This is Highly recommended, a column dedicated to what people in the food industry are obsessed with eating, drinking and buying right now.
When my husband and I were buying essential gadgets for our empty Taipei apartment, I immediately looked for a matcha green Tatung electric steamer. “I don’t know if a steamer is really necessary right now,” my husband said hesitantly. A $ 133 steamer was, in his opinion, a luxury purchase – not a real priority.
“It’s not just a steamer,” I replied, slightly offended. “It does everything.”
Originally introduced in Taiwan in the 1960s for just $ 9, the Tatung steamer is a ubiquitous household item across the island and in the homes of Taiwanese diaspora around the world. The beauty lies in its simplicity and versatility. Unlike the dozen or so buttons on an instant pot (what do they all do?), There is a single on / off switch that you can use to reheat food, cook rice, and slide out long, complex stews. My late grandmother used them to make herbal soups and tea; my mother steams fish with it; and some people even use it to Disinfect your face masks (?!). My friend Ivy Chen, a cooking instructor here in Taipei, tells me that it is also very convenient for fermenting yogurt. “It’s not very precise, but it’s multifunctional – and Taiwanese love multifunction,” she says.
Like a Russian matryoshka doll, it consists of a small pot that is in a solid larger pot. Just pour a few cups of water into the outer pot, place your food in the smaller pot, and flip the switch. The indirect heat of the steam fluctuates around 159 °, which is high enough to cook things like steamed fish or braised pork, but low enough not to burn anything if left unattended. (See, it’s a slow cooker too. Multifunction.) Take the lid off and the temperature drops to about 108 ° – within the Ideal area for the incubation of starter yogurt cultures. When the water in the outer chamber runs out, the steamer will turn off. Dead easy. Even a child could do it.
Microwaves or toasters aren’t common here in Taiwan, so generations of college students have used this steamer to prepare a quick meal for themselves. My friend SueAnn Shiah, a PhD student at National Taiwan University, has one in her dorm and makes dumplings, noodles, and popcorn from scratch. Popcorn production requires a temperature of 355 ° to allow the kernels to burst, which is above the normal temperature capacity of the steamer. But there is a hack: “Put some oil in the bottom of your inner pot, add seeds, and then hold down the on-off lever. Usually the pot only clicks when a certain temperature is reached. However, if you hold down the switch, you can override it manually. “
In terms of aesthetics, the pots come in quaint monochrome colors like green, orange, blue, white or red, although the brand occasionally brings out limited editions. I got mine in green because that’s the original, most iconic color – the same version my grandmother had. However, my mother is the proud owner of a light pastel pink Hello Kitty steamer that I hope will one day become a family heirloom.
This machine may not have the fancy bells and whistles and timers that most modern multicookers have, but that’s really only part of its charm. Indeed, sometimes the best devices are the simplest.