Sunday, 22 April 2012

Hainanese Chicken Rice in Taipei

I used to think that Singapore had the best Hainanese chicken rice around. Singapore does a pretty good job branding their chicken rice, so you get the likes of Boon Tong Kee and 5 Star branches everywhere.  And even the single outlets like Tian Tian and the used-to-be good Chatterbox @ Mandarin Hotel generated passionate discussions and legions of loyal fans.  Then I went to Taipei.

It was the last place I'd expected to find chicken rice - a hole in the wall, literally. Big Dog had stumbled upon it during one his sojourns to Taipei.  When we first ate there, it was a hut sandwiched between 2 shops. In winter, you'd eat quickly and vamoose because you're dining alfresco freezing your toes off.  No heating, no frills.  You pay, eat and go. Chop chop.  Business must have been good because a year later, they'd upgraded to a proper shop.  Luckily for us, it was still in the vicinity when we went back for a visit and we found it easily. 

So what do you get at Ching Cheng Hoinan Chicken Rice?  The smoothest, tenderest, poached chicken with an awesomely flavoured rice.  Rice cooked to perfection with each individual grain loose and fluffy.  Not sticky or clumpy.  You can taste the chicken stock, fat and the merest hint of garlic in the rice.  The chicken is served plain - no sauce, no garnishing to distract.  Smooth, smooth, smooth - even the white meat was tender.

Smooth poached chicken with ginger-spring onion dip

Large portion served with sides
What do you not get?  Unlike Malaysian and Singaporean versions, they don't serve it with chilli or soy sauce. Instead you get the most piquant minced ginger-spring onion dip on the side.  Be prepared that the dish isn't piping hot - the rice is warm, the chicken and sides are room temperature.  The only piping hot dish is the free soup simmering away in the corner which you help yourself to.  You have a choice of small or large portions. Small (NT65) comes with just rice and chicken.  Large (NT85) gets you additional sides of omelet and stir-fried vegetables.  Oh - you are expected to clear your own tray after eating - just like in McDonald's.  There aren't any cheap foreign labour or amahs to clean up after you here.  

Hainanese chicken rice is a dish which Chinese immigrants brought across with them to Malaysia and Singapore.  When I was in Hainan island, I was hard put to find Hainanese chicken rice like the ones back home - I found wengchang chicken instead.  Just like you'll never find Hokkien Mee in Fujien or Singapore Fried Noodles in Singapore, Hainanese chicken rice is a dish which has evolved and taken on local influences over the years. 

Most Taiwanese speak the Hokkien dialect, or Min Nang hua, so conversing and ordering wasn't difficult even with our limited Mandarin.  In fact the wait staff were pretty delighted and amazed that we could speak in Hokkien (we were obviously not local and not from mainland China).

How to get there:
Take the MTR to Nanjing East Station and exit Qingcheng Street.  You will see Brother Hotel on your right.  Keep the hotel to your right.

Walk down Qingcheng Street towards McDonald's, pass Les Suite Taipei and Movenpick.  Turn right into the lane when you see Hooters. 
The shop is on the right side, opposite Friends Pharmacy.

Address :
Ching Cheng Hoinan Chicken Rice
Lane 16, Qìngchéng Street, Songshan District, Taipei,

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Street food at Feng Jia Night Market, Taichung

On our last trip to Taichung, Big Dog and I found ourselves hurtling towards Feng Jia night market in a taxi. Now, Taiwan taxis are a world of difference from their KL counterparts. Having experienced KL taxi drivers who are grumpy, have no clue how to get to point B, refuse to use the meter, or refuse point blank to take you to point B and are generally more a menace than a service, Taiwan taxis are a breath of fresh air. There's always a taxi when you need one.  As a plus point, they even have practical taxis to boot, the Toyota Wish - it can actually fit more than 1 suitcase into the boot. Ever tried that with the KLIA taxis? I always end up paying for premium taxis just to fit our luggage. My only gripe with Taiwan taxis is the way they drive - the muddle of cars, scooters and pedestrians always just seem to miraculously avoid collision; there's probably an invisible force-field protecting them.

Feng Jia market in Taichung is the 2nd largest night market in Taiwan, after Shilin market in Taipei. As it is situated next to Feng Jia university, expect plenty of students and affordable trendy fashion. But we were there not to shop, but to explore street food dining options.

I'd recommend that you hit the market early, at about 6pm as it gets claustrophobically crowded as the night wears on.  Humans, scooters and the occasional dog on a leash.  Taiwanese love their dogs, mostly the cutesy lapdog variety.  They dress them and parade them everywhere.

The first long queue at a stall - this is the "big  sausage wrapped around small sausage" aka double layer roll aka sausage wrapped in glutinous rice. 

Plain tau foo far and tau foo far with the ubiquitous tapioca balls.  The tau foo far texture is different in the sense that it is more jelly-like rather than curdy.  It's also served steaming hot, which makes the tapioca balls rather gummy.  Smooth, springy and gummy textures - weird in an interesting way.

 Honey glazed fruits arranged very prettily.  Are tomatoes fruit? Very temptalicious but resist I must.

Another local favourite, similar to our lok-lok.  The Taiwanese version of fast food.  Meat, vegetables and processed food on skewers waiting to be dip and cooked in large vats of boiling water (photo on right).  You'll see variations of this even at c-stores (convenience stores).  They also love offal.  You can see the selection of offal available for cooking up -stomach, intestines, kidneys liver etc all waiting to be selected by hungry customers.
There are plenty of stalls selling soup noodles.  The soup is more like a 'kang' ie thick and starchy, not the usual clear broth.  Rather like mee suah kang.  It's served piping hot and is just the right tummy filler on a winter night.  One of our main handicaps is our inability to read fluently in Chinese.  We recognise words, but sometimes menus still confound us.   So we make do with recognising key words, and pointing to what looks interesting at neighbouring tables.  It was hit & miss initially, but as you can see, we've gotten better with every trip we make. 

This was at a dimsum stall.  Rice balls and black glutinous rice balls, steamed up in little mini muffin cups.  It's rather like eating flavoured sushi rice. 

A couple of literal translations into English - would you care for some bloody cake, a porky box or even a fish that wants sauce to eat?  Upon closer inspection, bloody cake isn't as gory as it sounds.  It's just black pudding ie congealed pork blood.   Still looks pretty blood-curdling though.  Porky box = a pork fillet bento.  However I really couldn't decipher "fish eat sauce".

I couldn't help but stop at the neon sign shouting 'squid' in such bright lurid colours.  The grilled squid was irresistible; tender, juicy, liberally brushed with a sweet teriyaki sauce which caramelised over the grill and sprinkled generously with toasted sesame seeds.  The prawns were largish and sweet, and in Australia you'd call them yabbies. Finger-licking good.

Malaysia Boleh!  Our export toTaichung - Satay! Would have missed this or thought it was yakitori if not for the Malaysian flag which caught my eye.

With winter being very mild in Taichung (night temperature in the mid-teens), it was quite pleasant to walk around the market.  For shoppers, there are plenty of inexpensive bits and bobs - I bagged a winter scarf for NT100.  And check out the helmets below :)

Address :
Feng Jia Night Market
Xitun District Taichung, Taiwan.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Hot Cross Buns

I never knew that hot cross buns are synonymous with Good Friday.  Traditionally, a hot cross bun is a sweet spiced bun made with dried fruit and topped with a cross. Here in KL, you'll see local versions of the buns in bakeries all year round, but these are mostly just sweet buns topped with a piped cross for decoration.  Apparently there are a number of beliefs with hot cross buns, and one of my favourites is that you'll have lifelong friendship with the person you share it with.

Anyway, making hot cross buns isn't difficult at all.  Like making any yeast breads, all you need is time for the dough to proof and either some elbow grease or a machine to knead.  I was rather careless in my first batch and chucked in a cup of wholemeal flour instead of plain flour.  I did wonder why the flour looked odd at that time.  Darn.  Then as I was getting ready to shape them after the 1st proof, something came up. So I ended up chucking the dough into the fridge for shaping later. Double darn.  I thought I was done for, as the dough may have been abused beyond recognition.  Luckily for me, this recipe is pretty hardy and as the buns turned out pretty well considering. 

 I liked that the cinnamon gave it a warm aromatic flavour and the currants remained plump and juicy (well, about as juicy as dried fruit can get).  The kitchen smelled heavenly of cinnamon and spices during the bake-out.  The wholemeal gave it more of a bite, so mistake or not, I decided to keep it in the recipe. 

Dear friends, for logistics reasons if I can't share a hot cross bun with you, here's a yummy hot cross bun recipe to share.  To life-long friendship :D

Makes 12 buns
Hot Cross Buns - adapted from Darla of Bakingdom

Ingredients:For buns:
1 1/2 cups plain bread flour
1 cup wholemeal bread flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil, or butter
3/4 cup warm milk
1/2 cup raisins or currants
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (optional)
1 egg for egg wash (optional)

For Icing:
3 tablespoons icing sugar
2 teaspoon warm water

1.  Line a baking tray with baking paper. 
2.  Combine the flours, sugar, yeast, cinnamon, allspice and salt into a large bowl.  Make a well in the center.
3.  Stir the liquids (milk, egg, oil) into the dry ingredients and mix until a dough just forms.  Cover the bowl with a tea towel and rest for 15 minutes.
4.  Once rested, add in the dried fruit and knead until smooth and elastic.  Or use the dough function in a bread maker.  If the dough is too dry, add a teaspoon of water at a time.  If it is too wet, add a tablespoon of flour at a time.
5.  Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover the proof until double in size, approximately 1 hour.
6.  Gently punch down the dough, and turn it out unto a lightly floured surface.  Divide the dough into 12 pieces, roughly the size of a golf ball.
7.  Shape the dough pieces into round-ish balls and place on the lined baking tray. Ensure you leave enough space between the dough balls for them to double in size. 
8.  Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rise until double in size, approximately 1 hour.
9.  Lightly whisk the egg, and glaze the dough with the egg wash if preferred.  Bake in a pre-heated oven 200C/400F for 15-18 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.  It should be nicely brown when done.
10. Remove from oven and cool completely before icing the cross design.
11.  To make sugar icing, mix the icing sugar and water until smooth.  It should be quite
thick and 'sticky'.  Pipe or paint a 'cross' design on each bun.

If you don't like wholemeal, just use plain bread flour instead.
I like baking buns out where they are 'joined' to one another, so I used a 3x4 configuration.   Alternatively they can be placed individually.
Ensure buns are completely cooled before piping the sugar icing, otherwise the icing just melts into the buns.
I painted the design using a teaspoon :)  No more messing with a piping bag or zip-lock.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Mandarin orange sorbet - without ice-cream machine

Chinese New Year has come and gone, but it left in its wake more mandarin oranges than we could possibly eat.  If like me, you got tired of eating them, why not make them into a nice refreshing sorbet? A mandarin orange sorbet.   After all, sorbet is nothing more than frozen fruit juice with syrup.  Plus with the weather opening in the low 30s and hitting the mid-30s by noon, a sorbet is a delicious non-fat frozen alternative to ice-cream.   You get an almost explosive burst of citrusy mandarin flavour with every spoonful.  Somehow the flavours are concentrated and intensified after the entire freezing process.  Ooohhh....yummers.

isn't it a gorgeous mandarin colour? 
After doing some research, most sorbets are best made with simple syrups.  A simple syrup is made from equal parts water to sugar.  It is the syrup that reduces the freezing point and gives the softer texture to sorbets.  Otherwise you end up with a large crystalline icy texture or worse, a solid ice brick.  I normally make extra syrup as you can keep the balance in the fridge for later use.  Adding a splash of alcohol also gives a less icy texture as alcohol also reduces the freezing point.  As a plus, a shot of vodka gives it an added zing and makes it 'tres adult'.
splash some of your favourite vodka into your sorbet!

As I didn't have an ice-cream machine, I had to do this manually, which although easy enough, took some time as I had to wait for the freezing process to happen.  Do this well ahead of time.  It took a couple of tries to get the texture that I wanted.  The first came out looking like shaved ice (ala ice kacang).  I had forked up the semi-frozen mixture and it stayed that way, like loosely packed snow.  It was soft, not icy at all but the texture was too loose and fluffy.  Then I tried beating it with a whisk until smooth.  This worked better.  I had a more compact mixture and it was still soft textured and not icy.

Trust me, once you've tried making your own sorbet with fresh fruit, there's no going back to the store-bought stuff.  I can't begin to describe the clean mouthfeel you get; none of the artificially flavoured funny mouthfeels you get with commercially sold sorbet. 

No additives, no artificial flavours, 100% real.  To paraphrase, nothing tastes as skinny as a sorbet feels ;D
home-made and guilt-free
Mandarin Orange Sorbet - without ice-cream machine

300ml mandarin orange juice - squeezed from approximately 5 oranges
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tsp mandarin orange zest
30ml of vodka (optional)

1.  In a pot, bring the water and sugar to a boil to dissolve the sugar.  Boil for about a minute or until the syrup is slightly thickened. 
2.  Stir the orange zest into the syrup.  Leave to infuse and cool the syrup before using.
3.  In a large bowl, pour in the mandarin orange juice and add 1/4 cup of the syrup first. Taste first before adding more syrup.  Adjust the syrup quantity to taste.  This is important!
4.  Add the alcohol in if preferred.
5.  Pour the fruit/syrup/vodka mixture into a shallow pan, preferably glass as this is citrus-based.
6.  Freeze about 2 - 3 hours, or until it comes to a soft set.  The edges should be starting to freeze up, and the center still slushy.  With a fork, scrape the frozen bits towards the center and use a whisk to beat vigorously until you have an icy slush.  Put it back into the freezer and repeat the freeze/beat cycle another 1 to 2 times.
7.  After the final beat, leave in the freezer until fully set before serving.

After a few days in the fridge (assuming it actually stays that long in the freezer), the sorbet gets icier.  Don't fret, just beat it up and freeze it again.
I prefer to use a whisk to beat the sorbet.  Some recipes suggest using a blender, but I ended up with a semi-frozen slush which was difficult to blend.

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