In the United States soy milk is more often than not viewed as a substitute for 'real' milk, much in the same way that tofu, or bean curd, is subjected to all manner of indignities in the name of rendering it as desirable as a piece of meat.
This can be attributed to one fact, I think: most Americans have never tasted quality soy milk, or eaten carefully prepared (ie. small-batch or homemade) bean curd -- that is, soy milk and tofu the way they make them in Taiwan.
Japan's been praised for its way with the little white bean, and rightly so. But Taiwan does pretty well in that department too -- call it just one of many dots on the island's culinary landscape that's long been overlooked by Asian food fans.
One of the joys of time spent in Taiwan is partaking of the morning doujiang (soy milk) ritual. From the wee hours you can hardly walk a block in Taipei without stumbling upon a mobile doujiang vendor or a hole-in-the-wall with a few tables where you can sip in relative comfort.
Truly fresh, well-made soy milk is the perfect am beverage, rich enough to satisfy an empty belly, light enough not to weigh you down, refreshing if taken over ice, supremely comforting if drunk warm. It's not something to serve as a substitute for the 'real thing' in your latte but something to be savored in its own right ... accompanied, perhaps, by a you tiao, or deep-fried cruller, to dip (or not).
We drank liters of doujiang in Taipei last May and June, but in deference to our ballooning waistlines generally left the doughy accompaniments alone. Until our last morning.
We'd paid a visit to Fong Da -- the old coffee shop featured in our Taiwan coffee article -- to thank and bid farewell to its elderly owner and his wife and son, and were strolling somewhat aimlessly (and sadly -- it was our last morning, after all) in its surrounding district of Ximending.
Having foregone our usual doujiang in favor of a last siphon brew at Fong Da we kept our eyes out for possibilities, but without much hope. It was already around 9; most doujiang and youtiao sellers begin gearing down around then, as their last customers head off to work.
Then we caught a faint whiff of frying dough. And lo and behold there, kitty corner from where we stood, was a doujiang bolthole fronted by a cruller maker still assembling and frying his product.
As luck would have it, it was by far the best doujiang of the trip. Served in old-fashioned heavy ceramic bowls, the soy milk was only lightly sweetened, allowing its pleasantly mellow beaniness to come through.
The crullers were simply fantastic -- they couldn't have been any fresher, really, and their dough contained a hint of salt that accentuated its hearty wheatiness. Almost as good were the scallion rolls, chewy sesame-topped baked buns with a swirl of softened, slightly caramelized scallions inside.
We drank and ate at one of the shop's two tables, set up in front right by the curb. We watched as a big black Mercedes pulled up; its tank top-wearing, tough-guy driver popped out carrying a white poodle, then got back behind the steering wheel with a bag bulging crullers.
We didn't wish for a donut instead of our you tiao, or glasses of moo instead of bowls of doujiang. What we did wish -- mightily -- was that we didn't have to catch a plane back home in five hours.
Note: For more Taipei street food favorites pick up a copy of this month's Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, which includes our article on five Taipei must-eat street treats.
Doujiang shop, no. 74 Neijiang Street, Ximending District (almost at the corner of Kunming Street). A bowl of doujiang and a you tiao will set you back all of 28 NTD (about 70 US cents).