Focus in on the delights of the kitchen and the table with ...
Jul
26

Ao Ba : One of my favorite restaurants where we enjoy old-school Taiwanese dishes every year

5-Spice Boiled Peanuts, waiting on the table along with a pot of jasmine tea

Soft spring rolls with curried chicken-napa cabbage-bean sprout filling

Pork belly, stewed in soy sauce with ginger and rock sugar, topped with fresh cilantro

Taiwanese omelet with minced preserved radish: sa-poh nung

Stewed pork belly simmered with pickled bamboo shoots

SO delicious, and welcome in this porky meal, is this plate of 'kong shing tsai', or 'ong choy', also known as water spinach, and in Thailand as pahk boong. Whatever you call it, you can know it on sight by the fact that this vegetable has hollow stems, giving it the poetic name "empty heart" vegetable in the mix. So many names, but one word: delicious.

A seasonal specialty, this is finely shredded bamboo shoots, stir-fried with garlic and delivering a most pleasing crunch along with lovely flavor

Another old-time Taiwanese favorite, this is coarsely chopped pork, freshly steamed with sliced salty duck egg yolks on top. Amazing texture, tangy plush flavor that lasts all the way through the sauce. They warned us it took 15 minutes for this one, as they steam it up to order. We said we'd wait, and clearly, we didn't wait hungry; this came toward the end of the meal.

Fried rice with minced preserved radish, topped with egg. So very tasty and stands on its own. A meal, not just rice-to-go-with-the-with-rice dishes. Must learn to make this...

Watermelon, mango, papaya, orange sections, one maraschino cherry, and one carven tomato wedge. Beautiful cool sweet ending to our lunchtime feast at Greenleaf Taipei.


After such a memorable feast, a stroll makes sense, and so we walked back along the lane to Nanking East Road, passing the original location of Greenleaf, where we enjoyed many fine meals. Note the logo above the red wall, of a green leaf on white background. Ao Ba or Greenleaf refers to the beautiful island of Taiwan, which is shaped like a green leaf floating in the blue sea. 
About the Author
Nancie McDermott is a food writer and cooking teacher, and the author of ten cookbooks. Her passion is researching and celebrating traditional food in its cultural context, and her beloved subjects are two seemingly different places with much in common: the cuisines of Asia and of the American South. Nancie gained her Southern kitchen wisdom as a Piedmont North Carolina native,and her Asian culinary research commenced soon after college, when she was sent to northeastern Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer.
  1. Hadassah Reply

    Wow! That looked amazing!

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Thanks, Hadassah. Such a pleasure to be food-focused here in Taiwan. So many people share our passion for cooking and ingredients, and eating out is a pastime, more the merrier. More people, more dishes to order and share. I love being able to sample many many dishes at one meal; to go to a restaurant, even one I love, and get my big plate of chicken while you get your big plate of porkchops, and different sides on each, it’s so personal, but I’d rather have tastes of everybody’s food, and that doesn’t work unless you’re really pals (lol) or related. So the sharing-all-dishes idea makes me really happy. And centering on rice. Love that.

  2. Hadassah Patterson Reply

    So true – Much more fun to get a little of everything and share the experience with a group of people you care about! Better than tearing through one plate, lol! Lovely thought NancieMac:) May every meal be a sharing!

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Love that thought — it’s a blessing, really! Let’s do some cooking with CHOP NC…

  3. Kian Reply

    I am jealous! What a feast. I love the soft spring roll. We call them “lunpia” in our Fujian or Taiwanese dialect, or “run bing” in Mandarin. We used to roll our own at the dining table with all kinds of filling. Lots of fun. And of course pork belly galore! Have a good trip Nancie.

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Kian, how cool to know that. Did you make the wrappers at home, or buy them? I see the very very thin sheet wrappers in the markets, but these were quite soft and more like a very delicate tortilla, they had that gluten-y “give” to them, lovely. “Lunpia’ sounds like a Filipino word I’ve come across for fresh soft spring rolls. I’d never had any rolls like this. Pork belly? We had two versions at one meal, which makes no sense except I’m not here often, and I’m an NC native. Therefore, PERFECTLY rational choice, right?

  4. sippitysup Reply

    Great restaurant. But I have a weird question… do you know why rock sugar tastes different than regular sugar? Or is it my imagination? GREG

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Weird questions are my favorite, Greg, and I agree with you, it does taste distinctive to me, not like any of the other sugars traditionally found in Asian pantries and not like the sweet-thangs of the West. If I were at home, I’d go look at Barbara Tropp’s Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking first of all; her glossary of ingredients is stellar and detailed beyond imagining. (She was such a genius and a generous inviting teacher. I was thinking of her today while zooming along in a Taipei taxi, wondering about her life here as a graduate student, before she was starting her food work.) Or Irene Kuo’s The Key to Chinese Cooking. Or Bruce Cost’s Asian Ingredients. Our Friend Google isn’t much help in a case like this; I found one reference to its being a mix of honey + brown & white sugars, but that doesn’t ring true. You’ve got me interested, and I’m going to the market tomorrow (browsing, not a cooking trip). You know rock sugar would travel really well. I’ll see what I can see and report back…

  5. yukarisakamoto Reply

    Oh no, never should have looked at these before dinner. Not only is my stomach growling I know whatever I cook will not be as good as these dishes.

    In Japanese the water spinach is called “kushinsai” for hollow stemmed vegetable. We are addicted to it in Singapore and have it often.

  6. Nancie McDermott Reply

    Sounds like the Mandarin word and the Japanese word are first cousins, or at least classmates! Nobody can eat like this at home, and if I did, I could never leave home….I’ll be delighted to eat what you cook someday, anywhere! And to visit Japan on y’all’s tour, should that ever down the road become “a thing”. Cheers from not so far away as usual.

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