In October, my husband and I went to Taiwan to teach some puppetry workshops. We ended up getting stuck there for four extra days because the big storm hit NYC the day we were supposed to get home. I haven’t mentioned the trip, because we have been pretty distracted by storm aftermath since returning.
It is the second time we have travelled to Taiwan for work and we have loved it both times. For one thing, we know some really fabulous theater artists in Taiwan who we really enjoy working with. Also, as a tourist, I am pretty much in heaven in Taiwan. Taipei has a vibrant art scene (which includes a lot of good puppetry) and is famous for it’s night markets, at which you can sample all kinds of amazing Taiwanese street snacks for tiny amounts of money. My favourites were quail eggs fried and served 6 to a stick, Tainan style fried dumplings (made with rice instead of wheat) and filled with shrimp and pork, the beautiful sushi roles and radish cakes.
During the day the same markets are filled with fabulous fresh vegetables, fruit, fish and meat. The next time we go there, I want a kitchen so I can cook! Taiwanese people are proud of the fact that they don’t waste any part of food, so I bet it would be a great place to learn how to cook every part of animals.
My favourite meal was in the city of Kaohsiung. All of the raw vegetables and seafood were on display and our friend pointed to what she wanted and decided how it should be prepared…. Clams with Thai Basil, Giant prawns, “Mountain Vegetable” which looks like tender leaves of a bird’s net fern served with what seemed to be really tiny sweet olives and sweet and tender pork to name just a few!
In addition to amazing food, Taiwan has many thermal hot springs which were developed into bath houses by the Japanese. It is also famous for its very high quality tea and beautiful tea houses. And finally, there are cafes in Taipei that are home to dozens and dozens of cats who will (if your lucky) hop onto your lap for a cuddle while you drink your coffee!
Aside from these formidable attractions Taiwan has a fascinating history and diverse culture, which I look forward to learning more about. There is a mix of aboriginal Taiwanese and people from various regions of China along with the influences of occupying forces from Europe and Japan. I am fascinated by islands and island culture, coming myself from island people and having lived on one island or another for almost all of my life.
If you, like me, are someone who’s list of favourite things include mash up island cultures, interesting artists, puppets, snacks, outdoor vegetable markets, hot baths, tea and kitty cats I urge you to visit Taiwan! I will include some more photos and links to a few excellent things at the end of this post.
On our last night in Taiwan, I picked up a mochi filled with sweet black sesame paste to take back and eat at the hotel while we packed. I enjoyed this little cake so much that my husband went back to the bakery to buy me three more for our 24 hour flight home the next day. I am a BIG fan of black sesame seeds and I have been thinking about them a lot since eating the magical sesame cakes on my plane ride home.
It made a gluten-free version of this black sesame tea cake recently and found it too sweet for my taste (although my friends and husband seemed to enjoy it). Also, I could not taste the pear at all. It got me thinking about what kinds of flavours would both stand up to and compliment black sesame. That’s how these black sesame and candied ginger shortbread cookies came to be!
These cookies taste pretty good right out of the oven, but they taste GREAT the next day and seem to get better and better with age. Managed to save my last one for nearly a week and it was the best. They are very pretty cookies, and given their extended shelf life, would make especially good holiday gifts.
Makes 16 cookies
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
- 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
- 3/4 cups white rice flour (mochi flour would work too)
- 1/2 cup arrowroot starch
- 1/8 cup tapioca starch
- pinch of salt (don’t skip this!)
- 1/4 cup black sesame seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon ground dry ginger
- Candied ginger for topping
- Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
- Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
- Add the rice flour, arrowroot starch, tapioca starch, salt, sesame seeds and dry ginger. I used my hand to combine the dough and continued working it until it was glossy, pliable and every crumb had been gathered into the ball.
- Divide the ball of dough in two. Divide the two balls into four lumps each. Divide each lump in half to make 16 even sized cookies total. Roll each of the 16 lumps into little balls and place, evenly spaced on a lined cookie sheet.
- Using a wet fork, compress each cookie to flatten them and make a lines on the top.
- Thinly slice the candied ginger and carefully place a strip of it into each of the long depressions made by the fork. I was skeptical that the ginger would stay put, but they did!
- Bake the cookies for 20-25 minutes or until they look a bit golden on the bottom edge. Allow the cookies to cool before eating them! If fact these ones really taste better after having a day to mellow and blend.
- This amazing store selling hand puppets and handbags
- Red on Tree Jam featuring local fruit, which is sold at this lovely bakery/ whisky bar
- Night markets and the temples near them (there are LOTS of them and they are different)
- Beitou public hot springs
- Beitou night market and daytime vegetable market in particular
- Solo Singer Inn (a beautiful, peaceful boutique hotel in Beitou run by interesting people)
- Eating seafood in Kaohsiung
- Snack food and temples in the city of Tainan
- Minimal Cafe (with cats!)
- Close to you puppet festival
- Lin Lui-Hsin Puppet Museum
- The tea houses just outside of Taipei
- Taroko Gorge (stay in the cheap hostel and go to eat in the super fancy aboriginal restaurant at the nearby 4 star hotel)