A Taipei Pantry

The flavors of Taiwan (see Taipei, Family Style) echo those of mainland China and Japan, but the island boasts its own canon of staple ingredients.

Todd Coleman

Kabocha and other kinds of hard squash—collectively called nan gua in Mandarin—are often stir-fried with ginger or stuffed with sticky rice and sweet Chinese sausage and baked. A clear, faintly sweet variety of Chinese rice wine, sometimes labeled michiu or mi jiu and intended only for cooking, is used for braises and stews. The lees, or leftover solids, from the making of rice wine are mashed into hong zao, a marinating paste that imparts a complex, sour flavor and pink hue to meats. Fermenting rice a different way produces rich, tangy black vinegar, which goes into dishes like hot-and-sour soup and mian xian, a garlicky noodle soup, and makes a great dipping sauce for dumplings. Musky-tasting white pepper is often used in stir-fries, as are dried fermented black beans, which lend a pungent, earthy flavor. The Taiwanese are masters of deep-frying, and their preferred batter is made with sweet potato starch, which creates a crisp, light crust (use the coarsest variety you can find). Mushroom powder—essentially dehydrated mushroom broth—adds a savory, umami character to many dishes.