A lot of great food in Taiwan is pretty inexpensive. Therefore, I propose a Pokemon approach, try to catch ’em all. Here is a scavenger hunt list, download a simplified version in hard copy here.
1. Fresh soymilk with fried crullers
I am most nostalgic about breakfast food in Taiwan. On the few trips there when I was a kid, I remember waking up to find my mama already returning from a morning stroll to get Taiwanese breakfast for us, featuring crunchy-flaky fried crullers and fresh warm soymilk, maybe with green onion pancakes.
A hot place to get fresh soy milk in Taipei is: FuHang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿). Expect a long long line, but it’ll be even tastier for having waited. I showed up early and was in line from street-level, up a flight of stairs, and into the food court where they were taking orders.
2. Green onion pancakes
Happiness can be so affordable! When I went, a very good green onion pancake at 北方油餅 (Beifang Green Onion Pancake) was 50NT, about $1.66 USD. I got up early on a Sunday morning to catch one of the first ones and skip the line, and I put on my dorky foreign tourist hat to take a video so you could experience in full color video, the making of a 北方油餅 (Beifang Green Onion Pancake) -with egg! Video is at the bottom of this post so as not to disrupt the flow of your reading. Continue Reading
I love soup. Did I mention I love soup? Predictably, my household caught the sniffles after all that holiday activity and travel, and my mind was filled with thoughts of healing soup. It’s a great way to take a lot of fluids and help you get better. There was this one day where I made two vats of soup for the week, went out to eat for another soup, and made a quick mug of noodle soup before bed. Just soup-er.
This one is creamy despite not having dairy, “thank goodness,” said the lactard. I also did away with the shrimp to eliminate my risk of anaphylactic shock, and took a shot frying tofu on the side. *I had to go to two different stores to get a red curry paste without shrimp paste in it (thank you vegan options), so if you’re going vegetarian check the ingredients listing before buying that. Entertainingly, the original recipe I riffed off is from Whole Foods Market via an Instacart link, see Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup with Shrimp. If you choose tofu as your side protein, read up in step 1 beforehand and adjust your task times accordingly.
These days, my household tries to eat less carb-heavy things on a regular basis, and I’ve taken to making lettuce wraps regularly. One of the first google search results will give you a copycat of the P.F. Chang’s recipe, so that was my jumping off point. Frankly, that is where I’ve eaten most of the lettuce wrap dishes in my life. Not vouching for the authenticity of it here, going there kind of drives me nuts sometimes (okay, every time). I also halved all the sauces from original recipe for a full one pound portion of pork. You’ll want to adjust it to your taste, other people probably like more sweet, oozy sauce than me.
From there, I added things I actually wanted to eat..
1/2 a jicama, julienned
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
1/6 red onion, sliced in thin strips
~1 Tbs orange juice
~1/4 tsp lime rind
~2 tsp lime juice 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
a dash of salt to taste 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
Fresh cilantro sprigs (optional)
substituted: 2 sprigs mint, stems removed and leaves cut in ribbons
Combine first 7 ingredients in a bowl, and toss gently to coat. Let stand 10 minutes. Stir in the mint just before serving. Garnish with mint sprigs, if desired.
Today’s Recipe #1 Rating:
Novelty Rating: 4 of 5 stars.
Never made this before, and it has quite a strong sweet flavor even without sugar. You really get to taste the jicama, which was a novelty to me. I only started buying (and identifying) jicama last year. Likelihood of Repeat: 80%
I think I have a strong bias for salads that don’t involve any leafy greens, bonus points for the use of multiple citrus items. I think I would like to re-try this with some orange slices thrown in too. Lesson Learned: 1/6 of a red onion may still be too much onion to rejoin humanity after eating this.
(2) Summer Rolls & Peanut Sauce
based on an altered recipe based on one from Chow.com
For the peanut sauce:
3/4 cup natural-style creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 1 1/2 medium limes)
4 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons chili-garlic paste
1 medium garlic clove, mashed to a paste –okay, I cheated with pre-chopped garlic from the jar, fresh garlic is too spicy sometimes..
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
For the summer rolls: 24 medium shrimp (about 1 pound), peeled and deveined fried or firm tofu, sliced
1 hank dried rice stick noodles or rice vermicelli
5 (8-1/2-inch) round rice paper wrappers
1/8 cup mung bean sprouts**
4 sprigs fresh mint leaves
32 fresh basil
1/2 medium cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/4-by-1/4-by-2-1/2-inch sticks
3 medium scallions, quartered lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 2-1/2-inch pieces (white and light green parts only) -used chives because i had some
8 butter lettuce leaves cut in half
jicama, julienned (same portion as cukes)
a dash of rice vinegar
For the peanut sauce:
1. Whisk all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl; set aside.
For the summer rolls:
1. Cook the rice noodles according to the package directions. Drain, try rinsing, then tossing with rice vinegar and salt; then separate in clumps for each roll lest the noodles get all stuck together during assembly.
2. Place all of the ingredients in separate piles and arrange them in the following order around a work surface: rice paper wrappers, tofu, rice noodles, bean sprouts, mint, basil, cucumber, scallions, and lettuce.
3. Place a clean, damp kitchen towel on a work surface, or lay out a damp wooden cutting board. Fill a medium frying pan or wide, shallow dish large enough to hold the rice paper wrappers with warm tap water. Working with one wrapper at a time, completely submerge the wrapper until it is soft and pliable, about 15 seconds. Remove the wrapper from the water and place it on the towel/board.
4. Working quickly, lay down ingredients sparsely atop rice wrapper (see picture), adding lettuce last, and mint and chive leaves near end of roll for aesthetics.
5. Fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling. Holding the whole thing firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in. Then, pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire wrapper horizontally up from the bottom to the top.
6. Turn the roll so that the seam faces down and the row of tofu faces up. Place it on a rimmed baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and fillings. Leave 3/4 inch between each summer roll on the sheet so they don’t stick together, and replace the water in the pan or dish with hot tap water as needed.
**If not serving immediately, keep the summer rolls tightly covered with plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 2 hours, OR wrap individually in plastic wrap, then in tightly-covered tupperware to keep overnight (see below for photo). Serve with the peanut sauce for dipping. If you are worried about it drying out, another precaution is to barely coat the outside of the rolls with sesame or olive oil, then wrap. The oil helps hold in the moisture.
Tip 1: Even when I scale down the amounts for the rolls, it’s been good to do the full or at least half portion of the sauce, since that is really the flavor that adds depth to the light crisp summer roll. Tip 2: I keep my coconut flakes in an empty spice container for easy sprinkling over this, yogurts, and desserts. Tip 3: I find my wrapping is more successful when I stretch the wrapper a smidge more than I think it will take. Definitely err on the side of less ingredients when you are first practicing the rolling.
Note: I first tried making these in the height of the Seattle summer (when I didn’t want to cook anything and add heat in a brief “80-degree heat wave”), and I am still using the same bag of rice wrappers, so yes, you will have more leftover, and you can stuff it with whatever leftovers you think will go well.
Today’s Recipe #2 Rating:
Novelty Rating: 2 of 5 stars.
I’ve made it before. I think it’s tasty, but definitely getting a little stale to eat in the winter when I crave potatoes and meat dishes. ..but it tastes so…healthy..
Likelihood of Repeat: 90%
As I mentioned before, I am still using the same packet of rice wrappers from the summer, and plan on continuing to put random ingredients together for a slapdash lunch. You will note the significant difference in length of steps between the two recipes above. That alone may indicate that #1 is going to win out in repeats.. Lesson Learned: I will always, always have leftover filling after I run out of those tasty rice noodles. This, in fact, was the original reason for recipe #1, as jicama only comes in certain sizes, so you’d have to make tons of summer rolls to actually use it up.
**Stay tuned for a future blog post on sprouting mung beans! I’ll do it so you don’t have to try it.
Through the magic of the Internets (i.e. user manuals online) I know that my fancy Sanyo 5-cup rice cooker (a long ago wedding registry gift) can also steam food, make porridge, work like a slow cooker, do all of these things at a set time in the future, and, in theory, make tofu.* Sorry in advance for the length of this entry, but the number of steps and attention to pay corresponds..
Why would anyone make tofu? That’s gross!
No my friend, I love tofu. Not the flavorless, grainy, mealy-textured stuff you find at the Western groceries, no, the soft, velvety smooth (still pretty flavorless) stuff from the Asian groceries, or the stuff they sell in the back of Northwest Tofu, a Seattle-based Taiwanese breakfast establishment. A light, refreshing snack if you cut it cold in chunks, pour a little soy sauce over, and sprinkle lightly with MSG-laden furikake (admittedly not the healthiest choice). ..or a good melt-in-your-mouth mild complement to spicy pork and sauce in mapo tofu. ..or fried tofu, crispy and salty on the outside and melty on the inside, like a deep fried cheese curd but probably better for you. Still not convinced? That’s okay, you can just skip this entry. As for me, I’m stickin’ to my roots and giving this another try (mainly for the novelty).
INTRODUCing first..in the left corner, hailing from Sanyo by way of the internet, our rice cooker tofu-making method,
Northwest Tofu soymilk (unsweetened)
Nigari (leftover from the first failed attempt in my house)
For this one, I just tried to follow the manual instructions to the letter, only moderation was that I started with just-boiled water from the percolator.
1. Rinse tofu container with hot water just before adding ingredients.
2. Add 500 ml (2 cups) boiled water to the outer rice cooker bowl.
3. Add .34 oz (wtf?! Who uses ounces? google told me this was about 2 tsp) nigari, which apparently is “a natural coagulant of magnesium chloride made by evaporating seawater,” per Pat, of The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook.
4. Set rice cooker to ‘tofu’ setting.
5. Push Start.
6. 1 hour later: done.
It looks like so:
Hahahahaha. Steps 4 and 5 are zingers if you don’t have a fancy schmancy rice cooker, right?
AAANNdd in the OPPOSITE CORNER, our manual method, ALSO hailing from the internet, from The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook (a since-defunct website), Homemade Tofu – No Fancy Equipment Necessary!
Northwest Tofu soymilk (500 ml)
~2 tsp epsom salt (who knew you cooked with it?!)
“tofu press,” compliments of Whole Foods’ goat cheese container plus drainage holes:
I’m not going to list all the instructions here since the aforementioned link does it better. Just know that I did half the portions. As I was pouring the soymilk (only bought one day ago!) into the pot to boil, I could smell the aromatic deliciousness and chickened out of making the full 4 cups prescribed, choosing selfishly instead to hoard an additional 2 cups to drink in my morning coffee, or maybe even just warmed up with a little sugar stirred in..mmmmm. Maybe it was the halving of portions (but still boiling in a large pot), or maybe I added too much nigari, or too little, but this one turned out a little firmer than expected. Since I used an old Whole Foods container as a makeshift tofu press (just stuck holes in the bottom for drainage -had to pause while draining to poke the holes bigger-) and I ended up with a surprisingly small amount to work with, I ended up with a bit of a funny round shape, which did not photograph well. However, the flavor was delicious. As of the writing of this I have already ‘snacked’ on half of it!
..and back to the rice cooker tofu:
I noticed I had 8 minutes to spare after making the manual stuff before the cooker was due to be done.
manual (1 hr 5 minutes): 1
rice cooker (42 minutes, may be less because I made so little): 0
How did these two methods stack up?
Time: it’s sort of a toss up, since the manual is shorter, but you don’t have to touch the rice cooker one after you set it. Flavor: manual tastier. About 2/5th of the rice cooker tofu was eaten for dessert at dinner, but only out of politeness and with honey to mask the odd chalky taste. Texture: the rice cooker tofu was lighter and more airy, which is the way I like my tofu. I shouldn’t be too surprised since the other recipe mentioned how the author likes firmer tofu.
Ultimately, manual method wins!
I think taste always trumps texture, since you can do something about texture, but if you start with an awkward taste, it can be hard to escape. If I made a lot more, I could totally turn that manual method tofu into mapo tofu and you wouldn’t care about it being a little firmer. I think next time I’ll try the rice cooker method with epsom salt and see how it goes. It’s possible it has a different coagulation rate and it won’t work at all, but it’s worth a shot.
Also of note: happy birthday to my friend whose birthday was on Sunday! It was an honor to treat you to delicious brunch, and have an excellent excuse to pick up fresh soymilk from Northwest Tofu. You seem wiser and happier with each year, and I wish you many more.
This week’s trial recipe ratings: Novelty Rating: 5 of 5 stars Likelihood of Repeat: 90%
I think next time I’ll try the manual tofu recipe with a little less epsom salt, but in the rice cooker.
*Oh, and you can make hard [over]boiled eggs. Just throw it in with the rice next time and see. Also learned from my manual-reading: turns out my oven has a “Sabbath Mode.” Who knew?
Incidentally, in the course of checking directions on how to steam soft-boiled eggs the other day, I found this article: Surprising Things You Can Cook with a Rice Cooker, with a bunch of appetizing pictures with recipe links. I’ve saved the wheat berry salad and mac & cheese recipes to try later, although I am still a little wary of trying to make anything that needs crunch in a rice cooker. The mac & cheese may be too many intermittent steps, and the delicious-looking Lemony Risotto with Shrimp definitely was. Then you might as well do it on the stovetop.
Let me know if you try any of these and want to do a guest blog post!