Monday, December 17, 2007

Bell shaped Japanese pancakes - 小林煎饼钓钟烧, Kobayashi cookies

The abundance of Japanese cuisine in Taiwan as a result of Taiwan being a Japanese colony between the period 1895 ~ 1945. I just had a nice seafood hotpot dinner yesterday. None of that spicy Szechuan-influenced nature. Instead, it was Japanese-inspired. I'm not very sure of the official word to use for such cuisine. Somehow, I thought it may be termed seafood nabe (just that I often associate Japanese nabe with paper hotpot) so...I might be wrong since this one uses no paper in the pot. Alright, pictures tell a thousand words. Once I get the pictures posted, I'm sure my smart readers can give me the correct name to that. Just like how Dhanggit from Dhanggits kitchen told me the name for grilling meat that way is known as yakiniku in Japan. Thanks, Dhanggit.

Ok, how about these pancakes? These bell-shaped Japanese pancakes that are made on the spot can make any passer-by drool instantly. I am not exaggerating. The aroma of butter, cream, custard, vanilla...under heat of the waffle iron...naturally makes one generates saliva (is that a reflex action? I don't know) in the mouth. Who could resist that fresh hot-from-the-waffle-iron fragrance ? It made the queue for these pancakes longer and longer. These 钓钟烧 (pronounced diao zhong shao) thus named because they resemble a hanging dangling bell. I would LOVE to know the English/Japanese name for these pancakes, but I don't :( . I guess Imagawayaki should be the general term for these Japanese pancake/soft waffles. The Japanese pancake that made Imagawayaki famous has got to be Dorayaki, or 铜锣烧 (pronounced tong luo shao) more common to you and me. And you should have guessed that Dorayaki was thus named because of Doraemon - a cultural icon of Japan (who says it's Hello Kitty?), and Japanese manga.

Deviating from the usual red bean paste typically used to fill these pancakes, we have a buttery cream custard smell-like-vanilla filling. Best when eaten immediately! But according to some sources, if the pancakes are allowed to turn cold or if you fridge them, these pancakes can become cold sweet treats like ice-cream. I still like them when they are freshly made. The warm fillings will almost flow smoothly when you bite on that soft fluffy pancake. When warm or cooler, these pancakes do offer different textures to your taste buds, depending on which you prefer.

Ok, those or most of you who can bake, maybe you can try making these at home :P

Don't you think even the packaging is so cute, as always, in Japanese packaging?

小林煎饼钓钟烧, Kobayashi cookies and pancakes
Several locations in Taiwan

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Grilled meat at 原烧 (Yuan Shao)

What is beneath this rectangular metal plate ? First, let me try translating what's written on the metal plate - showcasing the good quality of meat, by tasting its natural flavors. close, as precise as I can get in translating what it means, I hope.

Lifting up this metal plate is a charcoal grill. A grill for some DIY BBQ. Either in hotpots or at BBQ grill, it's really typical to see razor-thin meat slices (beef, pork). And as what the above "mission statement" promises, no heavily seasoned meat in this eatery. Well, at least, when you are served those meat slices for grill (via DIY), these razor-thin meat slices are just unseasoned meat slices. While you grill those meat slices, you have the option to dash some salt on it. Sauces and condiments are by the side and an option. You can dip the perfectly grilled meat in those sauces, if you wish.

Or just taste and enjoy the burst of natural juice and sweetness in those grilled meat slices. -good quality meat that stands the test of minimal seasonings.

Different cuts of pork and beef that you BBQ on the grill right in front of you

At 原烧 (pronounced yuan shao), even the ice-cream dessert takes much pride. They even "carve" out their eatery name in Chinese character on that plate of plain vanilla ice-cream with powdered dusting sugar aside. What's interesting - can you see those long sticks behind the vanilla scoop ? Those are deep-fried spaghetti sticks. What a clever way to deviate from the usual biscuit rolls that are tyically served with ice-cream.

They have many locations (Taipei, Kaoshiung, Hsinchu) around Taiwan. Check them out if you do visit Taiwan.

Few days ago, I ate this.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Chinese food around the world

Getting closer to Asia means you get more variety of Chinese food. Not that I've not had Chinese food in the Bay Area. In fact, there is a wide variety (authentic and not-so-authentic) that you can choose from in the Bay Area due to the influence of Asian immigrants to the West Coast, and to the food culture in America. From the generic Chinese cuisine to regional Chinese such as Sichuan/Szechuan, Shanghai; Vietmanese cuisine; Thai food; Japanese and Korean food; Hong Kong Cantonese including dim sum; and even closer to home Southeast Asia cuisine - you find most (not all) of it in the Bay Area, where I was staying.

Of course, there is no such high concentration of hotpots, steamboats eateries in the Bay Area compared to Taiwan. Alright, maybe it's just the season to eat hotpots in Taiwan currently. Even the supermarkets here are stocked up with so much hotpot and steamboat ingredients during their mild winter season. At home or out in the reataurants and local eateries, hotpots/ steamboats are sure to keep your stomachs warm for a while, bringing you the coziness and warmth from the inside to the outside.

Tender BBQ chicken steak/chop served with noodles, and a runny egg on a sizzling hotplate

While visiting Taiwan earlier in October and November to reccee the place before our temporary move, we did not forget to immerse ourselves in their food culture. A variety of choices as well, from street food in their night markets to local eateries serving hotplates like chicken chop/beef steak with noodles(above). Of course, we stayed in a hotel then, so some hotel food as well since it's so convenient. These are a few representations that make my mark in terms of taste, presentation and that little creativity which surprises me.

Sugar cane chicken with a light almond crust
@Hotel ONE, Taichung, Taiwan

Steamed beancurd/tofu with seafood, served in a bamboo steamer
@Evergreen Laurel Hotel, Taichung, Taiwan

We ordered this steamed beancurd dish everytime we visited the restaurant located right within the hotel we are staying in. It is absolutely delicious. The mixture of shrimps, mushrooms, scallops cooked in a oyster-based sauce of tiny shredded bits of dried scallops, topped over that smooth and silky tofu. You can try making this at home based on the picture. :P Well, that oyster based sauce is just what I decoded it to be. There might be something additional going into it.

Boiled Amaranth with White Fish (Whitebait)
@Evergreen Laurel Hotel, Taichung, Taiwan

I was trying to find some information about this tiny white fish over the internet and there's not much luck. Can anyone tell me? I do remember eating these tiny fishes fried with egg back in Singapore. Are they Whitebait? I think in Taiwan, they call it by another name 吻仔魚 (some kind of larval fish??), and I'm not sure if they are the same variety. Any other familiar names you can give me regarding this fish? Just look at the huge pile (or heaps) of tiny fishes in this's actually very light and tasty.

Does eating out inspire how you cook and plate your dish at home? It does for me, sometimes.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Night market, street food in Taichung and Hsinchu, Taiwan

I would think that the night market and street food in Taiwan is as famous as its beef noodle soup, stinky tofu and Betel Nut girls (scantily-dressed young women selling betel nut on roadside kiosks in Taiwan). One of the famous night markets in Taichung (central Taiwan), Taiwan is Feng Jia Night Market (逢甲夜市). If you think that duck blood cubes are digusting, you can find more disgusting stuff such as gizzards and intestines in night markets, and sound-weird stuff such as "frog eggs". We were really not that adventurous in trying those gizzards and intestines.

Almost every corner of the night market, you can find a 滷味 stall where poultry meat and innards and cooked/stewed in thick gravy sauce or broth of brine or dark soy - @ Fengjia Night Market

"Frog eggs" (青蛙下蛋) - it's just vegetarian gelatin and typically used in dessert drink - @ Fengjia Night Market

You won't be hungry walking the night markets. Find snacks such as grilled prawns, oyster omelette ( 蚵仔煎, pronounced oh-ah jian) and glutinous rice balls (粉圆).

This was real good and fresh. Cruel though since prawns/shrimps are directly removed from a live tank and instantly cooked live and struggling, on the hot charcoal grill, till dead and ready to be eaten - @ Fengjia Night Market

Oyster omelette - @ Hsinchu

We do not like the Taiwanese version laden with too much tapioca flour and red sweet sauce. Still prefer the Singapore/Malaysia version with more eggs and oyster, then served with chili sauce. :P

Glutinous rice balls (粉圆) made of sweet potato, taro and served in red bean soup - @ Fengjia Night Market

Night markets and street food is one characteristic culture in Taiwan. Make sure you visit one when you are in Taiwan. Some of Taiwan’s more famous night markets include Shilin Night Market and Huaxi Street Tourist Night Market in Taipei, Fengchia Night Market in Taichung, Siaobei Night Market in Tainan, and Liouho Night Market in Kaohsiung.

Day time in Taichung. Must be a lucky day to get a clear view.

Eating hotel food can be quite boring at times, especially when you have to eat the same buffet breakfast (part of hotel package) for 6 days. You can still put your creative works into play. Am I playing with food again? :P

In this exploration, I found that bacon with waffles drizzled with maple syrup is such a good match. It is not playing with food. It is experimenting! You can try making this at home.

The sweet and savory never fail to surprise me :)

Not very healthy but for the convenience, an instant noodle bowl can sometimes be an enjoyment in the hotel room.

Instant noodle bowl - dang gui (Radix Angelicae Sinensis - a kind of chinese herb) duck flavor

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hotpots in Taiwan, 麻辣锅

Taiwan is touted as the Capital of Beef Noodle Soup. I need to verify that. I am still looking for my beef noodle soup with a clear stewed soup broth/base(清炖牛肉面) . Maybe I need to visit Taipei some day to testify this.

While in Taichung (central Taiwan), Taiwan at this moment, I rather call Taiwan the "Capital" of hotpots. They are so many eateries offering spicy hotpot. It must have got to do with the neighbouring influence from Sichuan, China. Like in the US, it is officially the Fall season in Taiwan. However, what a mild Fall it is over here - almost like Summer/Spring in California PLUS the higher humidity. I reckon eating hotpots is the IN thing to do during Fall/Winter season here. It keeps people warm.

We have already tried two places offering 麻辣 (literally meaning, "numbing and spicy"; pronounced ma la) hotpots. Typically in these two places, there is an option of the spicy soup base and/or the clear/white non-spicy soup base. If you want to have a combination of two soup bases in one hotpot, order the combination hotpot or what they call 鸳鸯 (pronounced yuan yang, meaning "in pairs").

What is similar in these two eateries - the "dark tofu" and braised tofu in the spicy soup base is FREE FLOW!

"Dark tofu" also known as congealed blood cubes, blood jellies or blood puddings

"Dark tofu" is just a better, less digusting name for duck blood cubes. You have not heard me wrongly. Congealed duck blood that has turned into blood cubes or blood jellies. There is just a bottomless source of this, I suspect. Makes me wonder if eating hotpots is an unhealthy business. Well, the "soup-everything" seems to sound healthy but the "blood"...errr....

By the way, eating blood cubes like these should be giving you excellent source of "natural" iron but how much cholesterol...I don't know. Maybe you can tell me. We have eaten too much of these dark cubes that I know that the next time I go for the spicy hotpot, I am going to request them without "dark tofu" but just the usual braised (卤, pronounced lu) tofu.

Combination soup hotpot of spicy base(red) and pickled cabbage and pork non-spicy soup base (clear or white) - at Tripod King

What I like about these hotpots so far is that you can find some of the freshest handmade fish, cuttlefish or prawn pastes which you can add them to the boiling, simmering soups to get fish balls. These pastes sometimes come in a slender bamboo case and you can scoop them into the simmering soups.

Herbal soup base with wolfberries and other herbs - at Old Sichuan

老四川, Old Sichuan
台中市公益路343號, Taichung City GongYi Road, #343
(Other locations available including Kaoshiong and Taipei)
This restaurant's main branch is in Harbin, China, with over 30 branches spread across northeastern China. The minimum charge per table here is NT$650(~USD21). Personally, I prefer this place to the one below. The white soup base is herbal and of better quality than Tripod King's non-spicy soup base of thin pork strips and pickled cabbage.

鼎王麻辣锅, Tripod King
台中精诚店, Taichung City JingCheng Branch
(Other locations available including Kaoshiong and Taipei)
The signature service you get from this chain of eateries is that the servers will bow 90 degrees to customers especially after presenting your dishes on the dining table - maybe it's to represent high service quality standards but this acutally made us feel so uneasy. The spicy soup base was spicy but not numbing. This is another difference from Old Sichuan.

Prices are almost similar. As a personal recommendation, I would suggest Old Sichuan. However, if you are not so keen on getting your lips numbed, try Tripod King.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Meyer Lemon, Petaluma

Meyer lemon (Citrus × meyeri) is a citrus fruit, native to China, thought to be a cross between a true lemon and a mandarin orange or sweet orange. These lemons are available from November through May in specialty produce markets and some supermarkets. Can't wait? Meyer marmalade...bottled availability.

Meyer lemon was introduced to the United States in 1908, popular as a food item in the United States after being rediscovered by chefs during the California Cuisine revolution.

We visited Petaluma sometime earlier and got ourselves some California sunshine in a jar. This marmalade is made from state-grown Meyer lemons, cane sugar, and pure water - prepared long enough to draw the natural pectin from the fruit.

Pastel purple soft fluffy loaf into slices...

and slathering marmalade ...

A sprightly lemon flavor, well balanced with sweetness and light in texture.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Cider Pub in Sebastopol, California

Located in Sebastopol, California - in the middle of Sonoma's wine country - Ace-in-the-Hole is America's first, and maybe just about the only cider pub.

Ace-in-the-Hole Pub
3100 Gravenstein Highway North
Sebastopol, CA

Interesting taster sampler presentation. You get 4 ACES and a Joker.

Clockwise from 12 o'clock - Joker (the only one with 8% alcohol), ACE of Apple, ACE of Apple-Honey(made with Sonoma wildflower honey), ACE of Perry, ACE of Berry.

The color of cider starts to darken as you go clockwise. In addition, you begin to explore more complexity as the mix of berries blends with cider in ACE of Berry.

With 8% alcohol, no wonder it's a joker among all the other 5% ACES.

Joker - Strong and dry with Champagne-like flavors

ACE of Perry- A light refreshing pear flavor and natural vanilla from Madagascar

ACE of Apple - fermented apple cider

The fermented apple cider ~ made from six different local apples varieties

We can't drink with empty stomachs...give us some meat!

Sausage plate of chicken apple & English bangers with ACE apple sauerkraut

Sonoma Farm Trail:
Fruit Farms
Cheese shop

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Pepper Jelly - Petaluma in Sonoma Farm Trail

Well, I was supposed to look at cheeses in a cheese shop but instead distracted by these colorful bottled jellies at Marin Cheese Factory in Petaluma, CA. These assorted pepper jellies sound hot, sweet, spicy, fruity, peppery and savory.

I'm new to jellies. Are jellies the same as jam?

Mango/Plum Ginger Pepper Jelly and Raspberry-Jalapeño Pepper Jelly

Apricot-Jalapeño Pepper Jelly and Sweet Onion Jalapeño Pepper Jelly

Cranberry Pepper Jelly, Habanero Pepper Jelly

Jalapeño Pepper Jelly and Marioberry Pepper Jelly

I was so fascinated and confused by all the varieties and finally, decided not to buy any and ended up with a small block of cheese instead.The cheese tasting station at the cheese shop even had some cranberry pepper jelly slathered on top of of Brie. I tried them on crackers, and the savory Brie really gel well with the subtly sweet-tangy- peppery cranberry pepper jelly. What a colorful treat!

Continue reading about Asian pears along the Sonoma Farm Trail, California.

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Sonoma farm trails - pears, apples

FALLin' in love with pears and apples! This pear chart is absolutely captivating. Click chart to enlarge and know your pears tis' season.

At Gabriel Farm in Sebastopol, CA, I saw many of my favorite Asian pears - crisp texture and juicy flesh.

All the pears varieties were at $2.50/lb and I got myself some Ya Li - the alluring Asian pear that takes the shape of a bartlett or any European pear, lightly flavored, crisp, juicy and aromatic; Shinseki - yellow colored, flavorful, crisp with a hint of citrus flavor, and Niitaka - tanned, crisp and juicy.

There were others such as Honsui, 20th and Shinko ... and oh gosh...I did not know there were so many Asian pear varieties. You could find out more about each Asian pear variety here.

Papa and Mama pear. Where is baby pear ?

I did not find them in Gabriel Farm but did see the cutest baby mini Asian pears at another farm in Petaluma, CA.

Baby pear is here! Now, where is Goldilocks! :P

Gabriel Farm also grows Fuyu Persimmons, also known as Fuyus. Full orange in color, you can eat them hard or soft.
A sweet tasty late fall treat. That explains why the persimmons are still green, unripe, on the tree since we are only one step into autumn/fall.

Persimmon tree

Golden asian pears hanging high on the tree, so tempting...

Pear tree

Apples...nice and red, ready to be picked

Apple tree

Do you like Asian pears ? Or prefer the classic apples?

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park

After the Firehole Lake Drive, we proceeded to the Lower Geyser area.

The spouter becomes a steam vent by this time.