Taiwanese Food Odyssey Day 3: Eating Clouds

23 08 2009
Picture 048


Day 3 in Taiwan started off the good old fashioned way: with bacon and eggs. But with a Chinese twist: tsao bing pei gun dan, a flaky, flat, fried bread (tsao bing) cut into halves and filled with scrambled egg (dan) and bacon (pei gun). The bacon is a obviously a Western-influenced addition, as pei gun is just a phonetic imitation of the English. Or it could just be that bacon is a universal word–the combination of salt and fat is irresistible in any language.

Tsao bing are made with wheat flour, so the flavor will be pretty familiar to a westerner, but the consistency is harder to describe.  It’s flaky, but harder than a croissant. If you’ve ever had puff pastry at a dim sum place or a Chinese green onion pancake, those are the the closest things I can think of, though they’re not exactly the same. Sesame seeds sprinkled on top add a mellow nuttiness to the bacon and egg fat.  The tsao bing is tradionally washed down with soy milk or peanut-flavored rice milk as a sweet complement to the salt.

There’s not much room for improvement with tsao bing, but I do have one small complaint.  They like their bacon pretty soft here, and I normally like mine crispy. The softness does provide a nice counterpoint to the crispy outer shell of the tsao bing, but the downside is that sometimes you can’t bite through the unrendered bacon fat and you end up tearing away a huge flap of bacon. Maybe next time I’ll ask for crispy bacon to see if it improves the experience.

The eggs are perfect as they are—they’re from the day market, so the yolks are intensely flavored, and once again, green onion shows up to provide an extra kick. The Taiwanese really know how to use green onion—it seems to appear in almost every dish. The next time I scramble some eggs at home I’m going to throw in some scallions–they don’t take as long to sautee as regular onions, which are too time-consuming in the morning for me.

Picture 053Lunch was at a wun tun (wonton) street stall. Since it was hot outside, we had them “dry” instead of “wet” (in soup). Wun tun literally means “swallowing clouds,” and you can tell why when you look at a real Chinese wun tun, which, unlike their small, thick-skinned American cousins, is so full of crinolatons and creases that it does look like a big, vague cloud. They really are big too—impossible to eat in one bite. These were combo wun tun, filled with chunks of shrimp, shrimp paste (the shrimp form of Chinese meatball), and pork. “Dry” style is still a little wet—these guys were floating in a sauce of soy and vinegar, with pieces of green onion, egg, and seaweed. The filling was delicious—whole chunks of fresh shrimp, shrimp ball, and pork ball seasoned with a little bit of sugar, ginger, and cilantro, my favorite herb. The skin, made of egg noodle, was paper-thin and incredibly soft.

I ended up having to skip dinner tonight, which was fortunate, because I felt I should pay some kind of penance for the gluttony of the past couple of days. But I’m sure I’ll be back at it soon.  For the Taiwanese, eating isn’t just a necessity, it’s a hobby.




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