A weekend in Taipei

Taiwan may be a small island, and has had its share of fights between China on its independence but its eating habits has been shaped by its history. It is, what you may call a ‘melting-pot’ of regional Chinese cuisines, mostly from eastern China. But equally, you cannot describe Taiwanese food without mentioning that it bears strong influence from surrounding communities as well (Min Nan, Teochew and Hokkien), and countries such as Japan too. This “mash-up” created one of the most diverse, delicious and best culinary marriages.

I spent 2 days and a half in Taipei, catching up with friends, and most importantly taking up the food scene as much as I (and my stomach) could. Now, 2 days is not a lot of time, but Taipei is easily navigable whether by train, taxi or other forms of public transportation, so that it makes it easy for your to get from point A to point B. This was my culinary experience in Taipei.

One must-eat place is the international Din Tai Fung chain, originally a family business, specialising in what westerners call “Shanghai soup dumplings” (or xiaolong) Pick up one of the twirly dumplings, rupture its side with a chopstick and let the exquisite juices flow on to your spoon before you eat. Careful not to burn your tongue!

A little bit of sliced ginger and vinegar and good to go

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Another type of dumpling is fried, and has a more interesting look

Now, you don’t see it…

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Now, you do!

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Another must try is the sweet/sout soup! Not spicy at all and super hot (in temperature)

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For dessert, my favorite is the red bean bun, sweet, smooth…Yummy!

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That evening, a friend of mine recommended a new ‘trendy’ restaurant that served traditional-but-modern taiwanese food. I must apologize that I forgot the name (woops) and lost the card (other woops). But once I find it, I will upload the name!

Laid-back, coffee house setting

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Menu for the evening

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We had a lot of food as we were 8 in total, but here are the highlights:

Stir-fried vegetables with silky tofu

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Clam broth with ham

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The best of the evening: noodles with sesame sauce, pickles, scallions and minced pork

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Stinky tofu (really stinky) with pig’s blood in spicy broth

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Another favourite: steamed pork meatballs

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Braised pork belly: fatty, gelatinous..hmm

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Overall, the general feeling was that it was good, but not exceptional Taiwanese food. No, that was going to come the next day.

After a nice morning jog, I ventured to a small Japanese restaurant, Sasa, where I had a nice omakase meal. Outside of Japan, I think Taiwan makes the best Japanese food and hosts one of the most Japanese restaurants I have seen (in Asia). The quality of fish is outstanding and there is a great influx of Japanese restaurants owners, chefs, and others in the food industry who have come to Taipei to open up. Sasa was exceptional (located at No.5, Ln. 42, Sec. 2, Zhongshan N. Rd., Zhongshan District) . Again, here are a few highlights:

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Fantastic sashimi and sushi sequence:

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Steamed Egg

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Assortment of fish over rice – wow

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The crème de la crème of the visit has to be at Ming Fu 明福餐廳  (located at No.18, Lane 137, Section 2, Jhongshan North Rd, Jhongshan District). A local institution in the heart of Taipei, the restaurant only serves 25 guests (who must book way in advance or be a celebrity, or know the chef personally…luckily, the latter was the case for our table, a table of 12 people). The place is in an old part of town, and the setting is just as I expected – no decor, crowded tables, and I had to sit on a cheap stool and squeeze in.  The menu is pre-set only, and cost is very expensive, so it’s best to come as a large group to try everything on the menu.

Everything was perfect, traditional Taiwanese. Nothing more needed. Here are some highlights:

Drunken chicken

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Braised tofu


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Stir-fried clams

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Fried fish stomach

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House specialty: Buddha Jumping Over the Wall. The story is the soup was so good, the Buddha jumped over the wall to eat it. It holds shark fin, sea cucumber, abalone…all the good stuff

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Another House specialty: Rice noodle with bean sprouts and pork. Hands down, best fried noodle on earth! Apparently takes hours to make. The chef also doesn’t make it for everyone.

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We all know food is not limited to the  internationally accepted 3-meals-a-day format in dining, and Taipei is definitely open to that concept. People, here, live on snacking, at all times of the day and one famous philosophy is to “eat often and eat well”. Snacking is so much so part of the way of living that Taipei alone has 20 streets just dedicated to that very past-time.  Whether you’re looking for a streetside bao (bun), incredibly stinky tofu or just good old fashioned noodle soup, you’ll fine it here, in Taipei.

So if you’re not in the mood for a sit-down meal, take a pick from the many options below!

Spicy hotpot (麻辣火鍋). If you can take spicy, definitely this is the place to try it! You can either have all-you-can-eat or limit yourself to a set menu. The quality of the fresh ingredients is very high including thinly sliced beef, beef tripe, fish dumplings, vegetables, noodles, eel, etc…For great hot pot, try: . It won’t come close to Sichuan spiciness but it’ll make your mouth numb.

TAI HO DIEN 太和殿麻辣火鍋
No. 315 Xinyi Road, Sec. 4 大安區信義路四段315號
(02) 2705-0909

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Din Tai Fung Dumpling House (鼎泰豐小籠包). Though it may be Shanghainese, the Taiwanese have perfected the art of the dumpling at this joint. Paper-thin wrappings steamed until soft holding a rich and very hot (in temperature) broth with tender pork meatballs will make you feel just right. They have several around Taipei, but I suggest to go to the original flagship restaurant at 192 Xinyi Road, Section 2.

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Stinky tofu (臭豆腐). You might need a strong will (and un-sensitive sense of smell) to eat this. Love-it-or-hate-it, you’ll find it in the street markets. The curd is deep-fried and covered in sweet and spicy sauce, but sometimes, you can still smell that awful pungent aroma. I tried it completely steamed and it was much worse in odor. Hold your nose! Go to Shenkeng district or any of the night markets in Taipei. You can’t miss the smell.

Dai’s House of Stinky Tofu (Yes, this is a real name)

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Bubble tea (珍珠奶茶). You cannot come to Taiwan and not have bubble tea, it’s like going to New York and not having a street hot dog. The name refers to what is chewy inside the drink – that is, the tapioca balls that are the “bubbles” in bubble tea. There are no limits to the varieties of bubble tea which can be hot or cold, be served with flavored tea or coffee and come in many colors.

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I mean, there’s much more snacking you can do, such as braised pork rice (滷肉飯). Finely chopped pork belly with five spices soy sauce and lots of fattiness, spooned over rice, makes you want to go right to heaven. Sweet, salty, the best comfort food. Or even beef noodle (牛肉麵). Seems simple, but simple is good enough. Beef shank noodles are a perennial favourite and it’s almost impossible to have a bad beef noodle experience here.

Food: it’s serious, it’s respected, it’s all excellent in Taiwan. Come hungry to this small country!

Comments
2 Responses to “A weekend in Taipei”
  1. Nice pictures. Looking at it is already making me hungry. =)

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