My 2 weeks in Taiwan went by in such a blur but now that I'm going through pictures, I find myself missing the food BADLY. Apparently my parents just bought a house in Taiwan so I'm planning on hitting up that side of the world every year if I can - one week in Taiwan and perhaps a week or so exploring the rest of Asia doesn't sound too bad to me :)
I know I wore you guys out in my last entry with pictures of the landscape so on to the food! This is going to be a sampling of all the tremendous, inexpensive food I had in Taiwan - capturing all of it would have required far more stamina than I had and carrying a DSLR around in 90+ degree heat with 100% humidity nearly did me in.
From top-left clockwise: Golden fried mantou buns with condensed milk, the interior of this restaurant, big pork Bone hotpot, clam hotpot
So all the years of cutting chinese school really didn't serve me well with recognizing store names but thankfully I had an abundance of great hosts and they brought me to some amazing places. This is definitely one of my favorite dinners from the trip - this was a Macau restaurant specializing in hotpots. (Link to name and address)
- The appetizer we got is one of my all-time favorite treats - typically steamed chinese mantou buns deep-fried to a golden perfection and then lightly dipped in condensed milk. The texture is just amazing - crispy on the outside and intensely soft inside.
- The pork bone hot pot was savoury, complex and rich beyond belief. They first sauteed the bones a bit and then poured in broth and whatever ingredients you choose to add (I think we choose turnip, celery, udon and some other veggies). After the broth cooks for a while (which the waitstaff is very protective of - if you try to remove one of the bones, they rush over and grab the bone from your offending fingers with tongs and place it back in the pot), you can grab a bone and after suiting up with some plastic gloves and a metal straw, burrow out all the marrow inside the bones to your heart's content.
- One thing that being in Taiwan has reminded me of is how deep my love of clams runs. My favorite is a littleneck clam soup with ginger, rice wine and a very light broth. This clam hotpot really hit the spot and they cranked the AC in the restaurant up to ungodly levels to really "encourage" the diners to enjoy the warmth of the food they were serving. It's amazing that in such a hot and humid country, in the middle of summer, all the hotpot restaurants are always completely packed. Go figure but it works.
First row: The view overlooking the mountainside from our table, Drunken chicken steamed in wine, tofu in a light tangy lobster sauce,
Second row: Steamed prawns with mixed veggies, sausage platter (sweet sausage, fatty lamb sausage and blood sausage), steamed fish with soy sauce and scallion
Third row: Soy-sauce braised pork belly, the exterior of the restaurant, a menu
Another fantastic meal, this time in a really beautiful location. Back Garden is located on top of a mountain-side about an hour from Taipei (I'm bugging my mom to find out the address of it because Google has failed me in this quest) and each of the tables are situated next to an enormous window or you can choose to sit outside on a beautiful patio that wraps around the entire restaurant. There's usually live music and a hopping scene though the night we went, it was very rainy so we had to take our dining indoors. The restaurant honestly feels like more of a lounge with very comfortable sofas, low-set tables but a decidedly full menu. Surprisingly, the food is very inexpensive with vew few items going above $10. I'd highly recommend this place, especially for the view.
Starting from left clockwise: An assortment of small plates which you usually get before every meal (tea eggs and tofu, seaweed, edamame with red chiles, some sort of fish, Chicken soup with clams and ginger, Scallion pancake ladies, scallion pancake griddle
- Almost every meal in Taiwan starts out with a selection of small plates (kinda like banchan but you choose all the items you'd like). I'm a big fan of marinated seaweed and tea eggs and I hardly ever eat them when I'm back in the U.S. so I tried to stock up while I was in Taiwan.
- The chicken and clam soup was extremely hearty and even tasted nutritious - in a very good way. We had this soup in a restaurant in a random night market.
- There's a very famous scallion street cart in a region of Taiwan which I'm going to spell Lwodong. It's about an hour or so away from Taipei and I had family in the area so I managed to convince my cousins to take me to the scallion pancake ladies and boy, was it ever worth it. These are unlike any other scallion pancakes I've ever tasted - apparently, the scallions grown in this region are the best in the world so every cake was incredibly flavorful and dense and packed with scallion goodness. You can also get these cakes enrobed with a light coating of egg which makes a delicious breakfast.
Starting from left clockwise: Beef noodle soup with ultra wide noodles, sauteed wild veggies with garlic, pigs ears, 8 treasure shaved ice
- Beef noodle soup is definitely one of Taiwan's specialties and I tried to sample as many as I could but the quality level was pretty consistently high all across the board. Here's a recipe that I'm going to try to make as soon as I get back to NY. The mix of rice wine, ginger, star anise and soy sauce is just heavenly, especially when paired with ultra fresh handmade noodles.
- These greens resemble the wild plants that grow everywhere and the chinese translation is something about cats. I don't really know what this plant is but it's delicious with its crispy stalks and chewy leaves. I really wish we had it here in the US.
- Pig ears - yes, it sounds weird but it's strangely delectable. Lots of cartilage and chewy bits :)
- 8 treasure shaved ice - Shaved ices are incredibly popular in Taiwan and this is a particularly extreme example of one. I think there was red bean, green been, egg, condensed milk, soy powder and all sorts of other nonsense on this one. I personally prefer an ultra-simple condensed milk + red bean combo on mine.
Starting from left clockwise: Their famous xiaoolongbao (soup dumplings), wontons in red oil, the menu, egg fried rice with shrimp
Since I was in Taipei, I obviously had to check out the world-famous Din Tai Fung restaurant chain. Honestly, I wasn't too impressed. The soup dumplings were a major disappointment for me - the skins were ultra thin and the buns weren't exploding with juices which is the way things should be. I'm really looking forward to trying out the soup dumplings in Shanghai next year. The standout of the food we ordered was definitely the wontons in red oil - these had HUGE flavor, were delicate the way wontons are supposed to be and I think we probably gobbled up this plate in less than a minute. We ordered the egg fried rice just to see how they executed one of the simplest items on the menu and this was pretyt good but nothing incredibly.
First row: The menu, corn chowder, the chef preparing our cod
Second row: Grilled cod with teriyaki sauce, the chef preparing our lobster, grilled lobster
Third row: Lamb chops, steamed banana dessert
Teppanyaki is really popular in Taiwan so I was dragged along to Steak House Hama. Honestly, the environment is really nice and it's always fun to watch a chef at work but the food left a lot to be desired. Beyond the fact that cheese draped on lobster is like a cardinal sin, I just didn't feel like there was anything really japanese or chinese about the seasonings and I think we could have had much better meals just walking in the street markets.
Whew, that was a ton of food and I have a bunch of japan entries to work on now so I hope this was a decent roundup of my eating adventures in Taiwan :)