Finding my Cooking Niche in Taiwan

My first couple of orders for my Baked Italian chicken rolls were served on Monday and Tuesday and I am very pleased for the initial reviews.  I am very humbled, grateful and appreciative from the support of our Taichung friends. Please pass the word out to friends and family as I continue my path to happiness with my passion for cooking here in Taiwan!  Thanks! 🙏🏻💕
  1. 12/7 – 艋舺哥 “雞肉卷敲好吃的Y(^_^)Y;  真的好吃 “ “Chicken roll was very good; really good!”
  2. 12/7 – Emma Ho “真的好好吃~^^” “…was very good!”
  3. 12/8 – 劉珊妙 “好美味!艋舺哥沒騙我!我要加訂2條” “My good friend did not lie to me!  I want to order another 2!”
  4. 12/9 – Bike Wang 林畣榮 “謝謝大廚還貼心加熱,果真吃起來特別香酥可口” “Thank you Chef! it was very crispy and delicious!”
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Taking it one day at a time while living life

Patience has been the key as I continue my journey to happiness here in Taiwan.  Letting it come to me when its right.  Let the chips fall where they may.  Instead of diving in head first, we have listened to family and friends alike, tasted  the local food as well as the westernized food here.  Taiwanese taste is light because over salting and over sweetening is not necessary here due to the natural fresh ingredients.  At the same time I have been cooking all types of food with the intent of seeing what can and cannot work for me.  Lately I have started pushing samples to see what type of demand is there.  That is why I lately I have been testing donuts, pizza and now my baked chicken roll.  I have a tremendous support base full of Taiwanese friends in both Taipei and Taichung and I am very fortunate for that as word of mouth here in the Taiwan food industry will make you or break you.  Because local Taiwan news is small time, I have even seen many times on Taiwanese news channels where they report customer restaurant complaints from arguments to the quality and service of a restaurant.

 

 

Private Kitchen Afternoon Lunch/Tea

As we are settling in Taichung and cooking in my new kitchen since we returned, we have made dozens of friends here with the opportunity of networking myself with my passion for cooking here.  Opening a restaurant here would go against everything that we chose for the reasons that we moved here.  We don’t want to tie ourselves down here to renting brick and mortar.  Economic slowdown has reached Taiwan within the last 12 months now and I have already seen some cafes turnover just within months of opening.

In the interim I have been showcasing different foods by entertaining friends and family while gathering their advice, suggestions and ways of doing business while being able to control our hours and also live the life we chose.  Baking donuts is one of those fun experiments while also getting the opportunity to getting to meet new people.

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Hosting Robert Liu to my right with 4 of his Toastmaster’s Club members in my private kitchen

Today marked my very first hosting of a Private Kitchen event with an afternoon lunch and tea with one of my staunch supporters of seeing my passion for food turn into something successful here in Taichung.  His name is Robert Lui.  I met Robert in the park last Spring while I was walking my dog Mina and he was jogging.  Robert stopped to say hello because he found me very interesting – the sight of this tall man walking such a tiny dog.  We began to talk and I explained to him why and what I was doing here in Taiwan.  That I had lost my job and that since my 2 children were at an age that they could be safe and financially independent, that we made a conscious decision to begin a second life in Taiwan while seeking happiness in the form of my passion for cooking.  Robert not only found my story interesting but he invited me as his guest speaker with an English speaking Club that he belongs to in Taichung, called the Toastmasters Club, which has many branches within Taiwan.  The Toastmaster’s Club is a periodic gathering where its members promote public English speaking and leadership skills.  Robert also felt it was a great  opportunity for me to be able to network myself within this club.  With the idea of somehow intertwining my passion for cooking within his network of club friends.  The idea of maybe being able  to have the opportunity to have members gather at my home while I host my private kitchen with whatever food I chose as a menu for the day.  It also gives members a chance to engage with me in English and give feedback as to their correct conversation grammar during the private kitchen meal.

I thought it was a great idea and thought how lucky I was to have met Robert by accident in the park.  I humbly took Robert’s invitation as a guest speaker in his local Taichung club.  It occurred one day last April right before we left to return to NYC for the summer.   I had a 30 minute segment where I gave a little biography of myself and how the path led here to Taiwan with Sintty, and what the open road out here is in store for me.  I was very appreciative of the opportunity to speak in front of his club members.  Robert became a close friend to me and Sintty and we continued to discuss future guest speaking engagements at other local branches while seeking opportunities to host a private kitchen event.

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Fresh home made seasoned bread crumbs for the chicken cutlets diced for the baked chicken rolls
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Baked chicken rolls stuffed with mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce
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Home baked pizza

We left for NYC for the summer and when we returned to Taichung in August, Robert and I kept in contact with each other.  Robert actually just returned home to Taichung after completing a 1 month long trip around the island of Taiwan by walking and hitchhiking.  Circling the island by Taiwan is a very popular thing to do and the method of transportation can be anything from walking, hitching, bicycle or  scooter.   Today’s private kitchen afternoon lunch and tea paid event was arranged by Robert early this week with 5 of his club members.  It was also the first time seeing Robert again since last Spring.  From their feedback it was a success.  Sintty prepared the fruit and beverages while I prepared home made pizza and baked chicken rolls stuffed with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, and sugar glazed baked blueberry donuts for dessert.   I am IMG_9859slowly getting my feet wet here while making so many friends of which I am so grateful and blessed.  And Robert is one of them.  I don’t know where this leads to but I’m having a hell of a fun time while I’m at it.

 

 

 

Pizza to Go

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Pizza literally on the go from the side of a busy main street.

Food trucks are sort of a grey area here in Taiwan.  They are illegal but you see food trucks or food carts dotted along some busy street.  We’ve been told the police will ticket them on occasion and fines can range anywhere between $940-1,250 NTD or $30-40 US.  We have seen a couple of pizza food trucks since we have been here.  Pizza in general in Taiwan is very light.  They are a very thin crust crusted almost saltine cracker like.  Almost like eating a diet pizza.  A 10 inch pizza is the largest and they are not sold in slices. There are commercial delivery pizza here like Pizza Hut and Dominos.  And there is also pizza at the dining facility in COSTCO.  Pizza Hut has the same texture as in the U.S. but less salty.

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The pizza ought quality was not bad you can see here how thin the dougg is rolled out. They were using a very heavy thick rolling pin.

The pizza food trucks here are small flatbed trucks with a custom brick wood oven mounted on a metal platform on the back of a small flatbed truck.  It will take up half the space and the other half is the prep area.  A 10 inch pizza will average between $220-320 NTD or $7-10 US depending on the topping.  This truck had a 3 people.  One taking orders, one prepping the pizza and one managing the oven.

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The guy manning the oven was using a peeler at first then the longest tongs I’ve seen to help rotate the pizza.

On our ride home from the park we decided to try this particular pizza truck.  We ordered just a cheese pie and waited about 20 minutes as their were 5 people ahead of us.  Pies were being made one at a time.  By the time our pizza was done it was already dark out as we ate the pie from the side of the street.   It didn’t have the saltine cracker texture we have had at sit down restaurants here but more of a very, very lighter version of the brick oven pizza found in the U.S.  This pizza was probably the best one I’ve had to date here.

The mindset in making any type of western food here in Taiwan is it has to be altered to custom to local Taiwanese taste here.  Which is less salt, less sweet and very light on the thickness of dough with breads and cakes.  I will stick to making my own pizza at home for now.

 

 

Baked Dragon Fruit Donuts

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Since I was successful with baking blueberry donuts, I am now trying my hand baking  donuts with seasonal fruits in Taiwan.  Pitaya or “Dragon Fruit” is a purple mild sweet tasting kiwi type melon.  I remember eating this for the first time here in Taiwan and I thought I had gotten IMG_9427.JPGvery sick.  When I went to the bathroom, the fruits natural purple red coloring flows through the digestive tract and comes out dominating in color in your urine and bowel movements.

Baked Blueberry Glazed Donuts

FullSizeRender-3Becoming a real homemaker with Sintty here in Taichung.  I’m in love my new
Bosch Convection oven and it cooks food in half the time than a regular gas oven.  Sintty’s been baking a lot and I also try my hand at baking with the things I like.  Sintty opts for the organic as I opt for the non organic. lol  Seriously, finding all your ingredients you need to cook just outside your door has been such a convenience here.

IMG_8254Baked blueberry donuts with a blueberry glaze.  Simple as pie.  Just flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, milk, an egg and vanilla extract.  The glaze is from blueberry juice and powdered sugar.

Pre-Thanksgiving Turkey…

IMG_8257Turkeys are another uncommon meat in Taiwan.  Instead of depending on IMG_8286Costco seasonal turkeys to arrive we
have a friend who has a poultry farm with some IMG_8282turkeys.  Celebrating Thanksgiving here is a novelty so to have a freshly home cooked turkey to share with our friends IMG_8292is really a special occasion.   In anticipation of Thanksgiving we ordered a small 10lb turkey from our friend’s farm for me to test cook it in my convection oven.  I wanted to have a pre turkey in advance to try with a couple friends so that I could correct IMG_8285what needed to be adjusted and do it again for real and celebrate with a party on Thanksgiving.
I made the usual accompianant with the Turkey.  A stuffing from home
made sausage and home made seasoned bread crumbs, mashed potatoes, fresh corn and asparagus,fresh IMG_8253turkey gravy and baked glazed blueberry doughnuts for dessert.

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American Steak in Taiwan

Last week Sintty and I were buying another IMac to replace my IMac that crashed to the floor from a computer store in our neighborhood.  We are constantly meeting new friends and also  contacts towards helping us doing some type of food business here.  The night we picked up the computer the owner’s friend was visiting him in the store when we arrived.  It turns out his friend also operates a steakhouse in Taichung called WildFire Steakhouse.  His menu consists of imported American beef so we all got to talking about American beef cuts and how he gets his beef from his wholesaler.  That night he invited us to stop by his restaurant when we had a chance.  This would be my first real opportunity to get a first hand look with the way they cook beef steaks here.

imageWe haven’t had much steak here at all except for me cooking it on my own using Costco NY Strip steaks as I normally do in the U.S.  So my meat diets here is primarily pork, chicken and duck.  We wound up going for dinner at the WildFire Steakhouse Saturday night.  It was about a 15 minute scooter ride from our apartment.  In the

You order your cut of meat directly from their meatcase
You order your cut of meat directly from their meatcase

steakhouse you get to order your cut of beef straight from the refrigerated showcase at the front counter.  They take the cuts of meat you chose and weigh it and that is what you are IMG_8018charged by the pound.  We ordered a rib eye steak and a NY strip.  The first thing you notice is that the cuts of meats are not the thickness I am use to in the U.S.  They also do not have much fat around them.  I got a chance to see IMG_8019their cooking method as it was an open kitchen in the grilling area.  The steaks were placed on the gas grill, were constantly pressed against the grill with a spatula, taken off the grill periodically and probed with a meat thermometer, then placed in an oven to finish the cooking process.  After removing the steaks from the oven, the steaks were stamped with grill marks using a hand held grill iron and heated with a propane torch.  The steaks were tender but they reminded me of the commercial chain steak restaurants like Outback Steakhouse.

Steak is probably the number one item that I cook very well as I love steak.  I periodically cook it here in Taiwan to maintain my steak game as well as to entertain our Taiwan friends to show them how steak should taste like.   Because basically grilled steak  is not commonly eaten here because in my opinion not many people know how to cook it besides being expensive to find quality beef.  Grills are not common here so a lot of steaks are cooked over a flat top grill.

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My Sliced Costco NY Strips slightly medium rare, medium

Yesterday I went to Costco and picked up some NY strips and cooked it for dinner, imagewith some German potatoes and creamed spinach.  Costco beef is imported from the U.S. but they are trimmed and packaged on site at the Costco location just as it is done in the U.S.  They are trimmed to the same thickness as in the U.S. but with one big difference.  They trim off a lot of the excess fat cap and leave about 50% less than U.S.Costco specifications when it is packaged.  I was told by the Costco meat department manager that they follow Taiwan Costco specifications to the amount of fat that is to be trimmed off for the local market.  My personal opinion is that the local market here does not want to pay the extra cost for something that they don’t know how to use and cook with it, the excess beef fat.  It’s ironic since the primary meat eaten in Taiwan is pork and a lot of the cuts they buy contain a lot of fat like the pork belly.

imageAs you can see from the Costco NY strip sirloin out of the package there is some fat but not much, the NY strip on the far left basically has all of it’s fat removed.  To me the fat is the key to a great tasting grilled steak.  I have had many steaks that have been grilled for me where you wind up trimming off a third of the steak for its fat and writing it off  the fat as useless plate discard.  That’s because the steak was basically grilled only on its top and bottom, and the fat was left uncooked properly and left in a grotesque gelatin state.

I rigged a US bought ever grilling rack for ribs with galvanised wire to support NY Strip steaks.
I rigged a Weber grilling rack for ribs  that I brought from the U.S. and strung  galvanised wire to support NY Strip steaks on its sides.

My secret is to use the excess fat to its advantage by grilling the fat sides of the NY strip first so you render down the excess fat so that what remains of the fat is a caramelized crispy fat trim bark that surrounds the steak.  imageThat way with each slice of the steak, you get a nice flavorable, moist taste from the rendered fat crusty bark, which other wise without it, makes your steak dry tasting.  The key is to cook the sides with the fat first and watch for grill flame flares up due to the fat melting down into the grill flames.  Just constantly remove it away from the flare up until it dies down then remelt the fat down more until it has rendered to a nice almost  burnt crispiness.  After the side fat has rendered then you can grill the top and bottom accordingly.

The steaks are still great tasting but I can tell its missing that surrounding excess rendered fat around  the entire side of the steaks.  The good new is that I can purchase the Costco NY strip sirloins packaged untrimmed.  It is cheaper by the pound and I can trim the steaks with the proper excess fat remaining on it.

Taiwanese Fox Stomach

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Judy and Brian to the left of Sintty. Wendy and her daughter behind me.

Sunday evening we invited friends over for dinner.  These 2 friends we met separately in public in Taichung and it reflects the kindness and friendliness of the Taiwanese people.  We met Wendy last March at an afternoon market while we were shopping for dinner.  Wendy heard Sintty and I speaking in English while we were all waiting in line together at a sushi stand and she asked if I would be willing to help tutor her high school daughter in English.  I wound up tutoring her daughter Celine for a couple of months and Sintty and Wendy became good friends.  Wendy helped us find contractors for renovating part of our new apartment.

IMG_4250We just met our friend Judy last week Saturday while hiking in the Dakeng Mountains with her dog Lulu.  We were surprised to see dogs walking on these rail road type tree logged paths and Lulu caught our eye as she was walking with Judy.  We found out Judy and her husband Brian lives close by our apartment.

I made a pizza for appetizers, and roasted chicken and potatoes with asparagus for dinner.  Judy and her husband Brian also brought over some imagehome cooked fox stomach and lamb in rice wine soup.  Brian told me the fox stomach is a rare Taiwanese dish that was served over dinner only when businessmen were consummating deals together and it was usually at the home of someone who was able to get the ingredient but also know how to prepare it.  The stomach has to be probably cleaned first and it is a time-consuming process in which it is rinsed many times and boiled in vinegar.  A rare dish that not many Taiwanese are aware of.  Sintty and our other friend Wendy had never heard of this dish before.   I usually don’t eat any animal organs but after a couple of beers I’ll try anything. It was actually very good.  It was pan sautéed with chile peppers,  There was really no distinct taste except for just the stomach lining texture.