虎氣啦 : Yun Hai Pineapple Cakes, QQ Tiger Merch, Lunar New Year Hot Pot
plus, free guava with every $60+ order placed during Spring Festival
This is Yun Hai Taiwan Stories, a newsletter about Taiwanese food and culture from the lens of a Taiwanese-American in NYC. It’s written by Lisa Cheng Smith 鄭衍莉, founder of Yun Hai Taiwanese Pantry. If you aren’t yet a subscriber, sign up here.
This month, we’re celebrating the Lunar New Year with a limited local release of Yun Hai Pineapple Cakes with Win Son Bakery (ahhhhh). I’m also excited to introduce QQ Tiger, featured on merch that will benefit the nonprofit Heart of Dinner. Cat Yeh shares a story and a recipe of lesser known but very traditional New Year Taiwanese Hot Pot. Finally, we’re offering two lucky product bundles and a FREE Guava three-pack on orders over $60.
In a moment of pure inspiration, I googled “What to Expect in the Year of the Tiger,” but the results were disappointing. Yahoo says “TL:DR: This year’s mantra is YOLO” and the Japan Times predicts “inflation.”
As an enthusiastic fan of Rob Breszny’s Free Will Astrology, I was hoping for something a little more nuanced, so I consulted The New Astrology by Suzanne White—a beater East-meets-West astrology book I’ve had on my shelves since a visit to Barnes and Noble in 7th grade (“exactly true!!”). Within, I found this gem:
The tiger’s pace is frequently more avant-garde than the current mode. The Tiger seeks out the unusual and then tries to call it his own.
Maybe the 2022 Year of the Water Tiger can be one of leaving the straight and narrow for the winding and the wide (chaotic good by another name); of appreciating life as jade or an opal (murky stones with limitless depth and unknowable edges); of following intuition like a river to the sea.
Or it could be the year of the $7 cauliflower. YOLO.
Either way, we have ourselves a mascot.
Introducing QQ Tiger
Meet QQ Tiger, the Yun Hai Lunar New Year QQ QT. The tiger has letters for eyes, referencing "Q"—a Taiwanese word that describes food with a bouncy texture, like a boba pearl, alkaline noodles, or Penghu Black Sugar Cake 黑糖糕.
The new face of Yun Hai: Eyes looking upwards in optimism or rolling backwards because 2022 is raining more of the same hail? Forehead markings like waves and weather, suggesting a temperamental nature. Wears a bow tie (so presentable), but beyond the screen this velvety-pawed beast still has soft pants on. A friendly smile, and most importantly, cuuuuuuuuuttteeeee. May QQ Tiger ever guide you.
Our new mascot, a followup to the 2021 QQ Ox, was drawn and designed by my partner, Christopher Roeleveld, while finger painting with our kids. Type direction was provided by the Taiwanese design studio odotoo. Cat and Lillian provided much insightful feedback and I was there too. So talent.
Behold our second annual collection of Zodiac merch. Sizes, colors, and sleeve length are mixed because the shirts were deadstock (more on that in a second).
We're donating the proceeds of this limited edition production to Heart of Dinner, a nonprofit that "works to fight food insecurity and isolation experienced by Asian American seniors in New York City—two long-standing community issues heightened by the pandemic." Volunteers deliver hot meals, produce, and handwritten notes to Asian elders in Chinatown, delivering nourishment of the body and the spirit. We love them; please consider volunteering for them if you are in NYC, or donating outside of this merch benefit.
Heads up: a portion of the shirts were provided by Everybody World, my favorite shirt brand, to support the Heart of Dinner cause. The products are responsibly made in LA and the shirts are 100% recycled from textile waste. They donated deadstock—discontinued colors or slightly nonstandard samples—saving them from the landfill or a life on the warehouse shelf. I checked them out personally; the imperfections are tiny or invisible and are part of the character of the shirt. They are hand silkscreened by Works in Progress, who operate nonprofit educational programs and internships for teens in NYC.
We have a limited quantity of QQ merch available, so preorder now! Merchandise will start shipping right around the New Year. I’ll be putting them in the mailers myself. Sealed with a kiss.
Yun Hai x Win Son Pineapple Cake Gift Box Available for Preorder
Pineapple is an auspicious fruit in Taiwan around the New Year. Ong Lai, the Taiwanese word for pineapple, translates to “luck is coming.” Taiwanese pineapple cakes, a jammy pineapple filling wrapped in short dough, are a great gift for the New Year because they’re lucky, delicious, and so so Taiwanese.
For the year of the Tiger, we’re collaborating with Win Son Bakery (ty Josh, Trigg, Danielle, Gabrielle) to produce a small run of Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes—a.k.a. Ong Lai So, Feng Li Su, 鳳梨酥—according to a recipe developed for Yun Hai by Cat Yeh. Many Pineapple cake recipes use winter melon in their jam. This one is all pineapple (plus some secret ingredients), which you'll notice in the chewy, tart filling. The cakes will be packaged as a box of eight with a special QQ Tiger label. Bonus: each box will include a piece of dried Golden Diamond Pineapple from our Taiwanese Dried Fruit collection. Local NYC pickup only.
Lucky box of eight with limited edition QQ Tiger label
One piece of Taiwanese dried pineapple included in each box
$30 per box, limit 2 boxes per person
Pickup address: Yun Hai, 170 Montrose Ave, Brooklyn NY
1/28 Friday: 12 pm - 6 pm
1/29 Saturday: 10 am - 2 pm
Someone else can pick up for you, they just need to show the confirmation email (on a phone is ok).
The cakes should be eaten within 3 days, or can be frozen up to 2 weeks. Thaw on the counter until room temperature.
All customers who preorder will receive an email confirming their order and reiterating the pickup details.
Win Son, a Taiwanese restaurant and bakery in East Williamsburg, has been part of the Yun Hai story since the beginning. They use our soy paste and fermented black beans in their dishes and became our first retailer in 2019. We’ve moved in next door and are planning to open a little shop later this year. Stay tuned!
If you aren’t in NYC but still want to Ong Lai it up, try our Lucky Ong Lai Pineapple Bundle, featuring Yu Ding Xing Taiwanese Pineapple Soy Sauce and two packs of Dried Pineapple.
圍爐 Around the Fire for Lunar New Year
Gathering around a brazier or a stove is an important Taiwanese folk custom for welcoming the New Year. After making ancestral offerings, family would sit together around a fire all night drinking, chatting, playing games, and waiting for the dawn of the coming year. The fire, burning bright, represents the prosperity of the family; the circular shape of the gathering suggests wholeness; and the long length of the gathering portends longevity. According to this article, gathering around the stove was a primary Taiwanese New Year custom during the Japanese era. This is called “圍爐”, literally “encircling the furnace.”
Over time, this custom has morphed into hot pot, where boiling broth is a stand in for the brazier. To me, this has additional significance for Taiwan— it’s a literal melting pot for the different styles of broth, sauces, and ingredients that have influenced Taiwanese cuisine. In Taiwan, you can find broths made with fiery mala ingredients, sour cabbage, milky pork bone, hand cut beef, and kombu. We asked Cat Yeh to share a memory and a recipe of the hot pot she grew up with: Taiwanese Shabu Shabu.
Consider giving hot pot a try for your Lunar New Year celebration. Include lucky ingredients like chicken (sounds like beginning), fish (sounds like surplus), dumplings (bags of gold), noodles (long life), daikon radish (good luck), and anything round or red. Sit around the pot in a circle for cosmic connectedness. Keep the fire boiling hot to represent how on fire you’ll all be this year. Eat slowly to foretell long life. Drink a lot. And enjoy Taiwanese Pineapple Cakes, Nian Gao or Fa Gao for dessert. Welcome the year to come, and don’t worry about the dishes.
台式涮涮鍋 Taiwanese Shabu Shabu by Cat Yeh
Back home in Taiwan, we frequented a neighborhood mom-and-pop hot pot joint in Tian Mu when I was growing up. It was run by three generations. The grandma would be sitting near the entrance to the kitchen drinking tea, the mother and aunt would be serving the customers, the father would be at the back cutting the meats, and the children would be on cleaning duty. The humble space could only fit 30-some people, and in the winters there was always a wait for a seat. Each customer got their own individual pot and induction stove, evenly spaced around a large “U” shaped table. This place, like many across Taiwan, serve a type of hot pot influenced by the Japanese occupation.
Shabu Shabu, or 涮涮 (shuan shuan) in Chinese, means to “swish swish” your food in the hot pot broth. The simple broth base uses a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine: Kombu. Each hot pot joint may have their own additions to the Kombu broth, but the one I frequented had a basic kombu dashi (kombu and water base) and a slice of tomato seasoned with msg.
Even though the origins of Taiwanese Shabu Shabu comes from Japanese influences, it has become its own independent form over the course of time. The ingredients on the menu include local staples like Taiwanese BBQ/shacha sauce (Bull’s Head), Taiwanese Cabbage, Fish Tempura (甜不辣 Tianbula) (made by a lady at the wet market), and an array of locally-grown produce.
There is a self-serve station of local beverages like winter gourd tea (冬瓜茶) and Mesona Tea (仙草茶)—both are regarded in Taiwanese culture as cooling beverages to offset the heat of hot pot. At the end of the meal, they served a complimentary bowl of red bean soup during the cold months or mung bean soup during the warm ones. It didn’t matter if it was a blazing hot summer or a wet and chilly winter day—hot pot was a part of our identity and a staple, convenient food for my family. However, when Lunar New Year comes around hot pot becomes an extra special occasion, one we repeat every year.
The circular shape (yuan) of hot pot symbolizes togetherness 團圓 (tuan yuan), to welcome a prosperous new year. We would create our own kombu dashi broth, adding in chicken stock instead of water along with tomatoes and scallions. The idea is to keep the broth simple and let the fresh ingredients that you shuan shuan shine.
Here’s my family’s simple and nostalgic broth recipe:
Kombu Tomato Broth Recipe
1 x wide shallow pot (~5 qt)
1 x Kombu (dried kelp), about 5”x 3” size
8 cups of low sodium chicken stock to start, plus more to add to the pot during the meal
1 medium sized beef steak tomato
2 stalks of scallion, cut into 3” length
1 teaspoon of msg, optional
Do not wash the Kombu. The white powder you see on it is natural umami. Just gently wipe with dry cloth or paper towel if needed. Trim the Kombu into a roughly 5”x 3” size if your piece is larger, and then cut slits along the side. This will help release flavor. Set inside the pot.
Wash and core 1 beef steak tomato. Slice in half, then in 1” thick half moon shapes. Place inside the pot.
Wash 2 stalks of scallion. Cut off the ends, then chop into 3” long pieces. Add into the pot.
Add in 8 cups of low sodium chicken stock (or homemade chicken stock) and the msg if using.
Cover, bring to a boil and you’re ready to shabu shabu!
Sliced Fatty Beef (肥牛)
Sliced Short Rib (牛小排)
Sliced Pork Belly (五花肉)
Duck Blood (鴨血)
Fish Tempura/Tian Bu La (甜不辣)
Fish dumpling (魚餃)
Fish balls (花子丸)
Egg dumpling (蛋餃)
Frozen Tofu (凍豆腐)
Fried Tofu Skin
Taiwanese cabbage (高麗菜)
Tong Ho/Chrysanthemum 茼蒿
AA Choy (A菜)
Vermicelli at the end
A good hot pot gathering has a buffet of sauce ingredients almost as expansive as the ones to be cooked. Taiwanese Shacha sauce (Bull’s Head) is a staple, along with soy sauce, soy paste, sesame oil, sesame paste, hot sauce, minced garlic, torn cilantro, chopped scallions, and a raw egg. We’ve put together a bundle of our best hot pot sauces to make it easy for you to stock up. It includes Dong He White Sesame Oil, Dong He White Sesame Paste, Pineapple Soy Sauce (specifically recommended by the brewer for Shabu Shabu), Soy Paste with Glutinous Rice Paste, Shallot Oil (with Crispy Shallots), and Bullet Sesame Garlic Chili Crisp. So good you might never eat anything else again.
Our Lunar New Year Gift to You: Three Packs of Taiwanese Dried Guava
Every order over $60 placed between today and the end of Spring Festival (2/15/2021) is eligible for a free 3-pack of our Dried Guava, while supplies last. To get it, make sure you add the 3-pack to your cart (link below). If your order is over $60, the discount will automatically be applied at checkout.
Wing On Wo Sharing Bowls
Speaking of tuan yuan 團圓, the beloved Wing on Wo (Chinatown NYC’s oldest operating business) has included Yun Hai products in a Lunar New Year assortment of their artist line of porcelain and ceramics. We’re part of the Spring Cabbage bundle, a collection of bowls meant for family style dining, modeled in a classic cabbage motif. It comes with four bowls, three of our sauces, and a specially designed recipe card.
With Big Tiger Energy,
Lisa Cheng Smith 鄭衍莉
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