Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Taiwanese Treats

Savory Bean Curd Soup
I never took the time to look for Taiwanese food.  I figured that it didn't exist in these parts.  I got turned onto the Taiwan Cafe in Chinatown by a friend of mine who is well versed in Boston area restaurants.  It just so happened that my aunt was in town for a weekend and thought it would be great to give her a taste of her childhood. 

She asked me what I would like to eat.  I told her that I'd like to try what she enjoyed in her younger years.  Check out the highlights.

*Steamed Pork & Mushroom Sticky Rice w/ Gravy
This brought me back to a time when I was a kid and my mom stuffed the Thanksgiving turkey with sticky rice.  I think the key to good sticky rice is the reconstituted dried mushrooms.  There's this earthy quality that is unique to the ingredient.  The mushrooms have this concentrated flavor punch that is a great contrast to the rice background.  Sticky and slippery were part and parcel of a good percentage of dishes I tried.

*Braised Pork w/ Peanuts & Sour Mustard Green[s] in [a] Steamed Bun
The crown jewel was this braised pork belly topped with pickled mustard greens, chopped peanuts, sugar and cilantro in a steamed flat bread.  The topping reminded me of a mochi treat filled with chopped peanuts and granulated sugar that I'd had time and time again.  Talk about a neat flavor and textural experience.  Slight sweetness of the bread, salty meat, sour punch of greens, deconstructed peanut butter topping and brightness of cilantro.  Airy light bread, pork fat melting in your mouth, tender & juicy meat, crunch of the sugar & peanuts, and crispness of the cilantro.  For me, it would be a tough choice between this and a bahn mi.  I do love a good bahn mi. 

The ketchup-soy red gravy on a couple dishes made me think about the origin.  Long ago, I read that ketchup originated from a fish sauce.  As a shortcut, I looked to see what Wiki had on the subject.   

Directly from Wikipedia:

In the 1690s the Chinese mixed together a concoction of pickled fish and spices and called it ke-tsiap.

The Webster's Dictionary of 1913 defined "catchup" as a "table sauce made from mushrooms, tomatoes, walnuts, etc. [Also written as ketchup].

After this quick etymology look, I wondered how two completely different products were given the 'same' label.  Umami was a strong possibility.  They both have glutamic acid, which adds body to what they're smothered on.  My guess is that Americans back in the day would have been less accepting of the unctuous bottle of our fermented finned friends.  Tomatoes and sugar are an easy sell.  Just check out any kid at a restaurant who is availed the sweet bottle of goodness.  Today, that is clearly not the case.  People are a lot more adventurous and willing to accent dishes with all sorts of umami pop.  Maybe a new soda concept?

I'm going to have to dig a litter deeper on the etymology.  Maybe Harold McGee will be open to helping me out?

Don't forget The Plans we made.

* Caption title taken directly from Taiwan Cafe menu

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