After recounting the following experience via email to some friends, I realized that it was screaming to be shared here. If I can find any pictures that others took of said experience, I will add them later. For now, I shall start with a bit of info about the cooking situation in Taiwan.
In general it is faaaaaar cheaper to eat out than prepare your own food. For instance, I went grocery shopping yesterday + bought mostly snack foods: nuts, crackers, dried fruit, my Seaweed crack, some decent cheese, mung bean noodles, “Taiwan” noodles, greens. Nothing that bougie. What would cost MAYBE $30 at Trader Joe’s cost me almost $70 here. The equivalent of 5-7 budgeted days of food.
Eating out, I can eat heartily for about $10 a day. But sometimes a girl wants a healthier choice than the to-die-for fried scallion pancakes with egg + basil leaves for a dollah!
In other words, I like to supplement my cheap eat-out eats with with some trail mix ‘n’ home cookin’!
My crib’s kitchen came furnished with: a stove top with a massive exhaust hood, a crusty microwave from the last series of renters + a toaster oven, which I have never seen used. I love to cook, but most of my cooking involves simple soups or sautees. It has been too warm here for me to have the urge to roast veggies. I hadn’t given much thought to our lack of oven. I kind of thought it was a fluke.
“Taipei is a major metropolitan city!” I thought. “People have ovens! People bake! People roast!”
It seems there is SUCH a culture of eating out that people do not, repeat, do not have ovens. It is not uncommon for a Taiwanese person my age to have never, repeat, never even seen anyone bake. Coming from Holiday-New-York-Land, where my mom had already baked large quantities of cookies for various events before I left the city on December 10th (read early-mid holiday season), this was quite unexpected.
It all came to light for me last week, when my roommate, Disha, invited me to help her make brownies for her boyfriend, Manav’s, friend, Butterfly’s, birthday. Got it?
Butterfly (a guy… Gangster name, right?) had never baked + was really excited to have two Waiguoren (Foreigners) show him the ropes. We figured, “This’ll take a couple hours! We’ll make the brownies on Friday for the birthday Sunday! Have Friday night to get sushi! Check out a whiskey spot!” Well, when we got to Butterfly’s, assuming that he had gone shopping for supplies, he hadn’t. How could he? Boy had never baked! He didn’t know where to start!
The whole process, start to finish honestly took 50 hours. Mhmm. Fifty. HOURS. By the time we were done shopping for everything (read everything: whisk, baking tins, measuring spoons, “measuring” cup, all ingredients obv, including some super-bougie-wonderful Valhrona cocoa powder!), we did not have enough time to bake. We all had other plans for Friday night. The actual baking would have to wait till Butterfly’s party on Sunday.
So, by now you have some sense of this Comedy of Errors that was the brownie baking in Taipei? It gets better.
We somehow successfully made the batter with a “measuring cup,” on which “one cup” was marked where the “200ml” line was. We cooked the things in little heart baking tins (because that was the only baking tin we could find AT ALL) in an OPEN toaster oven on high.
As I said, many Taiwanese people have never baked, nor have they watched baking-in-action. Someone ACTUALLY said, “Yo, are you making crystal meth?” He saw the measuring cup, powder (flour, sugar, baking soda, salt!) + thought we were up to some serious no-good! Cray.
I am very happy to report that though the first batch’s tops started to burn prematurely, they were very delicious. The second + third batches worked out quite well–delicious + the right consistency. We just had to get the hang of the jerry-rigged toaster oven baking system!
Will I bake in Taiwan again? Disha + I are contemplating turning on the toaster oven at our crib + giving it a go. Waiguoren Baking could turn into a lucrative business! Has a nice ring… Ya never know.
Speaking of Butterflies, how could I resist a little Mariah throwback? I’m off to grab one of those scallion-egg-basil-heaven-cakes. Enjoy!