taiwan. I was lucky enough to travel there another couple of times and had the same excellent culinary experiences. As a chef I am only really keen to go places where the food interests me and Taiwan has remained on the list. Next time I would like to travel around a bit more to enjoy the diversity found on this unique island. It is less than a third the size of the North Island of New Zealand but has a population of 23 million. The Taiwanese call it the Heart of Asia.
Though it has a reputation as a tech giant, Taiwan has now also become known for its upbeat modern cities, exciting night markets (I can remember the excellent market food and, like other dynamic food cultures, it is always time to eat). There is stunning scenery, traditional temples to visit and one of the best museums, The National Palace Museum, with a collection of amazing Chinese cultural objects estimated at 700,000. For such a conveniently small island, the natural attractions are diverse. Rainforests, the famous Sun Moon Lake, national parks, smaller coastal islands, surf beaches, mountains for hiking and over 150 natural hot springs are some of the things those who like the outdoors can enjoy.
The food in Taiwan is a cross of influences from southern mainland China — especially Fujian, Hunan and Guandong, as well as influences from Shanghai, Sichuan and Beijing. Japan, owing to its occupation of Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, has also had a great influence on the food (the sushi restaurants in Taipei were excellent). Though pork, chicken and seafood are the main proteins, the following Beef Noodle Soup, a meal in itself, has become a classic Taiwanese dish. Steamed buns (bao) filled with pork, pickled cabbage, peanuts and coriander, oyster omelettes and soup dumplings are all signature dishes and featured in my diet while I was there. Taiwan ticks all the boxes for me, good food, great people, lots to see and a modern infrastructure that insures travelling is easy. It must work for other Kiwis too, as 10,000 New Zealanders have visited Taiwan in the past six years.
The following recipes are by Chef Jeff Wu, who has been in New Zealand promoting Taiwan (how better than through food), and I have adapted them for the Kiwi kitchen. Each of these dishes is a classic and easy to make. Some of the ingredients might not be familiar, but I found them easily at my local Chinese shop (with the help of a few Google pages on my phone shown to the helpful staff — people are always interested in you when you are interested in their food).
Creamy rich, cooked salted duck egg yolks are available from Asian grocers. If you can’t get them, leave them out.
Soy sauce paste is a thicker, sweeter version of soy sauce that uses sugar, more wheat and sometimes thickeners in fermentation. It has a sweet and savoury flavour.
Chinese pickled cabbage can be bought canned from Asian grocers. It has a sour pickled flavour like sauerkraut.