I recently spent a week in Taiwan with a group of journalists from Southeast Asia. It wasn't a food-focused trip, but food inevitably came up in many discussions over shared meals. I had a few extra days there staying with friends and made it my mission to try as much of the street food as possible, in between great shopping, visiting galleries and temples, and some excellent specialty coffee.
There are many small alleyways off the main roads in Taipei that become bustling markets at breakfast time. Tofu and cabbage rolls, steamed buns of all kinds, dan bing - a crepe filled with egg, and various rice rolls containing pickled vegetables. I'd wander the streets and try a few different things each morning, and with my very limited Mandarin, ordering was sometimes just a matter of pointing and smiling and hoping for the best.
Many street vendors have small stalls with some of the best food you can get - gua bao steamed buns with braised pork, pickled vegetables, and crushed peanuts was one of the best things I've eaten in a while, and so cheap.
I found an amazing stall selling hot, crisp, flaky spring onion pancakes one morning and they were a revelation. A simple dough rolled up and cooked on a hot plate, I thought that would be the thing I'd try and create at home. They don't ever taste the same as eating them standing on the side of the road on a humid day with the sights and sounds of a morning market, but I've given it a good go.
They're a great snack or starter. The cucumber salad is a great side dish for any Chinese food feast - it's especially good as a side with dumplings. Smashing the cucumber (rather than slicing) I was taught helps soak up more flavour. Enjoy.
For more about Delaney's trip to Taiwan, check out her blog at delaneymes.com
Spring onion pancakes
250g plain flour
1 bunch spring onion, finely chopped
1 tsp sesame seeds
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
80ml boiling water
70ml cold water
Extra flour for dusting
Put the flour in a bowl and add the boiling water, stirring with chopsticks. This is called "burning" the flour. Give it a mix and once it has cooled enough, continue mixing with your hands.
Add the cold water, a quarter at a time, and continue mixing.
When mixed thoroughly, take the dough out of the bowl and knead on a flour-covered bench. You may need to add more flour as you knead. Continue kneading until the dough is shiny and your hands and the bench are clear of dough.
Roll the dough into a ball and place in a bowl covered with cling film. Seat aside for about half an hour.
Take a piece of dough about the size of your fist and roll it out on the bench into a circle about 15cm in diameter. Spread some vegetable oil over the dough, then sprinkle over the chopped spring onion. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds.
Roll the pancake into a tight cylinder, then coil it around into a circle (like a caterpillar rolling itself into a circle).
With a rolling pin, flatten this circle into a pancake again.
Add oil to your frying pan and heat to a medium-high heat. Add the pancake to the frying pan and fry until golden, then flip and cook the other side until golden and crisp.
Serve as a side dish with chilli oil or chilli sauce or your favourite Asian-inspired dip. Also great at breakfast time.
Taiwanese cucumber salad
1 large telegraph cucumber
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp wine vinegar
1 tsp chilli oil
1 tsp sesame
½ tsp minced garlic
Cut ends of cucumbers. Cut into four pieces, then smash them with the flat side of a large knife. Break it into further chunks, discarding any large clumps of seeds.
Place the chunks in a bowl and cover and toss with the sugar and salt. Set aside in the refrigerator for about half an hour.
Strain the liquid and add the vinegar and sesame oil, then toss to coat. Add the garlic, chilli oil, and a sprinkle of salt if required. Set aside until ready to serve - about half an hour, or up to a day.
Serve as a side - it's great alongside dumplings or anything else a bit greasy.