Let’s get saucy. I mean it.
I had the pleasure of going on yet another learning adventure with my friend Stacey, and this time it was in search of sauces – of the Taiwanese variety, to be specific. We visited Kuo Hua on No. 3 Road, which is like the Costco of Taiwanese food imports.
The warehouse-like space is filled entirely with dry goods (there’s no fresh produce), and almost everything felt new to me. I stopped Stacey every few feet to ask questions, and had to strongly resist my desire to bring home half the store.
Before we got into the sauces, there were endless varieties of drinks to look at, including these little agar-based numbers, which Stacey said some women drink because they contain few calories and fill up one’s stomach, making them feel full. In other words, they’re I-want-to-be-skinny drinks! Pfffft. We passed.
Another drink we found was this one for children; each bottle of which has a marble in it, so the more kids drink, the more marbles they have to play with. Clever play, marble drink company, clever play.
Sauce-wise, there were dozens upon dozens of soy, drinking vinegars, chili pastes, fruit, vegetable, and fermented products to choose from. Because the country was once ruled by Japan, Stacey said there are quite a few Japanese-style sauces in Taiwanese cuisine, though they’re usually produced in Taiwan and have been altered slightly.
Here are some of the bottles we looked at:
Oolong, which is like the Taiwanese version of teriyaki sauce. And yes, it is produced from the same plant used for oolong tea.
Tomato ketchup is apparently quite popular, though it is referred to as “catchup.”
Fresh chili with dried shrimp paste is one of the more favoured spicy sauces, so take note hot-sauce lovers!
Kumquat sauce is apparently an excellent accompaniment to pork,
and there are such a things as pickled tree seeds, which are often steamed over fish.
Another popular product is pickled pineapple, which is fermented to the point of no longer being sweet. Stacey said when she first moved to Canada and ordered a Hawaiian Pizza, she was completely thrown by the fact the pineapple tasted sweet. Growing up, she was used to it being used as a savoury ingredient.
Stacey pointed out one particular sauce she thought I’d love – fried crispy soybeans in oil. They’re rather hard to explain, but she certainly knows my palate now, because I DID love this. We tried it at Delicious Cuisine, a Taiwanese restaurant attached to Zephyr Café. On their menu, the dish was called “sautéed black cod in hot bean sauce” ($22).
The cod was sliced into rounds, and the flavour of the sauce seeped into the flesh as it steamed. The chopped up salty soybean made for a wickedly addictive and savoury crunch. Also, the sauce itself is vegan, so if you swapped the fish for rice, vegetables, and tofu, you’d have one fine, meat-free meal.
The sweet crystal eggs ($6), which are soft-boiled marinated eggs, were a great accompaniment to a light lunch.
The sergestid shrimp fried rice ($9) paired perfectly with the rest of the meal. I’ve come to love these dried, miniscule little sergestids (truly shrimpy shrimps), which add a chewy texture and so much flavour to any food they’re cooked with.
Our fourth dish was lamb with a choy ($15), a Taiwanese lettuce-like green. The lamb was tender, the a choy had been steamed in a light broth, and it was all just a bit spicy from a chili tossed into the mix.
I enjoyed every last bite of this meal, and highly recommend Delicious Cuisine. The sautéed black cod wasn’t cheap, but well-worth ordering. Also, you can buy yourself a jar of the crispy soybean sauce at Kuo Hua to take home!
I bought four things from the store: two cans of Taiwanese sweet ‘soup,’ a bag of wheat noodles, and a jar of shiitake mushroom sauce.
Stacey described the Milk Peanut Soup and Adlay Oatmeal Deluxe as snacks that can be eaten either at room temperature or chilled. They even each come with their own little spoons! My favourite of the two was the peanut soup (pictured on the left) – it was sweet, milky, and full of soft, whole peanuts. It was unlike any other snack I’d had, and I could see myself growing to crave it.
The ‘oatmeal’ (pictured right) was a mix of oats and grains, also soft but a little less sweet, and perhaps good for breakfast.
Stacey also picked out these wheat noodles and shiitake sauce for me, describing them as the Asian equivalent to “pasta + pesto.”
This was the easiest meal ever to prepare, and so tasty. I boiled the noodles for about 8 minutes, then mixed them with several spoonfuls of the shiitake + soybean sauce.
I found the frilly noodles charming – when cooked, they reminded me of a rippled sea creature. As for the sauce, it was just as killer as the crispy soybeans, and also vegan!
The taste was umami through and through, just the thing for any vegetarians or vegans missing the savoury flavours of meat. The noodles were also excellent.
I’m only ankle-deep in this saucy lake, but I feel as though I’ve discovered so much. I’ll certainly go back to Kuo Hua and pick up more things – maybe even some more milk peanut soup…..
Thanks for my lesson, Stacey! I feel so saucy and empowered.
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian options available