Every few months, my parents come back from Taipei bearing a suitcase filled with various snacks. They range, as is typical of Taiwanese food, from being absolutely delicious to being slightly horrifying. Usually the treats include pineapple cake, dense little squares with a thin, slightly crumbly layer of cake encasing a thick, sweet pineapple jam, practically a pineapple fudge. You eat one and you're full for hours. Another favorite is thin sesame wafers, black or white sesame, that crunch between your teeth and melt away on the tongue. Best of all are the cookies, rolled up with a peanut or sesame filling and then sliced into oval rounds. They crumble as you eat them, sweet and very slightly gritty, fragrant with the nutty aroma of sesame seeds or peanuts. Sometimes there are mochi balls, a shell of sticky rice paste filled with sweet bean paste (everything comes filled with sweet bean paste, red or green, or sesame paste, white or black, or peanuts or lotus-seed paste, or some unidentifiable goo that I can't figure out because I can't read Chinese).
This most recent trip brought a new treat I had never seen before. It was a little weird, sort of do-it-yourself. A beautifully wrapped box revealed individually wrapped packages nested in a plastic tray (all of these treats come this way, resting in a little tray that is sealed within an extremely difficult to open package, nestling alongside all the other little packages, on a plastic tray divided so they stay precisely arranged in rows, within a elaborately printed and decorated box, the whole thing wrapped in pretty paper, or sometimes layers of contrasting papers, and tied with ribbons). Opening one of these packages revealed another little package with two pieces of wafer cookie, and yet another squishy package filled with, what else, red-bean paste. You were supposed to squeeze the red-bean paste from its wrapper into one half of the wafer cookie, stick the other half on top, and then eat it. It was an awful lot of trouble to take for a little dessert, especially since I couldn't even get the packet of red-bean paste open. When I finally got it open, it just came out in gobs, hardly appetizing, not to mention difficult to mold into the cookie. I had to use a knife to spread it on the wafer. In theory, packaging the the cookie and the filling seperately means that the wafer doesn't get soggy and therefore makes a light and crispy contrast to the rich, sweet filling. In practice, it is a pain in the ass. But a delicious one.