Sunday, March 06, 2005

In Search of Lost Time -Summer 2004

This is a series of photos from my yearly visit to Taipei, Taiwan where my grandmother and my mother's family lives. I've never thought to document the idiosyncrasies of the city where I have spent much of my years growing up in, things change very, very fast and like a lot of other people I'm sure, food memories are a way back home.

The Taiwanese/Chinese attitude to bakery and patisserie is interesting, often, bread products are baked primarily as a visual feast with not much of the traditional substantial qualities savoured in Europe and the West. The desirable chiffon-like texture of white bread is an acquired taste for those who prefer their daily bread to be something more than a slightly less sweet chiffon. However, that's not to say that their pastries and purposely sweet-things are uninteresting, in fact this 'fusion' food is the opposite of Pan-Asian/European restaurant fare where traditional Asian elements are tinkered with to appeal to the Western palate. Here, breads, cakes and pastries are tinkered with to appeal to the Chinese taste.

The proximity of Japanese and Korean aesthetic and cultural influences on Taiwan makes for some possibly unintended and new infusions. Very cute dog-bun with raisins for eyes, a 'bo-lo' Hong Kong style chiffon bun with flaked almonds, a glazed variation with a sweet, milk and almond paste inside and a lonesome chocolate tartlett soon to be consumed by my brother.

Hong Kong - Mandarin Hotel buffet

A stopover measure for passport renewal in Hong Kong. City of my birth. I hardly ever go back to Hong Kong, despite living there for a good decade or so, I find that so many things change in such a short space of time that my favourites eateries have long gone andI spend my time trying to capture and re-capture a little taste or evocation of the past.

Hotel buffets, however are another deal altogether. HK hotels are renowned for their sumptuous and extravagent offerings round the clock, the Mandarin hotel had an ambience and attitude many will be undoubtedly familiar with:I Must Beat the Buffet. The unmistakable air of desperation, (despite the fact that the food isn't going anywhere) the hovering at the stations and the general rush to the seafood is a little bit of the unpleasantness at these affairs. What can't be denied is that the chefs at these institutions have to work bloody hard and watch their food go to waste after a few mouthfuls.

Grill and seafood station, which is amazing considering that crustacea in general are the insects/bugs of the ocean. Below, an assortment of fish gratin, chili-tomato dressed scallips, braised chinese vegetables and in the terracotta pot, a Japanese dessert dusted with coconut which tasted inexplicably like mango, sweet butter and marzipan all at the same time.

Mitsukoshi Food Hall Basement, Taipei Taiwan.

The food hall at the Japanese mall Mitsukoshi is a chaotic affair. Imagine a mall with hawkers. Hawkers who yell at you. Its legal. What is clearly not legal is the incredible mixture of smells that coat the air as you walk into a basement of a hotch-potch of culinary wizardry, the crying of babies, running about of school children, the illicit dating of high school kids and unbelivably, students doing their homework amongst the noise and bustle.

I ate here almost every other day and chose the traditional Northen Chinese fare, usually inauthentic, however for 150 NT or 1 UK pound (2 dollars) gets you:

Miso soup, pickled vegetables, sweet plum sauce with scallions, leek and strips of beef marinated in soy and 'velveted'. All wrapped up in a thin, steamed flour pancake. It beats Pret a Manger anyday.


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