Tuesday, 27 March 2012

News Brief: Popcorn might not be all bad

Popcorn could prevent diseases and prolong life, Taiwan media report today (Chinese-language article here) picking up on a recent news in the United States (English-language article here).

US researchers claim that popcorn has higher concentrations of polyphenols--substances that might  protect against harmful chemical reactions in the body--than fruits and vegetables, and is a good source of fibre.

They acknowledge, however, that scientists don't know much about how such antioxidants work, and that the way they are normally consumed--cooked in oil with butter and salt added--means they are high in calories, fat and sodium. Nor do they contain the many other nutrients human bodies need, such as the vitamins common in fruit and vegetables.

News Brief: Tibetan Buddhist looks forward to Taichung snacks

When the 88-year-old Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche (堪布卡塔仁波切) arrives in Taiwan this week to teach Tibetan Buddhism, his interpreter will be a female lama Lodro Lhamo, formerly known to her Taichung family as Li Pei-guang (李佩光). When asked what she was looking forward to on her first visit to her homeland for many years, Li said what she missed most about Taiwan was its xiao-chi (小吃), the Central News Agency reports today (full Chinese-language article here).

Literally meaning “small eats”, the term xiaochi covers anything from snacks to light meals, including just about everything sold at night markets. Li, who originally followed the teaching of Taiwan’s Master Sheng-yen (聖嚴法師) before becoming a monastic of the esoteric Tibetan tradition, said she particularly looked forward to eating the “sun cakes” (太陽餅) of her native city.

Translation © Jiyue Publications 2012

Monday, 26 March 2012

Restaurant Review -- simple, healthy food from a slice of paradise (Taitung)

Guanshan (關山), a small town in the East Rift Valley, has tree-lined streets, wooden houses and few buildings over two storeys high. On the spring morning of NOMM’s visit it had a sleepy feel, and with the exception of trucks rushing down Highway 9, convenience stores on several corners and some very attractive murals, gave the impression of having changed little over the last half century or more.

One small change is that the town has a new railway station, and although located just a hundred meters from the old one, it means that the JinCi Vegetarian (晉慈素食; no English name) restaurant at 6 Zhongshan Road (中山路) is no longer a natural stopping off place for commuters returning home but, rather, takes some seeking out.

Having found it, we enjoyed a tranquil meal of sesame-sauce noodles (NT$45), wonton soup (NT$45), dangkui herbal noodles (NT$45), steamed leafy greens (NT$30), shuijiao dumplings (NT$35), and a side of various tofu items (NT$50). At around NT$250 for three people, it was pretty economical too.

Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2012

News Brief: Plasticizers rear their ugly heads

Ten food items out of 322 recently tested by the Taipei City Government’s Department of Health (台北市政府衛生局) tested positive for excessive levels of plasticizers, TVBS reports today (full Chinese-language article here).

The items included drinks, probiotics (益生菌) and flavored pastes and sauces. Worst culprit was Chengtai (誠泰) brand mushroom sauce (香菇拌醬) from Xiluo (西螺) in Yunlin (雲林), which contained a diisononyl phthalate (DINP) level of 1944ppm, more than 200 times the permitted level of 9ppm.

The company responded that the DOH tests had been conducted on old stock with a form of packaging subsequently replaced, but which had not been completely removed from shop shelves. It agreed to allow the public to return purchases for a full refund.

Other products falling foul included a toon-flavored sauce (香椿醬) with DINP level of 1545.6 ppm and pineapple paste (鳳梨醬) at 16.9 ppm.

Translation © Jiyue Publications 2012

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Restaurant Review -- Chishang rice 'railway lunchbox' (Taitung)

Railway lunchboxes are popular in various locations around Taiwan. Well known examples include Fulong in New Taipei City and Alishan in Chiayi County.

Chishang in Taitung County in the country's southeast lies in the East Rift Valley, a well watered area with mild climate ideal for the production of rice, so it is perhaps not surprising that rice based meals were sold from station platforms to passengers passing on trains running between Taitung and Hualien.

Visitors to the township can choose from various restaurants within a few hundred meters of the railway station. With decommissioned trains now equipped with dining tables and exhibits about both rice production and railway history, one of the most popular is Chishang Fanbao (池上飯包) on Highway 9, the main road connecting the dozen or so towns of the rift valley.

A vegetarian lunchbox is available here, but workers acknowledge it is not only "dan-nai su" (蛋奶素; ovo-lacto vegetarian) but also "guo-bian su" (鍋邊素; "pot-edge vegetarian", meaning it is cooked in the same pots as meat products).

They will happily telephone a nearby fully vegetarian establishment and, for NT$70, a lunchbox will be delivered in about ten minutes, which can be consumed with meat-eating friends at this atmospheric restaurant.

NOMM found the local rice to be delicious, but the ratio of fake meat to fresh vegetables was too high.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Restaurant Review -- Wenzhou "big dumplings" (Taipei)

The English word “dumpling” is used to cover a wide range of local foodstuffs, from sticky rice zongzi (粽子) and rice-flour tangyuan (湯圓), to a variety of ravioli-like stuffed pastry jiaozi (餃子) guotie (鍋貼; “pot-stickers”) and hundun (餛飩鍋; “wonton”). 

Perhaps because of Taiwan’s historic ties to Zhejiang Province (浙江; Chiang Kai-shek and many of his coterie came from there), that “Wenzhou big wonton” (温州大餛飩) are exceedingly popular here, with, in Taipei alone, dozens of small mom-and-pop stores selling them . To date, NOMM has only found one that sells a vegetarian version.

Located amongst half-a-dozen wonton-specialist restaurants on Taoyuan Street (桃源街), “Champion Veg-&-Meat Wonton” (冠軍菜肉餛飩; no English sign) at number 9 is unique in offering mushroom-flavoured vegetarian wonton (香菇素食餛飩; NT$80). 
As the owner warns, however, unless taken home for cooking (NT$100 for 10), these will only be “pot-side vegetarian” as they are cooked in the same water as meat dumplings. 
 to be completed

Monday, 5 March 2012

Restaurant Review:-- Night market snacks, Taipei City


Visiting Ningxia night market (寧夏夜市; off Minsheng Rd. west of Chengde Rd.) used to be like a trip back to Táng dynasty China.

Considering that a steady stream of motorbikes and occasional car attempted to navigate this semi-blocked-off street, this is hard to explain, but really, that was my impression. 

Then the vendors, or their rent-taking district council, got greedy, and seeing the hoardes of evening diners making their way to the more famous nigh markets of Shilin to the north, Raohe to the east and Shida to the south, Ningxia rebranded itself as the Ningxia Environmental Protection Toursit Night Market, repositioning itself firmly in the 21st century. Oh well, such is the price of progress.

The choice of foods is typical of these other night markets, and similarly narrow for vegetarians, but at least some meat-free fare is on offer while all around are gorging on pigs’ feet, ducks’ necks, ox entrails and goodness knows what else. The baked potato stall has some vegetarian but not vegan toppings, but at Stall No.86 there is an entirely vegetarian outlet.

That both the “dry noodles” and “boiled leafy greens” ordered by NOMM contained fake meat suggest it too is targeting a traditional taste.
The noodles were fresh (light and chewy), which implies a good turnover, and indeed there did seem a steady stream of visitors to the dozen or so seats crammed in behind the cooking wagon.

At night markets such as this it is typical for groups of diners to each buy their favoured dishes at divergent stalls and then congregate at an agreed location. Since it is best not to take meat dishes into a vegetarian area, many, like NOMM, buy to go”, which means eating out of plastic bags.

Open ca. 6pm till late.

Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2012

News Brief: official resigns over H5N2 "cover-up"

Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine director Hsu Tien-lai (許天來) resigned yesterday amid allegations he covered up a bird flu outbreak, a day after authorities announced they had culled thousands of chickens, Taipei Times reports today (full article here).

The piece also carries some more details carried yesterday by the Chinese-language papers about a possible cover-up (see NOMM here).
"According to Kevin H. J. Lee (李惠仁), a freelance journalist who spent more than six years investigating avian influenza in Taiwan and directed a documentary entitled A Secret That Can’t Be Exposed (不能戳的秘密), the council concealed the truth about the virus."

“In the process of my investigation, I discovered the situation is very different to what the council tells us. I discovered that the council has lied about the whole thing since 2004,” Lee said.

Additional reporting by Shad for NOMM:

According to Lee's documentary (see here: youtube),  Hsu Tien-lai has a habit of resigning to "take blame" only to be reinstated and promoted. Fourteen years ago he stepped down from his position as section chief to take responsibility during the foot-and-mouth epidermic. Interestingly, his co-resignee on that occasion, Chen Wu-hsiung (陳武雄), had risen as high as COA minister until the recent cabinet reshuffle and was, therefore, in charge of the council when Lee sent in his three dead chickens.

Lee claims Hsu sent back his chicken without testing it. When Hsu was questioned about this by local media yesterday, he said that as a public servant he was forbidden from receiving gifts from members of the public.

Perhaps for his role in undermining world animal quarantine and health regulations, thereby extending Taiwan's exports by two months or more, and protecting the income of Taiwan's poultry farmers, Hsu will be rewarded himself by appointment to COA minister in the not too distant future.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

News Brief: new bird flu cases discovered and covered up

Almost 60,000 poultry in Changhua and Tainan were slaughtered late last week following an outbreak of bird flu, the Taipei Times reports today (full article here).

According to the Council of Agriculture (農委會; COA), it first appeared at a farm in Changhua in late December and is Taiwan’s first outbreak of the H5N2 avian influenza strain. 

If it turns out that the virus is highly pathogenic, Taiwan could be listed as an infected region and its exports of poultry products banned.

Poultry meat is one of the country’s top poultry product exports, with a value of between NT$360 million and NT$370 million per year, said Hsu Kuei-sen (許桂森), director of the council’s husbandry division, the Times reports.

What the Times did not say, but was covered by many Chinese-language papers, including its sister paper the Liberty Times, was that there was evidence of high pathogenicity as early as December, and the COA not only covered it up but also failed to report this to the international agency responsible.

Documentary director Li Hui-ren (李惠仁) is said to be behind the discovery. Alerted by the rise in egg prices late last year he became suspicious, and tracked down large numbers of dead birds. Three he sent to the COA and the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (防檢局), and one he had tested. According to  Li, it was at this time in December that the COA should have alerted the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Friday, 2 March 2012

News Brief: Breakfast stores are dirty, unhealthy and not nutritious

Hygiene and nutrition experts sent to survey fast-food breakfast stores in the Taipei area found shocking circumstances, the Common Health Magazine (康健雜誌) reports in the cover story of its March edition (full Chinese-language article here). 

Claiming that 80 percent of the population buys breakfast from these “lane mouth” breakfast stores (巷口早餐店) [NOMM: In Taipei perhaps, but for Taiwan as a whole this figure seems very high], CH magazine checked up on the nation’s five biggest chain franchises: 

Mei&Mei (瑞麟美而美), My Warm Day (麥味登), Good Morning Beautiful and Breakfast (早安美芝城), Glin MeRMe (巨林美而美), and Hongya Hamburger 弘爺漢堡). 

It assessed them for environmental hygiene (環境衛生), food safety (食品安全), and nutritional balance (營養均衡). 

On the first count: they found 0 percent of staff washing their hands between touching money and touching food; on the second: products in two-thirds of stores showed high levels of germs; and on the third: the food was too oily, too few vegetables were available, and the drinks were too sweet.

My Warm Day did the best [NOMM: perhaps “least awfully” is more accurate].

CHM’s found the nine main shortcomings to be:

1. Staff not washing or disinfecting hands after handling money and touching food. (100%)
2. Staff not washing or disinfecting hands after touching fridges then touching toast or hamburger buns.100%
3. Food handlers not wearing mouth masks or hats. (87%)
4. Serious accumulations of dirt and/or dust on ceilings, walls and/or pipes. (67%)
5. Contact with foodstuffs after using cleaning cloths. (60%)
6. Staff wearing rings, bracelets and/or other jewelry. (47%)
7. Trash not cleared from table surfaces and floors. (47%)
8. Sauce bottles not capped. (47%)
9. Mixing of raw and cooked foods, increasing the risk of cross contamination. (40%)

Translation © Jiyue Publications 2012