pork dumplings

Dear Tara,

We’re almost at the weekend, just hang in there! Will this be the weekend where you can start planning parts of your trip to Taiwan? If so, I hope this helps as a very rough guide as I cannot claim to be a travel expert.

Let me think back . . . we went in mid-February and I found it shockingly cold. I thought going from Toronto to Taipei meant warmer weather for me. But it’s a cold that seeps into your bone there, a deep kind of cold. So wear plenty of light layers and pack a jacket and accessories. This might reveal my delicate health, but I needed the hat, scarf, and hand warmers when we were outdoors. You can find Japanese hand warmers in convenience stores there where they only heat up when you magically open the packaging and they last for 24 hours. I found these so nice and toasty that I bought some back to Canada with me! However, it’s supposed to be much warmer in March as their spring season officially begins.

If your travels take you south to Kaohsiung City, then you should definitely be prepared with mosquito repellents and insect-bite relief as the mosquitoes come out to feast at night. This is where wearing layers should help, they can’t bite you if they can’t reach you!

Of course, Taiwan is famous for its night markets so that’s a must visit. There are plenty around the major cities and we strolled through many of them after dinner. You could visit a different one every night and not be able to explore them all. Shilin Night Market is probably the largest one and you’ll find tightly packed stalls of street food, games, and merchandise for sale. You snake through in single file and look for the stalls with the longest lines to join. Roam around to take in the sights and smells, but keep your belongings close to you and be aware of your surroundings. Our relatives warned us many times to keep our wallets and phone safely in front of us.

What should you eat? Well, there’s the famous Taiwanese stinky tofu, which I actually didn’t find all that stinky there (it’s more pungent here in Toronto). They make it much better in Taiwan and the savory flavours are worth a try. There’s a ton of fried food at the night market, almost anything you can imagine. I would highly recommend fried chicken as a late night snack. There are stalls with baos and oyster omelettes made fresh to order. Waffles batter poured in the weirdly shaped cast irons. There’s this particular dessert that is quite wonderful – it’s a crêpe filled with peanut butter brittle, ice cream, and cilantro. This might sound weird but it’s surprisingly delightful! You can also get a bowl of sweet potatoes that are covered in a syrupy glaze that warms your soul as the night gets colder.

Outside of the night market, you can’t skip Din Tai Fung. Their soup dumplings alone are worth it. Go in a group so you can order multiple steam baskets of dumplings to try. I found their hot and sour soup to be the best I’ve ever had because it’s incredibly silky from the tofu. Try the braised beef noodle soup!

Let me interject here with my very own dumplings. I made these without my mom’s help for the first time. However, the wrappers were store bought and not homemade.

Pork Dumplings

Dollar Dumplings
Recipe adapted from Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes
Makes about 50 dumplings

1 lb ground pork
¼ cup minced scallions
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 lb pre-made round dumpling wrappers

  1. First of all, the original recipe called for a tablespoon of minced ginger which I omitted because Howard thinks I’m too heavy handed when it comes to ginger (it’s true, I probably would have put in two tablespoons). Ok, now that that’s out of way, here are the very easy steps.
  2. Mix the pork, scallions, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, cornstarch, sugar, sesame oil, and white pepper together in a bowl. Take the dumpling wrappers out of the fridge and packaging. Set aside a small bowl of water.
  3. Using a spoon, fill a dumpling wrapper with about one tablespoon of filling.
  4. Dip a finger into the water and moisten the edge of the wrapper – half a circle will do, you don’t have to go all around. Fold the dumpling in half and pinch it from the filling out to get rid of any air bubbles. Seal the edges tightly and crimp to secure.
  5. Repeat until all the dumplings are completed. Choose one of the two methods below to cook them.
  6. Boil: Fill a large pot with water and boil on high heat. Place the dumplings in the pot in batches (don’t crowd it). They will start to float around 3 to 4 minutes. That’s when they’re done, remove with a slotted spoon.
  7. Pan-fried: Arrange the dumplings (pleats up) on a cast iron pan until it covers the surface. Pour in neutral oil (I used grapeseed oil) to coat the bottom of the pan. Heat over medium until the oil starts to sizzle. Then pour in ¼ cup of water and cover it with a lid. The steam will cook the dumplings in about 3 to 4 minutes. You’ll end up with a nice golden crust on the bottom of the dumpling.
  8. Dip in a soy sauce and rice vinegar mixture and enjoy!

 

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings
Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

Taiwan is also a city full of hot pot restaurants. While it’s usually a shared experience here in Toronto, you get your own individual pot there. It’s definitely worth trying your hand at cooking your own food with fresh seafood. Japanese restaurants are also a must stop since the seafood is so abundant – you’ll see lots of conveyor belt sushi there, go for the fun or pick a more traditional restaurant.

Then there’s the famous shaved ice. We went to Smoothie House for their mango shaved ice, topped with a panna cotta and ice cream! Or there’s Ice Monster for a better sit down experience.

Go for a traditional breakfast where you can eat delicious buns, dough fritters, congee, and drink soy milk or wintermelon iced tea.

Taiwan is filled with amazing bakeries and cafes. Seriously, their pastry and bread game is on point. Wu Pao Chun Bakery is my absolute favourite. You should try their pineapple cakes, croissants, buns, and basically anything you can get your hands on when it’s your turn in line (yes, people line up for bread here). All my relatives know to bring me back a box of pineapple cakes from Wu Pao Chun when they visit Taiwan.

What else did we do? We visited Taitung County and Tamsui Old Street for some fresher air and ocean views. We were driven up winding roads to the top of the mountains to pay our respect to ancestors. We watched in envy as people zoomed by on scooters. We made sure to visit a 24-hour bookstore. You can even find a good meal at 7-Eleven, it’s more than a convenience store there, it does everything. People buy concert and train tickets, call taxis, pay bills, and even have the ready-to-eat food you buy prepared for you. I was very fond of this caramel egg pudding that I can’t find here and can’t quite replicate in recipes. Oh speaking of, I forgot to mention that every receipt you get in Taiwan is a lottery ticket. You can keep these or give them to relatives to redeem if the winning number shows up!

I do want to mention that sometimes it’s hard to find a clean washroom when you’re out and about or at a night market. Keep plenty of hand sanitizing wipes, napkins, and toilet paper in your bag. Some of the more rural places may have squat toilets instead of sitting ones. And what I found interesting was that some homes tile the entire bathroom because there are no bath tubs. They have a drain in the floor of the bathroom where the water goes when you shower next to the sink and toilet.

The subway system is very easy to use and clean, which reminds me there’s no food or drinks on the subway! There’s a line that clearly indicates where you’re no longer allowed to eat or drink in the station. Don’t sit on the designated priority seats on the subway either, you’ll get glances. And don’t lose any tokens or tickets, you’ll need it to enter and to leave the gates at the station.

I think that’s it. I don’t know if I’m missing any other observations! Practice your chopstick skills and I hope you’ll have a dumpling book when you come back.

Sincerely,
Syl

kimchi udon

Dear Schumann,

I don’t know if you’d like this dish, but I suspect that you will because you hate mixing cold food with hot ones. And in this case, everything is the same temperature – hot kimchi and hot udon noodles.

I was also reminded of you because of your recent trip to Korea and Japan where you said that the food – and udon – was tastier over there. More importantly, how you said the udon there wasn’t round like the ones we buy in supermarkets here. Well, I didn’t find any flat udon noodles, but this recipe caught my eye and it was well worth it. I gave it two taste tests, each a week apart and have decided this deserves a spot in my meal planning repertoire.  Especially because it’s so fast and easy to make, perfect for busy week nights!

02_KimchiUdon

Kimchi Udon with Scallions
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 2 servings

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup kimchi, plus ⅓ cup kimchi juice
2 tablespoons gochujang
½ cup chicken broth
2-3 pre-portioned frozen udon noodles
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
3 scallions, white and pale-green parts only, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 tablespoon furikake

  1. Boil water in a large pot.
  2. Turn your stove on to medium-high heat and put in 2 tablespoons of butter, the kimchi, and gochujang. Let it cook for about 4 minutes, give it a stir occasionally.
  3. Add in the chicken broth and kimchi juice, bring the sauce to a simmer, about 3 minutes.
  4. When the water is boiling, put in the frozen udon and cook according to the directions on the package.
  5. Drain the water using a sieve when the udon is done cooking. Then transfer it into the sauce. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Toss and coat the udon in the butter and sauce for about 2 minutes.
  6. Divide into two bowls, top with egg yolk or sunny-side up egg. Sprinkle with scallions and furikake.
  7. Mix the egg yolk in to coat the udon. Enjoy!

03_KimchiUdon

The egg yolk is probably the best part. The first week, I fried up sunny-side eggs because I didn’t want to waste the egg whites. It was just as good because there’s some nice crispy texture and creamy egg yolk to go with it.

The second week, I did just the egg yolk as the recipe instructed and found it heavenly too. The hot udon noodles were coated with the creamy yolk and was just as delicious. Howard, who doesn’t like runny eggs at all, had to agree that the yolk made the dish. Validation!

04_KimchiUdon

We’ve also been obsessed with furikake lately. It goes great on plain white rice and as a salt substitute. Instead of seasoning with salt and pepper, I’ve been using this sesame seed, seaweed, ground fish, sugar, and salt mixture.

05_KimchiUdon

Next time you come over, I’ll make you this. I’m starting to keep frozen udon as a staple in my freezer now. I don’t know understand the ramen craze that much, but if udon started becoming more popular here, I could get on that train. So far, Inspire Restaurant‘s udon carbonara, Kinka Izakaya‘s kimchi udon, and MeNami‘s salmon cream udon and black sesame udon have me going back.

06_KimchiUdon

Sincerely,
Syl

beef noodle soup

Dear In-Laws,

You make the best beef noodle soup. Hands down. And I can confidently say this now that we went on a trip to Taiwan together – where beef noodle soup originated from – and I tried many bowls that did not live up to my expectations. It was the first meal I bought in Taiwan in one of the many tasty and busy food courts. We even lined up for over an hour for another at a restaurant (let’s not talk about how that was so not worth it). Heck, I even gave it another attempt in the airport before we left. But nope, none had the flavours that I wanted, yours is truly the high standard.

I keep telling myself that Howard and I need to learn how you make that broth. So I don’t have to wait for the birthdays or special occasions when you do grace us with that piping hot bowl of comfort. I don’t know what I love more, pho or beef noodle soup? It might be a tie.

So imagine my surprise when I saw a fairly simple recipe that took less than 4 hours to make! Could it be? Let’s find out.

Beef Noodle Soup

Beef Noodle Soup
Makes about 4 servings
Recipe from Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes

2 tablespoon grape seed oil
2 pounds boneless beef shank meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoon minced ginger
1 ½ tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon gochujang (fermented chile paste)
2 tablespoon soy sauce
2 whole star anise
1 3-inch long cinnamon stick
2 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (cooking wine)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
10 cups water
1 tablespoon hondashi (bonito)
2 handfuls baby bak choy
8 ounces Yet-Ca-Mein (noodles)
⅛ sesame oil

  1. I was actually quite surprised at how little ingredients I had to purchase. I had to pick up the meat, ginger, hondashi, and bak choy, but I had everything else in my pantry. If you’re looking for gochujang, your best bet is a Korean supermarket. I also found the Shaoxing wine and hondashi in a Chinese/Taiwanese grocery store. Everything else should be pretty common in large chains across the country.
  2. I got to use my Dutch oven for this (yay) and heated it over medium-high heat with the grape seed oil (you can also use another neutral oil here). Add in the ginger and garlic, give it a quick stir for thirty seconds. You can still see my minced ginger and garlic in the photos – Howard gave me some flak for that. It’s my least favourite prep to do, so when they look “small” enough to me, I stop! Season the meat with 3 teaspoon of salt.
  3. This is what the cookbook calls the flavour party: add in the beef, gochujang, soy sauce, star anise, cinnamon, wine, sugar, and vinegar.
  4. Stir for a minute, add in the water and hondashi and stir until it’s dissolved. I stored my leftover hondashi in an airtight jar, as I could only find them in packets that were way more than the tablespoon needed.
  5. Once the broth starts simmering, turn the heat down to low to keep it on simmer state. Skim any froth, fat, or scum on the surface out with a ladle – but then remember to replace a ladle-ful of water for each ladle you discard.
  6. Partially cover the pot with a lid and let it simmer for 2 hours. I kept checking back at the hour to discard any froth on the surface and replacing each scoop with water. But you’re pretty much done here. You can cool it and chill it in the fridge for up to three days. Or eat it that same day.
  7. Boil some water and blanch the baby bak choy. Take them out with a slotted spoon and set aside. Then boil the noodles in the same pot of water that is now saturated with all that vegetable goodness in it. Drain and divide into servings. Place the bak choy on top, along with some slices of beef, and ladle in the hot broth over until just about covered.
  8. This is optional, season the broth with sesame oil. I preferred it without, while Howard thought it was way better with it.

Beef Noodle Soup

Pair those piping hot bowls with some freshly fried scallion pancakes and it’s pretty close to the greatest meal ever. You’ve got your crispy and salty side dish to go with that hearty and filling noodle.

Beef Noodle Soup

So what was the verdict?

This recipe was good, but just still not as good as the one you make. Howard refused to drink my broth here, but we all know that he gulps down the bowls you serve us at home.

Oh and because we’re in a condo, our place smelled like beef soup for a couple of days. That simmering time acted as an aroma diffuser for every corner of our place. I think I went through four mini candles before our home started to smell neutral again!

Sincerely,
Syl

scallion pancakes

Dear Mom,

I can’t believe you’re walking around colonial America right now. You just texted me a photo of you and dad enjoying the sunshine in Virginia. I’m just glad to see you’re both safe and are having a fun time with your friends. I admit I was a little worry about the timing of your road trip after this week’s news. Granted, I’m still worried and won’t stop until you’re back home in a few days.

This has been such a weird week. So many swirling feelings around the future and even the present. I was in such a funk on Wednesday, not really feeling right. Being at work felt oddly wrong, it felt like we should all be banding together to do something. Commuting, I couldn’t tell if my fellow Torontonians were feeling it too or if it was just the usual rush hour crowd.

Then there was Remembrance Day which also reminds of us the solemn past that we do not want repeated. Gosh, what will the history books tell of our days? Of this moment in history? The good thing is that we’re seeing a lot of amazing people rallying together and spreading positive messages using art as a medium.

I don’t think I knew this about myself, but I think I’m a stress eater! I don’t know for sure but I’m obviously turning to food to find comfort. I had time off on Friday to make scallion pancakes and beef noodle soup. I love how you knew to order me these delicious eats when I was younger.

Scallion Pancakes

Scallion Pancakes
Makes about 6-8
Recipe from Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes

4 cups all-purposed flour + more for dusting
¼ cup vegetable shortening
1 ½ + ⅓ cup warm water
2 cups chopped scallions
2 teaspoon salt + more for sprinkling
sesame oil
grapeseed oil (or another neutral oil)

  1. Take out that stand mixer of yours and attach the dough hook to it. In the bowl, add in 2 cups of flour with all the vegetable shortening. Mix on low until the shortening has broken down into flour-covered bits, resembling a coarse crumble.
  2. Pour in the water and mix for about 3 minutes until a dough forms.
  3. Stop the mixer and add in the remaining 2 cups of flour, 2 teaspoon of salt, and ⅓ cup of water. Turn on the mixer and have it knead on medium speed for another 3 minutes. If your dough looks shiny and sticky still (mine did), add in ¼ cup of flour and mix again. The dough still looked a bit wet to me, but I didn’t want it to be too dried, so I left it at that. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 10 minutes in the fridge.
  4. While the dough is chilling, chop up your scallion and take out the sesame oil and salt.
  5. Unwrap the dough and cut it into 8 equal pieces. Dust your work surface with flour and roll the first piece into a square-ish shape about 8×8 inches. Remember when I said the dough seemed too wet? Well, it was perfect. Easy to roll out and beautiful. Nothing makes me happier than perfect dough consistency.
  6. Pour a teaspoon of sesame oil on it and brush the entire surface. If you need more sesame oil, keep adding until the surface is covered with a thin layer. Sprinkle on a pinch of salt and then add in 1-2 tablespoons of scallions.
  7. Roll the dough into a log and form it into a tight spiral. The cookbook calls this a Cinnabon of scallion pancake dough!
  8. Repeat with the remaining 7 pieces of dough.
  9. Take out a skillet or frying pan and fill it with ⅛ inch of grapeseed oil over medium heat.
  10. While the oil is warming up, it’s time to flatten those spiraled pieces of dough. The log roll and spiral helped embed all those pieces of scallions inside the dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll these “Cinnabon” shapes out until they’re flat 8-inch circles. Gently place it in the frying pan and fry 2-3 minutes on each side. Only flip once! Use a pair of tongs to help flip and take out the scallion pancakes when they’re ready. They’re super hot, so let it cool on a wired rack before hungry hands come along.

Scallion PancakesThis is the dough that I ended up wrapping to chill. It looks very gooey, but let it be. Let it be.

Scallion PancakesI love the ombré of a good scallion. The white roots to the pale green to the dark green.

Scallion Pancakes
The cookbook calls for a tablespoon for each pancake, but I just chopped up a bunch because I like it extra scallion-y.

Scallion Pancakes
A teaspoon of flour is roughly the right amount for lightly flouring your work surface.

Scallion Pancakes
Still can’t get over how smooth and easy it was to roll.

Scallion Pancakes
Just darn perfect.

Scallion Pancakes
You’ll have to eyeball the amount of sesame oil.

Scallion Pancakes
See? I already need more.

Scallion Pancakes
Do not skip the salt!!! You need it otherwise your pancakes won’t be crave worthy.

Scallion Pancakes
Told you, more than a tablespoon of scallions for me.

Scallion Pancakes
Gently take the edge and start the rolling process.

Scallion Pancakes
Keep going until you have a rolled up log.

Scallion Pancakes
Then take that log and spiral it into a bun.

Scallion Pancakes
Like so! A little snail.

Scallion Pancakes
When it’s time to fry, flatten that spiral down.

Scallion Pancakes
Wait for it to get golden.

Scallion Pancakes
You should really let it cool before picking it up. My fingers were burning here.

Scallion Pancakes
Oh my gosh, so flaky and delicious. Totally worth the burnt fingers.

Scallion Pancakes
You know that rule where the first pancake is always a throwaway? Not the case here!

Mom, you’ll like to hear about this … Howard went “yummy” after every single bite. And he didn’t want to share when I made one for dinner. I had to tell him there were 4 more in the fridge waiting for us to eat. Sigh.

Sincerely,
Syl