As keen cooks, and with a free day in Taipei, I booked a cookery lesson with Ivy Chen having read great reviews.
We had excellent directions to Ivy’s home where lessons take place and having caught the metro and a taxi, we arrived bang on time for our 10am lesson.
Ivy is tiny and her beautiful open plan flat consists of a large living room (with a corner full of model houses), a kitchen, dining area, two bedrooms and bathroom.
We started with a tea ceremony where Ivy explained how the Taiwanese make and drink tea. The Oolong tea was curled up balls of leaf bearing no resemblance to the sweepings we drink. A thin layer of leaves was placed in the central reservation of the teapot and filled with hot water. It was left for a minute and the first pouring was discarded. Ivy explained you’d normally get five pourings from a pot.
At 10.30am the cooking started. We had pre-chosen three dishes from her website: steamed buns with red bean paste, Tainan shrimp roll and pork with peanuts and sticky rice.
Ivy began making the dough for the buns in her bread maker. We got involved with Roy chopping pork and frying shallots with garlic, peanuts, the chopped pork and some minced pork to give it a better texture. Ivy made stock from a cube but also used some from the previous batch to add depth of flavour. The smell was fabulous and Ivy gave us a crash course in soy sauce: she used two kinds a cheaper Chinese version and a more expensive Taiwanese made only from black soy beans rather than with added wheat (ideal for those with gluten allergies). The pork mix was then transferred from the wok to a smaller pan to simmer for an hour.
It was then onto the buns. The kneaded dough was divided it into six pieces and we each rolled out small circles, inserted a pre-prepared ball of red bean paste and crimped round the bottom. The buns were dipped in water and sesame seeds and placed in a bamboo steamer to rise.
The next job was the filling for the shrimp rolls: shrimps; fresh peeled water chestnuts, which I’d never seen before; and a blitzed mixture of spring onion, ginger and water. Tofu wrappers were used to wrap the mixture to make the rolls which were then deep fried.
We also made a cucumber salad using sliced fresh cucumbers (much thinner than ours) which had been salted and dried, mixed with vinegar and sugar.
Having cooked sticky rice, we sat down to eat at 1.15pm. It was all delicious and during lunch Ivy chatted about her life in Taiwan and told us how the Taiwanese eat and ingredients used (at this point we tasted fish floss: minute strands made from the central bone of swordfish).
We paid NT$6000 (£120) for our private lesson and lunch which we thought was excellent value. Whilst this is not a totally hands on lesson, we did enjoy it and learn lots.
On return home, we were delighted to see Ivy feature on a Channel 4 programme with Ainsley Harriott on Taiwan’s street food. Here is a youtube excerpt of the show;
“Cooking with Ivy”:http://kitchenivy.com/index.html