I’ve been busy lately, immersed in writing about my experiences of Chinese postpartum confinement to finally finish a book I have been writing for three years. And it is taking me back, back, to my days in Taiwan and my favourite snack foods.
One of my favourite guilty snacks at night markets is Taiwanese pepper buns (胡椒餅). Slightly crispy on the outside, I would bite in to discover a juicy meat mixture with a strong pepper aftertaste for some bite. My favourite were the famous ones at the Raohe Markets, in front of the ornate Ciyou Temple. I was always secretly a bit scared of the Ciyou Temple; I am not sure why, I think it was just because there were so many deities there and they all seemed so old and unwelcoming. There was also a good streetside pepper bun stall that often that operated afternoons outside of the Songjiang/Nanjing Road MRT station. I ate more than I ought to from that stall: they were seriously good.
Pepper buns are cooked in a big gallon drum, somehow the cooks manage to cook them on the inside of the drum kind of it like a tandoori oven. I don’t know how they do it, but I know that the buns emerge tasting somehow Taiwanese yet almost South Asian. I tried to see if I could use my Ta-tung electric cooker in the same way, but sadly it didn’t work so I used the oven instead. It works fine, but not quite the same somehow as the gallon drum version. I adjusted the pepper seasoning down a bit in this recipe, but feel free to add more to suit your taste.
Plain flour 300g
Around 80ml lukewarm water (add gradually to get desired consistency
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
300g fatty pork mince (ideally buy from a Chinese butcher as most supermarket pork mince is too lean)
2cm knob of ginger, grated with a fine ginger grater
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine (or sherry)
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, ground or crushed
1/2 bunch of spring onions, chopped
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
- Add around 50ml of the water into a breadmaker and cover with the remaining dry ingredients. Select the dough setting. Gradually add more water until the dough is of a pizza-like consistency. Allow to mix and rise for around 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the meat mixture by combining all ingredients together. I like to stir the meat mixture in the same direction.
- Roll out the bread mixture into a long log, then cut into around twelve pieces. Take one piece aside, and cover the rest with a tea-towel.
- Flatten the dough with the palm of your hand. Then using a small rolling pin, roll each piece into circles from the outside in. What you want to aim for is that the inside of the circle is thick but the outside is thing. (Chinese chefs are really quick at doing this and have a way of flicking the dough round. The good thing is that the fold for this is underneath so it is forgiving if you don’t get it quite right.)
- Add some mixture to the centre of the bread dough and fold up to close. Place fold side down on an oven tray. I find that they puff up high in the oven, so I like to squish them flat.
- Brush the tops with water and coat with sesame seeds. Bake in a hot oven at around 160C until brown on top.
Pork mince: $3
Soy sauce: 10c
Oyster sauce: 20c
Rice wine: 20c
Black pepper: 25c
Spring onions: $1 (I use homegrown)
Sesame oil: 20c
Total: $4.85 or 40c each