Winter beckons! White, powdery snow; cool frosty air; and the cheer of Christmas. But here in Asia the celebration of winter is uniquely different, one that we are going to unearth in this issue of Unearthing Asia – the magic of Oriental Winters.
In this issue
+ Japan + China + Taiwan
+ Truly Malaysian Spa
+ Urban Living – Singapore
+ Siem Reap Top Attractions
+ Melbourne Arts Galore
+ 12 Things to do in Bali
+ Historic Duolun Road
+ New Zealand Food Trail
No trip is complete without trying out some of the best local food at your choice of destination. When you come to Asia, one of the must-try food is none other than dim sum, a traditional culinary art originated from Southern China that has captured the palates of many, especially in countries with strong Chinese influences such as China (duh), Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and many others around the region.
Dim sum (literally meaning, “touch the heart”) is the name for a selection of Chinese cuisine which involves a wide range of light dishes. They are usually served before noon, along with tea (also known as yum cha), but is now such a big part of the culinary scene in Asia that you can find restaurants serving them all day through. Dim sum are usually steamed, baked or fried, and come served in traditional bamboo containers. Here’s a quick guide through some of the more popular dim sum dishes.
Har Gau (see below) and Siew Mai (or usually translated to Steamed Meat Dumpling) combine to form the one of the most popular pairing of dim sum dishes. I’ve eaten Dim Sum umpteen times, and never had one without at least an order of each. In fact, they are the first things my dad would order when eating dim sum. So while we ponder on what to order next, we’ll be munching on these delicious dumplings. The original Cantonese Siew Mai is usually made out of pork and mushroom, but nowadays you can find all kinds of Siew Mai to suit your preferences.
I personally prefer Har Gau (Steamed Prawn Dumplings) compared to Siew Mai. The skin of Har Gau is delicate and translucent, wrapped around fresh juicy shrimps to form a pouch-shaped dumpling. They are usually dipped in soy sauce, rice vinegar, or even a combination of mayonnaise and chili sauce. This dish is a crowd pleaser, so be sure to order enough so that everybody will have at least one.
This dish features a thin roll of rice noodles that are filled with meat, vegetables or other ingredients. Before serving, the roll is usually cut into a few pieces and a spoonful of soy sauce is poured on top. With a wide variety, this dish comes filled with shrimp, beef, char siew, or even youtiao (Chinese fried bread stick), chicken or fish. My personal favorite is Cheong Fun with Youtiao, which features fried youtiao wrapped in noodle rolls. The crispy youtiao combines well with the silky noodle rolls, melting away in your mouth with a heavy dose of soy sauce. Heavenly!
Baos / Buns
The most popular type of Baos (Buns) is Char Siew Bao, which simply means BBQ Pork Buns. They are soft bread with a unique texture, filled with char siew (BBQ pork) at the center of the bun. The char siew is pork tenderloin slowly roasted to achieve a tender and sweet taste, which combines well with the fine soft bread on the outside. Though Char Siew Bao is another popular dim sum dish, it is not exactly one of my favorite. As much as I enjoyed the taste very much, it is however, a very filling dish. My preference is to skip this so I can eat more of the others.
Daikon & Taro Cake
Here’s another standard pairing when ordering dim sum. They are both similar in appearance, usually cut into square-shaped slices and pan-fried before serving. This makes them crunchy on the outside, but soft on the inside. The Daikon Cake is made of shredded radish and flour while the Taro Cake is made from the vegetable taro.
Dan Tat (Egg Tarts) is the Cantonese interpretation of egg custard tarts which are popular in many parts of the world. This pastry was initially introduced to compete with dim sum restaurants, but ironically they have now become part of the dim sum experience. Many variations are available, including egg white tarts, milk tarts, honey-egg tarts and even bird’s nest tarts.
Jin Dui (Sesame Seed Balls) is a fried ball-shaped pastry coated with sesame seeds on the outside that is crisp and chewy. The pastry is filled usually with lotus paste, black bean paste or red bean paste. A more modern interpretation I’ve seen before are Jin Dui filled with chocolate and even durian.
This is not a dim sum dish per say, as you can easily find them in various countries with differing interpretations. However, the fried version is one you would encounter in dim sum restaurants, usually filled with various meats.
Fu Pi Quan
This dish is similar to Spring Rolls, with the main difference being the outer layer of the dish is made of tofu skin. Just like Spring Rolls, you can find the fried and steamed versions, with various meat fillings inside of it.
Phoenix Talons is the fancy way of translating this dish name, which is usually just called Chicken Feet by non-Chinese speaking eaters (like yours truly). The chicken feet are first deep fried or steamed to make them puffy, and then stewed and marinated in flavored black bean sauce. The result is a dish that is moist, tender and flavorful, though it does consists of many small bones.
Lo Mai Gai
The English translation to this dish is quite a handful – Steamed Glutinous Rice in Lotus Leaf Wrap. It features glutinous rice filled with chicken meat and various vegetables, which is then wrapped in a dried lotus leaf and steamed. The result is a savory and flavorful dish, with the aroma of the lotus leaf and chicken melting into the sticky glutinous rice. A personal favorite.
This is a common dessert made of sweet Chinese almond. Almond milk is extracted, sweetened and then heated with a gelling agent. It is then chilled to create a tofu like pudding with a sweet almond taste.
Last but definitely not least, is one of my favorite dessert – the Mango Pudding. This is the perfect way to end your feast, a simple dessert that captures the glorious flavor of mangoes like no other. When done well, the pudding is silky smooth in texture, rich in flavor and refreshing in taste.
This post is part of WanderFood Wednesday, a Blog Carnival held by Wanderlust & Lipstick. Check them out for a visual treat of tasty dishes, or take part in the carnival yourself. Additionally, do check out as well our latest offering, our new Issue 02 of the magazine!
If you are planning a visit to Asia, don’t forget to check out Unearthing Asia, the best Asia travel portal focusing on Lifestyle, Culture and Attractions all over Asia. We have got some of the best travel ideas and inspirations in the region of Asia, such as this list of Singapore’s best romantic views. You can also find some information on cheap holidays to kavos here.
For our Issue 02 of the magazine, we share with you travel tales from four cities all over Asia – Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney and Seoul – and much more!
In this issue
+ Shanghai Hip
+ Singapore’s Dempsey
+ The Heart of Seoul
+ Sydney’s Culture Capital
+ Tasty Taiwan
+ The Art of Humanity
+ Asia’s Little Dragon
+ Wellness for the Soul
+ Chic Melbourne
+ Jakarta Capital Treats
+ Bali, Romance in Paradise
“Made in Taiwan” is probably the first image you have of this small Asian island. It’s an interesting place – 23 million people are squashed into an area slightly smaller than the size of the Netherlands, and while the island is one of the region’s top manufacturing spots, it’s not as if the entire island is covered in assembly lines and towering smoke stacks. Indeed, outside the capital of Taipei, you’ll find national parks and surreal sceneries abound.
You might not be very familiar with Taipei but surely you’ll recognize shots of Taipei 101, the towering skyscraper on the city’s skyline and the 2nd tallest building in the world (for now). Let’s be realistic – Taipei is a busy, bustling city, loud city, but it’s more than likely where you’ll start your journey so there are a number things not to miss. Of course, start off with a trip up to the observation tower in Taipei 101 for unbelievable, unblocked views.
There’s also an incredible number of fantastic buildings and museums to see in the city. I love the Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Halls — even if memorials are not your thing, the surrounding gardens, ceremonies, and the architecture itself is quite a sight. As for museums, there’s nearly 20 – this list covers the important ones, I’ll let you choose what strikes your fancy.
National Park Adventures
Far from the lights and sounds of big Taipei lies the Taiwanese countryside. It’s quiet and relatively off-the-beaten-path since many tourist can’t see past those “Made in Taiwan” signs. Here’s some highlights –
This heavenly place requires a 4 hour journey on a narrow-gauge railway 72km into the mountains. Once here in the hilltops, you can see some really spectacular views; check out the “Mystical Tree of Alishan” – its trunk is dead yet the tree still flowers in full bloom. Don’t miss sunrise at the top of the mountain.
Located in the south of the island, this popular summer vacation spots boasts sandy white sand and a blue shoreline that is every bit as impressive as its Thai or Australian counterparts. Rent a bike to explore the surrounding valley plain, or dive off into the deep sea to appreciate the corals.
The Sun Moon Lake is geographically significant as the largest natural lake in Taiwan. This beautiful alpine lake is the perfect spot for a quiet mini-sabbatical or a few days getaway. Swimming in the lake is not permitted, but there is an annual 3-km Swimming Carnival that drew tens of thousands participants.
This is the world’s deepest marble canyon, and the perfect place for hikers to stretch their legs, a haven for outdoors enthusiasts. Taroko is engrossed in natural beauty, but it takes some planning to go there. If you do however, don’t miss exploring the picturesque Eternal Spring Shrine.
If You Go
Citizens of most countries can enter Taiwan visa-free for short stays of less than a month; for mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau residents will need an entry permit. Further information is available on the (less than user-friendly) Bureau of Consular Affairs homepage.
The island has relatively decent air, train, and bus transport. If you just want some day trips from Taipei or want something a little more organised but not a full-on travel agent, check out the Taiwan Tour Bus. Be sure for trains and planes to make reservations in advance – things can be full, especially trains!
If you head further off field to some of the more rural suggestions, keep in mind that English is not widely spoken outside Taipei. A few basic Mandarin phrases are essential –a good phrasebook where you can point is helpful. Thankfully, the Taiwanese are super-friendly so no doubt a few smiles and patience will go a long way.
About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Experiences.
The journey towards the top of Taipei 101, the current record holder as the world’s tallest skyscraper, begins with a high-speed elevator ride that ferries you up to the 89th floor in 37 seconds. As the sliding doors of the elevator parted ways, two flight of stairs welcome and lead you to the circular outdoor deck that sits on the 91st floor of Taipei 101.
Go in the late afternoon to enjoy the warm embrace of the setting sun, and you’ll notice right away the new condominiums springing up in the east. Far in the south, mountains form tall dark silhouettes, enveloping the precipice of the city. Finally, in the west and north, you’ll find a bustling city center with numerous skyscrapers and endless throng of masses making their way through Taipei. One can’t help but notice an air of irresistible romanticism about gazing at Taipei and all its glory from more than 400 meters high above its urban heart.
When it was unveiled on New Year’s Eve in 2004, Taipei 101 was the city’s way of announcing to the world that it has arrived on the global scene.
It represented a metropolis of 6 million seeking its rightful place on the international stage, an instant landmark that’s become a showcase for the city’s global ambition. Various symbolisms highlight the proud heritage behind Taiwan, its oriental influence and the modernization that has taken place throughout the city.
The main tower features a series of eight segments of eight floors each, an obvious association to abundance, prosperity and good fortune. Its shaped like an Asian pagoda, while numerous motif of the ruyi – an ancient symbol associated with heavenly clouds – appear throughout the structure. The structure was engineered to be able to withstand gale winds of 60 mps, and the strongest earthquakes likely to occur in a 2,500 year cycle. This claim was tested when a 6.9 magnitude earthquake rocked Taipei in 2002. Construction was still ongoing, and the tremor was strong enough to topple two construction cranes from the 56th floor, then the highest. Five people were killed in the accident, but an inspection afterwards showed no structural damage.
As I enjoyed a lazy Sunday afternoon sipping authentic Viennese coffee in one of its numerous cafes, a group of Western tourists made their way up with their local guide. They turtled their way up, marveling at the spectacular architecture and snapping pictures here and there. This grandiose structure stood tall as a testament of how far Taipei have come from when the Nationalist government took control in 1949 – truly, an achievement all Taiwanese can be proud of.