I’ve just returned from a week of gluttonous gallivanting around beautiful Taiwan. I know, I know, poor me. I’m hardly expecting sympathy cards or flowers.
I also should point out at this juncture that this particular trip was a bigger deal to me than most and I honestly had doubts that I could handle it. You see, it’s the very first I have travelled sans offspring since they were born. To be honest, it’s the first time that this besotted mama has spent more than 16 hours away from either of her hard-to-make progeny. Even that was just the once, a little over two years ago, and I was giving birth to Sugarpuff at the time, so I had a pretty good excuse.
For several weeks before departure, my ever so slightly melodramatic mind was spinning with imagined scenarios that would rival the very worst daytime soap.
Would my kids miss me? Would they be OK? What if something happened to them while I was away? Would I die of mother guilt? What if something happened to me? Would Mr Eats World remarry an evil harridan or worse, a conservative pop music lover who would raise my precious babies without a love of French cheese, punk music and leopard print? Would I even be able to breathe without them in my immediate proximity? The short answer? Yes. Yes. It didn’t. I didn’t. It didn’t. He didn’t. I could.
To elucidate, I can happily report that they did indeed miss me and remained unscathed by the experience; my husband didn’t remarry in my week long absence; the kids still love French cheese; Mr Eats World taught them to sing a Rancid song while I was gone (which shows questionable parental judgement but I secretly think is kinda ok); and my daughter turned up at the airport clad in camo skinny jeans and a leopard print coat (again, a questionable choice but cute in a vision impaired hipster sort of way). And, though I did feel a little like I was missing a limb the entire time I was away and thought about my little lovelies pretty much every minute of every day, I not only survived but actually had loads of fun! In fact, I think the break from bottom wiping and tantrums and a week of conversation unfiltered of swear words, and that didn’t centre around Ninja Turtles and Peppa Pig, may have just made me a better, and more relaxed, parent.
My week in beautiful Taiwan certainly made more of a mother of me. About 15 kgs more! From day one and its lunch time offering of chicken noodle soup and pig’s intestines in the squeaky clean streets of Taipei (I can hear the collective “ewwww” from here but don’t diss it until you’ve tried it, it’s really not too bad) to the first of many, many remarkable dinner banquets, I realised fairly quickly I was going to be eating my own body weight daily!
And I did. That weight expanding exponentially. One week of memorable but mammoth meals has left me not only a card-carrying member of the Taiwanese Cuisine Fan Club but about six inches wider! Indeed, my fab fellow journalists and I were fed so much, so often, during our week of extreme gluttony that it crossed my mind that we may have stumbled into some macabre organ harvesting operation and our livers were being fattened up to be sold as human fois gras on the black market. Luckily, being typical journos we all drank so much during the gorging that our pickled livers were of little use to anyone and we returned home with all necessary organs in place, if slightly worse for wear.
The Howard Plaza in downtown Taipei was the venue for our first dinner feast, and a fabulous introduction to the kind of authentic cuisine that the Taiwanese make at home it was. We started with plump juicy oysters sautéed in black soy bean, sweet potato congee, tender fried fillet of pork with soy sauce, fried preserved turnip omelettes and the most delicious crispy mushrooms I’ve ever tasted.
Sated, we were all ready to head home but the chef had other ideas and the food just kept coming, platter after heaving platter of it. Slippery and succulent sauteed loofah (yes, you read that right, loofah, in its fresh pre-cellulite buffing form).
Stir fried wild vegetables, asparagus with lily root and three cup chicken came next. Then deep fried fish in the most amazing sweet and sour sauce which (besides not being fluorescent orange) was as blissfully far away from tasting like the stuff we get back home as you could imagine.
And that was before they brought out desserts. Plural!
It was a night of many highlights… not least of which was a fairly surreal ukulele performance of “The Pub With No Beer” to an audience that included a posse of extremely polite locals, a hotelier who’d done his training at the Benny Hill school of comedy, an Austrian envoy (a man afflicted with an odd nervous tick when anyone mentioned “Edelweiss”) and an inebriated emissary from Lyon.
And which I’m sure was directed by Terry Gilliam. On a bender.
For me, Three Cup Chicken was the stand out dish on the first night of our glutinous pilgrimage. Not because it was better than the others (which were all rave worthy) but because this sticky, sweet, salty and oh-so-tasty comfort dish is one of the signature dishes of Taiwan, and I knew at first bite that I would be taking it home to my family.
I chatted up the folk in the know and with only the slightest cajoling managed to procure an approximation of the recipe.
Did I mention that the Taiwanese are just about the nicest people on the planet?
On my return (after picking myself up off the floor of Sydney Airport Arrivals, having been attacked and knocked to the floor by two small lunatics who were as excited to see their mama as she was them) and armed only with a vague hand-me-down recipe and the remnants of my alcohol damaged memory, I gathered the ingredients and whipped up my interpretation of Three Cup Chicken, with a child attached to each leg.
It was such a hit, I have made it twice more since. Pretty impressive given I have only been back five nights.
On this occasion I may not have been able to take my tiny travellers to Taiwan but I have brought Taiwan home to them. This dish is just the start…
Taiwanese Three Cup Chicken
750 grams free-range chicken thigh fillets (cut into bite-size chunks)
1 tablespoon cornflour
15-20 whole garlic cloves (peeled)
12 ginger slices
80 ml sesame oil (plus 2 tbsp for frying)
80 ml soy sauce
80 ml Chinese rice wine
2 tbsp sugar
2 large handfuls of fresh Thai Basil (Thai Basil holds flavour and colour better than its European counterpart)
4 spring onions, cut into 5 cm lengths
- Coat chicken with 1 tbsp of sesame oil and 1 tbsp cornflour and put aside for twenty minutes.
- Heat wok until sizzling and add 2 tbsp sesame oil. Toss in whole garlic cloves and ginger slices and fry for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.
- Add chicken and fry for three minutes, until lightly browned.
- Add soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine and sugar and stir.
- Bring mixture to boil then lower heat and allow chicken to simmer for 25 minutes. The sauce will thicken during cooking.
- Increase heat, add basil and spring onions and cook for another two minutes.
- Serve with rice.
Disclosure: While I did travel to Taiwan courtesy of Taiwan Tourism and China Airlines (whose brand new Airbus 330-300 that flies direct from Sydney to Taipei is awesome BTW) it was for my day job and not in any way connected to this blog. I am under no obligation to share my experiences here but I am because I adored Taiwan, its food and its people and I want to share its sights, smells and tastes with my kids. You guys just get to come along for the very tasty ride.
- Tofu, or not tofu (boyeatsworld.com.au)
- Cracking up over Tea Eggs (boyeatsworld.com.au)
- Tripping the light fanplastic – Barbie Cafe, Taipei (boyeatsworld.com.au)