Monday, 30 January 2012

News Brief: Always ask the price before you order ... testicles

Soups cooked with sesame oil (麻油) are popular warming dishes during these cold months, but a Mr. Yang (楊先生) of Taipei City has complained about being charged NT$400 for a bowl of “sesame-oil mixed-ingredients soup” (麻油綜合湯) by a vendor in the New Year provisions market (年貨大街), ETTV (東森電視) reports today (full Chinese-language article here).

The soup contained a chicken thigh bone and meat, four chicken animelles (睪丸; testicles to you and me) and a good number of kidney slices. When presented with the dish and asked the price, but not having yet tasted it, he complained that NT$400 was far too expensive, but the stall owner told him that, since it was already cooked, he would have to pay for it.

Having begrudgingly paid for and eaten it, he compared prices at other stalls, finding similar dishes, but containing one more testicle, two more pieces of chicken meat and one extra slice of kidney, for NT$300.

When ETTV visited [yesterday?] afternoon, the stall was not yet open for business, but the price had been added to the advertising board using pen. The market authorities said that following a series of complaints from the public they had suggested the owner indicate the price to avoid future problems of this nature.

Translation © Jiyue Publications 2012

Restaurant Review: -- Something warm on a winter's night (Pingxi, New Taipei City)

With lots of people heading east from Taipei to the former mining valleys of Pingxi (平溪) District (née Township) for the seriously romantic, spuriously traditional, and decidedly non-environmentally friendly Sky Lantern Festival (天燈節; Jan 26~Feb 6), NOMM cycled out in yesterday’s rain to find a vegetarian restaurant offering sustenance to visitors.

For a while it looked as though none of the clusters of “old streets” (actually cute railway-side rows of shops) of the various communities along this—one of only three branch lines in Taiwan—was risking losing the tourist dollar by providing wholesome, unfried fare, but finally one was found at the far end of the strip in Shifen (十分) Village.

Blue flags attract diners with the restaurant’s name Xiang Yuan Sushi (鄉緣素食; no English, but meaning something like “Hometown Affinity Vegetarian Foods”), and promotes these as “healthy, fresh, hygienic” (健康、新鮮、衛生).

The Chinese-only menu lists simple rice and noodle dishes, boiled and sautéd leafy greens, and soups, which were selling well on this miserable winter’s day.

NOMM ordered rice in curry sauce (咖哩燴飯; NT$60) and a side of vegetables (趟青菜; NT$30). The latter was on the small side, and NOMM could easily have eaten more of the former, not because it was small but rather because it was moreish. Not a usual favorite, nevertheless something about it worked on this occasion. Moreover (and unlike the greens), it was free of fake meat.

XiangYuan has been open since last year, when its owners “moved back” to their hometown, though perhaps they still work elsewhere during the week as the restaurant is only open on weekends and holidays.

Pingxi Lantern Festival is definitely a mist-see for visitors and residents alike. Go in the evening with a date to appreciate the full romantic effect. But to avoid a guilt-ridden return journey it is perhaps best to watch other people’s lanterns rather than launching one’s own flying incendiary device over the forested hills between Taipei and Yilan.

Address: No.122 Shifen Street (十分街122)
Tel. 02-2495 8239
Hours: Saturdays, Sundays and holidays; 12:00~17:00
NOMM fake meat/processed food index: 2 (low)

Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2012

Saturday, 28 January 2012

News Brief: US report supports Taiwan's ban on livestock feed additive ractopamine

A report released on Wednesday in the US highlighted several problems concerning the safe use of ractopamine, a controversial feed additive, the Taipei Times reports today (full article here).

US trade officials have been pressing countries — including Taiwan — to lift their import bans on meat produced with the drug.

The report, conducted by Helena Bottemiller, was produced by the Food and Environment Reporting Network, an independent and non-profit news organization providing investigative reporting on food, agriculture and environmental health.

In the article, Bottemiller first questioned the safety studies used by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to classify ractopamine as safe 13 years ago and to set a level of acceptable residues in meat.

“The safety study conducted by the drug maker Elanco lies at the heart of the current trade dispute,” Bottemiller said.

Elanco mainly tested animals — mice, rats, monkeys and dogs — to judge how much ractopamine could be safely consumed, while only one human study was used in the safety assessment. Among the six healthy young men who participated, one was removed because his heart began beating rapidly and abnormally, Bottemiller writes.

Elanco has reported that “no adverse effects were observed for any treatments,” but, within a few years of its approval, it received hundreds of reports of sickened pigs, according to records obtained by Bottemiller from the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

“Since it was introduced, ractopamine had sickened or killed more than 218,000 pigs as of March 2011, more than any other animal drug on the market, a review of FDA veterinary records shows,” the report says.

The FDA ruled that ractopamine was safe and approved it for pigs in 1999, for cattle in 2003 and turkeys in 2008, Bottemiller said.

Canada and 24 other countries also approved the drug, but Taiwan, the EU, China and many others countries have banned its use, limiting US meat exports to key markets.
Bottemiller said in the report that some US food companies also avoid meat produced with the feed additive, including Chipotle restaurants, meat producer Niman Ranch and Whole Foods Markets.

The issue has also strained the US-Taiwan trade relationship.

Taiwan began testing US beef for ractopamine in January last year, prolonging a suspension in talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) that had been in place since 2007, when Taiwan banned US beef imports because of mad cow disease concerns.

The latest US effort to get Taiwan to revise its zero tolerance of ractopamine use was made by US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell on Jan. 20 when he said that “now that the [Jan. 14 presidential and legislative] election is over, we are hoping that Taiwan will do something on the beef issue.”

The Taiwanese government has said it would not revise its zero--tolerance policy unless the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), which sets global food-safety standards, established standards for trace levels of ractopamine.

Feature: Finding a vegetarian restaurant/store (part III)

well, in taipei anyway:

(part I, part II)

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Feature: what kind of vegetarian is a "Guo Bian Su"?

Sometimes vegetarians in Taiwan will say they are "quán sù" (全素; "completely vegetarian") or "dàn nǎi sù" (蛋奶素' "egg-milk vegetarian"), but one can also hear the expression "guō biān sù" (鍋邊素; "pot-side vegetarian").

The first means strictly "vegan", the second is "ovo-lacto vegetarianism", and the last means that the person is easy-going about not eating meat, that he or she is happy simply to pick the vegetables out of a pot or plate of mixed meat and vegetables, or, similarly, eat vegetables or noodles that have been boiled in water used to cook meat.

Another name sometimes used for this is "fāngbiàn sù" (方便素; "convenient vegetarianism").

Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2012

News Brief: Nutritionist offers "4 less; 1 more" tip for holiday cooking

"An easy to remember slogan when cooking is ‘four less and one more,’” said Hung Ruo-pu (洪若樸), a senior nutritionist at Taipei City Hospital’s Zhongxiao Branch, the Taipei Times reports today (full article here).

Housewives [sic] are urged to cut down on sodium and add more fiber to their diets during the Lunar New Year, a period when an average person can easily put on a few kilograms because of excessive eating and lack of physical activity.
The idea is less sauce, less fried food, less oil, less stewing and more fiber, Hung said, adding that most traditional Lunar New Year recipes, which are greasy, usually follow the opposite rules.

However, changing the rules of cooking does not mean compromising the taste, said Hung. For gastronomes with a preference for stronger seasoning, low-calorie condiments and spices, such as white vinegar, garlic, scallion, parsley, and an assortment of Chinese herbs, can be used extensively as guilt-free solutions to retain flavors, she said.

Sauces that are either high in calories or sodium, like tomato paste, barbecue sauce and salad dressing, should be shelved or used minimally, she added.

As for reducing oil and fat, she suggested altering the method of cooking. “Change deep frying and stir frying to steaming and water boiling, and you can save yourself the worry of shedding weight after the holidays,” Hung said.

The nutritionist also warned that holiday snacks like peanuts, pumpkin seeds and sesame cookies contain significant amounts of fat, so one should be extra careful not to overeat these foods. Seasonal fruits like oranges and apples are rich in vitamins and fiber and are therefore highly recommended as snacks, Hung added.

Monday, 23 January 2012

News Brief: Will Taiwan trade dangerous beef for visa-free entry to the US?

The Ministry of Economic Affairs dismissed speculation that Taiwan’s admission into the US’ visa-waiver program would be linked to concessions on easing restrictions on imports of US beef, the Taipei Times reports today (full article here).

“They are two different issues, and there is no question of one being traded for the other,” a ranking economics official said, asking people not to link the two issues.

This was in response to media reports saying the US was hinting that without progress on the beef issue--in which Taiwan' bans beef containing the lean meat-enhancing drug ractopamine--Taiwan would not be given visa-waiver status.
Taiwan bans the use of the drug, although the US and some other countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand accept certain amounts of residue of the drug in beef.

The dispute over beef has caused a suspension of trade talks between Taiwan and the US under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).

Taiwan and the US have not held any TIFA talks since 2007, mainly because of controversy over beef imports from the US.

Recipe: sweet poetato fritters (from leftovers)

It's Monday so it must be ... no, not necessarily Restaurant Review day but, for the first time, Recipe day.

Today, NOMM turns leftover pancake or batter mix into root vegetable (or squash) fritters.

For those without leftovers, just mix water and plain flour (中筋麵粉) and allow to stand for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer. Egg-eating vegetarians might add egg yolk; salt-eaters might add salt. Don't worry too much about the proportions of flour and water; anything from a runny crepe mix to a semi-solid congyoubing (蔥油餅) mix will work fine.

To this dough (or leftover pancake or batter mix) add plenty of potato, or sweet potato, or parsnip or even pumpkin &c., using relevant seasoning. For sweet potato, NOMM used liberal sprinklings of thyme (百里香), sage (鼠尾草) and paprika (辣椒粉); don't skimp on these, they take the fritters to the next level.

Grate sweet potato(es) and stir in. The batter/pancake mix is far less than when making pancakes or tempura, it merely binds the vegetable together.

Put a little oil in frying pan, heat; then add potato mix and cook over low-medium flame, turning frequently and pressing down to ensure all ingredients are cooked. the outside should become crispy while the inside is chewy.

Serve with soy sauce or other dip

Text and photos copyright Jiyue.Publications 2012

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

News Brief: Couples choose to leave shark fin off wedding menus

An animal rights protection group yesterday said that after a six-month campaign promoting a boycott of shark fin in wedding banquets, 14 couples have told them about their decision to serve shark fin-free meals, saving an estimated 1,738 sharks., the Taipei Times reports today (full article here).

The Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) said that between 26 million and 73 million sharks are killed every year worldwide for shark fin dishes in Asia, taking a number of shark species to the brink of extinction.

Among the more than 400 species of sharks, 111 are close to becoming endangered species, the group said.

The group, in association with the Humane Society International, launched a campaign in June urging couples to say no to shark fin soup in their wedding banquets to stop the overfishing of sharks and thereby help maintain a sustainable ocean environment.

EAST said that although 44 couples expressed their support and willingness to join the campaign, many of them encountered family members who refused to give up the ingredient, especially senior family members who believe that face would be lost if costly shark fin soup was not included on the menu.

Fourteen couples have sent copies of their shark fin-free wedding banquet menus to the group, reaching a total of about 428 tables or 4,280 guests, the group said, adding that this may have saved 1,738 sharks.

News Brief: More principals indicted on lunch bribe charges

Ten public elementary school and junior-high school principals were indicted yesterday by prosecutors in Banciao District (板橋), New Taipei City (新北市), on suspicion of taking bribes from school lunch suppliers, the Taipei Times reports today (full article here).

Banciao prosecutors last month indicted eight public elementary school principals in New Taipei City and have so far brought 18 principals before the courts.

Banciao prosecutors expanded the investigation yesterday by questioning another five principals in the city.
Prosecutors asked the Banciao District Court to sentence them to between 15 and 20 years in jail.
Schools typically hold bids for lunch suppliers once a semester. To gain an edge, prosecutors said some suppliers increased the price of their lunches by between NT$2 and NT$5 a serving, which went to bribes for the principals.
The bribes totaled between NT$200,000 and NT$300,000 a semester for some principals.
Prosecutors said they have summoned a total of 34 principals for questioning so far and that another three principals had been reported to prosecutors.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

News Brief: DOH investigation finds illegal New Year foodstuffs

With lunar new year about to arrive, Taipei City Dept of Health (台北市衛生局) Jan 16th released its final survey of new year foodstuffs which checked up on a total of 167 items, of which 11 failed to meet standards, The Broadcasting Corporation of China (中國廣播公司) reported yesterday. 

Worst offenders were processed nut products followed by wet rice products and processed bean products. One sample of preserved broad beans (蠶豆) sold at Guting market (古亭市場) had sulphur dioxide residues that were six times permitted levels, and general provisions stores in Datong and Neihu districts selling red beans (紅豆) and calligonum beans (豆棗) with seven times the permitted level of the preservative benzoic acid (苯甲酸). 

The article (full Chinese-language piece here) carries a full list of the vendors’ names and the companies supplying them with illegal produce see the

Unfortunately no information is available (yet?) on the TCG DOH English-language website (

Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2012

Monday, 16 January 2012

Restaurant Review: peppered-meat pastry (Sanchong)

Many Brits and Aussies living in Taiwan miss the savoury pies of their homelands, and some take solace in the beef-in-pastry “pepper buns” (胡椒餅) sold locally but original to northern China (via Fujian, apparently). For vegetarian Irish, Kiwis and others in Taipei, there is a fake-meat version available a short bicycle ride across the Danshui River in Sanchong (三重).
Andong Vegetarian (安東素食; no English title) on Ziqiang Road near the night market that attracts snack-seekers from Taipei City has pepper-flavoured fake-meat pastries (NT$35) with enough xue-li-hong (雪裡蕻) vegetable inside to suggest some nutritional value in addition to satisfying pie-addiction withdrawal symptoms.

Like the shop, xue-li has no English name; it is a mustard-green variety popular in north China cuisine, has the scientific name Brassica juncea var. crispifolia and a number of Chinese nicknames, common in Taiwan is 雪裡紅 (“red in the snow” which is similarly but not identically pronounced xue-li-hong). 

Andong also sells pepper pastries with cheese (乳酪胡椒餅; NT$35), “sour veg. roasted pastries” (酸菜燒餅; NT$25), “red sugar roasted pastries” (紅糖燒餅; NT$25) and shawarma Turkish-style kebab sandwich (沙威瑪; NT$40) all vegetarian.

Occupying a small hut on the end of a row of shops, the store has no seats so only caters to passing trade. Open from early lunchtime to early evening, its hours are not similar to the nearby nightmarket stalls. A good vegetarian snack for after-hours visitors is a stall about halfway down the market selling Shenkeng tofu (深坑豆腐; NT$20 per 2-piece skewer), which is grilled rather than deep-fried and smothered in peanut sauce rather than accompanied by fermented cabbage.

Address: next door to 68 Ziqiang Rd. (自強路) Sec.1, Sanchong, New Taipei City
Tel: 0987 – 258474
Hours: 10:30~18:00 Mon~Sat
NOMM fake meat index: 9 (very high)
No. of seats: 0 (take away only)

The fake-meat test

文字及照片版權屬霽月出版有限公司  Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2012

Thursday, 12 January 2012

News Brief: COA says food supplies good as Lunar New Year approaches

with the Lunar New Year holidays about to start, the Council of Agriculture says that it has helped to harmonize supplies of key products reaching wholesale markets, Radio Taiwan International reports today (full Chinese-language article here). 

The COA forecast that in the 5 days leading up to New Year, the supply of vegetables, fruit, fish and meat as well as flowers would be between 25 percent and 116 percent higher than normal, so the public did not have to panic buy.

News Brief: Cook it Yourself this CNY

The New Taipei City Dept of Public Health (新北市政府衛生局) invited nutritionists and restaurant head chefs to develop tasty yet healthy lunar new year recipes that citizens can make for themselves, department deputy chief Lin Jin-fu (林金富) announced yesterday, the Liberty Times reports today (full Chinese-language article here)..

The recipes can be downloaded from the department’s website here (Chinese-language).

Frying in less oil or flash-boiling, using less fatty meat but more green vegetables and nuts is both cheaper and healthier than shop bough meals, advised Nutritionist Tien Shu-ching (田淑卿) of the Taipei City Hospital (市立聯合醫院).

Yang Chi-jun (楊琪鈞) chef at the Wedding Feast/Seafood Restaurant (龍鳳城餐廳) designed his new-year recipes using vegetable-based stock containing radish, pumpkin, greens, celery &c.

Text © Jiyue Publications 2012

Monday, 9 January 2012

Restaurant Review: Beipu (北埔)

Two decades ago there were no Hakka restaurants in Taiwan. Or rather, there were Hakka restaurants, there just weren’t any “Hakka restaurants.”

This is to say that before the explosion in domestic tourism (partly the result of a switch from six-day working week to five), they weren’t promoted as such, but were simply restaurants in predominantly Hakka towns and villages.

Much tourism is based around local cuisine, and the Hakka township of Beipu (北埔) in Hsinchu County is no exception, with the streets in front of its historic temple and merchants’ houses filled with stalls selling everything from salted greens to orange sauce, behind which restaurants do good business catering to tour busloads and independent travelers.

The rediscovery (some say “re-invention”) of leicha (pounded tea) and its adoption in the forefront of Hakka tourism means there are also shops offering “authentic” DIY experiences in Beipu and elsewhere.

Finding a vegetarian restaurant is not easy however, but after a great deal of searching, NOMM found one tucked in a side street off the main tourist route. Nameless, it merely has a sign saying 素食 (“vegetarian”). In business for a couple of decades, it predates the tourist boom and is perhaps truly authentic, selling basic dishes to local people (and not a grain of leicha to be seen).

Actually, the Hsinchu specials such as bantiao (rice “plank” noodles) and gongwan soup, boiled greens and marinated tofu and seaweed might not be considered “traditional” Hakka dishes because they are neither oily nor salty (the designated characteristics: oil for energy and salt to replace that lost in sweat in the fields), though they are adorned with shredded ginger and sliced coriander.

NOMM had wanton dumplings with bantiao (NT55) which came with soup, as well boiled greens (NT$40) and a mixed portion of “vegetarian stomach” (素肚, actually a kind of dried tofu) and seaweed (NT$30).

When pushed, the boss said she is a follower of the Yiguandao religion. (The Indonesian restaurant/store next door is not vegetarian but sells tempeh.)

Text and photos copyright Jiyue Publications

Sunday, 8 January 2012

News Brief: ready-made meals big at CNY

Sales of pre-ordered dishes for Lunar New Year festivities are on the rise, with a growing number of families around the country opting to order in the main meal to celebrate the traditional holiday rather than prepare it themselves, the Taipei Times reports today (full article here)
Local convenience stores and supermarkets launched promotional campaigns for pre-ordered dishes at the end of last month, ahead of the Lunar New Year, which starts on Jan. 23 this year.
The nation’s leading convenience store chain 7-Eleven,expected the number of customers taking advantage of its New Year meals to be higher than the 500,000 last year.
Sean Yang, a senior public relations specialist at the FamilyMart convenience store chain, said its sales of pre-ordered holiday meals were up 50 percent from last year. “More and more people choose to buy meals [for the occasion] instead of cooking themselves,” he said, adding that some Lunar New Year dishes can take hours to prepare.
Retail giant RT-Mart said that it has sold more than 7,000 sets of “self-select dish combos” over the past two weeks, a 20 percent increase on last year, while supermarket chain Carrefour has seen its sales of pre-ordered dishes double.

News Brief: First H5N2 of 2012 reported

Taiwan has reported its first H5N2 bird flu case this year after test results confirmed that chickens at a poultry farm in Changhua County were infected with the virus, the China Post reports today (full article here).

Despite the infection, the farm has not logged unusual death rates, contrary to rumors that a large number of its chickens have died, the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ) said.
But the farm has already been put under quarantine, and banned from transporting its chickens outside. Its eggs, however, are still allowed to be sent to the market after pasteurization, the bureau said.
All quarantine measures will continue to be in place until the all safety concerns are cleared, the bureau said.
According to figures from the nation's chicken farm association, the supply of eggs has remained normal in the past three months, totaling 25 million.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Lion Head Mountain, Miaoli/Hsinchu

Shitoushan (鄉獅山; “Lion Head Mountain”) straddling the Miaoli-Hsinchu county border is a popular hiking and tourist attraction due to its pleasant location and historic temples growing out of caves in which aesthetic monks and nuns sought escape from the beginning of the period of Japanese rule (1895~1945).
        While these cave temples fall far short of the size, artistry and spectacle to be found at Luoyang or Datong (in China) or Ajanta or Ellora (in India), the hill nevertheless provides some attractive views, an enjoyable 2-hour walk, and some interesting architecture and history.
Most of the temples welcome visitors, while others tolerate them only on Sundays. The Quanhua Temple (勸化堂) nearest to the southern end of the trail is the most open, offering accommodation for NT$1,000 per two-person room in its Shishan Dalou (獅山大樓; “Lion Mountain Building” [no English]), and vegetarian breakfasts, lunches and dinners in its canteen.
        Sad to say this is not where the monastics eat—unless of course they have separate sittings at 4am and 10am and no dinner in typical Buddhist style—so visitors will not be dining elbow-to-elbow with shaven-headed, rosary-twirling, sutra-reciting nuns and monks. There remains something of a pious atmosphere, however, with talk restricted to low intensity and definitely no food[buns] fights.
        Served on canteen-style metal tray/plates, the rations include cold food that should be hot and a bowl of warm soup. On the day of NOMM’s visit, these included spoonfuls of leafy greens, bamboo shoots, seaweed, vegetarian chicken and doupi (豆皮; thin layers of tofu); bottomless bowls of white rice, wet rice or fried noodles, and miso soup with lumps of carrot, turnip, mushroom balls () and fake meat.
Baroque-style Lingxia Cave Temple
Fake meat not withstanding, the soup was the best bit. No; the view was the best bit. And the food won’t poison you, in fact, it’s probably very nutritious.

Address: No. 242, Neighborhood 17, Shishan Village, Nanzhuang Township, Miaoli County (苗栗縣南庄`鄉獅山村17242)
Tel: 037 822 563
Breakfast ~ (NT$60), lunch ~/ on weekends (NT$80), dinner ~ (NT$80)
NOMM fake meat index: 2 (low)

There is also a Hakka food stall with vegetarian options in the car park at the southern end of the trail, and on weekends hawkers sell vegetarian snacks on the steps leading from there up towards Quanhua Temple.

Text and photos © Jiyue Publications