Tuesday, February 9, 2010
What Makes Food Taiwanese?
The photo above is a classic taiwanese kid reaction to taiwanese food. When you are a Taiwanese kid, your parents throw a lot of foul shit at you LOL. A lot of people come into the restaurant or go on message boards trying to figure out if our food is "taiwanese". Someone left a funny comment about the peanuts on chowhound
"their site claims some vinegar in the peanut but that doesn't sound familiar to me as a taiwanese flavor; I think it's usually pretty plain or as buttertart said, star anise, like the typical liquid that they do tempura/tienbula/oden/eggs in."
Vinegar is not a familiar taiwanese flavor? Really......What do you dip your soup dumplings in? Vinegar. Your small radish pastry? Vinegar. Stinky tofu? Vinegar. Your ass when you have stomach problems? vinegar douche! Pun intended lol
As for tienbula/oden/eggs, what usually goes in are: Chinese five spice, rice wine, sugar, soy sauce, and salt. Anise is only one of the spices in five spice. And, plenty of people have their own innovations such as adding tea leaves, garlic, onion, etc. So, before you start an avalanche of people boiling things in solely star anise, please, ask yourself this.... What makes food taiwanese?
THE PEOPLE and their respect for the Taiwanese flavor profile and regional character. I am Taiwanese (parents by birth, chinese by blood, lets not get into it :). To me, what stands out about taiwanese food is an essence or "stink" if you will. You smell stinky tofu everywhere and good dishes like oh a mi shwa (my pinyin sucks) always have a smelly essence and many times vinegar. You have the natural essence of intestines, the odor from cooked oysters, mixed with some white pepper, black vinegar, thin noodle, corn starch and together, its the prototype taiwanese dish.
For those that are always trying to hold people to the past, like i've said before, please read Emerson's "American Scholar". I think our food is Taiwanese not because I've seen it in Taiwan or because wikipedia/yelp/chowhound says it is, but simply because I am Taiwanese. It came from my hands. And I created the food with the Taiwanese flavor profile as the guiding force. Without innovation, we'd be eating soy milk and curlers the rest of our lives. Its good, but I'm "on to the next one" (HOVA). Over time, we will be doing a lot of different things in an attempt to create everyday food that pushes the boundaries of Taiwanese cuisine. We only have 400 sq feet so be patient :). It starts with the CNY Dinner this weekend and we'll keep it moving like TCQ.
Now, to address reader sentiment. I do empathize with you concerning "real taiwanese" food. I get very upset when on the menu a dish is say "dan dan mien" and it comes out some strange crappy hybrid. In those instances, yes, hold them to the classic expectations. We tell people our pork bun is "authentic" but that the tofu, beef and bao fries are our own innovations that are true to the flavor profile. My beef noodle soup is "authentic". There are minor tweaks to it. But, I can see why people would be upset if I threw hoisin and tangerines into it. You don't have to worry about us becoming a fancy schmancy place that sells art food. We will always make everyday Taiwanese/Chinese food, but I'll play with things to see how far we can push Taiwanese cuisine.