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Boro eatery puts twist on Chinese dishes

A Flushing Taiwanese restaurant’s menu includes a healthy shrimp dish (from front to back), refreshing fruit and vegetable dishes and stinky tofu, among other foods from the island. Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

Despite a large Taiwanese population in Flushing, there are surprisingly few restaurants where gourmets can get a taste of the island’s bold and innovative food.

But 101 Taiwanese Cuisine, at 135-11 40th Road, showcases some of the country’s most popular dishes, which are always evolving.

“Taiwanese people like to eat,” said owner Timothy Chuang, who opened the restaurant just over a year ago. “But the country is small and there is a lot of competition, so cooks try to make their dishes better and better.”

Taiwan’s taste buds now want less salt and oil, said Chuang, who found a chef from a five-star restaurant across the Pacific and hired him at the Flushing eatery.

To that end, diners can feast on a lettuce-leaf wrap containing a mixture of cooked shrimp, shrimp crackers and fresh fruit — either mango, grapefruit or apple depending on the season.

Or the health-conscious might want to try an appetizer consisting of rectangular cubes of taro, pumpkin, apple and yam wrapped in a paper-thin slice of cucumber.

Chuang went to great pains to make the dining experience authentic, by using fresh ingredients and creating a large dining space with photos from the island on the wall.

But the menu just wouldn’t be Taiwanese without certain items.

Stinky tofu might epitomize the country’s food more than any other dish. It is fermented soybean curd that is fried, giving it a distinctive and pungent kick, and served with pickled cabbage and hot chili sauce. Chuang claims to have the best in the city, though the dish is not for the faint of heart.

The menu also boasts an oyster omelet, which is beaten eggs fried with greens, oysters and a thickening starch, and three-cup chicken, which is pieces of the fowl braised in a sauce composed of equal parts wine, soy sauce and sesame seed oil and cooked with ginger — both of which are Taiwanese staples.

The experimental nature of the island’s chefs come from the country’s history, according to Chuang, who said that in the late 1940s a large population from China fled to the island in the aftermath of World War II amid political upheaval on the mainland.

Chefs from all over China, who specialized in the cuisines of various regions, came to Taiwan and styles began to overlap, making the food, and the fare dished up at Chuang’s restaurant, a unique experience.

Pork belly plays a big role at 101 Taiwanese Cuisine, and is a component in many dishes. For example, it can be found in a special sandwich topped with crushed peanuts and cilantro.

Large tanks hold fresh fish and other seafood, and for dessert anyone would be mistaken to pass up the shaved ice topped with sweet fruits and beans.

Many of the most famous foods are associated with large markets that open in the country’s large cities.

At these expansive night markets, shoppers stroll around nibbling on scrumptious snacks, like fried popcorn chicken — served at Chuang’s restaurant cooked to perfection with crispy fried basil — or deep fried pieces of pumpkin. They can also shop for goods from local stores.

Chuang wants to set up a night market in downtown Flushing, which he said would create a tourist attract and give more people outside the Taiwanese and Asian communities the chance to try some of the food the neighborhood has to offer.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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