Jodie's journal

Soy paste: Key to Taiwanese cuisine

What is soy paste?

Soy taste is one of the essential tastes of Taiwanese cuisine. It is salty and sweet, and the texture is thick. The consistency is similar to oyster sauce. This strong flavor strongly influences Taiwanese cooking, and it is one of most widely used ingredients.

When a Taiwanese person has no idea how to flavor a dish, the most common solution is to flavor the dish with soy paste. For example: When Taiwanese cook tofu and green vegetables, chicken, pork, seafood, very often they serve it with soy paste, garlic and some cilantro.

For stir fried dishes, soy paste is added during cooking, at the same time as adding soy sauce. For other dishes, soy paste is usually added after cooking is complete.

Soy paste is commonly used on stir-fried dishes, sauces, noodles, and street food.

In the morning market

I sometimes hear the mushroom sellers telling their customers: “It's simple – just stir-fry the mushrooms and flavor them with soy paste, garlic and chili.”

Want to use roasted sesame oil for cooking? Don't do it!

Roasted sesame oil smells wonderful, but it's not suitable for cooking. The very high temperatures used in cooking burn the oil and turn its lovely fragrance into an unpleasant smell. However you use this oil, don't add it to food until the cooking is complete.

Here are few suggestions how to use sesame oil:


The typical ingredients for vinaigrette are usually extra virgin olive oil, with balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar. You can just replace the extra virgin olive oil with white sesame oil. For example: Tomato salad with sesame oil dressing

Stir-fried dishes

If you like to add sesame oil to stir-fried dishes, it's best to add the oil to the dishes when cooking is complete, and then quickly turn off the heat to avoid burning the oil.

Things to do in Taipei, Taiwan for kids: Kung Fu

Studying Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan is an increasingly popular activity for foreign families. Foreign parents bring their kids to Tapei, often during the summer, and send them a Mandarin school for few weeks.

Here is a Kung Fu school with some Kung Fu classes that are taught in Chinese. Spending time with the local kids, learning Kung Fu together, might be a fun idea for foreign children and teenagers to learn martial arts and Chinese, and to learn about local life.

The following is the class schedule for that school:

Tang poetry reading and Kung fu
Every Wednesday and Saturday, 11:00am-12:00pm

Kung Fu styles
Tiger style, crane style, snake style, mantis (grasshopper) style, monkey style
Every Saturday, 16:00pm-17:00pm

Chinese Martial Arts programs 

Where to buy Taiwanese hand made knives?

There are two old shops specializing in making and selling knives in the old part of Taipei. They are about 15 minutes walking distance from each other.

Yongxing knife and farm tools shop
No. 288, Section 1, Dihua street, Taipei
Tel: 02 2553 6545
Chinese name and address:
Tel: 02 2553 6545

Map on google:

Yuan Rong knife and hardware shop
No. 9, lane 60, Section 2, Yanping North Road, Taipei
Tel:02 2558 27862
Chinese name and address:
Tel:02 2558 27862

Taiwanese wedding dumplings

sweet dumplingsWhen a couple are getting married in Taiwan, the bride's family, neighbors, and friends traditionally get together to make small dumplings from sticky rice. During the engagement and wedding celebrations, the bride's family serve the sticky dumplings to everyone who visits them. The dumplings aren't flavored, but they're usually served with a sweet soup (or sweetened in some other way).

The handmade sticky dumpling balls are a gift from the family and all the friends and neighbors nearby. When they get together making the sticky dumpling balls, it's always a happy atmosphere. The dumplings aren't hard to make. It's like a kind of party, with everyone talking, laughing, and eating. A daughter getting married is everyone's business. So making the dumplings together is a blessing they all prepare for the bride. They put their happiness into making the sweet sticky dumplings, and share it with everyone.

Taiwan 1950s: Flour sack underwear

In 1950's Taiwan you could see US and Republic of China flags everywhere, including on children's bottoms. A lot of small kids wore short pants or trousers with the two flags and the words “China and the USA – working together”. They weren't making a fashion statement, or even a political statement.

Their clothes were made out of flour sacks that were distributed under a US aid program, so the printed label on the sacks became a colourful decoration on the back of the pants.

Life was very tough then and people were poor, so they really appreciated the free supply of good quality cotton, my high school teacher, Mr. Chen, told us. They made the pants big and loose, because the cloth was rather rough and scratchy.

Ghost month party

In the seventh month of the lunar calendar, I remember my grandmother would always prepare a table of delicious food, and offer a meal to the ghosts. The ghosts or spirits included our family's ancestors, the gods of the land, and any other lesser ghosts that dwelled in the area – all were invited.

However, as a small child, I honestly had great doubts about this tradition. I watched very carefully, but I wasn't so sure if the ghosts and spirits really came to eat the meal. Every time, my grandmother would put all the food out nicely on the table, but as far as I could see there was no sign that the ghosts were eating it. In fact, it looked like it hadn't been touched at all.

Mindfulness kitchen

Many Asian people learn cooking from their families, but in these cultures, the learning style may be very different from what you expect.

If we went into the kitchen and asked our parents: “how many teaspoons of sugar do you add into that dish, and how hot do you make the pan?” we may not get the answer we want. Sometimes they will answer “I am not very sure. It depends. You should just pay attention, instead of asking”, or even “You ask too many question, stay out of the kitchen and stop bothering me!”

In my family's kitchen, when our parents were making soup, stir-fried dishes, and so on, they would add salt, soy sauce, sugar, pepper, then taste a little with a spoon, then add a little more of this or that. That was often how they measured the ingredients, so they really couldn't say what was the 'correct' amount.

Mazu: the Legend of the Sea Goddess

The Mazu temple in Dadaocheng, Taipei

Three or four hundred years ago, war and famine drove many people to emigrate from south China to Taiwan. Piling their belongings into small wooden boats, they embarked on the dangerous 100-mile sea crossing. The area is regularly swept by typhoons. For protection, the immigrants would always bring a statue of Mazu, the goddess of the sea, from their local temple. They believed she would calm the seas and guide them safely to Taiwan.

Don't throw away the best parts of a pineapple: the core and skin

The pineapple core

A pineapple's core is very hard, and not as sweet as the rest of the pineapple, so we usually don't want to eat it. But it is still very aromatic and nutritious. If you have a very powerful blender like a Vitamix, it can still be used to make a beautiful contribution to your cooking.

Usually I buy the fresh pineapple from the street market. I cut the core from the rest of the pineapple, then chop everything into smaller chunks, about 1 or 2 cm long, and keep them in the freezer.

Here are a few ways you can use the core of a pineapple:

1. Blend the core in a good blender like a Vita-mix, to make juice, or smoothies, together with other fruit or vegetables.
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