Need an escape from the cold? Tiffany Alexandria has a Taiwanese food blog for you

A graphic of a person eating "hot steamy bao in Taiwan."
Rochester, Minn.-based Tiffany Alexandria is sharing Taiwanese food through her blog and YouTube series, ChooChoo-Ca-Chew.
Courtesy of Tiffany Alexandria

If you’re one of those people who fights cabin fever with travel blogs, you’re in for a treat. Tiffany Alexandria is an artist, cook and blogger based in Rochester, Minn. She recently launched a YouTube series featuring food from Taiwan.

It is called Choo-Choo-Ca-Chew. She joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to talk all things Taiwanese food.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: If you're one of those folks who fights cabin fever with travel blogs, you're going to this next conversation. Tiffany Alexandria is an artist, cook, and blogger based in Rochester. She recently launched a YouTube series featuring food from Taiwan.

TIFFANY ALEXANDRIA: We're here today to try--

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Literally means big sausage wrapped a little sausage. So it's a-- well, a pork sausage inside a rice sausage. It's super delicious. It's one of the very classic Taiwanese street food that you would find at night markets. But we're here in Kaohsiung today. I think it originated from the south of Taiwan instead of the north, even though you can find them at almost any night markets these days. I did a lot of research and found this shop to be one of the originals.

CATHY WURZER: Tiffany Alexandria publishes the blog and the YouTube series Choochoo-ca-Chew, and she's on the line right now. Hey, Tiffany, how are you.

TIFFANY ALEXANDRIA: Hello. Thank you so much for having me. I'm good.

CATHY WURZER: Thanks. Thanks for being here. I know you were born and raised in Taiwan, and you came to Rochester, which is a pretty small town compared to Taipei. What brought you to Rochester?

TIFFANY ALEXANDRIA: My husband grew up here, so-- and I was ready to just-- I love traveling, so I just wanted to go anywhere. I like experiencing new places and seeing how just real people live. So I was like Rochester, Minnesota, never been there. Like visited a few summers, but I want to check it out. I want to see how people actually do things here and live their lives in the States. So here I am. [LAUGHS]

CATHY WURZER: Well, you've got some really great stuff here on the blog and on the YouTube series. I know you used to work for the Rochester Farmers Market, is that right?

TIFFANY ALEXANDRIA: Yes. I worked for them for about two, three years? Just doing their social media, marketing, and just getting to know farmers and what grows locally, which I absolutely love and enjoy.

CATHY WURZER: What do you like about using local ingredients?

TIFFANY ALEXANDRIA: It's always fresh. I think, for me, growing up, it's always-- there's a lot of memory of me going to the markets with my mom. And food in Taiwan is always fresh. Like fresh ingredient is key. It's so important to-- I can't stress it enough like how important fresh ingredients are in Taiwanese food. And supermarkets here is a very different culture than going to a fresh wet market where you see farmers, they just like literally plucked fresh vegetables out of the ground and selling it to you. The flavor is different and there's a lot of [INAUDIBLE] involved in all the process.

So I love fresh food. And you can get at supermarkets here. That's why I love working with farmers, being able to get my hands on the freshest food possible in this region. And it's also-- it's always shocking to me what grows here even to this day because Minnesota is so cold, but I would be able to find what I thought were tropical plants here at the farmers market. An amazing thing.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, I can only imagine. I'm wondering about the key flavors. What are some of the new-- because you say you like seeing new places and experiencing new cultures. What were some of the new flavors for you here in Minnesota? And likewise, I want to ask about some of the flavors, the key flavors in Taiwanese food. What were some of the new flavors you discovered here?

TIFFANY ALEXANDRIA: New flavors, that's a very good question. I think I'm learning a lot about local food, as in, like, what grows natively in Minnesota. So I was impressed by like the flavors of sumac or just, like, wild herbs like-- I'm blanking on the name. But like a lot of herbs that grow in the wild, I can just find and forage. They're just-- it's so cool to me.

CATHY WURZER: And what are the key flavors in Taiwanese food?

TIFFANY ALEXANDRIA: So in Taiwanese food, some key flavors are white pepper are more commonly used over black peppers. Black peppers are also used a lot, but we use white pepper more in a lot of the savory dishes. Fried shallots is a very distinct Taiwanese flavor. Traditionally, lard is used a lot. And we eat a lot of rice, or rice would get turned into different dishes, rice cakes or rice noodles. Aromatics like ginger, garlic, and scallion and cilantro are used very abundantly in all the dishes.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. I'm curious, as a travel blogger, as I've been on your website, you've got these beautiful-- the videos are great, the pictures. How do you decide where to go? And what gets highlighted? What foods to highlight?

TIFFANY ALEXANDRIA: That is such a hard thing when I was deciding what gets highlighted and what to talk about because initially, being a blogger, you need to try to get hits. Like you need to try to get the traffic. And with that, you need to highlight things people are already excited about, people already know.

But me being me, I just want to highlight things that are off the beaten path and not as appreciated. There are a lot of things-- since growing up in Taiwan, there are a lot of things that are in my daily life that I didn't appreciate until I came to Minnesota, and nobody really taught-- not that they don't talk about it. It's just like not as appreciated and they don't make as big of a splash in International news.

Everybody knows about boba tea and everybody knows about a lot of other Taiwanese street food like oyster omelets and such. But I want to include those, but tell stories that people might not know about these dishes. And also, just things that I grew up eating with my mom, like things that had special memories to me and tell those stories. That's how I choose.

CATHY WURZER: OK. I'm wondering-- I know that coming up, you're going to have a segment on rice noodle soup with milk fish heads, which I'm dying to see. So how did that-- how did that play into your life, that particular recipe?

TIFFANY ALEXANDRIA: So milk fish head-- me and my mom we love-- she introduced me to different parts of meats, like the not-as-appreciated parts. She loved-- every holiday, I would just see her-- like everybody would like try to get the meat off the fish, but she would like go for the fish head and then just spend time picking off meats from the fish.

So that was just such a big part of my memory of her. And I grew into loving doing that as well. And now we would have a meal and we would fight for the fish head. We would maybe get two fish so we can each have our own. So that always reminds-- fish heads always reminds me of her in some ways. And when I was growing up, she would tell me that if you eat the eye of the fish, that's how you get smarter and you get better grades. So that's also like part of memory growing up.

Rice noodle soup, we don't eat it very often at home. It's a dish that we would go out to eat. And it's also something she introduced me to because my dad is kind of a picky eater and he doesn't eat a lot of these street foods, which is a very interesting dynamic in my family. So I just relate these memories to her.

And the best part is that this particular stall that we went to, it's like in an alley and buried inside a wet market. It's kind of hard to find, and it-- just, like, all of it is just why I love Taiwanese food and some of these streets in Taiwan so much.

CATHY WURZER: We should say, the guy behind the camera is your husband in these YouTube videos. Good for him. [LAUGHS] So you two obviously share a love of food.

TIFFANY ALEXANDRIA: Yes, we do. I think-- it's very interesting when we met, he grew up in Rochester, Minnesota. And when I met him, he would tell me, oh, I don't like tofu, I don't like broccoli, I don't like fish. And I was like, oh, great. Like, what are you going to eat in Taiwan? We eat so much seafood, we eat so much tofu. I don't know where to take you.

But the great thing about him is that he's really willing to try new things. And as he tried foods in Taiwan, he told me that he learned that it's not these food that he didn't like. It just like the way-- the ones that you can find in Minnesota-- or the way they prep in Minnesota is not how he would like it.

So through teaching him-- or showing him these foods, I also learned a lot about just the differences in the food culture, and he would ask me questions and I would have to think about it and think about how to explain it. And that's kind of, in some ways, how this blog and YouTube channel came to be.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, good story. Tiffany, it's been really a pleasure talking to you. I wish you all the best, you and your husband. Thank you so much.

TIFFANY ALEXANDRIA: Thank you so much for having me.

CATHY WURZER: Tiffany Alexandria has created the blog Choochoo-ca-Chew. She's based in Rochester. You can find her videos by visiting mprnews.org. Thank you so much for joining us here on this Monday after the big Thanksgiving holiday. We appreciate you being here with us on Minnesota Now from MPR News.

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