When I think of what it means to encapsulate a culture and cuisine in a cookbook, Clarissa Wei’s upcoming Made in Taiwan shines in its example. Wei’s journalistic background warmly thrums throughout the book’s prose, guiding her audience through the plastic stool-lined streets of Taiwan, pointing to this sweet sausage stand and that steaming soup dumpling vendor under the orange glow of night market lantern light.
Traveling through the Taiwanese culinary landscape with Wei is like trailing along with that one friend who knows all the holes-in-the-wall and has no trouble tracking down tips from the hottest chefs in town (oh yeah, she’s friends with them too). Wei walks you through recipes for mooncakes and sticky rice rolls, but what I love most about the book is the narrative line drawn from Wei’s essays on topics like the cornucopaic plenty of the island’s 7-Eleven stores (one-stop shops filled with tea eggs, hot dinners as good as your Ama’s, and even disposable underwear) or the position of high esteem that cows once held in Taiwan’s agrarian past.
Who this book is for
Made in Taiwan will bring golden brown-bottomed dumplings, Taiwan’s iconic stinky tofu, and as many hawker noodles as you can slurp into your kitchen. The book makes a great addition to the kitchen of anyone who is looking to learn how to make East Asian comfort foods or the library of anyone seeking to dip their toes into Taiwan’s rich history, a story Wei introduces through the medium of food.
As a college student, I love that so many of the recipes are low-lift, high-payoff. The book’s Taiwanese Instant Noodles take about as much time to put together as heating up Cup Noodles, and a refreshing bowl of garlicky cucumber salad is just what I’m looking for to snack on between classes. Whether you’re crunched for time, intimidated by high bars for skill and experience, or just looking for something easy to throw together, Made in Taiwan has something to make for dinner tonight without compromising on heartiness or flavor.
What we can’t wait to cook
Some standouts from the book are the shiitake and pork congee (a surefire morning hero for savory breakfast lovers), the fried pork chop (classic bento box fare of tender pork encased in a satisfyingly crisp shell of fried sweet potato starch seasoned with five spice), and the pineapple cake—a crumbly, buttery shortbread stuffed with a jewel of sweet pineapple jam.
Made in Taiwan is packed with crowd-pleasing Taiwanese delicacies for every occasion from the quick snack to the once-a-year extended family holiday dinner. And if you consider yourself a rice kernel connoisseur, Tatung collector, or popcorn chicken enthusiast, it might just be made for you.