Contrary to recent appearances on this blog, we don’t really eat a whole lot of Asian food. I’ve been on something of an East Asian binge lately, though, and once I get the bug, I have to let it run its course.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. This binge has brought us yakitori and kara age, kimchi fried rice and Korean pickles, galbi, ma po tofu, and roast pork buns. And yesterday, it was steamed and pan-fried foods, the favorites of night market stalls in Taiwan.
Night markets aren’t unique to Taiwan, but they have reached a sort of perfect expression there. Like most other open-air markets – whether the Camden or Old Spitalfields markets in London, the night bazaars throughout Thailand, or the souqs of Tunis and Marrakech, night markets contain numerous stalls selling everything from music CDs (sometimes the genuine article and sometimes not), paperback books and comics, clothing and shoes, jewelry, and household goods. Where else can you buy – all in one night – a new pair of Pumas, a leather-sleeved varsity jacket that says Horny Boy Do Not Fall In Love If You Are Lonely It Is Dangerous, a bootleg Radiohead cd, and a kilo of mangosteen?
But then there’s the food. You’ll know if you’re in a Taiwanese night market because of the smells. Some night markets are known especially for their food, and as you make your way through the stalls and shops, you’ll find carts vending grilled sweet pork sausages, frying up pungent “stinky tofu” (chòu dòufǔ 臭豆腐) and dousing it in sweet and garlicky sauce, deep-frying huge, flat, crispy chicken breasts dusted with white pepper, chili, and Taiwanese basil, and flipping oyster omelets (ô-á-chian 蚵仔煎). In the summer, you can pull up a seat at any number of tables or bars and cool down with shaved ice topped with fruit, red beans or mung beans, gelatin cubes, and condensed milk (tsua bing 剉冰/刨冰).
Shilin Night Market
In a country overflowing with delicious dining options, night markets rank among my favorite places to eat. There’s the XXL chicken stand at Shilin Night Market 士林夜市, possibly the best-known of the night markets, which marinates the chicken in soy, wine, and spices before dredging and frying it. There’s the delicious hot drink that tastes like limeade. In Tainan – home of the best night markets in the country – I always have to have the savory oily rice (Tâi-lâm iû-png 台南油飯), full of pork and dried shrimp, or the noodles – either the danzaimian 擔仔麵 with their unctuous pork sauce and scallions, or the ô-á mī-sòa 蚵仔麵線, thin, brothy noodles with fresh oysters.And there are the meat- or vegetable-filled buns. Some are simply steamed (bāozi)包子); others are fried as well as steamed.
Water-fried buns 生煎包
I just learned the name for these buns, which are so-called because they’re fried in a little oil while simultaneously the dough steams from adding water to the hot frying pan and covering the pan. The technique is similar to frying potstickers. You can fry on both sides, or just one. The absolute best place to eat these buns is at the Shilin Night Market in Taipei. just blocks from the Jiantan MRT Station.
Weigh the dough ingredients, in grams if you are able. Measuring before baking yields the best results.
2 1/3 c/ 2/3 lb/300g flour
2 oz/55 g sugar
1 1/2 tsp/6 g baking powder
1/2 oz/12g active dry yeast
2/3 c /150 g filtered water, warm – about 105-110F/40-43C
1 tsp oil
Combine the dry ingredients except for the yeast. Proof the yeast with the warm water. After five minutes, combine in a stand mixer with a dough hook on low speed until smooth, or knead until smooth. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and set in a warm area to rise 45-60 mins until the dough increases in volume by about 50 percent.
3/4 lb ground beef, preferably home-ground from chuck, bottom sirloin, or another flavorful but inexpensive cut
3 bunches scallions, sliced thin
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce (preferably a light soy like usukuchi)
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
large pinch five spice powder
Combine the oil, sugar, soy, white pepper. Mix with the beef and scallions. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Punch down the dough, knead lightly, and set to rise again for 20 minutes. Divide the dough into four equal pieces with a sharp knife or bench scraper, and divide each into six pieces for a total of 24. With a wooden pin, roll out into a thin disk about 3 1/2″ in diameter. Place about a 1 1/2 tbsp filling in the center of each dough disk. Bring the edges together to form a ball, pleating to close, and twist the top knot. Place the balls knot side-down on a Silpat or lightly floured surface until ready to cook.
If necessary, perform the next step in batches. Set a large saute pan (with a lid) over medium high heat and, when hot, add a couple tablespoons of oil. Arrange dumplings in a circular pattern – do not let the sides touch. Add about 1 c water and cover the pan. Reduce the heat slightly and fry until golden on the bottom, about 5 minutes. If you like, flip each bun over with tongs and fry on the other side as well.
Glutinous rice in lotus leaf 糯米雞
When prepared with bamboo leaves instead of lotus leaf, this dish is called zongzi 糭子and is a specialty – along with oyster omelets – of my parents’ home town, Tainan. Both the bamboo zongzi and the lotus leaf-wrapped nuo mi ji 糯米雞 are equally delicious – you may find the lotus leaf preparation easier to fold.
1/3 lb pork shoulder
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1/2 tsp white pepper
6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms
6 salted duck eggs (optional), yolks only, halved
3 c glutinous rice
2 tbsp dried shrimp
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp white pepper
peanut or vegetable oil
3 whole lotus leaves (available at Chinese stores; other types of groceries are unlikely to carry them); if necessary, substitute 12 large grape leaves without rips or tears, soaked in water and rinsed
Rinse the rice until the water runs clear, and then soak in filtered water for about 3 hours.
While the rice soaks, prepare the pork. Pour 1 1/2 c boiling water over the shiitake mushrooms in a small bowl; when reconstituted, remove the mushrooms, slice off and discard the stems, and slice the mushrooms about 1/4″. Reserve the soaking liquid.
Marinate in 1 1/2 tbsp soy, the Shaoxing wine, and white pepper for an hour, and then remove from marinade (reserve marinade). Place a small saucepot over medium high heat and, when hot, add a small amount of oil. Brown the pork well on both sides; reduce heat to low and add the marinade and 1/4 c shiitake soaking liquid; partially cover with the pot lid. Braise at a simmer for 2 hours, turning the pork as necessary. Remove the pork from the pot and slice 1/4″.
If using lotus leaves, boil the leaves until flexible and drain. Cut off the stem end of the leaves and slice the leaves with a knife into quarters (they come folded in half, so slice once down the middle, and stack slice the remaining halves again down the middle.
Drain the rice. Place a skillet on medium heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp oil. Add the dried shrimp and saute until opaque and crisp; add the drained rice and saute in the oil until the grains just begin to turn translucent (about 5 minutes). Turn off the heat.
Place a leaf vein side-down on a board, and brush with a very small amount of oil. Spread 1/12 of the rice mixture in the center and add 1/12 each of the sliced pork and shiitake mushrooms, and one half of a salted egg yolk, if you’re using it. Fold the rice over the contents, and wrap the leaf into a square package. Secure with kitchen twine if necessary.
Wrapped leaves, ready to steam.
Place in a steamer and steam over simmering water for 2 hours. Serve with a little soy sauce.
Market style potstickers
I don’t know if this style of dumpling (jiǎozi 餃子) has a name. I do know that, for a few years after my parents moved to Taipei, my dad’s office was near a daytime lunch market in the Zhongshan area. Unlike night markets, which often sell food suitable to walking around, day markets focus almost entirely on noodles, soups, and other sit-down meal dishes, as well as fresh produce, meat, and fish for cooking at home. For a couple of dollars, you could fill up on soup or noodles at any of a couple dozen food stalls and carts, or you could buy a tray of a dozen or so dumplings – enough to fill you up. They were pan-fried on both sides, and filled with pork and scallions, and served with a little cup of chile-spiked soy sauce with black vinegar.
Unlike other dumplings I’d had – and I’ve made and eaten a lot of dumplings in my time – the filling in these dumplings wasn’t completely enclosed in the wrapper. And unlike traditional potstickers (guōtiē 鍋貼), these are fried on both sides, not just the one, and no water is added to the pan to steam the dumpling.
1/4 head napa cabbage, chopped fine
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 lb ground pork, preferably home-ground from shoulder or butt
2 bunches scallions, sliced thin
3 tbsp sesame oil
1 1/4 tsp sugar
1 tsp soy sauce (preferably a light soy like usukuchi)
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
Toss the salt and the napa cabbage in a colander and allow to drain for about an hour. Squeeze the liquid out.
Combine the oil, sugar, soy, white pepper. Mix with the pork, scallions, and salted cabbage. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
2 1/3 c/ 2/3 lb/300g flour
1 c/ 225 g boiling water
Combine the ingredients in a stand mixer with a dough hook on low speed until smooth, or knead until smooth.
Divide the dough into four pieces with a sharp knife or bench scraper, and roll each into a long, thin (1/2″) log. Cover unused sections with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Cut off 1/2″ pieces and roll with a wooden pin into a thin circle. Place a couple of teaspoons in a straight line down the center of each dough wrapper. Gather the sides of the wrapper and pinch together on top. Place the dumplings flat side-down on a Silpat or a plate until ready to cook.
Set a large skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add a couple tablespoons of oil. Arrange dumplings in a row, with sides touching. Reduce the heat slightly and fry until golden; turn over and fry on the other side. Serve with a sauce mixed in individual bowls – about 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp black vinegar, and 1/2 tsp chile sauce, or to taste.
*Source for Shilin Night Market: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/48/Shilin_Night_Market_9,_Dec_06.JPG
Source for Tainan night market: