(Italian version on NEXT PAGE)
When talking about Taiwanese cuisine, one cannot go further without mentioning about renown “xiǎochī (小吃)” – street food & gourmet snacks found almost at every corner. As CNN put “small eats, and a lot of them, are the big thing in Taiwan.”
These delicious “xiǎochī” often look humble, but hey, who cares about the appearance? Taste and flavor are the only considerable factors! Growing up, I never thought xiǎochī could have different expressions until my recent dining experience at “Taïrroir”, chef Kai Ho’s one star Michelin restaurant in Taipei.
Who is Kai Ho?
Born in 1984 and raised in Taiwan, Kai Ho knew he wanted to be a chef since young. Trained with Chinese cooking, he perfected his techniques in French restaurants, including Guy Savoy and JAAN with Julien Royer (today chef-owner of Odette with 2 stars Michelin) in Singapore. Felt the homeland calling, chef Kai returned to Taiwan and opened his restaurant “Taïrroir” in 2016.
Combining Taiwan and terroir, chef Kai wants to “expresses a new spirit about Taiwanese cuisine of this generation” through “Taïrroir”. How exactly? It is simpler to explain with the examples.
In one dish he transforms pig chitterlings & tongue, parts frequently used for street food pork bollito “Oo-pe̍h-tshiat (黑白切)”, into blooming-flower-look cold antipasto with beetroots. That slight bitterness characterized chitterlings is elevated to another level with mozzarella filling and orange dressing.
Another dish is all about classic street food “Ô-á-tsian (蚵仔煎)” or oyster omelet. Key ingredients of “Ô-á-tsian” are oysters, eggs and potato/yuca starch resulting in slightly sticky texture and distinctive notes of oysters. By replacing small oysters with fresh Muirgen oyster, substituting egg-starch mix with a crispy crust and scrambled eggs, Kai’s reinterpretation of “Ô-á-tsian” is refreshing and bursts with umami savor.
Stand firmly on traditional flavors, then use modern (French) cooking techniques to create a different form and a distinct texture, keeping in mind each ingredient’s character, this is how chef Kai rebirths the soul of Taiwanese “xiǎochī” in visually and tastily exquisite dishes.