Titan Visits Xinfu Market – Seeking Authentic Taiwanese Flavors
Article Shi Ruide
Photos Lin Weikai
Instead of a typical chef’s apron, Titan wears a colorful T shirt and a pair of sneakers, and with his swarthy complexion, he is the picture of a young man bursting with energy. If you didn’t know him from TV, you’d never think that this thirty-something man has over 10 years of culinary experience, including working for famous hotels, teaching cooking courses, and publishing several books.
Recognizing Fresh Ingredients in Front of You
The moment Titan steps into Xinfu Market on Dongsanshui Street (東三水街) in Wanhua District, the “chef radar” he was born with clicks on right away. He surveys the area, picks up a vegetable, has a quick sniff, then touches the fish and squeezes the meat. “When I shop at local markets, there are two things I look for most: low prices and freshness. The advantage of traditional markets is you can assess freshness yourself. At the supermarket, where the produce is sealed in plastic wrap, you can’t really touch or feel the item, and it’s just not fun!” says Titan.
Located near Lungshan Temple, Xinfu Market was built in the year Showa 10 nen of the Japanese era (1935) and was the first public market to meet Taipei City’s new standards of hygiene. Connected to Dongshanshui Street Market, this horseshoe-shaped building occupies a rather small site with narrow passages. The vending stands are right next to each other but pretty well organized. There are no funny smells in the air, the floor is nice and clean and the whole complex seems to glow with the light of rebirth.
Titan notes that, “This market is small but well-equipped; you can find whatever you want there. Every stand has its produce arranged neatly. Take the chicken stand as an example: the vendor cuts up the bird so that bones, giblets and meat all have their own display areas, which makes for a pretty picture. At the fish stand I bought a greater amberjack. It has a solid body and clear scales – you can tell that it’s good stuff! This is the thing to go for.”
“I chatted with a lady who runs a vegetable stand and sells meat on the side. I asked her why and she said, ‘Well, I just like to eat meat!’ What a cute answer!” When Titan sees an ingredient he’s not familiar with, he asks the vendor about the secrets of cooking it. In this way he bonds with the vendor as they chat, and thus gets a better price, and helps with sales, too. This is a win-win situation – what could be better!
Customers at Xinfu Market are mostly neighborhood locals of the older generation. “I’ve noticed there are many deli stands there providing take-out food. Most deli items contain ingredients from the market itself. There are plenty of options and the vendors’ cooking skills have withstood the test of time, which is a great guarantee of taste! These are comfort foods filling the stomachs and hearts of countless people living nearby.”
Owing to the demands of his work, Titan also visits Binjiang Market (濱江市場) frequently. “In that market, there are vegetables, fruit, chicken, ducks, fish and meat from all over. This is a place restaurant chefs must visit, so I like to shop there, too. My specialty is Western cuisine, and there are so many tomatoes to choose from at Binjiang. You don’t need to buy a whole bunch – all at once, you can get just enough for what you are cooking. I buy a bit of this, a bit of that, then take them home and study each ingredient in order to do something creative with my next new dish.”
While shooting his TV show on location overseas, Titan often visits regional markets, but he still considers the traditional Taiwanese market his top choice. “Making a living at a food market isn’t easy. Observing certain details will tell you if a vendor cares for his or her produce. How does a proprietor run a business all day long and still keep produce fresh? How does he or she keep the food’s texture the same, even after a customer brings it home? One of the key things is whether there’s a big refrigerator at the back of the stand or not. At overseas markets, the food all tastes the same – there’s no mingling of flavors or special twists.”
Simple Dish With Dazzling Skills
Titan recalls his path to becoming a chef and says, “Before I joined the Department of Food and Beverage Management in high school, I’d never done any kitchen chores, never cooked, and never thought I might be a chef one day! I chose that department simply because my elder sister thought it was a good choice of profession.” Whether he was cooking at a restaurant, hotel, or for the army, he had to make do with low-priced ingredients with few options to choose from; yet he always tried to create dishes that were special. He learned to pay extra attention to his seasonings, and his work soon won over people’s hearts.
At work, he specializes in dishes with a meat or fish entrée with side dishes, desserts and spaghetti. For family gatherings, Titan says Taiwanese cuisine is a better choice. He notes that, “Western cuisine accentuates the original flavor of the main course; whereas Taiwanese cuisine typically combines many different flavors. I will take the nature of the event into consideration and add key elements to create a very simple dish that will still have a dazzling effect on guests’ palates, eyes and hearts.”
After work, when Titan goes home, the kitchen is under his wife’s control and Titan can only play an assisting role and give advice wherever needed. His wife is also a great cook!
Titan says, “Cooking for the family is not about culinary skill. Even if the taste or presentation isn’t as delicate as at a restaurant, the meal is full of love, and this cannot be topped by any five-star restaurant or chef’s cuisine. Especially after a long day, when you come home and enjoy a hot dish – it’s something no delicacy or gourmet food can compare with!”
Braised Chinese Cabbage With Egg Floss
70 grams of pork belly
2 dried mushrooms (soaked
in water and julienned)
10 grams of dried shrimp
(soaked in water)
15 grams of shallots (sliced)
5 grams of ginger (chopped)
30 grams of carrots (sliced)
40 c.c. of rice wine
Half a Chinese cabbage
(cut into pieces)
100 c.c. of water
10 grams of garlic (chopped)
5 grams of green onion
Some white pepper
Some sesame oil
First, stir fry the pork belly in sesame oil, then add dried mushroom, dried shrimp and shallots.
Add ginger and carrots and stir fry a little more, then add rice wine, Chinese cabbage, and water to simmer for about 10 minutes.
Mix in one whole egg and one extra egg yolk.
Bring the oil temperature up to 190, then pour the egg mix through a filter into the oil to deep fry it into egg floss.
Add half the egg floss into the frying pan mentioned in , then add more water or broth and bring to a simmer, then season with some white pepper and salt.
Mix in minced garlic and serve with chopped green onion and the rest of the egg floss on top.
To make a good-looking egg floss, the oil must be hot enough (heat for about 3 minutes). After it’s done, put a paper towel under the egg floss to soak up extra oil.