When you think of the small, picturesque village of Appledore, what comes to mind? For me, it’s the stunning views over the estuary; the cobbled streets lined with colourful bunting; intricate crochet items hanging from the trees with pride; and who can forget the basically world famous clotted cream ice-cream (if you know, you know). What has never entered my foodie filled brain when thinking of my favourite village is Taiwan, or more specifically, Taiwanese food (this is a food blog after all). I don’t know about you, but growing up in little old North Devon, I never thought we would now be able to easily access such a plethora of cuisines, especially Taiwanese. Thankfully, the family trio of Candy, Ross and Ewen are giving us a big, authentic slice of Taiwan from their family home in Appledore. My love for Appledore has grown again, almost as much as my instant love for the dishes created by Candy’s Cuisine.
For little under a year, their family home has been churning out an array of truly authentic Taiwanese dishes for anyone to order and attempt to effortlessly eat with chop sticks. I first heard of Candy’s Cuisine just a couple of months ago and knew I had to get my fork, not chopsticks (can you imagine the mess) around their food and who knew that first taste would take place on a very cold November Sunday lunchtime at Bideford’s first Christmas Food and Drinks Festival. As Sunday’s go, I have had much worse. With my wooden fork in hand, I was transported to Taiwan, without even leaving my home town. Who needs holidays anyway?
Cheeky Pork and Vegan Dumplings
I don’t know about you (man I should really think of another phrase), but reading the word ‘dumplings’ on a menu instantly fills me with comfort and joy. So much so, if I knew how to use chopsticks, I would be waving them around in a very bad celebratory dance! The care and attention that goes into making these small flavour filled parcels is something I have always admired. It is a true skill to be able to make, fill and beautifully crimp endless amounts of dumplings that all look exactly the same, and that’s even before being transformed by steaming and frying (I can’t even manage uniformity with a large tortilla wrap without it bursting at the seams). Candy’s nimble fingers, however, create light dumplings bursting with a choice of fillings that I could easily eat a whole bowl of with my less nimble fingers (totally given up on the chopsticks at this point).
With a large pan simmering over their small stove, the dumplings could be seen steaming away as the drips of condensation trickled down the lid, before being removed to allow each dumpling to fry and end up with a crispy bottom (insert GBBO pun here). I did not mind the wait at all because watching the family multitask was just as satisfying as each bite that was imminently upon me. Fresh from the pan dumplings in hand and Candy’s homemade dipping sauce dredged over them, it was time for my taste buds to experience their first hit of Taiwan, with the aid of a very non-traditional wooden fork (I’m sure Candy has got used to that sight by now). Biting through the soft dumpling shell with its super crispy bottom, the minced pork was melt in the mouth. Amongst the pale colour of the pork, aromatics added subtle flavouring to the filling, as well as pops of colour. Add to that the splashes of the soy sauce based dipping sauce, full umami mode was taking place on my happy taste buds. The same was very much true for the vegan tofu dumplings too. I am a huge tofu fan and was not disappointed by these bundles of veggie goodness. As much as I loved the meaty pork dumplings, if I had to choose, give me two bowls of their tofu dumplings and I will happily sit with my wooden fork (probably on the sofa with a blanket) and make Candy proud.
Yan Su Chicken Bites
Fried chicken; who knew two words would sound so good together? I honestly could not tell you the last time I shovelled said chicken into my mouth. But if I am being totally honest, it was probably in the very early hours of a Sunday morning after one too many glasses of prosecco and I imagine (more like hope), I am not the only one to admit that. With a very much prosecco free body on this festive Sunday lunchtime, my eyes were once again opened to the wonderful world of fried chicken. Bubbling away in a separate pan, the coated pieces of bite sized chicken could be seen transforming crispier by the second. Once again sprinkled with a homemade sauce, which this time was sweet chilli sauce, the golden nuggets shone like, well, golden nuggets. The golden coating was thick, crunchy and had so much texture which contrasted the moist (awful word; please accept my apologies) and light chicken meat inside. The sweet chilli sauce added a light heat and a kick of extra flavour to each bite. I love sweet chilli sauce anyway and would happily purchase a whole jar. The wooden fork followed the path of the chop sticks at this point and was also disregarded as it seemed only right to eat Taiwanese fried chicken with my fingers. Without getting sued, it was most definitely ‘finger licking good’ and I would like to add a bucket of Candy’s fried chicken to my bowl of dumplings and also rename Candy, ‘The Colonel’ (definitely getting sued now).
Ma Po Spicy Tofu
On the opposite side to the bubbling dumplings, fried chicken and spring rolls (they were huge and looked amazing!) of the Candy’s Cuisine stall set up, were simmering pots. Each pot held hot servings of one of three slow cooked dishes which are served with rice and a stir fry garnish, making for a really substantial Taiwanese meal. It will come as no surprise that when kindly offered a choice of Kong Rou Pork, Dong An Chicken or Ma Po Spicy Tofu by son, Ewen, I had to choose the Spicy Tofu because in the hands of someone who really knows what they’re doing, it was never going to be the stereotypical bland piece of rubber. Lifting the lid, Ewen revealed the organic tofu relaxing in its hot tub of mild chilli bean sauce with Chinese mushrooms and vegetables. Oh to be the tofu in that warm, cosy sauce. The normally pale colour of the tofu was a distant memory thanks to a cunning disguise. The tofu had soaked up all the flavour and colour of the chilli bean sauce. If that isn’t a sign of tofu done properly, I don’t know what is. Each cube of tofu was soft and silky to eat, had a better tan than me and tasted totally delicious. If I closed my eyes, I could have been in a hot tub in Taiwan for those few munching minutes. The stir fry garnish was tangy and crunchy and complimented the tanned tofu so well; it was a flavour and texture bomb. So if anyone has a spare hot tub available and is good at applying fake tan, I now aspire to be Ma Po Tofu.
The Heart of Taiwan in Appledore
Meeting the family team behind Candy’s Cuisine was a wonderful experience. Chatting to Ross and Ewen about the business, which they do alongside their own occupations, and watching Candy work her magic with Taiwanese flavours and chop sticks with ease, was really amazing. Each dish and mouthful is intensely tasty and leaves you wanting more, which is handy because they open for takeaway from their Appledore home on Wednesday and Friday evenings with a vibrant new menu each week. I, for one, will definitely be ordering my piece of Taiwan again and again in the hope that I will one day be as tanned as that Tofu.
A big thank you to Lucy Rel for inviting me to Bideford’s Christmas Food and Drinks Festival which took place at Bideford Pannier Market, and for Ewen, Ross and Candy for being so welcoming and providing such amazing samples of their food.
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