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You Can Make Fast Food, Taiwan Style

The tiniest food stand or street restaurant can serve delicious, fresh food only minutes after you order, but when you try to cook in your own kitchen, it can take hours of work. Why? It's mainly because those professional chefs know how to keep things simple. Obviously, they have skill and experience, but the most important trick they've learned for amazing food is to use fast, simple techniques and minimal ingredients. They create fascinating flavors just by combining a few seasonings like white pepper, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, chili green, and coriander. Even if you don’t have as much skill or experience as these chefs, you can still benefit from these simple cooking ideas that are commonly seen throughout Taiwan and China.

How I Teach Cooking

The most important thing I can teach people is to not follow recipes – only sometimes use them as a basic guide. If they insist on following recipes, then I can't really help them much, but they can find ten million recipes on the internet for free.

That's because, in my experience, those people who rely on recipes never get good at cooking. They sometimes have good luck with a particular recipe. But as soon as there's a small change in the quality of ingredients or the cooking environment, then their recipe stops producing such good results. But they don't understand why, so they don't know what they have to change to make it work. (Also it's hard for them to be versatile or creative because they don't know how to safely adjust the recipe for different numbers of guests or a different kitchen or to add different ingredients. They just guess and hope).

The Taiwanese street food spirit: Shallot oil

Sit down in a Taiwanese noodle shop, and in less than three minutes the shop owner can bring you a great bowl of noodles. The flavor is well balanced: salty, sweet, and spicy, with aromatic herbs.

Shallot oil is the essential spirit of this delicious Taiwanese noodle soup, which is fast and easy to make. Shallot oil is an influential flavor in Taiwanese food.

Shallot oil is used on sticky rice, noodle soup, taro rice noodle soup, fish ball soup, warm green vegetables, and so on. Shallot oil is the secret that lets street noodle shops and stands serve a tasty and aromatic dish within three minutes.

Shallot oil isn’t difficult to make, but it takes time and it’s very easy to overcook. We need to use low heat to cook away the shallots’ moisture, and bring out their aroma. We need to be patient, because the finely chopped shallots can easily burn.

Teaching the teacher

Last week, the American master chef Kevin Storm visited our kitchen. He was not here to advise or teach us – he was here to learn how to make local-style dumplings. In particular, he wanted to study vegetarian dumplings with me, so he can make them for his vegan daughter.

Kevin is the assistant manager of the American Culinary Federation. He instructs students from throughout the USA, and leads them to take part in culinary competitions around the world. Kevin is also the executive chef at the Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.

 

Kevin said that Taiwan is famous for dumplings, so he wanted to take this opportunity to learn how to make dumplings well.

 

Riches to rags to happiness

I’ve been shopping at WuXing street market for nearly twenty years. I go there in the morning for the freshest ingredients, and to have breakfast or snacks. But I also go to hear people’s life stories. In fact, the stories are the thing that interest me most. I could say the storytellers have become my life teachers.

This is a true story about my friend who sells fruit and vegetables from a street stand in the market – cucumber, tomatoes, peaches, guava and so on.

Many of the fresh food vendors finish selling at around midday, although other shops and eating places stay open until the evening. One summer weekend, I didn’t go to the market until 2pm. I went passed a woman who specializes in selling vegetables from the northeast coast of Taiwan. She always greets to me as she hasn’t seen me a long while, so she always makes me feel like an old friend.

Thai herbal yoga

I tried Thai herbal yoga class in Thailand, in a town called Hua Hin. Before I went to the class, I was guessing the yoga teacher, Tikki, was going to teach us how to cook with Thai herbs to help balance our body and mind. I had some doubts about this, but I turned out to be wrong.

As soon as I entered Tikki’s yoga class, I was immersed in the fragrance of Thai herbs. Tiki had filled up the slow cooker with a bunch of Thai herbs: lemon grass, old ginger, galanga, kaffir lime leaves, chopped kaffir lime, camphor and so on. For a second, I thought she was cooking a pot of Thai tom yum soup, and it did smell like that. I thought, this is so cool! I am going to do yoga with the steaming fragrance from this pot of Thai herbs. And there is no air conditioning during this yoga class, it will be hot!

Making fast miso soup in the morning

Recently, I found I am sometimes a little too sensitive to coffee in the early morning. Too much caffeine too early seems to be a shock for my stomach, and can cause stomach irritation for me.

 

When I stayed in Kyoto this autumn, I learned the Japanese habit of waking up to have a nice cup of miso soup first thing, instead of coffee. Maybe it's a way of gently restarting your deeply relaxed body after a night of resting.

 

In Taiqi-influenced cooking and eating, we think it's better to start the day with a warm drink. Miso soup is a fermented lactobacillus drink. It improves the digestion, absorption of nutrients, and warms the body. Drinking miso soup is a good start to the morning, and like Taiqi, I think it balances the yin and yang energy of the body

 

Guanyin in Long Shan temple

Many people wonder if Long Shan temple in Taipei is a Daoist or a Buddhist temple. Because they can see many statues and paintings of Daoist Gods inside, but they can see also Buddhist Gods. Meanwhile, the architecture and decor of the Longsan temple is clearly looks like Daoist style.

However, the main God in Long Shan temple is Guanyin, and Guanyin is a Buddhist Bodhisattva. Guanyin Bodhisattva is a symbol of people or gods who practice "Guanyin dharma". Guanyin means to observe our inner voice, to look into our mind, to listen to the words which we don't express outwardly.

Guanyin is also called the Bodhisattva of compassion, Guanyin dharma is a widely spread teaching in Taiwan, and even in Asia. When people have difficulties in their lives, they often pray for Guanyin Bodhisattva's help.

Cloud above Kyoto

This autumn, I had an opportunity to rent a small old style Japanese house in Kyoto. It was so much better than staying in a hotel room. But there were two mysteries in the house. I didn't have anyone to explain them for me, because I didn't meet the landlord during my stay at all – everything was handled online.

When we arrived, I noticed there was a special corner in the living room and bedroom, some paintings hanging up on the wall, and right in front of the paintings stood a small wooden table with a vase. I couldn't understand why, in a small wooden house, with only limited space, why the owner of the house would still make a space for those things?

First Bai Bai in Long Shan temple

When you enter a Taiwanese temple like LongSan temple, you will see people offering incense to the Gods. There is incense burning right in front of each God's image or statue. People hold the incensee and pray, then put the incense in the incense burners.

In Taiwanese temples, have you noticed that at the first incense burner, there is no God sitting in front of it? But you still see people holding the incense and praying, and still offering the incense in the burner.

 

The believers are actually offering their incense to the God of the universe. The God of the universe is everywhere, so there is no God statue in front of the burner. From this image, it explains that Daoism could be described as atheistic. The God of the universe is everwhere, Dao is also everywhere. So, as soon as we enter the Daoist temple, the first incense burner without a God statue already shows the philosopy of Daoism.

 

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