Wednesday, January 26, 2011

[台北] - 饒河街夜市 150年山東麻油店 - Rao He Night Market's 150 year old Shandong Sesame Oil shop

(pic by fm4715/魯獅)

Ahh yes, the age old classic question...."if I visit Taiwan, what food items should I buy that I can bring back?" Your luggage space is limited and there are so many possibilities. Surely you don't want to occupy it with beef noodle or oyster omlette flavored potato chips. Dried cured mullet roe 烏魚子(Taiwanese bottarga) and dried noodles? Quality tea from 王德傳? Flavorful organic longan honey? Dried snack goodness? Sure. But what else?

If you have a cooking and kitchen fetish that includes fine oils, why not get something....super old school, fragrant, and quality?

Look no further than this 150+ year old shop in Rao He Night Market 饒河街夜市, known as Shandong Mayoh 山東麻油店.

(pic by fm4715/魯獅)

This small storefront is so easy to miss and ignore. When you're cruising this semi touristy night market for great snackage, buying sesame oil is probably the last thing on your mind. It's not a tapioca milk or bottled tea that you can drink while downing a pepper pork roasted bun, or a skewer of something.

(pic by 莊琇閔 of udn)
This shop has been around since 1859, so yes...152 years and counting. Ownership has been passed down to the 4th generation, a 74 ish year old guy named 陳朝進 who took over the reins of the business from his father at age 30. When you have a solid product or two that is your only specialty, passed down the generations, and the method of production basically remains unchanged, it has got to be pretty darn good and consistent.
So apparently the current owner Mr Chen had dreams of his own, that he wanted to be a boxer at a young age. After enlisting in the military to try his hand at professional fighting, he learned quickly that he couldn't make a living out of knuckles and punches despite grandma telling him "Doooood, sesame oil is our family life's blood! You can survive via oil!", until he finally gave in, and the rest is history.
Everyday, Mr Chen wakes up at 4 am and begins the process of oil extraction from the raw materials that lasts easily 10 hours or more. While technologies and competitors have advanced to the point of using automated machinery from start to finish, he insists on doing everything the old school way because he believes that will result in a better taste and texture.

So the funny truth about the name of the shop...Shandong Sesame Oil Shop. Mr Chen is 100% Taiwanese and is not even of Shandongnese ancestry. The name Shandong was picked due to the fact that region in China produces some top grade 小磨香油 (which is essentially old school grounded sesame oil, versus 胡麻油 which is pressed) and the name stuck.

The making of this wonderous sesame oil begins with washing the sesame seeds (locally grown in Taiwan), removing the outer shell and unwanted particles (otherwise would result in bitterness), stir frying, air drying, grinding into powder, steaming, and then pressing into oil. Before the days of machinery
the pressing process involved basically caveman style hitting with a wooden club. Now the pressing is done by machine.

Apparently locally grown sesame seeds are harder to come by (due to increasingly difficult conditions to grow and longer time to harvest) and other sesame oil manufacturers have been outsourcing sesame seeds from Thailand, Burma, or other parts of Southeast Asia. But this shop continues to use locally grown seeds, and always has.
Make no mistake about it, this sesame oil is supreme. Definitely better than many other sesame oils that are store bought and imported from Taiwan.
 Don't miss the shop's Camellia oil as well (bitter tea oil / 苦茶油)

山東麻油店 (Shandong Sesame Oil Shop)
台北市松山區饒河街84號 (Taipei City, Songshan District, 84 Rao He Street, inside Rao He Night Market)