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Taiwan! What is that funky flavor?!

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I'm currently in Taiwan and I have a question for those of you who have not done the typical 3 day business trip/expense/account/din tai fung circle in Taipei.

I've been eating quite a lot of local food (street vendors and home cooking with my new Taiwanese mother in law) and I have noticed a very distinct recurrent Taiwanese flavor which appears in about 90% of the non-tourist foods.

I can't quite pinpoint it, and it's driving me batty. It's a kind of sweet, funky, peppery taste which appears in everything from the stewed chicken parts to the sausages to the tea eggs. You can smell it immediately upon walking into any random 7-11 or Family Mart.

It's not a bad flavor or anything, but it does get tiring to my palate to taste this flavor nearly every time I snack on something.

Thanks!

Mr Taster
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  1. Is this a trick question? I'm wondering if you have asked your new Taiwanese mother-in-law for possible clues. If you could describe the "funky" that you mentioned a bit more maybe there will be an easier answer. Could it be a fishy smell, possibly from the anchovy sauce? Or the special deep fried red shallot flakes? Or...???

    I had a similar problem when I was eating at different Taiwanese places in California's SGV a few months ago.

    1. Ask if it is BBQ sauce. Not the type we get in the US, this one hasa distinct funky smell. My (Taiwanese) wife adores it. It is made with dried shrimp. The can usually hasa cow ont he front. Once opened, it permeates a refrigerator.

      1. those Thai basils? Taiwanese people love to cook everything in Thai basils~

        1. I think it might be star anise ... a liquorice type flavor in the boiled eggs and stuff that you find in the 7/11's.

          3 Replies
          1. re: citywayne

            Yes. That's what I said in answer to a remarkably similar post on another board.

            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/389665

            1. re: Brian S

              Yes-- since there is no clarification as to what the appropriate board for Taiwan is, I posted everywhere I felt a Taiwan could go (China, Greater Asia, International)

              Instead of causing an international episode, the mods amazingly saw fit to leave all of them. I asked them about it, and here's their official response:

              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/389657

              By the way, I'm now sure that's what it is. Taiwan truly is the land of star anise overload... it appears in every stewed dish imaginable.

              By the way-- I'm still in Taiwan, and still smelling it every... single... day :(

              Mr Taster
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              1. re: Mr Taster

                Did you mean that you're not sure Star Anise is IT? That it still could be something else? It should be relatively easy to get a hold of a piece of star anise, smell it, and know once and for all what is the offending element.

                Could it be the barnyard flavor of the white pepper?

                For a extreme remedy to your situation, get yourself to the stinky tofu street, for a breath of "fresh air" , to cleans yourself of this maybe-star anise-maybe-not dilemma...