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.”
And the at the seaweed stall, they teach their customers the same thing: “You only need to clean and chop the seaweed, and flavor it with soy paste, garlic, ginger and chili.”
Seafood stands also tell their customers to just steam the shrimps and flavor them with garlic and soy paste.

In the night market

If you understand how to use soy paste then you can recreate the flavor of street food: In the night markets, green onion is brushed with soy paste and chili sauce, oyster omelet is served with soy paste and chili sauce, grilled stinky tofu is served with soy paste, garlic, chili and herbs.
Every noodle shop serves soy paste on dry noodles, flavors the side dishes with soy paste and ginger, and tops the green vegetables with soy paste.

In Taiwanese family kitchens

Taiwanese like to use soy paste on non-greasy dishes, they serve soy paste with garlic on white cooked chicken, pork, seafood, tofu, and blanched vegetables.

In restaurants

Soy paste could be described as the soul of stir-fried dishes, it is added to every stir-fried dish to thicken the texture slightly and to sweeten the flavor. Good examples include: three cup chicken, and three cup oyster mushrooms.

Soy paste is like the key to Taiwanese food, if you learn how to master soy paste, you can already master more than half of Taiwanese dishes.

This is a very simple recipe using soy paste for you to try:

Blanch deep fried tofu for about 1 minute, then serve it with some soy paste, chopped garlic, chili, garnish with some cilantro.

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