Apr 26, 2021

Taiwanese Taro and Sweet Potato Balls in Brown Sugar Syrup 芋圓/地瓜圓

If you ever visit Taiwan, one of the most popular tourist spots is Jiu Fen. Jiu Fen is a mountain town about 45 mins away from Taipei. Its old school vibe pair with narrow alleys up and down the hills were the inspirations of the famed Japanese anime Spirited Away. Put the scenery aside, people also come here for some local Taiwanese food, and among all the savory munchies, one sweet treat stands out - Taiwanese taro and sweet potato balls.

I'm talking about the chewy balls that are usually served in some type of sugared water, not the fried dough version of taro and sweet potato balls. Most vendors prefer to serve with granulated sugared syrup or other types of clear-looking syrup. If making these balls at home, some like to eat it with ginger syrup or even drizzled with condensed milk. As for my version here, I've used brown sugar syrup this time.

Taiwanese taro and sweet potato balls in brown sugar syrup 芋圓/地瓜圓 -

Ingredients for taro balls?

  • 300 grams peeled taro
  • 70 grams sweet potato starch 木薯粉, plus extra for dusting
  • 50 grams Japanese katakuriko 片栗粉/potato starch
  • 60 grams granulated sugar

Ingredients for sweet potato balls?

  • 300 grams peeled sweet potato
  • 120 grams sweet potato starch 木薯粉, plus extra for dusting
  • 50 grams Japanese katakuriko 片栗粉/potato starch
  • 40 grams granulated sugar

Ingredients for brown sugar syrup?

  • 450 grams water
  • 25 to 50 grams brown sugar
  • Some crushed ice (optional)


Let's start with the syrup first so it can store in the fridge early, and by the time we're ready to eat, there will be nice and cold syrup right away.

Take a medium pot, add in 450 grams of water and 25 grams of brown sugar. For a sweeter taste, pump up the brown sugar to 50 grams. Perhaps add a little bit at a time and taste the flavor along the way. Bring the water to a light boil. Stir and make sure all the sugar has been fully dissolved. 

Let it cool down first then transfer to the fridge while waiting for other elements to be ready.

Move on to taro balls. Peel the taro then cut into chunks. 

Steam for about 30 mins till soft enough to easily press down with a fork.

While the taro still hot from the steamer, transfer that to the mixer. Also add in 70 grams of sweet potato starch, 50 grams of Japanese katakuriko, and 60 grams of granulated sugar. Start to knead till it forms a dough. If the mixture appears too dry and can't get the shape up (like my image below), add tiny bit of water and continue to knead again.

Take out the dough and knead it for about a minute by hand, or at least till the surface of the ball turns smooth. Evenly divide the dough to three potions.

Roll each portion into a long log/tube. Cut to shorter sections if the tube gets too long and over the board. Sprinkle extra sweet potato starch all over, which will prevent them from sticking to each other later on. 

Cut into smaller chunks. Gently spread these individual pieces apart, making sure they are all coated with some sweet potato starch. 

Repeat for the remaining portions. Set aside the amount you will be enjoying right later, then store the rest in Ziploc bag in the freezer. Just remember to shake off excess sweet potato starch before cooking them in the future.

As for the sweet potato balls, it's basically about the same process. Peel and cut the sweet potato into chunks. 

Steam for about 30 minutes or till soft enough to easily press down with a fork.

While the sweet potato still hot, add that to the mixer along with 120 grams of sweet potato starch, 50 grams of Japanese katakuriko, and 40 grams of granulated sugar. Knead till it forms a dough. Again, if the mixture appears too dry, add a tiny bit of water at a time; but if too much moisture inside, add a small amount of sweet potato starch to balance it off.

Remove the dough and knead by hand till you get a smooth surface. 

Divide that into three even portions. Roll them into a long log/tube and dust with extra sweet potato starch.

Cut into individual bite size pieces. Spread them out and make sure every piece is coated with the sweet potato starch. Save the ones you're going to enjoy next, then store the rest in Ziploc bag in the freezer. The same thing, remember to shake off excess sweet potato starch before cooking.

Now let's get down to business. Shake off excess sweet potato starch for the ones you're about to devour. Bring a pot of water to a boil then add in both taro and sweet potato balls. Cook till these balls start to float to the surface with their size enlarged a little bit. 

Have a big bowl of icy cold drinkable water by the side. Once draining out the cooking water, transfer the balls to cold water to quickly lower the temperature. Once cooled off, drain out the water again and transfer to serving bowls.

Scoop some of the brown sugar syrup we prepared earlier. Preferably add some crushed ice too, for that crunchy bite and extra cooling refreshing touch. 

The steps involved in making these taro and sweet potato balls can be strenuous at first glance, but once you've got a hang of it, the process is actually pretty straightforward and easy to follow. 

You can also store these finished balls in a Ziploc bag and store in the freezer up to couple months. So it's kind of like you put in the work early then simply relax and enjoy the outcome for a while after. Well, I mean if you can avoid finishing the entire stock at once.

Other Taiwanese sweets recipes:

Apr 20, 2021

Oven-Braised Chicken in Red Wine Vinegar and Tomato Sauce

I have to admit that at first I was a little suspicious of using red wine vinegar and mustard in braised chicken. All I could imagine was that super sourish taste on top of somewhat pungent and bitter mustard. However, what actually happened was both the vinegar and mustard just fully integrated with all other ingredients. Also the pungent note got smoothed out during the longer braising time. It was fun seeing how this braise turned out to be one of my plate-licking recipes in the end.

Oven-braised chicken in red wine vinegar and tomato sauce -


  • 900 grams bone-in skin-on chicken (I used 6 drumsticks instead)
  • 1 can/400 grams diced tomatoes
  • 1 purple onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • Some salt
  • Some black pepper
  • Some chopped parsley


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit/220 degrees Celsius. 

Peel and dice the onion. Peel and chop the garlic cloves. Finely chop the parsley.

Season the chicken with some salt and pepper on both sides. Let the chicken rest in room temperature for about 10 minutes first.

Use a big pot, drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil or enough amount to evenly coat the bottom of the pot. Turn to medium high heat. Once warmed, add in the chicken, keep them undisturbed for few minutes before flipping to cook the other side. It can better prevent ripping off the chicken because the skin tends to stick to the pot when first in contact with heat.

Sear till both sides of the chicken turn slightly browned. Remove the chicken from heat and set aside for later use.

If there's too much fat remains, wipe some out with a kitchen towel, only need to leave enough oil to evenly coat the bottom of the pot again.

Add in onion, garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of red chili flakes. Give it a quick stir and cook till the onion turns slightly browned on the edges, about 4 minutes.

Pour in 1/2 cup of dry white wine along with 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar. Scrape the bottom of the pot to get the brown bits up.

Pour in canned diced tomatoes along with its juice. Also add in 1 bay leaf, 1 tablespoon of whole grain mustard, and 1/2 cup of chicken broth. Bring the whole thing to a boil then transfer seared chicken back to the mixture, skin side up if that applies. Scoop some juice over the chicken.

Keep the pot uncovered, transfer the pot to the oven and roast for about 25 minutes. You'll start seeing some darker brown bits on the skin, which is fine. You can also flip the chicken half way through to prevent darkened color. Just remember that the key is to let the juice reduced a bit.

Remove the pot from the oven. Pick out bay leaf and sprinkle some chopped parsley right before serving.

It really took me by surprise that red wine vinegar on top of whole grain mustard can work so well in such braised recipe. The sauce left in the end, I simply scooped that all over some steamed rice, but I supposed wipe the sauce clean with bread work just as delicious.

As for the chicken, the meat was much more tender and juicy than I expected. Did I mention that the skin on top also got a little crunch to it? Well, I guess that slightly burnt color speaks for itself.

Extended reading:

Apr 14, 2021

Octopus and Cucumber Sunomono (たこときゅうりの酢の物)

Sunomono, written as 酢の物 in Japanese, literally means vinegared things in English. Shouldn't be hard to relate sunomono as some type of refreshing cold dish seasoned with vinegar and a touch of sugar. For this octopus and cucumber sunomono recipe, preferably I would use the giant octopus tentacles to make this light Japanese side dish, but since I've got the smaller kind local octopus in the fridge, that works just as well.

Octopus and cucumber sunomono (たこときゅうりの酢の物) -


  • 200 grams octopus
  • 1 skinny cucumber
  • 1/4 cup dried wakame seaweed
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Some Japanese tsuyu or light soy sauce (optional)


There is no need to peel the cucumber, but do thinly slice it then mix with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Give the cucumber a gentle massage to rub in the salt. Rest in room temperature for about 15 minutes to let the salt draw out some moisture from the cucumber slices. Squeeze out the liquid and set the cucumber slices aside.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil then transfer the octopus over. Let it fully cooked through, remove from water and wait till the octopus is cool enough to handle. Cut into smaller chunks.

The octopus used here had a special treatment before my purchase. It was beaten first in order to tenderize the texture, so definitely save some cooking work for me afterwards. If you are using larger octopus tentacles for this recipe and prefer a less chewy bite, don't cut the octopus into chunks, slice it instead.

Soak the dried wakame in warm drinking water for couple minutes. Squeeze out the water and pat dry the wakame.

Mix 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar and 3 teaspoons of granulated sugar together. Make sure the sugar has been fully dissolved. Also mix in all the prepped ingredients, I mean octopus, wakame, and cucumber. Taste and see if more salt is needed. You can also season with Japanese tsuyu or light soy sauce for that extra savory touch if desired.

I do recommend that you store this sunomono in the fridge for at least 20 minutes prior. It's best when served cold as a refreshing side dish. 

It's very easy to prepare and only take a short moment to do. If you're looking for something to munch on with a cup or two Japanese sake (don't drink and drive), this salad can be a great booster on your dining table. 

Extended reading:

Apr 8, 2021

Cauliflower Stir-Fry with Chinese Fermented Dried Soybeans 豆酥白花椰菜

Don't mistaken "dou su" with "douchi" when this recipe calls for Chinese fermented dried soybeans. The easiest way to tell these two apart is by looking at the colors. Douchi is the black one made with fermented black soybeans. Dou su, on the other hand, has a pale yellow, brownish-color, it's also the byproduct of soybeans/soy milk.

Basically, further drying the substance obtained from making and straining the soy milk leads to dou su. Some sold as tiny separated pieces, some further compressed into smaller discs that shape like a pancake. The most common way to use dou su is by searing it in oil as one way to revive the aroma, then utilize in other ingredients as a topping, cod so to speak. As for this recipe, let's use it with cauliflower.

Cauliflower stir-fry with Chinese fermented dried soybeans 豆酥白花椰菜 -


  • 1 cauliflower
  • 3/4 cup Chinese fermented dried soybeans "dou su"
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 red chili
  • 2 stalks scallion
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil/other light-tasting cooking oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Some Sichuan peppercorn oil (optional)


Break the cauliflower into smaller florets. As for the stem at the base, peel the tough outer layer and cut the center part into smaller chunks. Bring a pot of water to a boil and toss in prepped cauliflower. Cook for about 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Destem and finely chop the red chili. Destem and finely chop the scallion. Peel and finely chop the garlic cloves.

Take a wok or a pan, drizzle about 4 tablespoons of oil and turn to medium high heat. Notice that we're using more oil compared to other stir-fry recipes since dou su can absorb a good amount of oil. Add in garlic, chili, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Give it a quick stir. Cook till aromatic but not burning the garlic.

Add in dou su, stir-fry for 5 minutes or more. Lower the heat a little if needed, also add more oil if the whole mixture appears too dry. The color changes when dou su starts to absorb oil, so it'll be easier to tell if you need to add more oil or not.

When dou su is about ready and start to get a darker look, add in chopped scallion. Continue to stir-fry for another minute or so.

Add in drained cauliflower and mix till blended. Let it sit in high heat for another minute. Taste and see if more salt is needed. Drizzle some Sichuan peppercorn oil and give it a few tosses before plating. It's optional, but the Sichuan peppercorn oil will highly enhance the aroma of the final result.

The best part of incorporating dou su with cauliflower is that you see these little gaps from the floret stems, you should find many individual dou su stuck in there, which gives you more flavor when biting the florets. The cauliflower florets act like a perfect container carrying dou su with it.

Flavor-wise, it's a fun detour away from the plain old ways of prepping cauliflower. With a little kick too, thanks to the aromatics and the Sichuan peppercorn oil in the end.

Extended reading:

Apr 2, 2021

Ken Anhe 謙安和 - March Sushi Lunch Set Once Again Signals the Season of Hotaru Ika

No doubt you can tell the seasons when enjoying a fine sushi course. As soon as I saw the chef brought out hotaru ika (firefly squid), spring has come for sure.

It was my first visit at this one Michelin-starred restaurant in Taipei. Reservation was made almost two months in advance. If I remember it correctly, they open the reservation for the following month on the first day of current month. Let's say it's April 1st, then I can call and make a reservation for some time in May. 

So that should be about one month ahead, why did I say this meal was booked almost two month in advance? Well, it's better to make the calls exactly on the first day of current month, otherwise availability can be scarce. My lunch took place around end of March, so the time span is about two months.

You do have to plan way ahead of time nowadays, especially for popular fine dining places like Ken Anhe in Taiwan. Not just Taipei city, but the entire Taiwan island. I'm only talking about restaurants here, but in fact for hotel business in Taiwan, the high quality ones are booming too. 

Lucky in a way, Ken Anhe only opens up reservation one month prior. Some other sushi places take reservations months ahead. That means even if I book it now, I might not be able to get in till fall or winter. Many of them don't even accept new customers anymore, only through regulars and their referrals. Talking about the Covid-19 pandemic, not quite the issue for these upscale places in Taiwan.

For lunch service, Ken Anhe is more leaning towards sushi, with few hot dishes involved. As for dinner, the dining scene switched gear towards more kappo-focused, and that's what I'm aiming for during my next visit.

There are 8 counter seats, private rooms also available. The smallest room can fit 3 to 6 people, which is quite a comfy choice if going as a group of three. The minimum charge is one person for one set meal. So for three people, the minimum charge is three sets, and you get to enjoy a well-sized room that can fit up to 6 customers. I bet some elders would like that. At least my parents would love to have the entire room shared among family members only. 

When making the reservation, credit card information is required as one way to prevent no-shows. Our lunch set was $4,500 NTD per person (around $158 USD per person). No tips needed in Taiwan in most cases, but there will be 10% service fee charge. By the way, dinner should be about $2,000 NTD or $70 USD extra for each person.

Besides food, you'll often find interesting dining ware at a fine Japanese restaurant. So pay attention to these little details can further reveal the characteristics, or the "personalities" of the place you go. 

The tea cup here has a drawing of frog and rabbits using Japanese archery. Turn to the other side, you'll find letters saying kōzan-ji, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. This temple is also famous for its cultural collection called chōjū-jinbutsu-giga, which is a set of four picture scrolls with frolicking animals in different scenes. I'm not sure if the drawings shown on the cups are exactly the same from one of the original scenes, but the main story behind shouldn't be too off. 

The waitress presented us the wine menu after we settled in. I've took a couple pictures just to show.

Once the waitress confirmed sake needed, she then went to the back of the kitchen and informed the staff. In fact, this main waitress kept a close update on which course the diners are at with all the back of house staff throughout the entire meal. They kept a good track of each customer's dining steps so to speak.

A tray of sake glasses was brought to us to pick from -

And the winners were -

This was the one we picked, 300ml Daishichi Minowamon, Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo -

(Don't drink and drive)

First course, lotus root manju/mantou -

The little round ball in the center was made with lotus root and Japanese mountain yam. The very outer layer had a heartier bite, but not to a point crunchy. With a savory note similar to caramelized or seared condensed aroma to it. After bitten into the ball, perhaps due to the slimy nature of mountain yam, it feels like there's mochi inside, slightly sticky but not clingy at all. Very interesting texture, something not quite experienced before, and a pleasant one for sure.

Yellow mustard also played a good part here, a pungent kick, but a rather gentle one, that gradually preparing all the senses for the following meal.

Pickled daikon and ginger, both with a brush of clean-cut sourish taste -

Array of dipping sauces - 

Clockwise starting from top left, ponzu with crunchy seaweed, irizake (煎り酒) with shiso leaves and shiso flowers, twice-brewed soy sauce, wasabi and spicy paste.

If you never heard of irizake (煎り酒), it's an ancient seasoning mainly made from Japanese pickled plums, sake, and dashi. Even though plums are involved, but if you never heard or never had irizake before, I bet you won't even know that plum was used in making this dipping sauce. Simply think of irizake as an elegant form of lighter-tasting soy sauce, and it goes really well with white flesh sashimi.

Ken Anhe's twice-brewed soy sauce was surprisingly addicting. The consistency is a little bit thicker than regular soy sauce, and it comes with a dense sweet note, kind of like the feeling you get from brown sugar. I was truly impressed by these dipping sauces. They work like a secret weapon at Ken Anhe, quietly enhance the flavors of the food.

Karei/Japanese flat fish -

Kinmedai/splendid alfonsino/golden eye snapper -

Hirame/Japanese flounder -

If nigiri was served, no need to dip anything and just enjoy as it is. However, if sashimi, only seafood pieces were served like the hirame above, the chef will let customers know which dipping sauce to go with. Sometimes you can add a little bit of spicy sauce to get an extra punch, quite satisfying. 

Umibudo/sea grapes -

It's a type of green algae with refreshing taste and slightly popping sensation when bitten into it. Consider it a fun little dish in between the main courses. Mix the ponzu sauce and try to get some crunchy seaweed to eat along with. 

Ika/squid with a fashionable look -

Hotaru ika/firefly squid -

Some serve hotaru ika raw, some lightly marinated, here, it's been grilled. You get two main textures from grilled hotaru ika, the creamy center and the crunchy wee bit burnt ends from the tentacles. 

Also very good with our sake. If you enjoy grilled squid, it's like a triple-condensed version of it. Try it and you'll know what it's like to have a umami burst in every bite. By the way, I heard that few places actually fry the hotaru ika, I'm very curious about how it'll taste with such prepping method. 

Hairy crab -

Let's talk about the shari/sushi rice here. The sushi rice is on the warmer side at Ken Anhe, so far might be the warmest compared to all other sushi places I've been to. Not hot, but warm, and I find it comforting for my personal preference. To me, the contact point, where the seafood ingredient touches the sushi rice bound together seamlessly. As a result, the entire sushi went down smoothly in my mouth. 

What a surprising experience, I know that some sushi chefs like to present their sushi rice close to human's body temperature, but Ken Anhe's sushi rice was slightly warmer than that, and I'd never know that high temperature sushi rice can work so well too.

Engawa/fin muscle of Japanese flounder -

Kanpachi/yellowtail tuna -

Such a crisp and cleaning looking piece of fish. Almost come with a hint of sweetness in the end, very delicious.

Nodoguro/blackthroat seaperch -

Unlike kanpachi, nodoguro here had a somewhat fluffy yet flaky texture.

Aji/Japanese horse mackerel -

Miso glazed madai/tilefish and persimmon tempura -

I know that fish and the persimmon should be the keys here, but oh my, that pile of daikon oroshi mixed with mountain yam was so good. In  the beginning, the waitress only presented it as daikon oroshi and didn't mention anything about mountain yam. However, its slight stickiness consistency was quite suspicious, so we asked for more information, then she revealed that mountain yam was also used here.

However, I think there's more to it, perhaps the radish was marinated prior? or some dashi was mixed with it? I don't know, the flavor is light but so elegant. I just kept going at it. Seriously, I can be a happy girl if I can get a bowl of rice topped with this daikon and mountain yam mixture, then drizzle some of Ken Anhe's twice-brewed soy sauce on top. Okay, maybe with a tiny amount of wasabi too. Plain but so addicting, and only such light and elegant flavor that I will never get tired of. Two bowls maybe, I can easily finish two bowls of rice with these topping combo.

Kohada/gizzard shad with flesh color looks like a baby's cheeky cheek -

Fried abalone -

This dish was super hot, even after couple minutes, when I took a bite, I had to open my mouth to get some cold air in to avoid burning. 

Put the heat aside, the fried abalone just melt in my mouth. Never had abalone this tender before. It felt like that paper thin crust was the only thing holding up the abalone pieces. Now I once again firmly confirmed that on top of sushi, chef is also very good at hot dishes. In fact, perhaps even better at it.

Baby anago/baby salt water eel -

Baby anago can be deceiving, without a closer look, one might mistake it from ika noodles. The texture is similar to konjac noodles but not as chewy, also rather thin, light, and airy.

Madai/seabream -

Maguro chutoro/tuna belly -

Also sweet, but unlike the sweetness from kanpachi, it's more so a denser result from carefully aged fish. 

Amaebi/sweet shrimp and bafun uni/sea urchin -

The sweet shrimp was quickly marinated with some Chinese Shaoxing wine. Got the aromatics, but not the bitter taste from strong alcohol. Worked really well with almost equally-strong flavored uni. All sewed together with Japanese nori/seaweed.

Kanpyō/shavings of calabash -

Hands down the best kanpyō maki roll I've ever had. In fact, I was never really a fan of it, some might also consider kanpyō as a cheap ingredient that are not usually served at a fine sushi restaurant. Just wait until a really yummy one to blow your mind. 

The taste of Ken Anhe's kanpyō was rather light, just a touch of sourness. Most importantly, I think the chef sliced the kanpyō so thin and piled up into so many layers, almost like a mille crepe cake, that's why this kanpyō maki was so good.

Japanese sancho pepper added miso soup -

Besides the lively main waitress, I noticed that the chef was very kind too. There were two young customers who seemed not too familiar with formal sushi dining etiquette. I'm sure the chef was aware of it, so he was trying to pull out some jokes to lighten the nervous feeling from this young couple. I like the vibe from the chef and the waitress here, relaxing and not too uptight, and hope that these two customers feel welcomed and willing to explore more fine sushi in the future.

Steamy hot tamagoyaki/Japanese omelet -

Genmai matcha, changed the type of tea signaled the end of our savory dishes -

Coffee yokan/Japanese confection usually made of red bean paste, sugar, and agar -

Not paste-like, but more so very fine grains here.

Coconut ice cream, red beans, and white wine jelly -

Always happy to get two desserts instead of one.

Time to plan my future meal at Ken Anhe. Perhaps sometime in June, considering that I'm going to tour around Taiwan in May. Calendar marked. On the first day of May, need to call Ken Anhe for dinner in June. Crazy isn't it? Planned way ahead to secure more possibility to get a seat here. Ever since my first visit at Ken Anhe, I'm sure my next meal here will be well-worth the effort for sure.  

Ken Anhe 謙安和 currently holds one Michelin star status.

Ken Anhe 謙安和

No. 4, Lane 127, Section 1, Anhe Road, Da'an Dist.,

Taipei City 106, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

+886 2 2700 8128

Facebook: Ken Anhe 

Opening hours: 

Tuesday through Saturday 

Lunch 12:00 noon ~ 2:00 p.m.

Dinner 6:00 p.m. ~ 10:00 p.m. 

Sunday and Monday off