I have never made it a secret that I am perfectly happy to be bossed around by someone who knows what they’re doing. If I were in the culinary biz (and lucky to secure felicitous employment) I’d be an eternal sous chef. That might be why I’m such a happy customer when it comes to a well-run house.
Imagine my surprise when, on my recent trip to Seattle, we landed in the good graces of a no-nonsense, helpful waitress at Chiang’s Gourmet in the Lake City neighborhood in NE Seattle (7845 Lake City Way N.E.). Our experience mirrors this humorous review, in which a white couple are initiated into the mysteries of Taiwanese-style dim sum.
In my case, I was rather more arrogant about it all. (If you didn’t catch my latest appearance co-hosting KLCC’s “Food for Thought” radio program last Sunday, I talk about it here as my meal of the week).
When asked if we had had dim sum before, I said we had, but I couldn’t understand which items were which because the Chinese translations seemed a little unusual, with many more “buns” and “cakes” than usual. Where was “har gow,” for example? If there is one thing I know, it’s har gow.
She smiled at my ignorance and said that we were about to eat a kind of dim sum we had never had before: traditional Taiwanese dim sum.
Had we really just chanced upon a completely new cuisine for me? We had been led to the restaurant by a recommendation, but in a very unusual moment for me, I hadn’t looked at any reviews or menus ahead of time. And I was kind of grumpy that we hadn’t been able to eat at my favorite Sichuan restaurant due to scheduling.
So, basically, I had to trust someone…about food?
Our waitress at Chiang’s Gourmet basically ordered for us, and we couldn’t be happier. I just wish we could have eaten more. Taiwanese food is something to which I have had little to no exposure, and it’s a varied and unusual combination of many regional Chinese specialties. The diversity is actually a bit startling. Oddly enough, my big Culinaria China book had only the sparsest mention of Taiwan. I had to study this guide on popular food culture just to get a sense of what the island offers.
One of the main staples is pork, and there are indeed plenty of pan-fried wheat dough “cakes” that contain ground pork, like the flatbread we ordered, above, with minced, soured dried daikon.
When she brought out a pile of garlic flecked gai lan and the spicy, soupy dumplings pictured at the top here, I thought I was in heaven.
But when we received the above dish, I had no idea what to expect. Glutinous purple rice steamed in plastic wrap was odd enough — and the interior, an odd mix of dried, shredded pork, a sweet powder, and the fried dough fritter usually served with congee? And yet the combination worked: a strange mix of all the five flavors, plus an interplay of soft and crispy textures in each bite.
We finished our meal with hand-cut Shanghai-style noodles, shrimp and spinach, another house specialty. I’m sad that I missed the pork and sesame topping served to the table next to us, but we couldn’t go wrong with a dish like the above.
And it gives us more reason to go back.