Marks and Spencers to close in Taiwan

It’s a shame really, Marks and Spencer’s, a UK clothes and food retailer opened up three new shops in Taiwan last year, but they’re already about to close them due to poor sales. It looks like they picked the wrong partner, as they went with President Chain Store Corp, the same company runs 7-11 and some other outlets like Starbucks and Cold Stone in Taiwan. Although I can’t say I did a lot of shopping there, it was a good source for decent underwear and the occasional packet of custard creams.

It seems like the products sold weren’t popular enough with the local population and considering some of the pricing as well as the “British style” on a lot of the clothing, it’s not hard to see why M&S didn’t do too well here. Their selection of food was also very limited and again quite expensive and didn’t include anything that didn’t come out of a jar, bottle or a packet. Still, with the poor selection of “Western” shops in Taiwan, M&S will be sorely missed by some of us. It’s a pain to have to go abroad just to get a decent pair of underwear…

The shops will be closed by the end of August, but no specific final opening day has been given. Everything will be sold out at a discount, which is always something, although so far, not everything is on sale.

The kitchen item locator

So, there you are in your presumably tiny little Taiwanese kitchen trying to cook up that something special from back home when you realise that you don’t have that kitchen gadget that you really need and you don’t have a clue where to get it. Do not fret, as hopefully this list will help you find a store that has just what you need.

Your first port of call should be IKEA, as they have most of the stuff you’d expect such as potato mashers, rolling pins, baking tins, pots and pans etc. These things can otherwise be hard to find or quite expensive. They also sell a digital kitchen thermometer, although it’s limited to 130 degrees C or 266 degrees F. Ikea also has kitchen scales, the digital model is quite expensive, but I found a cheap analog model in the Hsinchuang store that’s a mere NT$299 with a bowl. Of course they have other useful things like potato peelers, spatulas scissors, orange juicers and a whole lot of other stuff you might or might not need. This is also a good place for pots and pans, as they have some insanely cheap stuff if you’re on a tight budget, although the quality might not always be as great as the price. Just be aware that the different stores might stock slightly different items and from experience the Hsinchuang store has a lot more stuff than the other stores.

I recently found a real bargain shop here, it’s Japanese and called Daiso. They sell all sorts of weird and wacky stuff, but also a lot of useful things. The best thing? Everything costs NT$39. There’s a list of where their stores are located on the website. They have stuff like cake decorating sets, paper baking cups, metal baking cups (for ice chocolate etc), small baking tins (suitable for Taiwanese size ovens), and all sorts of other gadgets. Most if not all things are Japanese, so some of them might not be all that useful if you’re not familiar with what they’re for. They also sell things like plates, glasses, etc. although I wouldn’t go for their pots as they’re all very cheaply made.

Working House is another place that is useful when it comes to various bits for both the kitchen and around the house. They carry a large selection of glasses at affordable prices as well as some other hard to find kitchen items like baking tins and trays, rolling pins and various other stuff. They also have a selection of odd bits and pieces of snacks, a range of furniture, some plants and various other things that could be useful arround the house.

Carrefour has started to carry a decent range of kitchen accessories as well and have things like paper muffin cups, graters, spatulas etc. They also sell pots and pans and all sorts of other stuff and what they have will depend on how good your local Carrefour is.

C!ty’super is the only place I’ve found that sell cheese slicers in Taiwan, although I’m sure you can find them elsewhere. I bought a very good Dutch one for NT$550 which might sound expensive, but it cuts any kind of cheese, even the really soft ones. They also have the wire kind of cutters, but I don’t like those. They also stock a wide range of otherwise rather expensive imported kitchen gadgets, knifes and pot and pans.

Homebox is some kind of a DIY store, but I found a really big solid spatula here as well as something else I found really useful, gas burner rings. The rings can be attached to any gas cooker and allows you to use smaller, flat-bottomed pots on the local gas cookers, something that’s not always possible, at least not if you want them to stand straight on the cooker. They also have a range of other kitchen accessories, but I’m not sure how good the quality is of all the stuff they have.

You can of course find a lot of stuff in most supermarkets here, but it can be really hard to find certain things in a pinch. There are some specialised baking stores here too, but I’ve never been to one, but if you’re looking at trying your luck at baking in your toaster oven, then they might have some of the items you need.

Costco sells greaseproof paper, which can otherwise be expensive and hard to find. They also sell a fairly large oven, the biggest “portable” one I’ve seen for sale here that just plugs into your wall socket. It comes with a rotisserie attachment for chicken and it looks quite nice, although I haven’t gotten around to getting one, as it’s about NT$8,500. It’s meant to be 45L if I remember right. They also sell things like Kenwood kitchen mixers, but again, quite expensive at NT$13,500, but they also sell some smaller mixers and hand-held ones, but these can’t really be used for baking. Costo also stocks a bread maker for around NT$2,200 and that’s the best price you’ll find here for one of those. It’s not great, but it does the job.

For a cheap hand mixer, check out your local supermarket, as most of them stock cheap ones for between NT$500-1000 and some shops have bigger ones with a bowl attachment for a little bit more. The cheapest oven you can get here that can be considered to be used for more than one person, is a Synco, which is supposed to be 27L. Not big, but you can fit a normal size cake tin inside it. Most other ovens are a lot smaller and combination microwaves aren’t common to find here. Panasonic has a couple of models, but they’re anything but cheap.

All “Western” style ovens here use 220V which can be an issue as you’d have to have someone come around and wire it up for you and that is only if your land lord allows you to have one installed, as I haven’t seen any stand alone cookers here as is common in the US and Europe. I’m not sure why this is the case, but I guess cooking isn’t all that popular here with most people eating cheaply from local restaurants. A basic model will set you back around NT$20,000 and the sky’s the limit after that.

Hopefully this list has been to some use and if you have anyhting you’d like to add to it, please let me know.

A work in progress

Well, I’ve added a few bits here and there, although it seems like it’ll take some serious time to get everything I want on here, but I’m sure I’ll sort it out sooner or later. Hopefully there are at least a few useful things on here by now and I’ll try to be adding more stuff on a regular basis. I’m waiting and wanting to write a piece about Flavors, the only Swedish restaurant in Taiwan that I know apart from Ikea, but as they’ve just moved, they haven’t opened up properly as yet, but as soon as I get around to visiting, I’ll do a write-up, especially as they have a new menu now as well as they’re hosting a supper club once a month.

Home made Marzipan or almond paste

One of the things I’ve found that I sometimes need for baking and that is really expensive to buy in Taiwan is Marzipan. However, it’s quite easy to make by yourself. One great thing here is that it’s dead easy to get hold of powdered almond, as it’s used as an ingredient for some kind of drink here. You should be able to find it in most supermarkets, although I know for sure you can get the pure powder in Carrefour. Sometimes the almond powder is mixed with sugar and thickener etc. at least if you’re going for the pre-mix that some shops sells. This can still be used, but isn’t as good, although there’s no need to add any sugar if you get this stuff. Costco also sells whole almonds that you you can blanch, peel and grate (work ok in a blender if you do small amounts at a time), but this is a bit of a hassle, although in my opinion these almonds are a bit nicer than the local kind. Costco also has almond flour that can be used for this recipe.

So what you need is almond powder, powder sugar and an egg white. You need equal amounts of almond powder and powder sugar which is placed in a mixing bowl along with an egg white. One egg white is good for about 100-150g of each of almond and powder sugar, but you might have to add more of the dry stuff if it’s too soft. You’ve now made a batch of almond paste, which can be used for baking and making various sweets, as it’s not overly sweet in itself, but it’s not really suitable for covering cakes with, as it’s very soft and doesn’t stick together well enough to be molded in the same way as Marzipan.

To make this into Marzipan you need to add a little bit more powder sugar, in total it should be about 1/3 to 1/4 of almond powder and the rest sugar. This makes the almond paste much more moldable. This isn’t “real” Marzipan, but it’s as close as you’ll get making it at home. The real deal is made with almond oil instead of the egg white and usually apricot seeds, but I doubt that is easily available in shops here. Sorry I’m not being to specific with regards to the measurements, but it’s a little bit of a trial and error process. To get more almond flavour you can buy almond extract which is available in some supermarkets here. You’ll want to add it little by little so that the flavour doesn’t get too powerful. You can also colour this with food colouring if you intend to use it for other things.