“Where are you from?” Here’s the medium-length version of my complicated answer to this simple question: Born in Vancouver to a Canadian father and a Taiwanese mother. Moved to Taiwan at nine months, where I lived, apart from two years in Beijing, until I was 13. I then joined my sister at a Canadian boarding school while my parents stayed in Asia. The next 10 years were spent in Canada. I haven’t lived in Taiwan since.
I hold dual citizenship. I grew up speaking both Chinese and English, but went to English schools. For complicated reasons, I feel like an imposter calling myself Taiwanese. Yet I am loathe to simply answer the “Where are you from?” question with “Canada” because doing so neglects my emotional connection to the place I spent my whole childhood. Just the buzz of a moped or the scent of jasmine are enough to send me into a nostalgic tizzy. And the serenade of the garbage truck practically brings tears to my eyes.
Taiwanese Street Food in Kreuzberg
This is all to say that I was thrilled to learn recently that a Taiwanese food stand would be opening at Markthalle Neun’s Street Food Thursday. The Bao Kitchen specializes in gua bao, which are basically sandwiches of braised pork in a folded, steamed bun. Their slogan promises “地道台味” (“authentic Taiwan flavour”), which was enough to whet my appetite.
The Bao Kitchen has since added a chicken bao to their repertoire, but I say the original pork belly is the way to go. Taiwanese people love pork–the fattier, the better. As a kid, I read in an American magazine that Taiwan had the world’s highest per-capita pork consumption–a fact that made my little heart swell with patriotic pride.
Here’s what my Taiwan-raised taste buds had to say about Bao Kitchen: The meat, traditionally slow-braised in a soy and five-spice brew heavy on the star anise, was tender and aromatic. The condiments–a sriracha-like hot sauce, cilantro sprig, sugary crushed peanuts, and pickled mustard greens–were indeed authentic, and all came together into one tasty Taiwanese smorgasbord of flavour.
Side note: There are two occasional bao competitors at Street Food Thursday, but neither is Taiwanese-run, so for the sake of homeland pride, I just cannot endorse the imitators (though I’m sure they are lovely people).
A Plea In Defense of Bubble Tea
Look, I know bubble tea has a bad rep in Berlin. But those horrible bubble tea franchises that sprung up over the last year were cheap bastardizations of the real deal. (Thankfully, they’ve mostly closed down.)
Because listen: bubble tea is not just some goofy fad. Bubble tea is a magical Taiwanese creation that is a key component of the street food memories of my youth. It’s weird, it’s tasty, it’s addictive–just like the best Taiwanese cuisine. For bubble tea in Berlin, there’s only one place I’ll recommend: Come Buy, a Taipei-based franchise with a branch near Hackescher Markt.
Besides pork, the Taiwanese have another culinary obsession: chewiness. (Think gummy bears or a thick, al dente noodle.) For odd linguistic reasons, this food texture is called “QQ.” The tapioca “bubbles” in bubble tea are quite tricky to cook for optimal QQ, and Come Buy‘s bubbles are perfect.
If I can’t convince you to suck down some jaw-exercising QQ tapioca balls, the menu at Come Buy also includes refreshing, authentically Taiwanese concoctions like fruity teas, mango smoothies (made with Taiwan mango!), and lychee or passion fruit juice with QQ jelly bits. Everything from the magazines on the counter to the chipper service to the myriad customization options (my combo: 70% sugar, 70% ice) are so very Taiwanese. I place my order in Chinese and with the first sip, it’s just like being “home.”
Bao Kitchen: Every Thurs. at Markthalle Neun from 17.00-22.00 | Facebook page
Come Buy Bubble Tea: Rosenthaler Str. 31 | Open Mon.-Fri. 11.30-21.00, Sat. 11.00-22.00, Sun. 14.00-20.00 | Website