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A Specially Wrapped Surprise: Taiwanese Rice Dumpling

For my final Passion Blog on Taiwanese foods, I decided to choose a food that is very difficult to make; Taiwanese Rice Dumplings or “Bah-Tzang” in Taiwanese.  There is nothing quite like the exquisite taste, sweet pungent scent, and pyramid-shaped structure of the Taiwanese Rice Dumpling.  It is made from sticky rice wrapped with Taiwanese bamboo and can contain a variety of fillings such as pork, mushrooms, shrimp, and other ingredients.  The unique thing about Bah-Tzang is that they can even be filled with sweet red-bean paste that surely pleases everyone’s taste buds.  What is the best part, you might ask?  The entire dumpling is infused with the aroma and delightful taste of bamboo leaves, which I love.

There really is not substitute for this delicious treat that is perfect for any occasion.  When my mom first introduced me to this dish when I was a child, I became an instant fan.  The soft and moist texture of the dumpling’s inside tasted like nothing I had before.  The Bah-Tzang is tied to a true story of a famous poet in China who committed suicide by tying a heavy stone and jumping into a river after his nation’s capital had been overtaken by opposing forces.  In order to try and protect his body from fish, the villagers threw Bah-Tzang into the river to get the fish to eat the dumplings instead of the poet’s body.  To this day I still love eating Bah-Tzang with my family and talking life.  A good dinner starts with the people you love most in life at the table and the delectable meals that complement the experience.


– 5 cups of glutinous rice

– 1/2 pound of dried mung beans

– 20 dried chestnuts

– 1 tablespoon of salt

– 1/8 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

– 10 dried black mushrooms , soaked with stems removed and caps sliced

– 20 bamboo leaves

– 1/2 pound pork belly, sliced


#1) Add glutinous rice, mung beans, and chestnuts to separate bowls
#2) Add enough water to cover the mixture in the bowls and let the bowls soak overnight
#3) Drain the rice, mung beans, and chestnuts before combining them in a large bowl (Do this after the ingredients soak overnight)
#4) Add the salt and five-spice powder and stir to a thick coat
#5) Soften mushrooms by pouring warm water over them.  Let the mushrooms soak in the water for 20 minutes.  Drain the water.
#6) Cut off the mushroom stems and vertically slice the mushroom caps
#7) Put the bamboo leaves in a large pot
#8) Pour enough water into the pot to cover the bamboo leaves and bring the water to a boil for 10 minutes.  Drain the water and let the leaves cool.
#9) Pat the bamboo leaves dry before wrapping.
#10) Place two of the bamboo leaves, slightly overlapping, on a clean table
#11) Add about 1/3 of the rice mixture into the center of the leaves
#12) Top each mound of rice with a slice of pork and a few slices of mushroom
#13) Cover the filling with about 2 tablespoons of rice and the mung bean mixture
#14) Fold the leaves over completely and secure the inside filling
#15) Use string or kitchen twine to lace the dumpling on all sides.
#16) Place the dumplings in a large pot and bring water to a boil
#17) After 4 to 5 hours lower the heat, or when the dumplings are soft and moist.  Cook for an additional 4 to 5 hours and add water when necessary.
#18) Drain the water from the dumplings and serve hot. Enjoy!






Taiwanese Scallion Pancakes

“Cong You Bing” or Taiwanese Scallion Pancakes consist of scallions, oil, and flatbread dough.  The dish is a savory treat that can be paired with any Chinese or Taiwanese main entrees.  Scallion pancakes are comparable to pita breads, but the consistency of scallion pancakes is much crispier and has a perfect combination of salty and greasy goodness.  There are some variations of Cong You Bing where chopped fennel greens and sesame seeds are included along with the scallions in the dough before the pancake is fried.  An additional method of cooking the scallion pancake is combining beaten eggs on one side of the pancake before frying in a pan.  The succulent flavors of the egg and scallion pancake make for a delicious snack during any time of the day.

There is a legend behind the scallion pancake in which Marco Polo borrowed the dough he found in China and that pizza evolved from the scallion pancake in this way.  Italians altered the method of making pizza indefinitely, but there are many different stories of possible legends of how pizza originated.  Some believe that Marco Polo missed Cong You Bing so much that he made chefs in Italy to make their own variation to the scallion pancake.

Cong You Bing’s origin dates back so long ago that many Chinese historians cannot fully agree on where it was created.  Many believe Cong You Bing originated in Shanghai, where many Indians had once lived.  This makes sense due to the scallion pancake’s similarity to Indian naan bread.

There is one specific variation of the Taiwanese Scallion Pancake that is from Korea, seafood pancake or Haemul Pajeon.  It is made from batter, scallions, shrimp, and a little dipping sauce that goes along with the dish.  This is a very popular food in Korean culture and can be found ready-to-eat at Korean grocery stores such as H-Mart. Many times seafood pancakes are eaten with Kim Chi and Miso Soup for added flavor.  Based off of my own personal opinion (I have tried both pancakes before), I believe that Scallion Pancakes have a better taste and is more suitable for the likings of all people.  Not every person that I know enjoys seafood and the battered egg combination is much different from other dishes in various cultures.


#1) Create a thick dough by mixing water and flour

#2) Mix the dough manually or with a mixer until you reach an even consistency

#3) Add minced scallions

#4) Mix again thoroughly

#5) Roll out the pancakes with a rolling pin and fry

#6) Serve and enjoy with soy sauce.


A mooncake is a Chinese baked good that is traditionally eaten during the Moon Festival (also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival).  Just like many other Chinese foods, this one comes with a folk tale.  It goes something like this: at one point the world had 10 suns, and the Chinese Emperor requests China’s best archer, Hou Yi, to shoot down 9 of the 10 suns.  It is said that the 10 suns caused a massive drought and deadly heat for the people of China.  Hou Yi successfully shoots down the 9 suns and his wife is given a pill of immortality that makes her float toward the moon.  She resides there as a reminder of what Hou Yi accomplished.  During the Moon Festival (late September or early October depending on the lunar calendar), people enjoy mooncakes to continue the tradition of the mooncake.

The mooncake has several different shapes, sizes, and tastes.  The Hong Kong-style mooncake, pictured above right, contains 4 egg yolks that represent each of the four phases of the moon.  The texture is paste-like and made of lotus seed.  A box of four mooncakes in the U.S. are generally sold for a minimum of $40.  The pastry is quite an expensive treat and are a major hit despite its high cost.  The dessert is a favorite of young children whom celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival in conjunction with floating sky lanterns.

The Taiwanese mooncake pictured above left, is most commonly filled with red bean paste, sometimes with mochi filled in the center.  Novelty mooncakes are growing increasingly in popularity among the young generation with fillings of green tea, chocolate, ice cream, and even tiramisu.  The roundness of the mooncake symbolizes completeness and unity for China and its people. In modern times, during the night of the Mid-Autumn festival families work together to make mooncakes that shows harmony, peace, and togetherness of the members of the family.  The Moon Festival is celebrated by Chinese, Taiwanese, Philipinos, and the Vietnamese.  In the Vietnamese culture, the mooncake is eaten as well as viewing lion dances and making five-pointed star shaped lanterns.  In the Philipines, a game of chance, known as the mooncake dice game, or simply mooncake game, is also played by both Chinese-Filipinos and Filipinos alike.  The mooncake has lost some of its original meaning in modern times, but the roots of its creation still remain very much alive.

The variety of foods in Taiwan covers anything that you could think of.  The main entrees, supporting appetizers, and mouth-watering desserts encompass all of my eating needs.  Why else w0uld I suffer through an 18-hour flight to Taiwan?  For the food of course…  🙂


Black Sesame Tang-Yuan


The best part about eating traditional Taiwanese and Chinese foods is the variety of options that one has to pick from when it comes to eating entrees, desserts, and any other type of food.  There are so many tastes, smells, and textures of food that I haven’t even tried yet.  Each city in Taiwan and province in China has its own esoteric dishes that are unique to the area.  This is why there are so many kinds of food, culture, and language in both countries.  The dessert that I am highlighting today is the black sesame tangyuan.

Black sesame tangyuan is made up of many ingredients: glutinous rice flour, black sesame seeds, butter, and granulated rock sugar.

– The sesame seeds are grinded into a fine powder (a paste should form from the powder), mix the paste with the granulated sugar and butter, and this combination creates the black sesame filling of the dessert.

-For the dough, mix the flour with one cup of water until a soft dough is formed.  Flatten the dough out until it is completely smooth.  Keep the dough refrigerated and covered until it is ready to be used.

– When ready, flatten a piece of dough into a small disk, add a small ball of sesame filling, and roll the mixture into a ball (pictured above).

– Bring a small pot of water to a boil and gently drop the pre-made sesame balls into the pot.  Allow the black sesame tang-yuan to be cooked for 3-5 minutes or until the dough is softened.  Serve and enjoy!

An interesting fact about this sweet treat is that sesame tang-yuan desserts are served year-round and are most prominent at the end of the Chinese New Year.  The dessert marks the end of the festival and the start of a prosperous new year.

Whenever I had eaten tangyuan as a child, there was never any real special occasion (I guess we loved the dessert that much).  Instead of eating homemade black sesame tangyuan, we would normally buy pre-made, frozen, and packaged tangyuan straight from our local Asian grocery store.  I never would complain though because it tasted as satisfying as anything else that I had eaten.  My parents had always warned me to eat the black sesame balls gently to ensure that not all of the sesame juices would flow out after my first bite.  If you do not eat the outer glutinous layer in conjunction with the sesame filling, the dessert will taste bland.  The two tastes and textures complement each other perfectly.  The glutinous rice layer on the outside can vary from normal white rice, to purple jasmine rice, and even brown rice.

Bubbly Goodness

It became a hit from the start in Taiwan and has migrated over to the United States at a surprisingly fast rate.  People rave about the sensation that overwhelms them during the entire duration of consuming the drink.  Oh, how I do love you bubble tea, or, I’ve heard recently, “boba”.  There is no point in arguing about what people call it due to the amount of goodness that is packed into that one drink –tapioca bubbles on the bottom with a mixture of delicious milk tea– we are addicts all the same.  There are so many methods of drinking it: whether you try and drink all of the tea first and save the bubbles, want to eat the bubbles located on the bottom first and drink the tea afterwards, or just want to simultaneously eat and drink (this is what I usually do). Warning: Drinking bubble tea in excess may cause you to feel nauseous.

Bubble tea, “nai cha” in Mandarin, originated in Taiwan when a family visited Japan and witnessed people drinking tea cold.  The family had been experimenting with tapioca to make pudding.  The combination of the cold tea and tapioca would eventually lead to the creation of milk tea.  My first experience with bubble tea was during a trip to Taiwan at about 5 years old.  I did not really know what to expect at first, but when I had my first few sips I became so thrilled with the taste.  The rush of chilled milk-tea perfection down my throat in what felt like 120 degree weather  (the humidity is absolutely unbearable which causes the most uncomfortable feeling) placated my irritated body instantly.  At that young of an age, I knew that milk tea became an instant hit because of the high temperatures that people experienced around all of Asia.

I identified the first bubble tea store around my neighborhood during the 5th grade.  I would beg my mom to bring me over to the store, but should would always insist that I would have to wait until I go back to Taiwan and have traditional bubble tea there.  There really is no substitute for a perfect cup of bubble tea in Taiwan, trust me.  It has been quite some time since I have been back to Taiwan and visited my extended family, however; I do think about it often, especially when bubble tea comes to mind.  The 18-hour plane right might give me a headache, jet lag, and sick, but bubble tea will always be there waiting for me.

Recently, a new bubble tea joint in State College opened up at 124 McAllister Alley named Tea Talk.  I tried it recently and felt that I should give my honest opinion of the regular milk bubble tea that I had.  It was pretty good considering that we are in the middle of Pennsylvania and it is nearly impossible to find a bubble tea place near Penn State.  Some of the bubbles were a little dry, the milk tea was not too watered down, and the flavor was pretty spot-on.  I would recommend other students and faculty to give it a try.  Milk tea is not for everyone though…

Taiwan’s Notorious Baked Good: The Suncake

jia de sun cake


The connection was there from the start.  It sensationalized every aspect of life into one pastry wrapped in a scarlet-red plastic.  At the time, I was approximately six years old when I had my first nibble of Taiwanese suncake or “Tai-Yang Bing” in Chinese.  My parents had encouraged me to try any and every type of food available to me after the excruciating eighteen-hour plane ride from JFK International Airport in New York to Tao Yuan International Airport in Taiwan.  Most of the time though, my siblings and I would collapse on the couch at my grandparents’ apartment (with little to no effort due to jet lag) while my aunt would start making food runs for our family. 

When we woke up in the morning, still downright exhausted, there would be a mountain of breakfast goodies stacked up on top of the living room table.  These suncakes were one of the many pastries that were a part of the mountain.  I would go for these like a tiger going after its prey.  I would always worry about whether or not there would be enough for my rapacious appetite.  Luckily for me, there was always a surplus in the amount that my aunts would buy for us. 

The flaky texture of the outside cake along with the sweet inside icing sugar cause an immediate mouthwatering reaction in the mouth.  Picture a typical pastry in your head that you really enjoy, perhaps a danish of some sort, but add a bunch of flavor into it and you will have a traditional Taiwanese suncake.  My grandparents were lucky enough to live in an apartment complex right above one of the most famous bakeries in Taiwan, Chia De, pictured above.  The suncake’s origin began in Taichung, a city located in western Taiwan, by a family business that would eventually boom into an iconic baked good of Taiwan.

Just as there are competitions between restaurant owners for the title of best beef noodle soup, likewise there are competitions for the title of best suncake.  People in Taiwan do not mess around when it comes to food, trust me.  Chia De, the bakery located directly under my grandparents’ apartment, won the national award and title of best suncake as well as many other awards.  Chia De truly is the best bakery in all of Taiwan.

The suncake is the ideal snack for breakfast or even a late night snack with a glass of milk.  Taiwan possesses an eclectic variety of food and attractions to please any person from around the world.  When you first land at the airport in Taiwan, you will get overwhelmed by the kindness and respect presented to you regardless of what nationality or any type of identity that society may label you as.  These are the things I love most about Taiwan and all that it has to offer.  Be sure to make a pit stop at one of the plenty of bakeries to get yourself a taste of exquisite suncake!  You won’t regret it one bit.  I promise.