Saturday, April 4, 2009


My host mom Paige took me for arguably the most popular food in Taiwan, steamed dumpling. Dumpling look like potstickers, but instead of being pan-seared, they are steamed in bamboo racks, and filled with pork and mixtures of other seafood or veggies. The shell is a doughy skin that is very similar to a wonton wrapper, but has a sticky (rather than bubbly) texture when cooked because its steamed instead of fried.

There are dumpling restaurants all over Taipei, and Aoife told me her host family had the leftover dumpling from their dinner the next morning fried for breakfast. I can't imagine how they'd have any leftover at all, because they are SO delicious. Possibly my new favorite food!

Picture a bright, bustling restaurant, full of smiling waitresses in matching black skirts and white blouses, constantly stopping by your table to refill your green tea or give you more shredded ginger. They can clear a table and have it turned around for a new group in about 15 seconds.

You order dumpling like sushi, by filling out a small form of how many orders of each type of dumpling you'd like. To supplement your dumpling you can also get steamed greens, boiled peanuts, or soup.

There's a very specific way to eat dumpling, and the restaurant we went to had a demonstration card to teach us so we wouldn't burn our tongues. You first mix yourself a small bowl of a combination of soy sauce, vinegar, shredded ginger and optional hot sauce. Then you take one dumpling with chopsticks, and put it on your flat spoon. You poke a hole in the dumpling skin with your chopstick to let some of the broth inside out-- this is what would scald your mouth if you just bit straight in. You can pick up the full dumpling with chopsticks and dip it in your soy sauce mixture, or pick up shredded ginger to put on top of the dumpling, and then you eat it in one or two bites from your spoon. The broth is in the pork-based dumplings, which you need to eat from the spoon to get the full flavor. We also had mushroom dumpling, which you could dip and eat with your chopsticks because their filling wasn't as juicy.

The dumpling are handmade in glass kitchens so you can watch the 20+ chefs at work rolling dough, stuffing dumpling, and then swirling it into intricate shapes. The shapes are slightly different in each restaurant, which is part of their signature, and makes each type unique.

When you are finished eating, you leave. There is no lingering over dessert or drinks or to finish a conversation... when your food is gone its time to go, and the smiley waitresses pounce on your table to prepare it for the huge lines of people waiting outside to have their fill.

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