I was flipping through “The 4-Hour CHEF” by Tim Ferriss the other day, a book with an overwhelming amount of information to learn how to cook, and paused on page 148. That section titled “Around the World in 44 Flavor Combinations” is a smart cheat sheet, or call it hacks to sound more hip, listing types of cuisine, and their key ingredients.
For China, Tim Ferriss has listed tamari, rice wine and ginger. Looking at regional Chinese cuisine, Beijing is represented by miso and/or garlic and/or sesame; Szechuan is sweet, sour and hot, though I’m tempted to add tingly; Canton keeps it simple with black beans and garlic. Now, of course, the question is, what is the flavor combination for Taïwan?
After giving it some thought, I have boiled it down to four components: soy sauce 醬油, rice wine 米酒 and the twins black and white sesame oil 麻油/香油. I am particularly fan of the soy sauce and rice wine duo.
Here’s my lazy way to cook Taiwanese at home, take some vegetables and/or meat, cook those first with some oil, when those ingredients are about ready, put a splash of rice wine, followed closely by a more generous amount of soy sauce. The wok should be hot enough that the liquids will sizzle and steam up, add a little a water if needed. The resulting sauce will nicely coat all your bits and pieces, and you’ll just a need a bowl of rice to go along with it.
As a way to jazz up your rice and not waste the leftover sauce in the wok after spooning out the content, put some white rice in it, a bowl is enough, and stir around so that each grain comes in contact with remnants particules of the sauce. It is so simple, but nicely seasons the rice, add an egg, some greens, and you get yourself a complete all-in-one-bowl dish.
A myriad of brands exist for those ingredients.
For the soy sauce, I am not too picky and just make sure that it is a Taiwanese brand, or that it is made in Taiwan to be sure it has the taste it’s suppose to have. At one point, I had four different kinds of soy sauce in my kitchen pantry, each with its own usage, so definitely be careful when buying soy sauce, or risk creating a dish that won’t taste as expected.
I’ve seen many restaurants use that red labelled bottle of rice wine, and have followed their example by picking up that same brand myself. At the supermarket, rice wine for cooking is located with the vinegars and other condiments area, and not with the alcoholic beverages. However, I don’t recall seeing it abroad, or most likely, another brand is exported.
Choices in sesame oils is more restrained but there’s still a variety of brands to choose from. While searching for this article, I stumbled upon Shunfa 順發 which appears to make high-quality sesame oils as well as other kinds such as tea, flax or peanut oils. I definitely should be cooking more with sesame oil, with its strong aroma that can enhance any dish.
How about you? Do you agree with my Taiwanese flavor combinations? What ingredients would you choose? Food in Taiwan can be quite eclectic, and each individual has its own experience, so I’m quite curious about other people’s opinion on this subject. 🙂