I have recently started reading Taiwan’s opposition presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen’s biography, ‘From stir-fried eggs and onions to Little Ing Lunchbox’ (洋葱炒蛋到小英便當). Tsai, who represents the ‘green’ Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is Taiwan’s first female presidential candidate. She is polling better than expected, with analysts widely picking the race between the two major parties on 14 January 2012 to be close.
There is no English translation of Tsai’s book (yet), so I am reading it a page or two at a time. As it would happen, I attended a short meeting with Tsai a few weeks ago and mentioned that I was reading her book. ‘How far have you got’, she wanted to know. Well, at that stage I was embarrassed to admit that I was still in the prologue but I have since managed to get to the end of Chapter 1. Slowly, slowly.
In her book, Tsai talks about her close relationship to her late father, who was a wealthy businessman and property investor. (I should add that she talks less about her mother, perhaps to avoid drawing attention to the fact that her father had several wives, a practice once common among wealthy businessmen.) Whatever her father’s marital status, it was clear that he doted on Tsai, who was his youngest child.
Tsai was born in Pingtung, in the southern tip of Taiwan where onions are a staple produce. The family later moved to Taipei, where she grew up. Tsai said that visiting friends and relatives would always bring back onions as a gift, so her family often cooked up stir-fried eggs and onions to use up the excess. It was her father’s favourite dish, and made him almost nostalgic for Pingtung. One time a visiting baseball player came for dinner. His only request: anything but stir-fried eggs and onions.
When we lived in Australia, we often cooked stir-fried onions and eggs (洋葱炒蛋) as a mid-week ‘nothing else in the fridge’ staple. One good thing about the dish is that the ingredients are almost always on hand. You could try to jazz the dish up with extras such as chilli, basil or spices — or even try to shape it like an omelette — but really the point of the dish is its simplicity. And while basic, it tastes fantastic over freshly steamed white rice.
1 large onion
3-4 eggs, beaten
a pinch of salt and white pepper
1 dessertspoonful canola or soybean oil
1. Cut the onion in half, and then slice it into pieces around 3mm thick (this is a rustic dish, so I like it to be a little chunky). Break the eggs into a bowl, add salt and pepper and beat until incorporated.
2. Heat a wok or frypan until hot. Add half the oil, and stir-fry the eggs until slightly set. Remove. Add the remaining oil, and stir-fry the onions until they are fragrant and slightly transparent. I like to cook the onions until they start to brown slightly, but this is a personal preference and not the usual Chinese method. Return the eggs to the wok, and continue to stir-fry until cooked through. Transfer to a plate and serve at once.