Expanding my horizons, all the way to Taiwan
Okay, so maybe you aren’t reading this column because you wish you were in school right now. Presumably it’s because you want to know about food. Which is interesting because Cathy Erway, who writes the blog Not Eating Out in New York, and is author of The Food of Taiwan. was visiting Taiwan for a school program when her fascination with the country’s food began. She found herself experiencing the flavors and dishes she had known as a child being brought up by a Taiwanese mother and American father. Except that to experience Taiwanese food firsthand was like turning the volume on flavor up to eleven. She realized at some point she was “eating fairly nonstop—and it seemed most people were as well.” She was enchanted by this food-obsessed island.
Back to the education part — The Food of Taiwan educated me not just about food, but about the region as a whole. I am ashamed to say history and politics are not my forte, and while mildly aware that Taiwan was an island near China I really was not aware of who the people that live there are, and how they got there. Well, Erway breaks down Taiwan’s history as well as the demographics, climate, geography and yes, cuisine.
I know, I know, I am asking you to educate yourself. Just trust me that your sweets will be sweeter, your savories more satisfying and your mind more well-fed if you know the origin story of what you are consuming. And Erway is relatively concise. Plus, all those factoids are accompanied by Pete Lee’s beautiful photography of Taiwan.
This is a cookbook, however, and the bulk of your curriculum is about the food. Erway states that in this book she wants to break down what makes food uniquely Taiwanese, and not just a subset of Chinese cooking. This is where all that prior learning helps. I did not realize that Taiwan had a small indigenous assortment of tribes, but the bulk of the population is made of a people who originally emigrated from China. In 1660, it was the Ming Dynasty loyalists who left the mainland to regroup. In 1947, it was the nationalists of the Kuomintang fleeing Mao Zedong’s Communist regime to set up the Republic of China in Taiwan. These are some of the things you’ll learn from Erway.
Okay, I will let you read the book for the full story. Let’s get to the food.
Seeing as this weekend is Easter, and dyed eggs are all over, I wanted to share Erway’s recipe for tea eggs. Why not get multi-cultural with your holiday? This recipe will both color and flavor your food, and naturally too. None of that red dye No. 2 business. Not that I’m above using some red coloring from time to time.
According to Erway these eggs are ubiquitous in Taiwan and can be found everywhere. A favorite pastime there is to stroll the night markets, eating and shopping. I am thinking I am going to grab one of these and stroll the mall, just to see what happens. Why not? I think it is a better choice than a Cinnabon. The last perk? Your home will smell twice as good as Cinnabon.
Tea Eggs (Cha Ye Dan) adapted from The Food of Taiwan by Cathy Erway
Place eggs in a large pot and fill with water until it covers them. Bring to a boil over high heat then allow to boil 5 minutes. Drain the water and when cool enough to handle, use the back of a spoon to tap the eggs, lightly cracking the shell.
Put the eggs back in the drained pot and add 8 cups of water, soy sauce, tea leaves, five-spice powder and star anise. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for at least two hours to dye the eggs. The longer they cook, the deeper the color. Store eggs in the refrigerator in their broth. Heat up to serve. Don’t keep longer than five days.
Recipe adapted from THE FOOD OF TAIWAN by Cathy Erway. Copyright © 2015 by Cathy Erway. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.