Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hakka Cuisine

So I know it's been almost a year since I spent a lovely summer in Taiwan, but I still have gajillions of photos of phood that I need to unload somewhere. Don't be surprised if random photos from long time ago pop up every so often.

I get peeved when people try to label Taiwan as being Chinese. There's really many many different subcultures that make up what is Taiwanese nowadays. Hakka is one of the larger groups, centralized in the western (mid-western) part of the island. Briefly: Hakka people come from the south east part of China, and their cuisine and traditions are different from other groups of Taiwanese people.

We went to a Hakka restaurant in the next town over from where I grew up. The restaurant was essentially the downstairs of somebody's house, but was known to have excellent food. The owner's cat is a tricky one. It insists on drinking and eating out of the plates that they leave for the gods. There's the proprietor of the restaurant, pulling out a bottle of plum juice or plum wine or some sort of alcoholic beverage involving plum.
The style of this painting is very similar to french impressionism. I thought it was particularly interesting, because it shows a scene looking down the historic main street of the little town next to our town.
Two small plates of "pickled" things. The black one I think is some sort of plum. The yellow one is unripe mangos, I think. I can remember how it tastes and what the texture was, but I can't remember the fruit.
Tenderized pork with egg over cucumber. Very subtle flavors for Hakka cuisine.
An interesting peanut duo. On the left, a creamy peanut paste drizzled over cucumbers (very good). On the right, a spicy sauce with bitter greens and peanuts, poured over bitter melon slices. You should note that fresh flowers are usually part of Hakka cuisine as well.
One fish eaten three ways. This dish is just chunks of one simple white fish, presented with three different sauces. The tan sauce on the left is a sweet and sour sauce similar to the taste of Tang Tzu Yuu (sweet and sour fish, literally: sugar and vinegar fish), but more focused on the sweet and sour flavors and not the savory flavors. The next bowl holds a spicy, soy sauce based sauce that reminds me of the random spicy szechuan sauces that my grandma pours on everything. The last sauce was by far the most mindblowing - it is a thick miso based sauce that wasn't pungent despite the wasabi that was in it. The sauce is smooth and warm on the tongue, capturing the flavor but not the burn of wasabi. Miso really goes brilliantly with white fish.
Tofu and thick chunks of fatty pork (like mei gan ko ro). Not too exceptionally weird. Those of you who are not as daring would love this one.
Last but not least, a bit of soup to warm the body. Taiwan is a sauna during the summer months, but one can't let weather hinder the consumption of "chinese voodoo medicine," as I like to call it. This particular soup wasn't as offensive as the real medicinal soups. It had chicken (oh, and ALL parts of the chicken except for feathers), and probably gogi and ginseng, two essential ingredients to making Chinese medicinal soup.

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