Saturday, September 8, 2012

Snack Food in Taichung

These are some of my favorite Taiwanese snacks.


I ate a lot of fruit in Taiwan.  Oftentimes, I would buy it at the morning market but I would also visit various fruit markets.  Here's what a typical fruit shop looks like:

Much of the fruit is local but there are also imports such as apples from Washington state.  Generally though, the fruit available will be what's currently being picked at local farms. My favorite thing about buying fruit in Taiwan is how convenient they make it to eat.  For instance:
Almost all fruit markets have pre-packaged fruit.  It's crazy cheap (usually between $0.50-$1.00 per pack) and almost always cut earlier that day.  In addition, most places also press their own juice, so fresh, unpasteurized O.J. is never far away!  A few people have asked me what my favorite fruit is in Taiwan and it is either a mango varietal called the "Irwin" or some of the tart, white-fleshed pineapple. 

Here's a fun fact:  Did you know that all mangoes imported into the U.S. are required to be treated in a hot water bath in order to kill fruit fly larvae?  I think this might be why grocery store mangoes are, generally, so piss poor.


Fried food is VERY popular in Taiwan and, frankly, what culture DOESN'T love fried chicken?  Go to any night market in Taiwan and you'll find multiple vendors specializing in fried food.  Ordering food at these places is simple.  All you have to do is  tell the person behind the counter what you want and the dollar amount.  They'll measure it out on a little scale and fry it up.  They might, or might not have a choice of flavoring but they'll almost definitely ask you if you want it spicy.  The default seasoning is a little salt, white pepper and Thai basil.  If you are lucky, you'll find a vendor specializing in fried seafood.  Those places are harder to find but well worth seeking out. 
The picture below features french fries and a kind of fried chicken known as yan su ji (鹽酥雞).  Sometimes it is boneless but it is most commonly found on the bone.  The chicken is seasoned and coated in flour, usually rice or sweet potato.  It is one of my favorite things ever but, as is the case with all fried food, not for the diet conscious.  About $1.00 for the fries and chicken. 


Grilled food is very popular in Taiwan and you'll find grilled food stands most everywhere you look.  Again, the ordering process is simple.  First, pick which food you want and place it into a plastic bin.  The vendor will take your bin and ask about seasoning and spice.  He or she will cook your food and you will be on your merry way.     
Here, I've got some finger peppers, mushrooms, cubed beef, strips of bacon rolled around green onion and regular bell pepper.  Each vendor has his or her own set of skewers so it's a little different everywhere you go.  One of my favorite grill places has skewers of chicken skin which, as they cook, baste everything else with delicious chicken fat.  Also, some vendors use vertical, electric grills while others use a horizontal, charcoal grill.  Personally, I think I prefer the slightly charred, singed flavor oil flareups impart on a charcoal grill. 


It's hard to beat a green onion pancake (cong you bing 蔥油餅) for the title of ubiquitous streetside favorite.  It's just a savory, multi-layered piece of dough studded with pieces of green onion.  It can be served with sauce or without and could also be served with an egg.  The dough is prepped ahead of time but is cooked to order on a griddle. I like mine with a little hot sauce.

These things are very popular and it's hard to NOT run into a vendor selling them. 


These (hu jiao bing 胡椒餅) are one of my favorite street eats in Taiwan because they both taste great and are cooked in a really neat way.  First, a hu jiao bing is a baked bun loaded with pork and green onion and is seasoned with tons of hu jiao aka pepper.  Here's what one looks like:
And here's what one looks like on the inside.  Please excuse the mangled, half-eaten appearance:
But that's not all.  I mentioned that it's cooked in a cool device and here's a picture:
On the outside, it looks like a steel barrel but the inside is lined with clay bricks.  I can't help but think of a tandoor oven and who knows?  It very well could have made its way from Central Asia to China and then onto Taiwan. Here's what the inside looks like:
If you look closely, you can see where the vendor slaps the bread onto the side of the clay.  I think these clay-lined barrels are an ingenious way of cooking because you have the direct heat from the heated clay cooking the bottom of the pork buns and convection cooking the tops and sides of the buns as the hot air rises from the base of the barrel.  Neat-o!  Anyhow, I don't know how the vendor survives during the summer heat because being anywhere within a 3 foot radius of the oven was way too much for me. 

Fun fact: Did you know that the hu in hu jiao traditionally meant "barbarian" and, thus, hu jiao means foreign or barbarian pepper?  


Okay, okay, these are a rip off of Japanese takoyaki but whatevers.  The Japanese occupied Taiwan from 1895 until 1945, so it shouldn't be a surprise that Japanese food is common in present-day Taiwan.  In Mandarin, these are known as zhuang yu xiao wan zi (章魚小丸子).  They are bite-sized balls of batter and cabbage with a piece of cooked octopus at the core.  Here's a picture of the highly spcialized contraption they are cooked on:
You'll notice the little divots and, underneath, is the heat source.  The vendor squirts some batter into the oiled divots and then proceeds to cook and allow them to set.  Then he or she will roll the ball over and add more batter.  Soon, you have a sphere.  In this next picture, you'll see the balls pretty far along into their cooking stage. 
The final product.  They are typically served with wasabi, mayonnaise, thickened soy sauce and bonito flakes. Sounds crazy but they are one of the things I miss most!  And, to top it all off, this VERY labor intensive product is about $1.00 per six balls. 


There's been a lot of meaty, fried food featured above so I'll end with something a little healthier.  I'd always wondered why my Taiwanese Mom was so obsessed with sweet potatoes (di gua 地瓜) and it's because sweet potatoes in Taiwan are really, really good.  They're delicious and are used in many ways.  Some of my favorites:

  1. Sweet potato milk: roasted sweet potato flesh and sounds crazy but it's really good.  In fact, the Taiwanese do the same thing with bananas and papaya.  
  2. Glazed with Taiwanese brown sugar and served with crushed peanut powder.
  3. Fried with a candy like shell.
  4. Simply slow roasted so the natural sugars caramelize
My clear favorite is when they are gently roasted low and slow.  They are popular enough that FamilyMart, one of the main convenience store chains in Taiwan, has roasted sweet potatoes in most of its stores.  Here are some sweet potatoes ready to be roasted:
And some ready to be served:

As always, this is not meant to be comprehensive in any way, shape or form.  Happy eating!!  :)

1 comment:

Laurie said...

much love, everything you talked about in this post is dear to my heart...and all from Taichung too :D!