2015年1月29日 星期四

Tamsui tea

Tamsui has always been a tea country. The cultivation of tea started in 1827 by Mr 黃太 from ChangChou who introduced seedlings from Hokkien. Initially, the farmers produced only raw tea. John Dodd, upon arriving in Tamsui, had recognized the immense commodity value of tea and founded Dodd & Co in 1866 to take advantage of the abundance. His company purchased local raw tea in bulk to further process into the famed Formosa 烏龍茶Oolong Tea. Which was exported to the US for handsome profits. Dodd himself of course became quite wealthy.

Then Mr 吳福老 from ChuanChou opened a tea factory called 源隆號, and began manufacturing 包種茶Pouchong Tea. This tea is also known as 清茶Clear Tea, not to be confused with 青茶Green Tea (identical pronunciation in Mandarin Chinese). Both Pouchong and Oolong are semi-fermented; the latter is in a more advanced stage and each leave tends to curl up into a little ball. Pouchong was exported mostly to China and SE Asia.

As a result, in Tamsui and northern Taiwan, tea became the crop of choice for farmers. Tea leaf picking was done almost always by young ladies. In the photo above, the arms of the girl [probably a movie starlet] in the foreground are exposed to sunlight, different from the well-shielded norm seen especially in Central and Southern Taiwan. Tea-making/processing on the other hand was a closely guarded secret, done indoors in the middle of the night by strong men.

An exporter: Mourilyan, Heimann & Co was a British trading company based in Yokohama, with a branch office in Kobe. The Tamsui affiliation might have been through the Tea Department of Jardine, Matheson & Co.

Sears, an American importer of Oolong
Sears Building in Holyoke, MA, today
During the Japanese colonial era, not only the export of Oolong and Pouchong continued, Black Tea was also successfully developed and sold to US and European markets. By 1929, Tamsui tea fields covered an area of 581甲 (1甲=10,000 square meters) with yearly tea leaf production of 278,308斤 (1斤=0.6kg) in one report.

After the war, the tea cultivation area actually increased to 880 hectares. And in addition to the three major types of tea, Green Tea was also produced [together with Jasmine Tea]. In the 1970s, there were more than 700 tea farms in Tamsui alone, together producing 3 million kg of tea leaves and up to 862.400 kg of raw tea per year.

The early 1980s, however, saw a decline in the demand for locally produced tea that came to an abrupt end in 1989. Now only 1.1 hectares of tea fields still linger yielding a paltry 0.77-0.88 tons of tea leaves a year.

What happened in the 80s was that in addition to the labor shortage, the whole tea enterprise of Tamsui was debased by the dumping of cheap tea from China. Ironically, too, it was the profit-seeking Taiwanese merchants who first brought the secret tea-making technology to Hokkien, that had, in conjunction with the available labor force there, enabled large-scale production of imitation Taiwanese tea, even Oolong.

Source of photos: Taipics.com/tea.php
Historical source: 淡水鎮志 Sec 5,Ch 1, p 178, ed 黃繁光教授

2015年1月13日 星期二

Sugarcane in Taiwan

Half-sized locomotive for pulling sugarcane harvests
This locomotive was known as a Half-sized engine五分車, a standard equipment with a rail gauge of 76.2 cm (half of the international standard, 143.5 cm, hence the name). Taiwan Sugar Corp had a fleet of them servicing the sugarcane fields in southern Taiwan:

五分車 in action

Sugarcane sugar from Taiwan was well known to the Japanese since the Ming-Cheng era (1661-1683) or even earlier during the Dutch East India Co rule. It was a major trade commodity. When Taiwan was ceded to Japan by the Qing in 1895, the Japanese wasted no time at all and quickly built up a modernized sugar industry. By 1910s, sugar factories supplied by surrounding sugarcane fields were in full swing. In 1925, a new species of sugarcane was introduced into Taiwan which had vastly increased the output. By 1941, daily processing of sugarcane reached a high of 70,120 tons. Near the end of the Pacific War, the production had dropped to less than 1 million tons per year. By the end, there were 42 factories with 32 bombed out by the Americans. Ostensibly, the bombing was to destroy ethanol (as fuel for military uses) production, more likely it was intended to wipe out the economical base. 

After the war, the 4 Japanese owned companies, 日糖興業, 台灣, 明治, and 鹽水港, were consolidated into the gov't-owned 臺灣糖業股份有限公司Taiwan Sugar Corp Ltd. Between 1952 and 1964, sugar was still the No 1 export of Taiwan, then a decline started in 1966 followed by a brief upswing in 1972. However, by 1989, Taiwan began refining raw sugar imported from elsewhere. And 1991 was the year when Taiwan's sugar production ceased to exist, replaced by electronics manufacturing.

Taipics.com has a large collection of sugar production during the Japanese era (here). A few are shown below:

This map shows the sugarcane fields from Hsinchu all the way down to Pintung:

This is a photo of the sugar factory in Kaohsiung:

Sugarcane farmers

And mechanized sugarcane farming was widely applied:
Sugarcane awaiting processing
And how did Taiwanese sugarcane farmers who worked for the Japanese sugar conglomerates fare? Well, there was a saying: "The most stupid thing one can do is to campaign for political candidates. And the second, let the sugar companies weigh your crops." 1. Often a futile exercise and 2. Indeed, they were quite regularly shortchanged by unscrupulous corporate operators.

[For more on history of Taiwan sugar industry: here]

2015年1月11日 星期日

台湾航路 Taiwan shipping routes

On Dec 23, 2014, Coast Guard based in Tamsui intercepted a fishing boat from China (left) trolling illegally at 23 nautical miles from ChuWei shore. Its 300 kilo haul was ordered dumped overboard, fishing gears confiscated, and the ship detained pending further investigation. Unfortunately, this 200-ton boat proved too large to enter Tamsui. It was re-directed to dock in the Coast Guard facility in Taipei Port instead.

A 200-ton puny little boat that could not sail into Tamsui River? This is more than just sad. Record shows that, for example, in 1867, up to 4,000-ton commercial liners regularly arrived in Tamsui from Hongkong and China. Even in 1881, the 1,370-ton 萬年清 still sailed between Tamsui and Foochow. Unfortunately, because of the perennial silt build-up problems, in the 1920s, Tamsui Port was abandoned in favor of Keelung.

Port Keelung ca 1921 (http://taipics.com/keelung2.php#top)

So what happened after Keelung became the Port of Entry into Taiwan?  We will now take a grudging look [cf another post in Japanese by N Hirokawa, here].

Starting in 1896, 大阪商船Osaka Shipping Co began to run the Japan-Taiwan route. The company owned quite a number of ships that included 臺北丸, 臺中丸 and 臺南丸(each at 3,300 tonnes), 宮島丸(1,952 tonnes), 須磨丸(unknown tonnage), 明石丸(1,571 tonnes),  臺北丸(II) (2,794 tonnes), 臺東丸(1,944 tonnes), 宮古丸(1,013 tonnes), 桃園丸(3,460 tonnes), 蓬莱丸(9,192 tonnes), 扶桑丸 (8,188 tonnes), 高雄丸 (4,282 tonnes), 恒春丸(4,271 tonnes), 瑞穂丸(8,511 tonnes), 高千穂丸 (8,154 tonnes), and 高砂丸 (9,315 tonnes). Most these ships were built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Nagasaki, except 安平丸, 淡水丸, and 基隆丸(each 1,698 tonnes) - these were built in England.

The first two-way shipping lane between Japan and Taiwan originated from Kobe, then ships would travel through 瀬戸内海Seto Inland Sea and arrive in 門司港Port Moji to collect more passengers and cargoes from other parts of Japan. The ships then sailed directly to Keelung. By 1935, 3 more routes were also added: Keelung-Ryukyu (Naha)-Kyushu (Kagoshima), Keelung-Ryukyu-Osaka-Kobe, and Kaohsiung (Takao)-Tokyo-Yokohama, plus international routes to Asia and other continents.

Pamphlets distributed by Osaka Shipping in 1935 (source: Taipics.com)
Timetable September to December 1935 (source: Taipics.com)

Other smaller shipping companies such as 近海郵船KinKai YuSen operated 吉野丸(8,998 tonnes), 大和丸(9,655 tonnes), 朝日丸(8,998 tonnes), and 富士丸(9,138 tonnes), 帝国海事協会Imperial Maritime Assoc ran さくら丸(3,205 tonnes), and うめが香丸(3,273 tonnes), and 山下汽船Yamashita Kisen owned and operated 中華丸(2,191 tonnes), 華南丸(2,192 tonnes), and 大華丸(2,197 tonnes).

高千穂丸Takachiho Maru
大和丸Yamato Maru loading bananas in Keelung (http://taipics.com/keelung2.php)

Added notes: After Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, and beginning in 1942, American submarines started patrolling and attacking Japanese ships in the Pacific, military and civilian alike. The Japan <--> Taiwan shipping routes were naturally also targeted. First, 高千穂丸Takachiho Maru was sunk by attack sub, USS Kingfish, on March 19, 1943 (of the 844 on board, only 245 survived). In the same year on Sep 13, 大和丸Yamato Maru was torpedoed by USS Snook (fortunately, only 18 out of 1,092 were lost), and 富士丸Fuji Maru sunk by USS Grayback on Dec 28 (with more than 50 lives lost). These marked the beginning of the end of unrestricted travel between Japan and Taiwan.

Before the end of the Pacific War, 護國丸Gokoku Maru and Shinsei Maru神靖丸 were also sunk by the Americans (in 1944 and 1945, respectively). Together with 高千穂丸Takachiho Maru, these are the three major maritime disasters of modern Taiwan, hundreds of Taiwanese lives were lost with each ship. 

2015年1月10日 星期六

Surnames in Tamsui

Tamsui has always been a tight-knit community. Even now, it always reverts back to the old Tamsui as soon as the last train with tourists on board left Tamsui MRT Station. The history of this small town also has been carefully recorded. Not only the official version 淡水鎮志, more often than not, 家譜 (family lineage records) were brought along during the first-generation migration and passed down from generation to generation. Together as a community, while not always a harmonious cohabitation, Tamsui-lang did (still do) share the same language, heritage, religion and deities, tradition and customs, and not the least, culinary culture.

So who are Tamsui-lang and where did they come from?

According to a 1956* census, among the 32,653 residents, the top ten surnames in descending order were 陳Chen/Tan, 張Chang/Tio, 李Li/Li, 林Lin/Lim, 王Wang/Ong, 盧Lu/Lo, 黃Huang/Ng, 高Kao/G'o, 吳Wu/Goh, and 鄭Cheng/T'ee. By 2010, the population had ballooned to 143,482, and 盧, 吳, and 鄭 surnames (having relocated to Taipei and elsewhere) were replaced by 蔡Tsai/Chua, 楊Yang/Yeo, and 劉Liu/Lau. [*After Japanese immigrants were sent back to Japan (1946) and refugees from China moved in (1949).]

The time of arrival of the first-generation Tamsui-lang is well-documented. Take the top three surnames for example:

(1) 陳Chen:
1. 1693 (康熙KanXi Year 32): 陳文
2. Also around 康熙 period: 陳智可
3. 1723 (雍正YongCheng Year 1): 陳學正
(2) 張Chang:
1. 張文鳳 first arrived in Changhua in 1725 (雍正 Year 3), then moved to Tamsui in 1773
2. All together, 9 branches of this Chang clan also came, 3 stayed in Tamsui, 6 to 木柵MuZa
(3) 李Li:
1. 1741 (乾隆QianLong Year 6): 李敬珍 and 李敬球 brothers
2. Also around this time: 李求 and son 李換
3. 1751 (乾隆 Year 16): 李鼎成 whose grandchildren subsequently moved to 中田寮庄 (now 忠寮里)

Each clan can also trace their geographic origin back to Hokkien Province in China.The vast majority of people of Tamsui, all Hoklo, came from 3 areas in 泉州府 (ChuanChou Prefecture), i.e.,

(1) 三邑 (the Three Counties) including 晉江 (JingJiang), 惠安 (HuiAn), and 南安 (NanAn, also Koxinga's hometown),
(2) 同安 (TungAn), and
(3) 安溪 (AnShi, to the northwest of TungAn).

The rest were from 漳州府 (ChangChou Prefecture) 南靖縣 (NanJin), 汀州府 (DingChou) 永定縣(YongDing, now 龍岩市, Hakka territory), and 永春州 (YongChun) 大田縣 (DaTian, now 三明市). A few other Hakka came from 興化府 (ShinHua), 粵東 (East Canton) 嘉應 (JiaYin) and 潮汕 (ChauChou and Swatou).

It is also possible to pinpoint exactly where each clan was from. For example, this map from the Qing era (below) shows all the towns in 同安 (TungAn):

A Qing map of 同安TungAn, ancestral homeland of many Tamsui-lang

The Hoklo's from 泉州, 漳州, 潮州, and 永春, plus 汀州 Hakka ["Hakka's that do not speak Hakka"], i.e., pretty much everybody in Tamsui, all spoke/speak Hokkien (and starting in 1895, also learned to speak Japanese, and in 1946, Mandarin Chinese).

[Main source: 淡水鎮志 Sec 3, eds 張家麟 and 卓克華教授]

2015年1月9日 星期五

Traditional snack food in Tamsui (Part 16 Festivity cakes)

A festival in San-Zi with rows of food offerings (source: here)
Some snack food are reserved for festivities (called 拜拜Bai-bai in Taiwanese, a community-based custom carried over from hometowns in Hokkien of generations ago) as offerings to the gods. These festivities are for celebration of Lunar New Year and other important season-marking days on peasants' calendar, birthdays of local guardian deities, or more privately, a baby's first month after birth. Red celebratory food coloring is therefore important. Some examples are shown here.

(1) 紅龜粿Red tortoise cake: Seemingly ubiquitous at one point in the past is this 紅亀粿, made from sticky rice powder, essentially a flattened pocket filled with sweet red bean paste. A wooden mold with a tortoise-shape carved into it served as the template. Tortoise is of course the symbol of longevity, hence the choice of name. The cake is always in bright red, now in shocking pink because the FDA has deemed red dye No 2 toxic.

Wooden temple used to make the tortoise cake

(2) 麵龜Tortoise bread: These are actually bread, Taiwanese style, filled with sweetened 綠豆mung bean  paste. The surface is again painted red for luck. And they come in 3 shapes, most of them oval:

The other two, the peach-shaped are for celebrating birthdays of elders in the family and the breast-shaped for a baby's completing first month of life (known as 滿月Full-moon when chicken drumsticks simmered in sesame oil and rice wine, hard-boiled eggs painted red, and fried oily sticky rice are also distributed to family members and friends - no eggs if a baby girl, full-moon cakes are sent instead):

Three shapes of tortoise bread
Red eggs if a boy
Fried sticky rice
(3) 發粿(糕) Fortune muffin: usually made with ground rice, sometimes flour, with the addition of sugar and baker's yeast or baking soda, pour the mix into a muffin cup, then steamed. They come in white, pink, and light brown. Its name 發, rising/leavening of the dough, symbolizes 發財 (striking it rich or becoming sudden rich as in, e.g., hitting the lottery).

Brown sugar added fortune muffins in a aluminum steamer tray

The festivities and customs in Tamsui, in fact, in the whole of Taiwan, have continued since the Ming-Cheng days (1661-1683). Food of course plays a crucial role. From the abundance, it is immediately clear why the ancestors of Taiwanese had decided to leave everything behind in Hokkien and migrate to Taiwan, if not to simply make a better life for their children and grandchildren. 

2015年1月8日 星期四

Traditional snack food in Tamsui (Part 15 Peanuts)

A peanut plant
The formal name of peanuts, in both Chinese and Japanese, is 落花生, literally "born from fallen flowers", commonly abbreviated to 花生. There is a reason for the name, because when the plants mature and blossom, the stems near the flowers will grow slender extensions which then reach down and burrow into the soil to give birth to peanuts. The soil therefore must be sandy and loose, yet firm enough to support the plant. Shalun Beach area in Tamsui certainly was ideal for peanut-growing.

Note also that Taiwanese for peanuts is T'o-dao (土豆, not to be confused with potatoes, also so called, except pronounced twu-dou in some parts of China).

The many uses of peanuts actually boggle the mind. The simplest way to prepare peanut-in-a-shells is to steam or roast them, with no artificial anything added. After the hulls are removed, then further processing is limited only by imagination. Since the kernels wear a red coat (called testa) and each peanut kernel has two halves with a tiny germ at the tip, decisions must be made to either leave the coat on, remove the germs, in whole or in halves, all depending on the purposes. Picture is worth a thousand words, so we here will only add some background info:

(1) With the coat on: The traditional Tamsui way of roasting peanuts is by frying them in a wok with a mixture of rice-grain-sized stones (to retain heat) and sea salt (for flavor). The peanuts would end up with fine salt powder adhering onto the surfaces. Since these stones are no longer available, peanuts are now fried directly in salt grains or in peanut oil (then sprinkled with salt, below).

Fried peanuts
Soft steamed peanuts are actually stewed in soy sauce often with the 5-spices added:
Steamed peanuts

(2) With the coat off: These can be roasted first followed by removal of the skin, or more commonly, raw peanuts with no skin slow-cooked into a soup with sugar added to make an inter-meal snack:

Peanut soup, always sweetened

(3) As desserts: These come in two kinds, 花生糖 (kernels in caramelized sugar, with or without the coats), and 花生酥 (powdered peanuts mixed with flour and powdered sugar).

Candy peanuts 花生糖
Peanut folds 花生酥, usually wrapped in rice paper

Of course peanuts can also be a component of various dishes, in stewed pork belly cubes known as 5-flowered (marbled) meat 五花肉, for example. Peanut butter on the other hand has never been a popular choice, often used by unscrupulous merchants to pad up the much more expensive sesame pastes.

It is also interesting to note that, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, peanut coat preparations are good for managing anemia. And, putatively, peanut oil extracted from the germ parts is rich in vitamin E. Caveat emptor, though.

2015年1月7日 星期三

Traditional snack food in Tamsui (Part 14 Rice cakes)

Long-grain 在來 rice
These cakes are available throughout Taiwan. However, Tamsui, being the trade center of rice farmers from surrounding areas gets the best of the 在來 grains, from which the most delicious, always freshly-made rice cakes are made:

(1) 蘿蔔糕Radish rice cake: The cake-making is relatively simple, first cook julienned skinned daikon radish until done. The softened radish is then mixed with rice powder (other ingredients such as bits of dried shrimps and mushrooms can also be added), pour into a mold, and steamed for about an hour or until done. Let cool. When ready, cut into 2x3x0.5 inch slices. Slightly brown them in oil/lard and together with special soy sauce paste  (off the shelf in bottles or home-made), this makes an outstanding breakfast:

(2) 碗稞Small-dish rice cake: This one comes in two flavors, sweet and salty.  The sweet version is easy to make, simply mix rice powder with water to make a paste, then add white and brown sugar water, pour into a small dish (usually that for placing a broad porcelain soup spoon) and steam for about 20 min. Done. The salty version requires ingredients such as chopped-up dried goods such as radish, mushroom, shrimp, green onion, and some minced pork, to be added after the first steam-cooking, then steamed again. This can be prepared in small dishes or in rice bowls.

Rice cakes in an aluminum steamer
In Tamsui, small-dish rice cakes were usually sold by kids out to make a buck, after school of course.

2015年1月6日 星期二

Traditional snack food in Tamsui (Part 13 More street snacks)

These were never sold in restaurants, used to be peddled by traveling street vendors who either set up temporary shops on street corners (until driven away by police) or simply by carting around and broadcasting unique noises to announce their arrival. Now seen only in shops along the Golden Coast in Tamsui (or Shihlin Night Market). A progress of sorts.

(1) Grilled sausages: Made with nitrate-laced fatty pork and flavored with garlic, these are quite irresistible. Advertisement was through the 5 senses, sight, smell, sizzling sound, taste, and served on a stick. To add more fun: Often a game of chance (4 dices in a soup bowl) was played between the vendor and the customers. In the 60s, rumor had it that the sausages were made from rat meat that seemed to have torpedoed the trade for at least one winter, until people wised up realizing that it would take quite a few rats to make even one link.The labor costs for catching the rats and collecting the itty-bitty meat from each rat would have been too prohibitive comparing to using a slaughtered pig.

(2) Grilled corn on the cob:This one looks pretty straightforward except it has a long story. In the 50s, through the US Aid program, many Taiwanese saw whole ears of corn for the first time and promptly named them huan-be (番麥, savage-wheat) (Note: corn seemed to have been cultivated by the Aborigines but unfamiliar to the Han people). They were supposedly animal feeds until some enterprising people discovered that the rock-hard corn kernels could be softened up by brushing on sweetened soy sauce to provide moisture and taste and grilling over charcoal fire to slowly cook. And a glorious new snack was born.

(3) Baked sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes to the Taiwanese were almost like potatoes to the Irish. Well, maybe just a little. They were usually purple on the outside and white on the inside. Usually peeled, and chunks added to rice gruel to make the latter more filling and more appetizing. Mostly in the winter, they were baked over charcoal inside a reclaimed oil barrel, operated and sold by street vendors. The photo below is a recent snapshot of the Taipei city-sanctioned sweet-potato-selling program for needy single-mothers. It does bear some resemblance to the old sweet potato carts without the bamboo noise-maker (竹筒搖響 which generated loud clicking sounds) to attract customers.

In the olden days, sweet potato leaves were saved to feed pigs. The skin bits too, nothing went to waste. These days, the leaves are for human consumption as well, as part of a healthful diet (still as unpalatable as in the past).

(4) Roasted sugarcane: There are two major types of sugarcane in Taiwan, the yellow-green ones were for sugar-making and the dark-purple ones for general consumption. In the summertime, one can bite off and chew on sugarcane chunks or use a pressing machine, both to extract the sweet juice. Then someone invented baked sugarcane for the wintertime. Freshly pressed piping hot sugarcane juice was supposed to be better tasting than simply heating up a cold batch. It was really a matter of personal opinion; although the demand have seen a decline since the 1990s.

There was a game played as well. Take a whole stick of sugarcane of about 1.5m long which was held standing by using the end of the handle of a 甘蔗鐮sugarcane scythe with the contestant standing on a stool for height, then he (never a girl), with one swift motion, sliced down the side of the sugarcane before it fell. Whoever had the longest cut was the winner with the skinned section as the prize.

A sugarcane scythe, surprisingly still available here

2015年1月5日 星期一

Traditional snack food in Tamsui (Part 12 Water monkeys)

猴水仔 is Taiwanese, literal translation = "Water monkeys", little (not baby) octopuses:

They are around 2 inches tall, indigenous to Tamsui River, usually hide under rocks. Catching them requires quick action because they move swiftly, like monkeys swinging from one to another hideout when disturbed, hence the name. Nighttime at low tide is the best time to find them.

Although still available, the supply has dwindled drastically in the past decades. Luckily, most tourists have no idea how precious these octopuses are and have largely ignored them, so the locals can still enjoy this dish at, e.g., 海風餐廳 Hai-Feng Restaurant near MRT Station or 福來餐廳 Fu-Lai Restaurant, a few doors down from MaZu Temple.

Preparation is simple, the octopuses are boiled, or more like blanched, and served in garlic soy sauce; best consumed with Taiwan Beer.

A few years ago in Milan, Italy, EyeDoc was pleasantly surprised to discover a baby octopus dish at a local small eating place. It was served with olive-oil-vinegar-garlic(!) dressing with onion and cilantro added:

Grabbed from a food page
It was delicioso! We wonder if the Flying Italians might have brought this dish back home with them.

2015年1月4日 星期日

Traditional snack food in Tamsui (Part 11 Taiwanese eggrolls)

潤餅Taiwanese egg/spring rolls can be regarded as a much fancier version of burritos. They are not fired as those seen in Chiang-su江/Zhe-Chiang浙 restaurants. Eating 潤餅 is in fact a DIY group activity, usually reserved for special occasions, such as 清明節Tomb-sweeping Day family gathering or 尾牙year-end dinner party for employees. [Incidentally, at this year-end dinner, if the head of the whole boiled chicken is pointing at a certain employee, it is understood that he/she is being let go. If pointing at the owner/host, everyone is safe.]

The paper-thin pancakes (the 8-10 inches in diameter 潤餅"皮skin") can be purchased by the stacks in farmers markets. The skin-making requires special skills (left). In Tamsui, the vendors sometimes set up shop on sidewalks of Chung Cheng Road, having spilled over from the overly crowded 龍山寺Long-shan Temple wet market. As kids, we were always fascinated by the process: A man holding a slob of dough, rolled it quickly and gently over a large round hot iron griddle, and the skin would form instantaneously. And since the edges dried up first and curled up, the pancake could be peeled off in one piece rather easily.

The dough is made from all-purpose flour mixed with water and salt. Mix well, knead and let sit under moist cover for 15 min then knead again. Repeat this 3 times, and let sit for one hour before making the pancakes. The dough cannot be too watery or too dry, so the water content needs to be around 75-80% (depending on the flour).

Now the preparation of fillings. Crushed peanuts are an indispensable component. Vegetables such as cabbages, carrots, cucumbers, baby cucumbers, and green scallions, are cut into thin strips. Add bean sprouts, slices of plain omelet, shredded chicken, etc, you are ready to go.

Using hands to wrap and eat the 潤餅 is a proper dinner etiquette in this case. First, spread a thin bed of crushed peanuts (also to absorb moisture), then add on top whatever ingredients desired, make a roll with one or both ends wrapped close. Enjoy:

2015年1月3日 星期六

Traditional snack food in Tamsui (Part 10 Rice sticks)

Fried Mi-fen 炒米粉 [source: here]
米粉 (mi-fen, bi-fun) or rice sticks originated from Chuan-Chou Hui-An 惠安, the homeland of many Tamsui-lang. Little wonder that it is seen in Tamsui for as long as anyone can remember. This is also Tamsui's own, not to be confused with those from Hsinchu made under different weather conditions.*

There is a small area known as 米粉寮Rice-stick-shacks, about 0.5 km due east of Tamsui Golf Course. It was where the Chen陳 Family plied their trade. So popular were their rice-sticks, the Chen family became wealthy and built their first stone house (called 德安居) in 1916 with two more built by 1931.

Rice-sticks were actually quite pricy in the old days, served only as a special treat and on special occasions such as entertaining VIPs and celebrating Lunar New Year. In fact, at one point, 8 kilos of rice could trade for only 5 kilos of mi-fen. Rice sticks were also served fried with expensive ingredients added (e.g., choice lean pork, shitake mushroom, and dried shrimps), never the modern-day rice-stick-soup fast-food [although it is really not a bad stand-in if done right, now also widely available in Tamsui].

Mi-fen has always been made with Taiwan native 在來 rice. Replacing rice with corn starch appeared to have occurred in the 60s when some merchants discovered by accident that mi-fen made with corn starch, then imported from South Africa, was even more chewy than that made with rice. And since anything chewy [有嚼勁] was something that the consumers looked for, the fraud perpetuated. Gone with it was of course the distinct rice fragrance. Fortunately, in Tamsui and elsewhere, there are still others who have stuck it out with the old ways, so authentic rice-sticks are still available.

Bundles of mi-fen being dried
The manufacturing of mi-fen is similar to that of making New Year's cake and 米苔目 (see previous posts here and here). Rice grains are first soaked in lukewarm water overnight, then go through the same grinding and drying-in-a-sac processes. The resulting rice-dough is then kneaded and steamed in a bamboo steamer until half-done. This is followed by adding water and the slurry mix forced to flow slowly through a sieve to produce the proto-type mi-fen. Then it is steam-cooked again. Bundles of mi-fen are folded into flat packs and left outdoors to be sun-dried and wind-dessicated. Before cooking, the dried sticks must be re-constituted with water to soften them up. Fried with lard of course.
*The first mi-fen maker in Hsinchu, the Kuo Family was also from 惠安, migrated to 南勢 in N Hsinchu in 1858, later than people of Tamsui.

2015年1月2日 星期五

Traditional snack food in Tamsui (Part 9 Agei and iron eggs)

These two are relatively new (from post 1960s) both of them invented in Tamsui. We shall call them nouveau traditional snack food:

(1) 阿給A-gei: It first appeared in 1965. Originally, this was slightly-browned, heat-seared tofu squares known among the Japanese as あぶらあげ (abura-agei, oily tofu). A-gei is an abbreviation of this Japanese term. The inventor of Tamsui Agei, tofu stuffed with cellophane noodles and minced pork sealed with fish paste, was Mrs 楊鄭錦文Yang-Cheng Jin-wen, who used to own a tiny shop near the School District, later relocated to No 6-1, 真理街ZenLi Street.


Agei-making is actually fairly exquisite even though the ingredients are relatively inexpensive because each one must be flavored and cooked exactly right, or you'd end up a mushy mess. It is best consumed with special hot-sweet sauce, even better when accompanied with a bowl of fishball soup.

(2) 阿婆鐵蛋Ah-po iron eggs: 阿婆 or grandma, was Mrs 黃張哖Huang-Chang Nian, nick-named Gandma Ah-nian阿哖婆, who created the first iron eggs. What happened was that Mrs Huang had owned a noodle shop near the Tamsui-Bali commuter-sampan dock. Often her conventionally-made 5-spiced soy sauce eggs 滷蛋 remained unsold that must be re-cooked for the next day. After a number of repeats, the eggs, dessicated by the strong sea breeze, would shrink in size, become dark brown to black in color, and yet retain so much flavor that proved irresistible to town folks. Initially, they were call 石頭蛋stone eggs until 1983, when a reporter from Taipei, much impressed by the taste, re-labeled them 鐵蛋iron eggs in his write-ups. They are now available in shrink-wraps everywhere in Tamsui.

Iron eggs

These snack food actually evolved from leftovers. Tamsui ingenuity, no less.

[Source: 淡水鎮志 Sec 9, Ch 3, pp 215 and 217, ed 林玫君教授]