Taiwan is a well-known foodie heaven, but if you don’t have time for a trip across the Strait, Plaza Hollywood is a good alternative. The mall is hosting the Tainan Food Festival from April 30 to May 2 to help with reconstruction of Tainan, following the earthquake there in February. Organised by the Tourism Bureau of the Republic of China (Taiwan), the event will host talented chefs from Tainan, and by donating HK$20 or more, you can taste famous dishes from the southern city. We sent two of our junior reporters for a nibble, and here’s what they found.
Dumplings to die for
Our first stop was the booth housing Mr and Mrs Young Rice Dumplings Shop, where we were given a warm welcome. The woman in charge was so charming, we couldn’t say no to her invitation, so we gobbled up two dumplings before we started drooling. She said her dumplings are the best in Tainan. Their unique recipe includes a blend of marinated and fresh pork, double yolk eggs, all wrapped in a kind of laminated bamboo leaves which won’t stick to the rice, and then cooked three to five hours.
Don't forget the noodles and rice
Next, we were tempted by scrumptious scent of oyster vermicelli, the signature dish at popular Tainan eatery Beimen Salt Mine Bed and Breakfast Restaurant. They use traditional handmade Taiwanese vermicelli, which tends to be smoother and healthier than other noodles. It is served with milkfish ball soup (more on milkfish later) with pickled watermelon. Be careful: if you’re not used to sour flavours, you may pull all kinds of faces from just one sip!
We also tried shrimp rice, an intricate dish, which saw the chef adding the rice spoonful by spoonful, instead all at once. “This is to keep the rice intact, and maintain its texture and elasticity,” he said. We would never have imagined that such a tiny change in method could make such a substantial difference.
Munching on Milkfish
We also went to the Saba Taiwan booth to try their milkfish dumplings. You can only make two dumplings out of the fillet of one milkfish, so it’s a rare treat. They didn’t disappoint.
So what is this milkfish we’re talking about? Taiwanese have been eating milkfish since 1616. Talk about head-to-tail eating: the maw has long been turned into crisps and congee, the heads are used in soup, and even the scales don’t get thrown away, but are used in face masks!
The Taiwanese know it as the Tainan “fish killer”, and no wonder: milkfish has 222 bones! The most popular way to serve the fish is as a fillet – so those bones have got to go.
Huang Xiu-yu, who runs the milkfish themed booth, can debone a milkfish in just five minutes! We all thought she had been taught to do it by a prestigious master, but she said: “No one taught me how to do it, I learned by watching others. I have been deboning for 15 years.”
We were amazed by her skills, which certainly showed us the truth about “practise making perfect”.