Taiwan Mung Bean Pastry - © guaishushu1.com

Expedition To Taiwan III: Sweets and Beverages

Here we go again… More surprising edibles (and drinkables) from Taiwan! If you thought their mains and breads were great, wait until you sink your virtual teeth into their sweets and desserts. And prepare to be warmed and comforted by their national beverages…

Douhua - © pressurecookrecipes.comDouhua: Soy Milk Pudding. Everybody loves it, everybody makes it at home!

Desserts and Sweets

The full range of Taiwanese sweets directly reflects the breadth of the influences that have contributed to their culture. From puddings to candied berries, to twisted doughnuts to Grass Jelly (!), you’ll be entranced!

Douhua: Tofu Pudding. Tofu Milk is coagulated into a pudding by adding a special ingredient: Tofu Pudding Powder. Depending on where you try it, it may be served with cold brown sugar water or fresh soy milk. You can order it hot or cold. This may well be the most popular dessert in Taiwan.

Tangyuan: Sweet Rice Balls. They’re usually about the size of table tennis balls and traditionally come in pink and white. They may be filled or not. Rice flour is either rolled onto moistened nuggets of filling, or rice flour dumpling dough is wrapped around the filling.

Tangyuan - © noobcook com

Then the balls are boiled or deep fried and served in bowls of sugar syrup. This is the national dessert of Taiwan, a specialty which the whole family can help make, served for weddings, birthdays and other family occasions, and at the First Evening Festival, on the first full moon after Chinese New Year.

Moon Cake: Taiwanese Mung Bean Pastry (see photo, top of page). A puff pastry shell is wrapped around sweet or savoury fillings – but the classic version, served at the Moon Festival, is filled with sweetened Mung Bean Paste. Traditionally, they’re stamped with the chop, or seal of the baker, or imprinted on top with one or more red dots. They bake up quickly (12 – 15 min.) at 325 F – just long enough for the pastry to puff, but n0ot brown.

Ma Lai Go: Brown Sugar Steamed Cake. A classic Taiwanese cake evolved from a recipe brought from Japan during the occupation. It’s a fairly simple batter using both flour and sweet potato starch, and lots of brown sugar, which gives it both its trademark flavour and dark brown colour.

Ma Lai Go - © thewoksoflife.com

It’s steamed, not baked, which contributes to its ultra-moist, melt-in-your-mouth texture. Originally a Shinto temple offering, the Taiwanese version is now enjoyed by everybody.;

Grass Jelly: Not made from grass, but from Chinese Mint. At first glance, you’ll think it’s just dark green Jello. But it’s more than that. Chinese Mesona (a member of the mint family) is boiled with starch and an alkaline ingredient, potassium carbonate (also used to make pulled noodles), then poured out into a flat pan for cooling and setting. The jelly is then cut into small cubes. According to woksoflife.com, it’s also a health food, with benefits including, “detoxification, weight loss, lowering blood pressure, and aiding those with kidney disease and arthritis.”

Fried Rolls: Crispy Cookie Twists or Rolls. There are two types: Crispy (from Liuqiu) and chewy (from Changhua). They’re made from a simple dough of flour, sugar and vegetable oil.

Taiwan Twisted Cookie Rolls - © nomadparadise.com

Some cooks add salt, honey, nuts and or other sweet spices. Ropes of dough are twisted into long braids and deep fried in Peanut Oil. The original version of this ubiquitous treat was invented in Tianjin, China, and dates back thousands of years.

Alcoholic Beverages

Taiwan has its share of brewers and distillers, but the culture has never been big on alcoholic beverages. Where it does shine is in its famous teas and fruit-based soft drinks.

Until just 20 years ago, the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation held the country’s sole license to brew and distill beverage alcohols. Since ‘liberalization’, the market has exploded with dozens of new breweries and distilleries.

Beer: Definitely the leasing alcoholic quaff. Not only are there several major commercial breweries, but the art of craft brewing has been catching strong in recent years. Gold Medal Taiwan Beer (below) is the runaway favourite in its homeland.

Gold Medal Beer - © taiwanho.com

The predominant style of beer on Taiwan is, like those in China, a light golden Pilsner, the recipe for which was originally introduced by German missionaries and traders hundreds of years ago. Taiwanese beer is generally brewed with Formosan Ponlai Rice, which imparts a distinctive flavour.

Mijiu: Rice Wine. The brew is fermented from glutinous rice and produces a clear, colourless beverage with a delicate sweet-acid balance and 15 – 20 percent alcohol. The national ‘hard’ drink!

Yaojiu: ‘Medicinal Spirits’. An ancient distilled drink made by macerating traditional medicinal ingredients in rice wine or grain alcohol. The result is an alcohol extraction of the active ingredients.

Feng Liaoxing - Creator Of Yaojiu - © foshannews.net

Yaojiu is believed to have been invented in the Shang Dynasty by Feng Liaoxing (pictured above), who helped his father run the family drugstore while studying herbology. Yaojiu is still believed to have curative properties, and is the most-consumed spirit in Taiwan.

Whiskey: The ‘Whiskey tradition’ is relatively new to the Taiwanese alcohol menu. And the leading distiller is Kavalan, which produces and exports over a dozen varieties, including some globally-respected single malts. Hot on Kavalan’s tail are other notables including Yushan, Taichung, Hualien and Yilan. In spite of the newness of indigenous whiskey to Taiwan, the country is one of the largest per capita consumers of single malt in the world.

Soft Drinks

Yes, they have their share of fizzy pops and fruit juice-based quaffs, but the old, traditional thirst quenchers are still the runaway favourites.

Pearl Milk Tea: Also known as Bubble Tea and Boba Tea. The secret – the pearls – are tapioca balls.

Taiwan Pearl Milk Tea - © via Wall Streeet Journal

Under its secondary names, this beverage spread virtually across the western world a few years ago. But many folks decided it wasn’t for them… Nevertheless, it’s one of the most popular pick-me-ups in Asia!

Classic Tea: Taiwan’s national tea is Lugu Oolong, enjoyed everywhere by everybody. In fact, Formosan Oolong is considered one of the best teas in the world.

Ginger Tea: A popular beverage served first and foremost as a curative. Many versions can be had including milk, orange slices or peel, lemon, onion, cloves, or peppermint.

Taiwan Ginger Tea - © lifeisbetterwithtea.com

Brown Sugar Ginger Tea is a universal favourite, coming from the store as solid, dry blocks of sugar containing the herbs and other additions that you melt by pouring boiling water over them.

Sugarcane Mama: A blend of Lugu Oolong tea and sugar cane juice with an intriguing bitter-sweet flavour. It’s another of those Taiwanese foods that is believed to have medicinal properties! Serve over ice.

You’ll never go dry in Taiwan!

At least, you’d have to try hard to go without a delicious thirst quencher, whatever your preference. Hope you enjoyed our trek to Taiwan. I know it opened my eyes wide to this tiny island’s amazing culture and culinary traditions.

~ Maggie J.