Q & A With Cathy Erway on Writing Her First Taiwanese Cookbook

I was honored to meet Cathy Erway, author of the blog Not Eating Out in New York and the book The Art of Eating In, to ask her a few questions about her Taiwanese cookbook that is due to come out next year.  While faced with many challenges in putting the book together, it was interesting to learn how she bridged some unique culinary gaps . To get the latest dish on what she’s cooking these days, check out her column, Taiwan Eats. To get the official early-bird scoop on her latest culinary adventure, read below!

Just a small preview of the book, here’s Cathy’s Pork Belly Buns Recipe.

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Nice Buns Hun. Photo credit Cathy Erway.

What is the basis for Taiwanese cooking? I don’t know much about it. There is certainly a lack of resources on the cuisine…describe it for me please? Are there important staple dishes?

I can totally understand that, which is why I’ve wanted to write this book for so long. Some hallmarks would be the use of basil, its famous beef noodle soup, and its pork meat sauce over rice. The use of oysters. Basically, the whole book is the answer to your question on that, hopefully!

Was it difficult to find authentic Taiwanese recipes? I would imagine the cuisine is influenced heavily from other Asian cultures like Chinese and Japanese.

It is! And for the most fascinating historical reasons. Taiwan was a place where Chinese would migrate to throughout history for opportunity and due to oppression or war (like the Hakka, a minority originating from China, or the wave of emigration fleeing the Communists, which include my grandparents from Hunan province). It was also colonized by Japan for 50 years. And, it is also a subtropical island sharing borders with the Philippines and having its own unique aboriginal population. Given that, and its lush bounty of produce and seafood, it’s a varied cuisine that has entered a modern era that is interested in foreign culinary influences as well.

Are many of the recipes passed along to you from family originals? Did you create some of your own recipes in the book?

I did embrace many dishes, or at least techniques, that were used commonly by my Taiwanese family members. It can be a little looser than strict recipes often, like stir-fries with slivered pork or dry tofu, and soy sauce-stewed eggs. I also ventured to create a couple recipes, like a really simple one for seared fish sprinkled with chopped cilantro and crushed peanuts; these are common toppings on many Taiwanese dishes and similar in theory to many of them, although it’s not really a “standard” Taiwanese dish like most of the recipes in the book.

 What have you done other wise to prepare for this book? How did you learn to cook these foods?

I held a series of 6 “Taiwanese Test Kitchen Dinners” at my apartment this past fall. I invited a group of 10 people at a time and cooked 10 different dishes that I was thinking of putting in the book for each one. It was a great way to throw parties with my friends but also to test out real portions of my recipes for the dishes and get feedback from my friends on them. I remember I scrapped a recipe involving bitter melon because everyone hated it at that dinner!

 What’s your favorite Taiwanese dish? Why?

San Bei Gi, which literally translates to “Three Cup Chicken.” It’s so easy to make and so delicious. It’s basically chicken braised with one cup of soy sauce, one cup of rice wine, one cup of sesame oil, and a ton of garlic, ginger, and Thai basil. The name really says it all (except for the garlic, ginger and basil). You can try it tonight using just this description.

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