Taiwan-born food blogger and cookbook author, Ming-Cheau Lin, moved from her home country of Taiwan to Bloemfontein, South Africa as a child in the 90’s
She grew up with the tastes of two very rich and flavourful cultures on her lips. From oyster omelettes, potato cheese, grilled squid and deep-fried milk to boerewors rolls, chicken liver kebabs and char-grilled corn on the cob.
What does typical Taiwanese food taste like?
Although different dishes have different flavours, there are some characteristics that distinctly place a meal on a specific place on the world map.
Ming-Cheau Lin says Taiwanese food is all about balance and allowing the natural flavour of each ingredient to come through.
“Taiwanese food is about balance and highlighting ingredients in their optimum state. Some dishes are fairly simple, gluten-free, being rice-based and healthy,” she says.
Cooking Taiwanese food in South Africa
South Africa has become a stewing pot of diversity, mixing tastes, experiences and flavours from all over the world. Even with so much diversity on the menu, finding the exact ingredients for a specific dish can sometimes be impossible.
“Being an immigrant in the 90s, we were fortunate to have had our own supermarkets to shop at so we had access to certain Taiwanese and Chinese ingredients required for many dishes. But even so, we also had to make substitutes with what was available like fresh produce. I often use the preparation techniques and styles of Taiwanese cooking using what’s hanging out in my fridge,” says Ming-Cheau Lin.
What about fusion foods?
Chakalaka Fan Tuan might sound like a good idea, but Lin says that fusion foods sometimes mean sacrificing the flavour and culture of the original meals, which is a shame.
“I feel it’s important to understand a culture before dabbling to create fusions, especially when it’s one that’s not often represented in media. However, if you’re someone from the said-culture, fusion is a reality with circumstantial development,” she says, although she does have some South African-Taiwanese fusions on her blog.
“There’s a section in Just Add Rice called creative hybrids with recipes like my Chocolate Mochi Brownies and Boerewors Sumai.”
Cooking up memories
Because of her upbringing, Lin’s memory is a perfect marriage of culture. One of her favourite food memory is of her dad making Taiwanese bbq sautéed lamb with spinach paired with rice in Bloemfontein.
“In the nineties, local butcheries always had incredible lamb as I grew up in the Free State, in Bloemfontein. My dad would take his time to select a vibrant red portion with a slight marble, sharpen the knife on a stone and spend half an hour slicing slivers to make the dish. It was like a ritual and I learnt to appreciate the process of cooking with him,” she recalls.
Cooking Taiwanese food at home
Trying to cook something before you’ve ever actually tasted it can be daunting. For the nervous cooks, Ming-Cheau Lin recommends beef noodle soup or a spring onion and tomato scramble on rice.
“Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup is always a winner, and one many who’ve cooked from Just Add Rice would recommend. It’s a hearty noodle soup, packed with ginger in broth-style with tender beef shin. Otherwise, the spring onion and tomato scrambled egg is a quick and easy one to pair with rice,” she says.
For more recipes lookout for Ming-Cheau Lin’s cookbook Just Add Rice or visit her blog Butterfingers