Taipei Air Station - 1966 - - - " What you have in the end are memories"......... Photo Courtesy of Richard Reesh.

Friday, October 29, 2010

From a Yankee Notebook " CALORIES PERSONIFIED"


Duncan Hines never had it so good.

Here in Taiwan there is the most amazing conglomeration of food items offered to folks that has ever been gathered together.

I will save the larger restaurants and more exotic foods to talk about at some other time.  For today, I want to take you where angels and the more timid natives of the island, fear to tread.

How many times have you passed through the streets at night and seen the little handcarts topped with a glass-inclosed box that has a small lamp burning inside?  And seeing this cart, at the same time your nose has become entangled with the most fragrant odors; odors that tantalize and enchant, stimulate and attract.  And having heard the little bell on the handle ringing and the attendant calling out the strange sound of his wares, have you entertained a desire to try, just once, some of the food?

Sometime, take yourself up on that dare.  Gird your loins, wave aside all thoughts of paregoric and similar antidotes for the Taiwan "curse" and launch yourself into a real adventure in good eating.

Here are a few suggestions:

"Huin tun," silk-thin strips of dough wrapped around infinitesimal dots of meat and vegetable, spiced and seasoned to the perfect degree.  Dropped into boiling, clear broth for a few moments and then lifted steaming and fragrant into a bowl that leaves them swimming in a pool of their own juices; pass the chopped onions please; just a sprinkle, and "heaven at last."

"Chao tse," second brother to the "huin tun," a heftier, solider brother and loaded with chopped meat, spices and just enough vegetables to  compliment the taste.  I  like a little vinegar with these, but  if  you prefer the saltier taste, try some "chiang yu" or as you probably know it better, "soy sauce."

If this diet seems a trifle pallid, spice it up !  There is a tray of boiled eggs, fresh from the farm and soaked in soy sauce brine until they are the color of ripe olives.  Sliced with just a touch of bean-curd, they add sparkle and zest to whatever you might have chosen before.

Supplement the first dishes with a few slices of roast beef which has been slowly browned with a constant basting of sugar and sauces.  The result;  try it and see.  For, how would you  know that the flavor, by some mysterious process known only to those who prepare this delicacy, goes through-out the meat - even to the very center.

You have to be an early riser or a late go-to-bed-er to try this one.  The little stands you see between two and eight o'clock in the morning parked along under the arcades with steaming pots of what looks like milk, but is really bean-curd whey. This is called "chang;" why I'll never know - but I don't care because I just eat it.

You can have it this two ways.  Sweet? this is very simple - two or three heaping spoons of sugar in a large bowl and in goes the "Chang."   Presto - you are served !

If you like it salty the process is more complicated.  A pinch of this, a handful of that; some crumpled slivers of dried meat, a bit of dried shrimp for flavor together with soy-sauce, red-pepper sauce and oil and there it is.  Like it ?

But the secret of eating "chang" either sweet or  salty is to eat it in the company of the first cousin to the butter-waffle, the oil slick or "yu-tiao."  These clever twists of dough are squeezed together and dropped into a vat of boiling oil which makes them puff up  like a proud French doughnut.  Brown and nutty-sweet, they  go might good with almost anything, but especially with "chang."

And the really sophisticated people never eat their first two "yu-tiao" alone.  They make a sandwich with "shao ping," a folded, browned crust of bread, the center of which is lightly sprinkled with oil and chopped, green chives.  With a "yu-tiao" folded twice and crushed between the slabs of "shao ping" you are really eating in style.  Would you like another bowl?

The cost of this feast?  I almost forgot to tell you.  If you ate some of everything I have described for you, and two men couldn't; if you asked even for seconds on the particular dish you liked best, and finally handed over a ten dollar bill, "Taiwan money that is" - you would still get a dollar back in change.

It's wonderful to eat like a gourmet for the price of a tip in a "ham-'n-egg joint back home, where you  really have to worry  about grease and ulcers and indigestion.

Let's have another "yu-tiao."

Reprinted with permission.

Let's review Joe's food suggestions, here are a few photos.


"Back in the Day" you may have been on a Taiwan street, late at night or early in the morning,  sitting at a table or standing close to a food cart having a dish or two of these tasty entrees....  Mmmm good!    Not-withstanding most food carts were "off limits" during much of our time.


Anonymous said...

Chao tse for the win! I'm jealous!

Don said...

Chao tse were my favorite when I was there in the mid-1970s. I still enjoy them here in the States.

But when I think of those food stands, the delicious stuff described in the article aren't what come to mind first. I'll never forget dried octopus tentacles, which they use to heat up on the grill and put into a paper bag. I tried them once. Just once.

There was another item sold by those vendors, but I never figured out what it was, but I THINK it might have been dried shrimp or something similar. I remember it piled high on the cart and you could smell it from a half-block away.

titojohn said...

Who can ever forget the smell of stinky tofu or chòu dòufu? If you can get past the smell, it's really pretty good tasting.

Burt Schneider said...

Hao chi! You're making me hungry. Good job on posting the Joe Brooks material.

Luther Deese said...

饺子or餃子, 酸辣湯, 糖醋里脊,燒餅。。。 都非常好吃--而且bu很貴 。

Luther Deese said...

饺子or餃子, 酸辣湯, 糖醋里脊,燒餅。。。 都非常好吃--而且bu很貴 。