Here in Taiwan there is the most amazing conglomeration of food items offered to folks that has ever been gathered together.
I will save the larger restaurants and more exotic foods to talk about at some other time. For today, I want to take you where angels and the more timid natives of the island, fear to tread.
How many times have you passed through the streets at night and seen the little handcarts topped with a glass-inclosed box that has a small lamp burning inside? And seeing this cart, at the same time your nose has become entangled with the most fragrant odors; odors that tantalize and enchant, stimulate and attract. And having heard the little bell on the handle ringing and the attendant calling out the strange sound of his wares, have you entertained a desire to try, just once, some of the food?
Sometime, take yourself up on that dare. Gird your loins, wave aside all thoughts of paregoric and similar antidotes for the Taiwan "curse" and launch yourself into a real adventure in good eating.
Here are a few suggestions:
"Huin tun," silk-thin strips of dough wrapped around infinitesimal dots of meat and vegetable, spiced and seasoned to the perfect degree. Dropped into boiling, clear broth for a few moments and then lifted steaming and fragrant into a bowl that leaves them swimming in a pool of their own juices; pass the chopped onions please; just a sprinkle, and "heaven at last."
"Chao tse," second brother to the "huin tun," a heftier, solider brother and loaded with chopped meat, spices and just enough vegetables to compliment the taste. I like a little vinegar with these, but if you prefer the saltier taste, try some "chiang yu" or as you probably know it better, "soy sauce."
If this diet seems a trifle pallid, spice it up ! There is a tray of boiled eggs, fresh from the farm and soaked in soy sauce brine until they are the color of ripe olives. Sliced with just a touch of bean-curd, they add sparkle and zest to whatever you might have chosen before.
Supplement the first dishes with a few slices of roast beef which has been slowly browned with a constant basting of sugar and sauces. The result; try it and see. For, how would you know that the flavor, by some mysterious process known only to those who prepare this delicacy, goes through-out the meat - even to the very center.
You have to be an early riser or a late go-to-bed-er to try this one. The little stands you see between two and eight o'clock in the morning parked along under the arcades with steaming pots of what looks like milk, but is really bean-curd whey. This is called "chang;" why I'll never know - but I don't care because I just eat it.
You can have it this two ways. Sweet? this is very simple - two or three heaping spoons of sugar in a large bowl and in goes the "Chang." Presto - you are served !
If you like it salty the process is more complicated. A pinch of this, a handful of that; some crumpled slivers of dried meat, a bit of dried shrimp for flavor together with soy-sauce, red-pepper sauce and oil and there it is. Like it ?
But the secret of eating "chang" either sweet or salty is to eat it in the company of the first cousin to the butter-waffle, the oil slick or "yu-tiao." These clever twists of dough are squeezed together and dropped into a vat of boiling oil which makes them puff up like a proud French doughnut. Brown and nutty-sweet, they go might good with almost anything, but especially with "chang."
And the really sophisticated people never eat their first two "yu-tiao" alone. They make a sandwich with "shao ping," a folded, browned crust of bread, the center of which is lightly sprinkled with oil and chopped, green chives. With a "yu-tiao" folded twice and crushed between the slabs of "shao ping" you are really eating in style. Would you like another bowl?
The cost of this feast? I almost forgot to tell you. If you ate some of everything I have described for you, and two men couldn't; if you asked even for seconds on the particular dish you liked best, and finally handed over a ten dollar bill, "Taiwan money that is" - you would still get a dollar back in change.
It's wonderful to eat like a gourmet for the price of a tip in a "ham-'n-egg joint back home, where you really have to worry about grease and ulcers and indigestion.
Let's have another "yu-tiao."
COPYRIGHT 1955 BY JOE BROOKS
Reprinted with permission.
Let's review Joe's food suggestions, here are a few photos.
"Back in the Day" you may have been on a Taiwan street, late at night or early in the morning, sitting at a table or standing close to a food cart having a dish or two of these tasty entrees.... Mmmm good! Not-withstanding most food carts were "off limits" during much of our time.