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Cooking with CookInn Taiwan (TAIPEI Quarterly 2024 Summer Vol.36)

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Post date:2024-06-11


TAIPEI #36 (2024 Summer)

Cooking with CookInn Taiwan

A DIY Dive into the Preparation of Three Local Food and Drink Classics

Text Madison Jones
Photos Powei Chen

Despiteits growing global appeal, Taiwanese cuisine and its cooking methods remain unfamiliar to many local and foreign food lovers. Whether it's the unique ingredients, special equipment, or traditional techniques, those not privy to Taiwanese food culture tend to find these things obscure. Seeking to change this, one organization has taken up the task of spreading this island nation's culinary knowledge: CookInn Taiwan. To gain firsthand insight, our writer, Madison, recently participated in one of the popular cooking classes offered by the group.

Located in the busy area north of Taipei Main Station, not far from Taipei Metro's Zhongshan Station, CookInn Taiwan is a culinary organization that was founded for the purpose of imparting the joys of traditional Taiwanese cooking to the greater world. Currently, two types of activities are offered: cooking classes and team-building exercises.

The sessions last around three hours on average. Among the cooking classes are choices focused on the traditional breakfast, xiaochi (Taiwanese snack foods), gourmet foods, and seasonal specials, such as zongzi (sticky-rice dumplings). Team-building classes include a cupcake challenge, a Taiwanese Oolong tea tasting class, and a xiaolongbao (small steamed buns) creation session. CookInn Taiwan is able to offer its program in English and Japanese as well as Chinese, and also prides itself on being able to accommodate patrons' special requirements, including organizing child-friendly courses and sessions focused on vegetarian food.

5▲Rolling the xiaolongbao dough

Keen to find a better avenue to express and share her passion for traditional Taiwanese cuisine with domestic and foreign audiences, founder Chelsea Tsai established CookInn Taiwan in 2018. She has also written a book on the subject titled TASTE TAIWAN: Recipes from Taiwanese Home Kitchens. Initially starting with a modest space near National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, the group has since expanded, increasing its staff and relocating operations to its current larger venue space, on the second floor of a high-rise commercial building.

The CookInn Taiwan class I attended for this article, held on a Thursday morning, was led by cheerful and fun-loving instructor Angela Wang, who has been teaching cooking classes since the organization's inception. What Angela enjoys most about her classes is the cultural exchanges she has with her students. "Every class has a different atmosphere," she beamingly told me. Under her expert guidance, our small, multilingual group attempted to recreate three of Taiwan's most ubiquitous classics: xiaolongbao, beef noodles, and bubble milk tea, along with a side of cucumber salad for good measure.

6▲Cooking class led by cheerful instructor Angela Wang

The bulk of our efforts were focused on the preparation of xiaolongbao from scratch. This involved EVERY step, from mixing the ingredients to rolling and kneading the dough, to mixing the filling of one-half ground pork and one-half gelatinized chicken stock. The most challenging part, however, was the final assembly. While holding a piece of dough with the four fingers of one hand, each of us rolled a small, drumsticklike rolling pin with the other to about halfway in one direction, stopped to turn the dough 15 degrees, and then repeated the process until it was fully flattened and reached a diameter of nine centimeters; an arduous process done to avoid creating creases or folds in the dough.

After placing exactly 26 grams of filling onto the dough, we had to cup the skin cautiously and use "lady fingers," as Angela put it, to delicately pinch and rotate it while simultaneously pushing the filling down with our thumbs to maintain its bulbous shape. This process is certainly easier said than done, and extra dough had been kept on standby in case of mishaps. Thankfully, all participants were able to complete seven dumplings each without too much fuss.


The overall experience gave me a newfound appreciation for the talented cooks at the famous Taipei dumpling restaurant Ding Tai Fung who make thousands of xiaolongbao every day, each dumpling made with exactly 18 folds, or so-called "Golden 18" as they refer to.

9▲Cooking the beef noodle ingredients

Considerably less time was spent on the other creations. For the beef noodles, it was mostly a demonstration, as Angela invited a 10-year-old Taiwanese Australian boy to be hands-on alongside while his mother cheered him on enthusiastically from the sidelines, and rightfully so.

10▲Finished beef noodle dish

The cucumber salad preparation was a brief demonstration by Angela on how to take out your daily frustrations on food: first place one of the ends of the cucumber on your forehead, and then proceed to smash the rest of it with the blunt of your knife!

12▲Chopping cucumber for the side dish

Assembling the bubble milk tea was also pretty straightforward – we simply combined all the ingredients using a cocktail shaker.

13▲Bubble milk tea ingredients

Overall, what I appreciated most about my CookInn Taiwan experience was not the amiable hospitality and not the tasty food treats, but the many cultural insights Angela shared with us. For example, we learned that the "bubble" in the name "bubble milk tea" does not in fact refer to the tapioca pearls or "boba" in the beverage, but rather the milk foam created from shaking the mixture until the liquid froths or "bubbles."

14▲Bubble milk tea

For this reason especially, CookInn Taiwan stands out as an exceptional place to learn more deeply about Taiwanese cuisine and culture.
CookInn Taiwan
🚩 2F, 66, Sec. 1, Chengde Rd., Datong Dist.
📞 (02) 2517-1819

Chelsea Tsai 蔡佩君
Ding Tai Fung 鼎泰豐
National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall 國父紀念館


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