Pieces Of My Heart

Clearly I still need to work on my level of focus towards this blog.  Thankfully its a new year and its once again on my list of resolutions.  This post is 4 months overdue, but I’m going ahead with it anyway, because while it may be outdated, the subject has been on my mind: Taiwan.

I thought I’d be a blogging fiend the month I was in Taiwan, but as usual, things did not go according to my plans.  I figured I would have lots of things to say about being back in one of my favorite places for the first time in over 10 years.  Instead, it was like I arrived and all my words dried up.  I couldn’t think of what to say, or how to express the strange mix of emotions being back in Taiwan brought to the surface.  Given my dearth of words, I’ve decided to make this a photo-driven post.  Next post, I promise lots in the way of deep thoughts.

Without further ado, a small taste of Taiwan…

You might find yourself amazed at what people can fit on their scooters.  This is just one example.

Again with the dogs.  I saw this guy one evening at Freedom Square in Taipei.  I think he takes the idea of “man’s best friend” to a whole new level.

Occasionally additional instructions are needed in restrooms that have Western-style toilets.

And now for the actual flavors of Taiwan…  I spent an inordinate amount of time prior to my arrival debating what my first meal back in Taiwan would be, and decided that if I could find some fried rice near my hotel, that is what I would go with.  Luckily for me, it turned out there was a wonderful fried rice place right around the corner, and as I realized later, they even make my favorite kind: ketchup fried rice.  It sounds wrong, I know, but its so right.

My first meal back in Taiwan: fried rice and fresh kumquat juice.

I have dreamed of returning to this little place in Taichung for the past decade.  They make the most amazing Grass Jelly.

Just as good as I remembered.

Taiwanese night markets offer an amazing selection of food at incredible value.  Much like the hawker stalls in Singapore, you can guess which stalls have the best food by the lines in front.  My first weekend back in Taiwan I spent a night in Taichung, where I visited the night market outside of Feng Jia University with my good friend Joanne.  We both ordered grilled sausages, but the seafood options also looked quite enticing.

The following day, Joanne took me back to Zhong Xing Xin Qun, which is where she is from and one of the places I lived.  My first stop when we got into town was Greasy Joes, my favorite shaved noodle place.  They also make amazing steamed dumplings and possibly the best hot and sour soup I’ve ever had.  I’ll confess, when I lived in Zhong Xing, I did find a spider in my soup once and a friend found an unsavory critter in his shaved noodles, but the food is so good, none of that has ever stopped me from going back whenever the opportunity presents itself.

That night, Joanne and her sister took me out to dinner and afterwards we enjoyed big bowls of mango shaved ice.  Taiwan still makes the best shaved ice.  Hands down.

This past week, in honor of Chinese New Year, I made Chinese food for the first time in 3 years.  Its hard to believe that much time has passed, but I’m pretty sure the last time I cooked a Chinese dinner was Chinese New Year 2009, right before I left Salt Lake.  It felt good to get back in touch with the original inspiration behind the blog.  Turns out, I’ve missed making Chinese food.  While I made an amazing array of food (if I do say so myself) for a Chinese New Year dinner I hosted on Monday, the recipe I want to share today is actually one I tried on Tuesday with a good friend who specifically requested it.  I think its the perfect recipe for this post because it is one of my favorite things to order in Taiwan: green onion pancakes.  Growing up, I remember ordering these at Chinese restaurants in L.A., but it seems like its been a long time since I’ve seen them on a menu at at State-side Chinese restaurant.  I’m not sure if that is because they’ve gone out of vogue, or if it’s a west coast vs. east coast phenomenon.  Regardless, I ate many of these over the course of my month in Taiwan and was delighted to discover how easy they are to make at home.

葱油饼 Green Onion Pancake

(adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

1 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting work surface

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus a little extra for brushing dough

6 scallions, minced (about 1/2 cup)

Soy Sauce for dipping

Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl, then add 1/2 c. of water, mixing with a fork until combined.  If you have floury bits that haven’t been incorporated into the dough, add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the dough comes together.  If you have to add more water, go slowly and make sure that you’ve mixed the dough well after each addition to be sure that you aren’t adding too much.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is soft and smooth, about 5 minutes, adding extra flour to the work surface if the dough is sticking.  Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, brush with a thin layer of vegetable oil, and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 4 portions and cover with a kitchen towel to keep the dough moist.  Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll it out into a roughly 7-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface.  Brush the dough lightly with vegetable oil, then sprinkle with approximately 2 tablespoons of minced scallions.

Roll the round of dough into a thin cylinder (so it looks like a cigar), then coil the cylinder like a cinnamon roll, tucking the end under.  Now roll the dough out again into a flat disk about 5 inches in diameter, roughly 1/4 inch thick.

Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot.  Swirl the oil to coat the skillet, then add the dough round and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.  While the pancake is cooking, prepare the next pancake by following the instructions above.  Before cooking each pancake add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet.  As the pancakes finish cooking, transfer them to a cutting board and tent with foil to keep them warm.  Before serving you can cut them into wedges, which is how they are served in Taiwan.  However, my friend and I grabbed them whole, ripping off chunks to dip into soy sauce with our dinner.

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