開陽白菜 Chinese Cabbage with Dried Shrimp

Recently I was looking through my beginners Chinese textbook from Tunghai University in Taichung. I was doing a little reviewing on account that over the past couple years I have had little regular practice conversing in Mandarin and therefor last year’s trips to Taiwan were a bit of a wake up call. Though the review ended up being a bit of a nostalgia trap, oh the memories, those carefree days filled with studying and confusion.

However, in one of the chapters I had more or less forgotten about there was a list of Chinese dishes that the teachers at the Chinese Language Center, who also happen to write the textbooks, feel that it is compulsory to know. Such as Mapo Tofu and Kung Pao Chicken. Among the short list of dishes is one that is so common in Taiwan that you don’t even notice it after a while. In fact I make some version of it so often that I don’t even think about it. It is just there on the table next to rice and some sort of main dish. But like all supporting roles, a meal just wouldn’t be the same without it.

Of course I am referring to 開陽白菜 (kāi yáng bái cài) Chinese Cabbage with Dried Shrimp. That slightly homely, unassuming, ubiquitous vegetable dish that just happens to be at almost every meal, but I seem to have not bothered to write about. Because, you know, it will always be there. Well finally maybe I should bring it out into the spotlight.

Incidentally 開陽 (kāi yáng) refers to the dried shrimp (蝦米 xiā mi) in the dish that gives it a wonderful umami flavor that is quickly addictive. But the thing is I don’t understand this particular moniker for the dried shrimp or its etymology. I mean yes I can directly translate it (開陽 = open sun), but that does not make it make sense. Perhaps it is due to the color of the shrimp. Anyway if anyone wants to let me know, I am all ears.

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Recipe:

  • 21 oz. (600 g./about half a head) of Chinese/Napa Cabbage
  • 3 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 T. dried shrimp 蝦米 (more or less depending on personal preference)
  • 1 T. minced garlic
  • 3/4 c. of chicken stock
  • 1/2 t. of salt
  • 1/4 t. of sugar
  • 1 t. of corn starch mixed with 1 T. of cold water
  • 1 t. of sesame oil

Method:

  1. Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms and the dried shrimp in warm water for about 30 minutes. Then slice the mushrooms and roughly chop the shrimp.
  2. Roughly chop the Chinese cabbage into bite size pieces, wash and drain.
  3. Heat a wok over medium high heat until hot. Add 2 T. of oil.
  4. To the hot wok add the garlic, sliced mushrooms and dried shrimp, stir fry until fragrant.
  5. Then add the chopped cabbage and chicken stock. Stir, cooking until the cabbage is just tender.
  6. Then add the salt, and sugar.
  7. Add the cornstarch and water mixture stirring a few times until the liquid thickens a little.
  8. Remove from heat and add the sesame oil.
  9. Place in a serving bowl and if you would like you can add some cilantro for garnish.
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傳統油飯 Traditional Taiwanese Sticky Rice

One of my favorite foodstuffs in the world is glutenous rice. The QQ texture is just something I love. Whether it is ground into chewy mochi or in more hearty forms such as zongzi. Lucky for me, and not at all surprising, the Taiwanese also hold a special regard for glutenous rice. In Taiwan a traditional use of glutenous rice is in 油飯 (yóu fàn), literally “oil rice.” Perhaps not the best sounding name in English, so I think maybe “Taiwanese Sticky Rice” is probably the best English name I have come across.

油飯 is a very common celebration and festival food in Taiwan. It is often served to celebrate the birth of a child, at New Year’s meals, and at temple celebrations. But it is also not at all uncommon to find 油飯 in more everyday settings as well. In fact my favorite place to get油飯 is on the station platform at Taichung’s train station. It is one of my favorite parts of the railroad experience in central Taiwan, something I always look forward to. Something to snack on while the trains speeds through the rice paddies of the southern plain.

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A quick snack for the train

The ubiquitous presence of 油飯 is possibly owing to the simplicity of it. Even though it is a pretty rich dish it is essentially fried (glutenous) rice. It is a little more involved than regular fried rice, as in there is a steamer involved (twice), but nothing too daunting. There is also nothing too exotic about the ingredients. Though I would suggest finding long grained glutenous rice (長糯米 zhǎng nuò mǐ) which is favored by the Taiwanese for glutenous rice dishes. It tends to hold its shape better than the short grained variety. Fortunately long grained glutenous rice is pretty easy to track down at most any SE Asian market.

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I am going to pass on a traditional and simple recipe for 油飯 though there are numerous variations and manifestations. Such as there are braised peanuts (滷花生 lǔ huā shēng) in the 油飯 I get from the train station from Taichung, which I really like. Some people like to substitute sesame oil for some of the oil or lard used in the recipe. This gives it a pleasant flavor and aroma, just remember to substitute not add extra. As the addition of too much oil makes it unpleasantly greasy.

Recipe:

  • 3 c. (600g) long grained glutenous rice
  • 7 oz. (200g) pork belly, cut into thin strips*
  • 5-10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and sliced
  • 2 T. (30g) dried shrimp, soaked and chopped
  • 8 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 4 T. lard
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 3 T. soy sauce
  • 1/2 c. (100 ml) stock
  • 2 T. rice wine
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of white pepper
  • fresh cilantro leaves (and maybe some chili sauce)

Method:

  1. Wash and soak the long grained glutenous rice for at least 5 hours.
  2. Soak the dried mushrooms and dried shrimp in warm water for 30 minutes. Then slice the mushrooms and roughly chop the shrimp.
  3. Line a steamer basket with cheese cloth or other similar light fabric.  Place the soaked rice in the lined steamer and steam on high for about 30 minutes. Until the grains are translucent and tender.
  4. While the rice is steaming heat your wok over medium high heat. To the hot wok add the 4 T. of lard (or oil). Once the lard is hot add the sliced shallots. Fry until lightly golden brown.
  5. Next add the sliced mushrooms, chopped dried shrimp Stir fry until fragrant.
  6. Then add the sliced pork and fry until it changes color.
  7. Add the sugar, soy sauce, stock, rice wine, salt and white pepper.
  8. Lower the heat to low then add the steamed glutenous rice. Carefully and slowly mix in the rice until it is fully combined. Remove from heat.
  9. Place the rice mixture into a heat proof bowl(s) that fits in your steamer. Place the bowl(s) of rice mixture into a steamer and steam for a further 10 minutes.
  10. Serve with chopped cilantro and some chili sauce if so desired.

* If you would like you can marinate the sliced pork in a mixture of 1 T. rice wine, 1 T. soy sauce, and 1 t. of corn starch, for 30 minutes prior to frying. Strictly speaking it is not necessary, but it is totally worth it. Also you really can use whatever cut of pork you want, some prefer leaner cuts.

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炸豆渣塊

炸豆渣塊 (zhà dòu zhā kuài) I guess you could call them “Vegetarian Nuggets.” Literally it translates as “deep fried soybean dregs pieces,” so that is might not be the best name for them. Basically when you make soy milk or tofu you end up with a bunch of leftover ground soybean dregs that you have to find a use for and these nuggets are one of those uses.

Often I use the leftover soybean dregs in Biji Jjigae, but I am always looking for other uses for the stuff. I came across this recipe a while back and I was excited to try it. It reminded me some of the things I find in some of the vegetarian Buddhist restaurants I like to visit on occasion when I am in Taiwan. I am not a vegetarian per say, but I like the artistry that goes into the variety of textures and flavors they create.

This is a really easy recipe, especially if you have a digital scale, but if not, an old school scale works just fine. But do pay attention to the order of addition of the ingredients for best results.

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Recipe:

  • 7 oz. (200g) soybean dregs/pulp
  • 1-2 slices of fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 oz. (30g) corn or tapioca starch
  • 5 T. (75ml/g) water
  • 2 1/2 oz. (70g) all purpose flour
  • Dipping salt (salt mixed with white pepper or 5 spice powder) (optional)
  • oil for deep frying

Method:

  1. To the soybean dregs add the minced fresh ginger and corn starch and mix in.
  2. Add 5 T. to water and mix in. To that mix in the 2 1/2 oz. (more or less) of flour to form a dough that is easy to mold. (Not so soft that it doesn’t hold its shape, not so dry that it falls apart.)
  3. Form the dough into little nuggets about the size and shape of chicken nuggets.
  4. In a deep pan heat a few inches of oil to 320° F or 160° C.
  5. A few at a time add the nuggets to the hot oil, fry for about 5 or 6 minutes. Until the nuggets float to the top and turn golden brown.
  6. Remove to a draining rack.
  7. Serve with a dipping salt or dipping sauce. Or you could even use them in stir fry dishes such as a sweet and sour.

 

 

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排骨炆菜頭 Pork Ribs Braised with Radish

Being that the Lunar New Years Celebration is just behind us I should have gotten this recipe out a bit earlier. Considering that it uses one of the auspicious symbols of the New Years, the daikon/white radish. Not to mention this recipe is a Hakka dish that is often associated with the New Years celebration. In fact it is one of the eight traditional dishes of the Hakka celebrations, the so called  四炆四炒 (sì wén sì chǎo), four braised and four stir fried dishes.

So here it is  a bit late, the Hakka recipe for 排骨炆菜頭 (pái gǔ wén cài tóu or in Hakka: pai  gud vun lo ped e) or Pork Ribs Braised with Radish.

It is wonderful and wonderfully simple dish that is easy enough to make whenever you would like and it is really nice in those cold winter nights. Or when you have a banquet to prepare for whatever the case may be.

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排骨炆菜頭

Recipe:

  • 1 & 1/2 lbs. (600 g.) pork ribs (split)
  • 1 lb. (500 g.) daikon/white radish, sliced or cubed
  • 1  carrot (optional), sliced
  • 1 inch knob of ginger, sliced thin
  • 4 c. (800 ml) water
  • 1 T. rice wine
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. ground white pepper
  • 1 T. fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Method:

  1. split the ribs apart and blanch in boiling water for a couple minutes
  2. Place the blanched ribs, water, rice wine, and ginger in a pot and bring to a boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer the ribs for about 30 minutes. (Skim off any scum and foam that forms.)
  3. Add the the sliced or cubed daikon/white radish and the sliced carrot and simmer for a further 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
  4. Add the ground white pepper and salt. Gently stir in.
  5. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the chopped cilantro leaves.
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蘿蔔燒肉 Braised Pork and Daikon Radish

It has been a while since I had time to post a recipe so I thought I would start with a very simple one. A home style version of 蘿蔔燒肉 (luó bo shāo ròu), braised pork and daikon radish. A little bit sweet, a little bit salty, a bit of spice from the radish, it is a great dish for the winter months. Nice and hearty.

The 蘿蔔 (luó bo) aka Chinese White Radish, aka Daikon (I will use daikon, because I think that most people are familiar with that moniker in english) is popular in winter dishes in many parts of East Asia. For pretty much the same reasons that root crops are traditionally popular in the west during the winter…they store well. Of course I had to drive to bloody Utica to find one.

But it is well worth it as they are of great use in the kitchen.

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Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium daikon radish (about 600g)
  • 1 lb (500g) pork shoulder
  • 3-4 slices of ginger
  • 1 c. water
  • 3 T. soy sauce
  • 2 T. rice wine
  • 2 T. sugar

Method:

  1. Peal the daikon radish, quarter lengthwise, then cut the quarters into 1/2 to 3/4 inch segments.
  2. Cube the pork (about 1 & 1/2 inch pieces).
  3. Heat a wok over high heat, when hot add 1 T. of oil.
  4. To the wok add the cubed pork, stir fry until browned, add the ginger stir fry for a few seconds until fragrant, then add the cubed daikon radish and stir fry for a few more seconds.
  5. Then add the water, soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar.
  6. Cover the wok, reduce the heat to medium and braise the pork and daikon radish for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the radish is translucent.
  7. Uncover and cook on high until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Just enough to to glaze the pork and radish.

 

 

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猴年快樂!

猴年快樂! Happy Year of the Monkey!

This last year was a very busy year. With two trips to Taiwan, a month in the (unusually hot and dry) Pacific Northwest, and various trips around the Mid Atlantic and New England states to see friends and attend a couple of weddings (one Korean American in DC, the other Chinese American in Flushing! Both had a lot of food). Then came Fall with the preparation for another move. My better half accepted a better position in upstate New York. So with the New Year comes a whole set of new things that a new location brings. Not the least of which is, where in the hell is the nearest Asian market?

Knowing for some time that I was to leave New England filled me with a sense of urgency to visit many of the places I will miss most. Whether that be the simple simple and oft visited places such as the Asian and Middle Eastern markets of Rolfe Square in Cranston (mostly to stock up). Or the more occasionally visited, such as Boston’s Chinatown or Newport RI.

Really there are so many things that I will miss about New England that it is not even possible to start to list them. There are a lot of things drive me nuts to, but nostalgia tends towards the former.

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Penang Malaysian restaurant in Boston

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Scotch Eggs at the White Horse Tavern (Est. 1673) in Newport RI

So all I can say to New England is “fair thee well” for now.

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Though to be quite honest I have not quite wrapped my head around my own little ‘Journey to the West.’ But I am sure I will get use to it.

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Burger (and fries) and Poutine at the No. 10 Tavern in Hamilton

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Taitung, There and Back Again

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OK, only getting this written two months after the fact, but hey I’ve been busy.

I seldom seem to take the train directly from Taichung to Taitung, but with little time to spare on this trip there was no stop off in the southwest of the island. There is lots of new rail line construction in that part of the country and the new elevated tracks allows for a whole new view of Pingtung. And next time when I do have time I think I may have to explore the temples on the south side of the rail station, the side of Pingtung I have never been on.

Lunch was the oil rice, 油飯 (yóu fàn) I got from the stand at the Taichung station. Which happens to be my favorite part of the Taichung station. I hope they don’t do away with the stand when the new station is completed. But I have my fears that “modernization” will mean they do away with the more rustic elements.

By the time the train pulled into Taitung I was getting peckish. So straight after checking in at the usual place I headed to the closest restaurant I could find. Well actually I had one in mind. There was this place across from one of our normal breakfast places that I’ve been eyeing. It said it had Milkfish congee  虱目魚粥 (shī mù yú zhōu) and since my favorite congee stand seems to have closed down I need to shop around for a new place. The congee wasn’t bad, thin like a lot of Taiwanese places and they also had a pretty mean stir fried rice with goat meat. Like I said it was ok, but I am still shopping around for a good southern style congee place.

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Stir fried rice with goat

 

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虱目魚粥 (shī mù yú zhōu)

Speaking of breakfast the next day we were at our usual Mei Mei breakfast stand. I don’t remember the exact address, but both it and the afore mention congee place are both 230something Fujian Rd., just north of the intersection of Fuxing Rd. Honestly I go there because of its proximity to the place we stay  but they do have a pretty good 蛋餅 (dàn bǐng). And that is important because I consider a dàn bǐng essential for a breakfast experience in Taiwan. If you are not familiar with a dàn bǐng think of it as a very thin crepe with an egg and a number of other ingredients of your choosing all rolled up. Simple and perfect.

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蛋餅 (dàn bǐng)

Since it was a short trip there was little in the way of  new ground broken on the food front. Mostly I was just filling in the holes left in this years earlier trip. Which meant I had to to to go back to Seaweed (海草健康輕食館 hǎi cǎo jiàn kāng qīng shí guǎn) for the side dishes they are famous for, their 溏心蛋 (táng xīn dàn).

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溏心蛋 (táng xīn dàn) and a rice bowl

Later that day we were set to have a BBQ with some Amis friends of ours. I do not want add to the (often racist) stereotypes about the indigenous peoples love of drinking and singing. But it was a damn good time…all six hours of it. And I do have some fuzzy recollections of loudly (and probably rather poorly) singing Xiao Mi Jiu (trust me I do not sound good, but it is one of the few mandarin language songs I more or less know) somewhere during the evening.

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The next day we had to move house. The downside of traveling with a very loose itinerary means our usual place was booked up for the weekend with a wedding party. Such as it was. Luckily our friends at Denim Elephant renovated a building for use as a hostel.

So we were saved from being homeless and from the hassle of taking our chances with other economy lodging in town (and also saved from the recent boom of over priced, luxury lodging that has popped up around Taitung). It was my first experience with a hostel. Since we usually travel as couple it is usually more economical to get a room together than to pay per person. But this was still pretty cheap and very, very clean.

The place is called 映像你是我 (yìnxiàng nǐ shì wǒ) it is at 145 Guangdong Rd., Phone # 0972 369145, e-mail 145youandme@gmail.com. Look ’em up if you need a place to stay.

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A room with a view

I noticed that across the intersection (Guangdong Rd. and Zhongzheng Rd.) there was a place called Happy Green Bean Soup 幸福綠豆湯 (xìngfú lǜdòu tāng). I really like 綠豆湯 the barber I had in Taitung always use to bring me a bowl when I went in for a haircut in the summer. Unfortunately he is no longer at the shop, his father still is though and when I went in for a haircut on this trip I had to sit in a lawn chair in the middle of the room, because the old guy is too short to cut my hair when I sit in the barber chair. But I digress.

Back to the desert stand. They have been around for nearly sixty years and really focus on the simple (and cheap) deserts that I love so much about Taiwan in the summer. Simple as it is I really like sweet green bean soup and their shaved ice was nice as well.

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Happy Green Bean Soup

 

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Menu Board

 

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Passion fruit shaved ice

 

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綠豆湯 (lǜdòu tāng), yeah not much to look at, but I like it

The hostel had a couple of quote, unquote “bikes” for patrons use. Being that there was not really enough time to rent bikes from the train station Giant shop and go for a real ride I made due with what was offered. Because no matter how lowly the bike I am never more happy than when pedaling. Especially around the rice fields of Taitung…just don’t ask me to do any hills on this thing.

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Some sort of medieval torture device…

For three days straight I walked past the Green House hoping to find it open. There was no sign of life, no notice that they were on vacation, nothing. I was seriously worried something had happened. Finally on the last day they were open. Oh joy of joys, I was relieved and very happy to get one of the best set meals in Taitung. I was so excited I even ordered the slightly more expensive braised pork intestines meal!

And upon leaving I told the owner that we were worried when we hadn’t found the place open. And I told him how special his drunken chicken is. And how great all his food is. And how every time we come back to Taiwan we have to make a trip to his place. To which he replied in surprise, “you don’t live in Taiwan anymore.” Made me happy that he remembers us and yes I guess we still make a regular enough appearance that he though that maybe we were still on the island.

Walking away my wife says, “I can’t believe you engaged him in conversation.” Yeah, I may have been overwhelmed from the meal and the relief that he was still around. Because I have more or less only heard him speak Taiwanese and he always has a mouth full of betel nut and well my mandarin is pretty poor right now. But it went fine, and I am really happy that he remembers us.

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Braised pork intestines and all the fixins

The next day we were out early and on an unusual course. Generally we always do a full circle around the island. But it was a holiday weekend and while we could get to Hualien, getting from Hualien to Taipei was seriously suspect. So we decided to backtrack to Kaohsiung and take the High Speed Rail (HSR) to Taipei.

Which actually fulfilled a secret wish of mine. I had not been on the HSR since we had somebody else footing the bill for it. Not that it is very expensive, but it is relatively expensive.

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Railway lunchbox stand

We took regular train back through the thirty some tunnels to Kaohsiung (technically Xinzuoying, but it is just north of Kaohsiung). Where we got some lunch boxes and hopped the High Speed Rail like actual middle class people would do. To ride in style and comfort to Taipei.

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Lunchbox, the Alishan edition.

 

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185 mph makes for a damn quick trip from Kaohsiung to Taipei, about an hour and forty minutes total. It is pretty surreal looking at the world pass by at those speeds.

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I am not sure if it was because we did not go all the way around the island or just the short duration of the trip at under two weeks, but it didn’ feel quite like a real trip to Taiwan. Though with all the jet lag it did feel real exhausting.

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