Tag Archives: Taiwanese street food

Taiwanese Delicacies #2: Oyster Omelette

The food served at Taiwanese night markets can be fad-driven, but this Taiwanese delicacy has stood the test of time. When thinking of Taiwanese street food this must be one of the first dishes that springs to mind. It’s called O-a-chian (蚵仔煎) in Taiwanese. Don’t bother learning its Mandarin name, no one will understand. In English, you could call it Taiwanese Oyster Omelette.

Oyster omelette is popular throughout southern China and the parts of south-east Asia where Chinese immigration has been strong. There are lots of regional variations in the omelette, even within Taiwan there is locational variety. Kinmen’s O-a-chian is different from what you might find at a night market in Taipei or Tainan.

The standard Taiwanese Oyster Omelette is made primarily of eggs, small oysters, some 小白菜 (I’m unsure of the English, it’s something from the Chinese cabbage/bok choy family), and sweet potato starch. The starch is combined with water and mixed with the egg, giving the egg layer a thick snot-like consistency. Then the omelette is covered in a slightly sweet sauce. I’ve never seen this sauce outside Taiwan. To help you understand its flavor, I found some recipes for making a substitute if you don’t live in Taiwan. One example calls for heating ketchup, vinegar, miso paste, soy sauce, and sugar together with cornstarch and water. I imagine that would taste approximately correct.

O-a-chian tastes good. It has a nice savory flavor, but what it’s really about is its texture. Chinese cooking is unusually concerned about textures and mouth-feel. Many things that seem inedible to outsiders are part of Chinese cuisine because of mouth-feel; tendons, chicken gristle, shark’s fin, bird’s nest, sea cucumber, etc. O-a-chian combines the chewiness of sweet potato starch with the delectable tenderness of the oysters. There’s the crispness of the lightly fried green leafy shit, along with the feel of golden fried eggs. It’s good taste and good feel combined.

If you visit Taiwan this is a classic Taiwanese street food that you really need to try. In Taipei, look for it in and around night markets. O-a-chian is more common outside Taipei, where you should be able to find it in neighborhood restaurants, as well as the night market.

Vignette #2: But Is It Dessert?

 

I’ve inferred in earlier posts that the Taiwanese have little to no comprehension of dessert (here). I’d like to share a memory from when I had just moved to Taiwan that graphically illustrates the point.

One of the first friends I made in Taiwan invited me to join her and a group of friends for dinner. It was a lovely evening where we were graciously treated to a nice meal by one of her friends. After dinner we wandered over to a cuo bing (剉冰), Taiwanese shaved ice, shop. This is a popular local dessert where a plate is filled with shaved ice and the customer can add their choice of toppings. It is very refreshing in the Taiwanese heat.

Cuo bing toppings. Darren Haughn © 2017

It’s the toppings that give insight into Taiwanese dessert philosophy. There are a few toppings that a Westerner might expect, sugary candies of various sorts. These are for children and I’ve never seen an adult, other than myself, choose them. For adults there is a wide array of flavorless choices, including; red beans, green beans, taro, yams, dou hua 豆花 (a tofu-like bean product, lacking tofu’s taste and texture), Job’s tears and various other boiled grains. In short, if it tastes like wet cardboard then it is regarded as dessert-worthy.

Which brings us back to my reminiscing. After a fine meal with new friends, I was expecting an equally fine dessert. You can imagine my shock when we all gathered around a bowl of shaved ice on which the shopkeeper had unceremoniously dumped a can of corn. The corn was literally standing in the center of the shaved ice in a semi-gelatinous blob, having retained the contours of the can it so recently occupied. My new friends were digging into it with relish, raving about how delicious it was. I was poleaxed. After overcoming my initial stunned reaction I had to struggle not to break into peels of laughter. I didn’t want to do anything that would crap all over the kindness that had been extended to me, but come on, how is that dessert?!?