Cheese (spread) cake
I wouldn’t say that I’m a particularly fussy eater. At least I didn’t think so until I went to Taipei for a 2-week visit with a dear friend. He takes great pride in acting as a tour guide and had lined up numerous sightseeing and other activities for me during my stay in the city. I had no idea what to expect, but had a vague notion that their food isn’t comprised solely of the classic selections from my local Chinese restaurant. I am, of course, referring to the time-honoured standards of sweet-and-sour everything, chop suey, chow mein, spring rolls (egg-rolls in the USA) and other lesser known varieties. It turned out that I was right. A visit to the Shilin night market revealed street food featuring all manner of things on sticks. I politely declined the offer to try these delicacies, hoping I wouldn’t offend my host, but he didn’t seem to mind, as he was eagerly indulging in some of them himself. It was a few days later that we were at a local restaurant featuring Chinese/Taiwanese cuisine where he took it upon himself to order for us both, requesting a number of dishes from the menu. These arrived Tapas-style on a Lazy Susan and again my friend tucked in with joyful enthusiasm. I helped myself to rice (which I recognised) and then proceeded to ask about the contents of each of the dishes in front of us. One contained fried chicken feet, assorted parts of pig in another and the next one…. And so it went on. I think I was able to eat some seaweed and one other dish, but that was my lot. My friend was concerned that I wasn’t partaking of the feast and asked why. I replied that I don’t eat meat off the bone. Then, stupidly, I added: “I’m not a dog”. This caused instant offence that lasted at least 24 hours. For some reason my friend took this to mean that I was likening Taiwanese or Chinese people to dogs. I realise that being offended is a choice, so I allowed him to sulk.
While I wasn’t enamoured with the savoury food, I was overjoyed by the Taiwanese bakeries. The beauty and variety of the confectionery is something to behold. It’s long been a bone of contention with me that bakeries in countries like the UK, Denmark, Germany and Ireland are boring and uninteresting places that cater to the masses rather than to the confectionery connoiseurs. Who can blame them? They have to maximize their income and if that involves churning out truckloads of doughnuts, things with apple, bland pastries and chocolate eclairs then so be it. So when I find bakeries as I did in Taipei that not only have variety, but make me want to eat everything in the shop, then I know that all is not lost in the world of baked goods. I think my praise of the bakeries nullified, to some extent, my previous gaff about dogs and meaty bones.
It was while we were out cycling one day that we ended up in the town of Danshui (pronounced Darn-shway). We were meandering down the main road when we saw a queue of locals outside a small shop. The queue of around 15 people extended down the pavement. Intrigued, we went to see what the fuss was all about. The shop was open-fronted with only a counter separating the shop from the pavement outside. Behind the counter a young guy and his assistant were being handed large square baking tins filled with what looked like vanilla sponge cake. The cake was hot and steaming, having just been baked. The delivery team worked with metal spatulas to ease the cake from the tin. It flopped down onto the counter whereupon the guy used one of the metal spatulas to cut the cake up into large squares. Each square was put onto a paper plate and then into a plastic bag before being handed to the next customer in the queue. The smell of the fresh cake was so mouthwatering that we simply had to join the queue. We waited patiently for our turn and were rewarded with our slab of cake, which we scurried away to eat down at the promenade. Some spoons were provided, but in true South African tradition, I tore off a piece with my fingers and proceeded to enjoy the hot, fresh, aromatic chiffon cake. I was, however, unaware of the surprise that awaited me. The cake had been layered with what seemed to be cheese spread! This lent a whole new meaning to the name ‘cheese cake’. At first I was disappointed that we hadn’t got the plain cake, but after a few mouthfuls, my mind adjusted and my friend and I were wolfing it down. The cheese in the cake was no surprise to him and he said he even preferred the cake with cheese than without.
I like to think that my mind was broadened by the experience, but given the choice, I would still choose plain vanilla chiffon cake without the cheese. And yes, I have since been making more of an effort to eat meat off the bone much to the disappointment of my dog.
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