The scallion pancake may be one of the greatest culinary creations of the Far East. It comes in different forms, but is delicious on its own and also makes up the base of the beef rolls that are super popular in authentic Chinese restaurants around LA. But perhaps the greatest take on the scallion pancake can be found at the Shilin Night Market in Taipei, Taiwan.
Here, the scallion pancake is the more flaky variety, but starts like all others on a griddle with some oil. After that, it takes a turn towards greatness by adding a fried egg. In itself this is not so revolutionary because scallion pancakes with eggs have existed for about as long as scallion pancakes. What’s big here is the addition of a slice of cheese. Yes, cheese!
As with nearly every dish, cheese can always make it better, but what is more significant is that cheese is simply not an ingredient in really any traditional Asian dishes. Therefore, embracing cheese as a complement to something traditional as opposed to relegating it to Western-style food is pretty fantastic. With a touch of spicy sauce, this was truly a transcendent bit of street food.
Oysters are weirdly popular in Taipei. Or so I think. All I know is that in two nights there I ate more oysters than I ever intended to in my whole life. One of those was in the form of some oyster noodle soup (also known as oyster vermicelli) at the Shilin Night Market, which happens every night and presumably the soup is always there being served by the same lady out of a cart as well.
I often find it amazing how universal sausage is. It seems like every culture has its own version of tube meat, like all humans have some sort of collective conscience that led us to grind up meat and stuff it inside of an intestine. And while you might think that Taiwanese sausage would basically be the same as Chinese Sausage, you would be wrong.
You may recall that a few years back I paid a visit to Shanghai and had some of their stinky tofu (aka chou doufu in Mandarin). At that time it was pretty much the only variety of stinky tofu I really knew of because I had spent a year living in that city. Stinky tofu, however, seems to come in as many flavors as bread or pasta, with Taiwan claiming one of its own.
While riding our scooters back to Isabel in Vieques, we couldn’t help but be stopped by some street food. The street food in this case turned out to be Pinchos, which is basically a Spanish word for skewer-grilled meat. Or, at least that’s what it means in Puerto Rico.
At night in the Djemaa El Fna (Big Square) in Marrakech’s Medina, the street food comes to life. Of course, the place is still full of street performers and snake charmers, but the food looks oh so much better. The only trouble is the insane amount of people working in the stalls that badger you about as hard as possible to stop by their stall. My favorite line, though, was “same shit, different stall.” And he was right, it all looked the same, so I stopped by one to see what they had.
By day, a stall just down the street from my riad (hotel) in Marrakesh was perpetually busy. Not with customers, but with workers grinding beef, putting together sausages and butchering away. It was interesting to watch, but didn’t exactly whet my appetite. Yet, when I returned later that night I found the place bustling with locals jockeying for some food. At this point I knew whatever it was had to be mine.
After Portland we made our way into the Great White North, although surprisingly Canada wasn’t quite covered in white in the middle of the summer. We began in Vancouver, and I found myself a Japadog stand to satisfy my hunger. In case you are unable to read between the lines, Japadog is simply a Japanese hot dog stand, serving up typical Japanese-style hot dogs and other interesting hot dogs with Japanese toppings on them. It’s been around since 2005 and is pretty well-regarded in the street food scene. At least it was regarded enough that I can say that I had heard of them at some point in my life.
After Shanghai, we headed to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors. We landed at night and although it was pretty late, I was a hungry unvegan. I remembered Xi’an having some great late-night street food, but after four years so much had changed in China and I hoped this was not one of them. I took a quick stroll just south of the Bell Tower and found just what I was looking for. While Shanghai had some good street skewer food (none of which I actually had on this trip), it was nothing compared to what could be found in Xi’an.
Just what is chou doufu (pronounced cho dough-foo)? If you don’t know Mandarin, you might think it sounds pleasant. The words roll off the tongue pretty cleanly and it sounds like it could be some sort of doughy deliciousness. Like a doughnut or something. But if you know Mandarin, then you know the true meaning of the words and they are nothing at all like a doughnut. Chou doufu means, quite literally, stinky tofu. And the name is certainly appropriate. As with much of the rest of Chinese cuisine, chou doufu comes in many forms, but the form I know best can be found on the street.