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Dec 23 2008

Taiwan 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

17 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.

And that 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 my mouth.

  My Garden

Dec 3 2008

"There 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

All 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 Food Products.'

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 could we?


Oct 16 2008

"All we have is guns and millet."
– Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping to Henry Kissinger, American Secretary of State, Dec. 1974. read more


June 12 2008

The 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

Cook Zongzi for the Dragon Boat Festival
zongzi wrapper
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 recipe.
more about zongzi



May 25 2008

Taiwan 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

"Well, a full belly conquers all."
– From the film Saving Face

Apr 25 2008

More 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

Bitter 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 story



Mar 22 2008

Feng 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, Evelyn Yip



Mar 6 2008

The 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

Grape 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

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

Chinese Steamed Fish
Steam a Fish for Chinese New Year
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

Accidentally Great 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, and garlic.




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



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