Friday, July 16, 2010

Hakka cuisine (桐花小吃)

Hakka oil noodles

Close your eyes (wait no, nevermind... you can't read if you do that) and imagine taking pork fat, rendering it in a wok over high heat, stir frying noodles in it, followed by a drizzling of pork broth over top of it. I'm probably trivializing the preparation process, but that's basically what it boils down to. In Hakka cuisine, 豬肉油麵 (pork + oil noodles) is a dish that's served at almost every meal. By taking thick cut pieces of plain salted pork and laying it on top of noodles glistening in fat, a simple yet incredible dish is created.

Found near the Taipei Main Station, 桐花小吃 (Tong Hua Small Eats) is a restaurant that specializes in 古早味客家菜 or 'old style Hakka cuisine.' Places in Taiwan like to say they serve traditional or old style stuff, but those few words have really lost all meaning in the past few years, since everyone's been using it. In any case, their oil noodles are nothing short of spectacular. While the pork on top is nothing to write home about, the noodles themselves are a revelation. Plain noodles that possess a certain 'springiness,' are well coated in a layer of pork soy broth, pork fat, and adorned with fried bits of garlic and scallion. The flavor starts muted, but after a few bites, you're left with light spiciness in your mouth which is accompanied by the guilt of pork flavor on your lips. There's another aspect to the flavor than that... one that I associate with old Chinese person cooking... that I can't really explain in words. If you've never tried Hakka food before though, let me say this, start with this dish.

Hakka pork chop rice

I also got pork chop over rice. Uh, this was pretty disappointing actually (which is my general impression of Hakka food). When I ordered the pork chop, I was expecting a grand piece of pork, glistening with a mix of a sweet glaze and oil from frying. When I ended up with 3 strips of measly pork, it was an absolute and total let down. Coupled with the fact that they delivered the salted pork pig fat oil noodles first... well, it was sure to be down hill after that. Basically, the 3 strips of lean pork are served in a slightly sweet broth over a rice and sauce mixture that's eerily similar to 魯肉飯 (lu rou fan). What I got was basically a glorified bowl of soy sauce rice. Anyway, long story short. Pig fat + oil noodles is mega awesome. Soy sauce rice + stingy serving of pork is not.


will said...

hakka food is the best. i envy your continued adventures

Nicholas said...

@will forreals? I actually hate Hakka food for the most part. Their version of pickled vegetables smells like feet... and I can't stand the taste of their 'air dried chicken.' If my grandmother wasn't raised Hakka, I think I'd steer clear of their cuisine entirely.

Maybe not grass jelly. Or mochi. Those shits are delicious.

Angus said...

Funny, there's a restaurant in San Francisco with the same name, and similar food. Maybe as an American i'm too used to the saucy, fried, take-out versions of asian dishes, but they definitely beat Hakka IMO...

Nicholas said...

Angus - I'm not in love with Hakka food. I grew up around it because my grandmother was raised in a Hakka household. I think it's relatively bland compared to Sichuan or Northern Chinese cuisine.

I do have a special place in my heart for sauced up, oily, pseudo-Asian dishes, but that place is separate from my opinion of traditional Asian foods.

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