Simple, savory and saucy. Those words sum up this recipe for a Taiwanese favorite. I first had this rustic comfort dish in Taipei in 2010, while doing field research for Asian Tofu. I was on a budget and after long day of chasing bean curd, I came across a locals only cafe that specialized in rustic rice dishes. The menu was small and you picked out little salads and ordered a rice bowl with protein. I selected a cucumber salad, pressed tofu salad and a pork rice bowl. What surprised me was the rich, salty-sweet nubs of pork that graced the rice bowl. It was so good, I could barely stop eating. The humble pork rice bowl was low-meat eating at its best.
I didn’t think about the Taiwanese pork and rice treat until earlier this year when I ate at Pine and Crane in Los Angeles. The casual cafe had a lovely version, heady with bits of pork belly, five spice and star anise. There was boiled egg and a pickle side to go with the rice. I was hooked and made several renditions when I got home.
My knowledge of Taiwan is limited but the short time that I spent there, as well as my Taiwanese friends, totally charm me. As a result of geography and history, Taiwan is a wondrous combination of China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. There’s sushi, Shanghai soup dumplings, and Thai basil on menus. Night markets happen daily in Taipei. The cab drivers are nice and knowledgeable. People are generous and outward looking.
That’s why I gravitated toward Cathy Erway’s new book, The Food of Taiwan. It’s a great travelogue and introduction to Taiwan, its culture, history, and cooking. Cathy does a nice job with making cultural equivalents so as to create bridges that help people better understand Taiwanese food.