Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Asian bakeries ftw

This isn't so much a post as it is a thought that I had, which happened to coincide with a picture that I happened to take. American bakeries do their cupcakes and cookies, and variations upon them. Hungarian bakeries (as far as I know) make really overpriced danishes and apple strudels (I'm looking at you Hungarian Pastry shop... grr... $4.50 for 3 bites of an apple strudel). Maybe it's a matter of taste, but for some reason Asian bakeries do the weirdest combination of toppings available, baked into the strangest forms possible, and people still go to buy them. The picture is actually of pineapple buns baked directly into chocolate filled ice cream cones (which were delicious btw). These aren't even that adventurous compared to the dizzying array of hotdogs, Kewpie mayo, egg, scallion, tuna, pork floss etc. buns that you'll find at every bakery. Looking back, I'm not sure why I chose that to take a picture of, but meh... I felt obligated to post it, since at one time I felt it was worth snapping a photo of. Anyhoo, tl;dr... Asian bakers do weird stuff, I still love it.

Posting update... almost done with the Taiwan posts (aren't you sad?), and will make a few posts about NYC before I return to food heaven the motherland.

Additional rant... apparently I'm not allowed to do 'less than 3' for a heart symbol because of 'broken tags.' Wow blogger, fail.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Yoshinoya, a Japanese take on fast food

I think fast food in America needs a kick in the pants. As much as I love McNuggets and Whoppers, the lack of variety kind of gets boring after a while. Enter something like... Yoshinoya. Basically, what you get is a Japanese 'donburi' meal. Given the choice of beef bowls, pork bowls, chicken bowls, or occasionally signature Chinese dishes like 東坡肉 (basically pork belly slow braised in soy sauce), you're given an East Asian meal at the convenience of a fast food joint. What's not to love? Plus, clocking in at under 100 NT ($3) for even the most expensive of meals leaves my stomach full and my wallet happy. Compare this to McDonald's here, which charges me $8 for a burger meal... leaving me a super sad panda. Anyway, I went with the 'gyu-don' or beef bowl since that's supposedly their 'signature dish' matched with a side dish of snow peas, and green tea. The food is... meh, nothing to write about (ironic that I am writing about it), but not bad. Definitely worth the money, plus... the novelty of getting questionably authentic Japanese food in a commercialized place like this still hasn't worn off. Would I recommend someone go find a Yoshinoya in Taiwan? Probably not. I mean, it's not very difficult to stumble upon one of their buttload of locations, but if you're hungry and don't know what you want to eat... why not?

side note: Apparently there's a location in midtown that serves the food out of styrafoam containers. That totally ruins the illusion of authenticity for me. Why do you have to destroy something I hold so dear to my heart NYC? *cries*

Monday, March 29, 2010

Formosa Chang... (鬍鬚張魯肉飯)

When I was a little kid, I used to refuse dinner all the time, not because what my mom had made was terrible or anything, I just preferred eating rice with soy sauce and sugar. Yes, that sounds really stupid, but it actually tastes incredible (I still do that sometimes ha). The next logical progression in this soy sauce rice thing... is to add meat to the equation. So as I got older and learned how to not burn my hand on the stove, I'd make myself rice with soy sauce and ground pork. What's the point of this story? Mostly that I love rice and soy sauce pork. Which leads me to... Formosa Chang's restaurant, known in Taiwan as 鬍鬚張 (Hu Xu Zhang). Now the Taiwanese take their minced pork rice, called 魯肉飯 (lu rou fan) very seriously. So serious that they hold national contests to determine the top bowls of this stuff every year, sort of like the beef noodle thing, but less glorified. This place, which is actually a fast food chain (~weird, I know) took 1st place honors in 2008 if I remember correctly. I figured I should at least try it once. Plus the guy on the main logo looks like Leonidas from '300.' Baller as hell.

So first of all, for 55 NT ($1.60 or thereabouts) you get a meal set. That covers a 'large' minced pork rice, with a side dish of greens. From the picture (sorry it sucks, they have crappy lighting), you get a bowl of rice with pickled ginger, a soy sauce egg, and a side of greens, tofu, and cucumbers. First off, that's insanely expensive. I might sound like a miser, but in most places, a bowl of minced pork rice is like... 25 NT, hell I've even seen 15 NT in the boondocks. Basically, they're charging you for Leonidas' endorsement. Second... it's not even that good. I mean, I enjoyed eating it, don't get me wrong, but after the fact I realized that I was still hungry given the serving size, and I also found myself wishing that I had spent the money elsewhere. Sigh, anyway. I'm not going to tell you to not go here, but I certainly won't be going back.

On a related tangent, it's obvious people in NYC love this stuff as much as I do (the pork sauce on rice) since the 'NYC Cravings Truck' has made a killing off their 'secret pork sauce.' Listen. I know how to make that sauce in bulk. If anyone wants to join me in a business venture where we undercut their business... let me know haha.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

I'm still a tourist... (士林夜市) Shi Lin Night Market

I put this post off for a long time. It's partially because I know I can't really do it justice, and partially because, well, there's just so many freakin' pictures to upload that I didn't want to write a super long post. In any case, I'll try my best haha. Anyhoo, no matter what, when I'm in Taiwan, I'm still a tourist. As such, I go to touristy spots like night markets, I get glares when I talk, and I'm pretty sure they're judging me for taking pictures. Yes it's true that I have black hair (temporarily orange) and squinty eyes. I look Chinese. I speak Chinese. It's still blatantly obvious that I'm not native though. People can tell with a quick glance, and when I open my mouth, my somewhat subtle Beijing accent affirms their suspicions. Anyway, my point is, I don't really fit in. So when I had the opportunity I made sure to hit up all of the most popular food spots at 士林 with no regards for my dignity. Starting with... shaved ice. (edit: wow, in rereading what I wrote in that blurb, I realize how incoherent my thoughts are. I mention a bunch of things that are completely unrelated and attempt futilely to explain them. Whatever, it's my blog, and they made sense in my head. Sorry.)

At a place called 仙人掌 (Xian Ren Zhang) or in English... 'Cactus,' I started my days meal. Apparently this shaved ice parlor has been around since the 50's, it was also a place my mom used to frequent back in college, so yeah... it's old as crap (she would kill me if she knew I wrote that, good thing she doesn't actually read the text on my posts). Anyway, they have all the traditional flavors you'd expect... the red bean, mango, strawberry, pineapple, oatmeal, but I chose to go with the sesame flavored shaved ice. Shred as 雪花冰 or 'snowy ice,' it has the consistency of overly airy ice cream, with really fine shards indistinguishable from bite to bite. The sesame flavor was a nice change from the heavy sweet syrups normally associated with shaved ice. Think, tahini ice cream. It was definitely worth the price... regardless of how much it was. Come on, it couldn't be more than $3 at worst. I'd make a trip out of my way to try it, although I doubt I can find the place again without getting lost. Fail.

After going the reverse meal route with dinner first, I headed over to the main food center, which is basically a giant conglomerate of food shacks under a covered roof. This was where I ran into the 大腸包小長 (Da Chang Bao Xiang Chang) translated as 'big sausage holding little sausage' stand. Sorry for the stupid translation. It's just a hot dog. With sticky rice as the bun. I don't know why they can't just call it a rice hot dog.

In any case, for 50 NT ($1.50) you get a fairly decent sized Chinese sweet sausage, roughly 8", roasted over an open flame, and marinated in a variety of flavors (black pepper, vodka, original, spicy, mustard, and garlic), which is sandwiched into a bun made of sticky rice grilled into a compact neat package. They put some other condiments underneath, which I presume was cabbage and the sauce from the picture, and there ya go. Delicious in a bag. I don't think there was anything extraordinary about the stand in the photograph, but you should do yourself a favor and try it for the innovative nature of the synergy between sausage and rice.

I also got a giant piece of chicken. For 50 NT ($1.50... I swear they standardize prices to reduce competition between stands), you get a giant flattened piece of chicken that gets fried in breadcrumbs, and spiced (if you want it) enough to make you hate your tongue. It used to be bigger... I think. Maybe it was because when I first got it, I was like... 14, but maybe they downsized. It's still about the size of your face, and when you consider that 85% is edible, the remainder is bone, that's still a really good deal. I was tempted to go buy pineapple buns at a bakery and sandwich this sucker inside, but my wallet told me not to.

I went back to the shaved ice shop to take a break. This time I got an ume shaved ice. Basically Japanese plum plopped onto shaved ice. I was expecting something kind of maroon, but instead I was greeted with what appeared to be feces on ice. I wasn't too excited to eat it, and when I did, I was sorely disappointed. Overly tart, and oddly crunchy ice completely ruined it. The fact that it looked terrible just sealed the deal. Biggest waste of 40 NT ($1.10) ever.

Final stop on the day was a Thai place that was panda obsessed. To be completely honest, I only went in because they were pimping the panda posters so hard. I love pandas. Be honest, you do too. If anyone hates pandas, stop reading this blog right now. This is a panda loving zone and you're not welcome here. Anyway, I wasn't terribly hungry so I only got some of their more unique items off the menu.

Awww yeah, stinky tofu. I get this all the time, but I was curious as to how the Thai rendition of it would taste. Honestly? No real difference. The pickled cabbage was sweeter than what I expect from a stand, and it wasn't spicy at all, but the tofu was predictably awesome. The skin was sufficiently crispy and still pocked with oil pockets, the inside was spongy and soaked up the sauce like a boss (ha that rhymes), but most importantly, the smell was pungent and insulting from the first whiff. Excellent. This was 45 NT ($1.50) well spent.

Now what's this fried hockey puck of golden deliciousness? I swear to god, I didn't purposely frame the shape with the outline of 'delicious foods.' It kind of just happened.

It's fried ice cream! You're given the choice of ice cream flavors including the traditional vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, as well as the flavors you'd expect in Taipei... those being red bean, taro, and almond. I chose taro, which would explain the slight tint of purple. I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. They brought it out in a paper bag, which still managed to burn me. I was worried that by the time I had taken my picture and started to eat it, that I'd be left with a draining pool of taro cream. Actually... forget I said that, that sounds delicious. I'm not sure how they did it, but the ice cream was solid... yet yielding, the skin was crispy and piping hot. In some sort of engineering miracle, these... panda workers managed to defy heat transfer. On a completely unrelated side note, my sophomore year materials and energy balance professor said that chemE's invented the McMuffin. I laughed at her at the time... a lot... but I kind of see what she meant now. Anyhoo, methinks maybe some form of secondary starch might've been used to stabilize the ice cream, not unlike gelatin (although that would melt at near room temperature). I give up, my head hurts.

BONUS PICTURE. Panda. Yum. Restaurant. OG kickin' it since 2007. Full disclosure though, the food there really isn't that good. If they didn't have the appeal of a panda, I doubt anyone would walk inside. There were a lot of flies.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

饒河夜市 (Rao He Night Market) yet again

I've written about 饒 河夜市 (Rao He Night Market) before, but I promise this post'll be way heavier on the pics and content. In any case, I remember walking down the stretch of road the first time thinking that I'd definitely come back. There was way too many stands of differing street foods that I wanted to try, not to mention the fact that my wallet only had about 300 NT the first time. Sadness. Anyway, on a return trip, if I recall correctly, after work from Academia Sinica, I made sure to get my fill of the precious delicious. Oh, I also made sure my wallet was semi-filled before leaving for work that day, I'm fairly sure of that given the amount of food I ate. Naturally, I did the whole dessert before dinner thing, at the cart you see in the upper left. Nothing special about it, but it was the first shaved ice place I came across, and the mango ice was crazy cheap at 60 NT ($2). Considering they're normally well over 100 NT, I was tempted to get 2, but I listened to my brain over my stomach. I figured I should leave room for other things since, let's be honest, water takes up a lot of room!

There's the dish in all its glory. Like I said, nothing really special, just mango ice in its regular incarnation. OH WAIT, it was kinda different in that it had almond flavored jellies! The little white cubes you see interspersed throughout the dish were a nice textural contrast to the soft chewy mango chunks, as well as a refreshing palate cleanser in between bites of insanely sweet mango syrup. I think the red things were strawberry flavored jellies, but there were so few of them that I swear they fell in accidentally. Oh wells, 60 NT well worth it.

I happened to come upon a place called 齒牛香牛肉麵 (Chi Niu Xiang Niu Rou Mian) loosely translated as... um, I'm not going to try and embarrass myself with my poor Chinese skills right now, but my mom remarked that the name was a pun of sorts and was really clever. If one of my readers wants to help me out here, that'd be most appreciated! Supposedly it's pretty famous, so I thought I'd at least try it out.

I got lazy over the Summer, and I realized (way too late) that there was no way that I'd remember prices for everything I ate, so I actually got into the habit of photographing the menu. Makes it easier to figure out what they have too. In any case, 120 NT ($4) for a bowl of half tendon half beef noodle soup. Not overly cheap, but they are famous, so you're paying for a bit of that.

I have to admit, their reputation is well deserved. The meat is indeed half and half, stewed to fall apart tender. Their knife cut noodles have an uncanny evenness to both thickness and texture. I'm not entirely sure how they did it, or if it's a good thing (since I very much enjoy the nonuniform profile of homemade noodles), but they didn't really detract from the rest of the bowl, so I guess they were... okay. The broth though, was something heavenly. Although I won't put it as my favorite in Taipei, it has a certain rich quality to the beefiness. It's one of those shops which you can smell from halfway down the street, undeniably identifiable as beef noodles. The soup was a bit oily for my tastes, ~weird... I know, but it was still a significant positive in my book. Overall, it's definitely a memorable dish that I'd go out of my way to have again.

Also got a bowl of beef dumpling soup. Same story as the beef noodle soup, excellent broth, but a less than great dumpling. When I say that, I mean they're definitely good pork and cabbage dumplings, but I wouldn't say they're standout. They do nothing to make you hate the remainder of the dish, but they don't add much. Meh, cheaper than the beef noodles at 70 NT (slightly over $2) so definitely a good value.

I'm not 100% sure why, since no one else got them, but the waitress brought us 8 free dumplings. At first I thought they were brought to the wrong table (when my Spidey sense conscience took over), so I told them. She said they were free, and who was I to argue. I'm pretty sure it was because I was talking in English on the phone. Somewhat of a side note, if you're in Taiwan and you look Asian, speak in English. They love that crap for some reason.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Red bean love

I like posting in chronological order, what can I say. This bowl of shaved ice came from a shop located in 師大夜市 (Shi Da Night Market) called 三兄弟豆花, which translates to 3 brothers almond tofu. First off, I want to point out how absurd Taiwanese/Chinese people are in their translations. Did you know that 師大 is actually called Taiwan Normal University in English? I'm not sure what genius thought that up, but it's straight stupid. It doesn't really make sense, but it certainly is funny to me. Now, back to the shaved ice. Instead of a traditional 紅豆牛奶冰 (red bean milk shaved ice), this one was actually a 雪花冰 (snow flake ice?). I might've hit on this in a previous post, but let me rehash the idea... you take heavy cream and sugar and mix it into an ice mixture before shredding it extra fine. The result is a semisweet ice base that tastes sort of like vanilla ice cream. When you combine this with the standard red bean syrup mixture, and also more condensed milk, you end up with a shaved ice dish that retains a more consistent sweetness. The texture is an added bonus, with an instantaneous melting on the tongue. No crunching through unevenly shredded ice, good for the lazy (i.e. me). That's all for tonight, I'm kind of pooped after the ordeal that is Ben & Jerry's free cone day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More katsu goodness at 大喜屋 (Da Xi Wu)

I'm pretty sure I have a quiz in a few hours, in the riveting subject of molecular phenomena. I suppose I could be spending my time looking over class notes and past homework assignments to learn the intricacies of statistical mechanics, but... why would I do that when I have so many blog posts left unfinished, sigh, priorities... I have none. Anyway, in progressing (more or less chronologically) to my next meal, I went to a place called 大喜屋 or roughly translated as 'Big Fortune House,' stupid, I know. What wasn't stupid though was how thoroughly incredible the food turned out to be. A little background on the restaurant, it's located in the alleyway that encompasses the open air section of 光華市場 (Guang Hua Marketplace), basically at the far end of the first street that sells electronics if you turn off 新生 (Xin Sheng). Okay, so I'm pretty terrible at directions, but I would guess most people in Taipei could find it. Anyway, it's a small store that clearly caters to students (gauging off the price), that sells katsu and ramen. Crazy right? 2 of my favorite things, super cheap... how convenient. Onto the food eh?

I'm going to preface this with a disclaimer, I don't remember the prices. I know it was really cheap since I never actually carry more than 200 NT ($6) on me at any given time, unless I'm planning on buying something. If that can order 2 full meals, then it had to have been cheap. First up was the katsu, which was pretty decent actually. I won't lie to you and tell you it was the most incredible meal I've ever had, but they take pork and fry the bejeezus out of it into something oily and delicious, pair it with rice (with special pork sauce to boot!), and give you choice of 2 vegetable sides. All for well under 100 NT. No complaints here.

Uh, I don't remember much about the ramen aside from thinking that the broth was really thick. I have no recollection of how the pork tasted, or how the noodles texture played into the equation, I just know that I didn't mind eating a bowl of hot soup noodles on a day that was probably well into the 30's... I mean degrees Celsius. Again, for well under $3, who could complain? In any case, the food at this 'house of luck' isn't overwhelming. It's just relatively simple food offered at an incredible price. Would I make a trip out of it? Probably not, but I did go back a few times when I went computer gawking.


Monday, March 22, 2010

McChicken in Taipei (where 2 is better than 1)

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure this is even still offered, since at the time it was a promotional thing (not unlike the 4 layer Big Mac they had), but at least for a short period of time, this product was part of the menu at McDonald's in Taiwan. What I'm referring to is actually a double McChicken sandwich. What now resides on the dollar menu at most McDonalds (wtf NYC... you can't just not have a dollar menu) is offered in a revitalized form... 100% more chicken, and only 50% more bun. Crazies. In any case, as impressed as I was that Chinese people had somehow managed to stick 4 slices of 'beef' in a burger while still turning a profit, I was even more impressed that they managed to make me care about as much as I did about a chicken cutlet inside a hamburger roll. Now don't get me wrong, I love everything about the McChicken in its current form. It's $1, it's fried, and I can get it 24/7, but it's also woefully undersized, usually soggy and not crispy, and it's boring. Yeah, yeah, I know what you're saying 'why would 2 pieces of soggy chicken be any better than 1?' Here's where the sandwich gets interesting.

First off, in Asia, they somehow manage to not screw up the basic sandwich. The bun is toasted (remarkably!) and it isn't the soggy piece of loaf that I've grown accustomed to loving in the US. Secondly, their lettuce is apportioned properly so that I'm not eating massive amounts of green without fried breading, third... the chicken is better. Let me explain that third point a little more clearly. The name of the sandwich is actually 無敵雙辣雞腿堡 or the invincible dual spicy chicken sandwich. Their chicken, appropriately so, comes out with a blend of spices that makes the breading super spicy. Furthermore, because the skin is adequately crispy and oily, fat kids like me are smiling from ear to ear. In summary? Better/more chicken, less soggy bread, and obesity gets spread in Asia. Oh, the best part... the value meal was 159 NT (I think that's right around $5).

edit: if someone from Taiwan tells me it's no longer available, I'm gonna be heartbroken/lose it


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Another bubble tea post (陳三鼎)

This'll be a short post. My head is killing me (from eating too many cookies...) and I was debating whether or not to bother posting tonight, but my inability to sleep convinced me to do something aside from watching random videos on Youtube. Anyhoo, I'm gonna be a hypocrite and completely go against something I said the other day about blogging about bubble tea. It's true that if I wanted to write about every cheap tea spot in Taiwan, this blog would be way more stupid. This spot is different though, since they are the only place to offer (as far as I know) bubble tea with bubbles made from hot brown sugar. Located across from 台大 (NTU) in what I guess is called 公館夜市 (Gong Guan Night Market) is a small corner stand called 陳三鼎 or Chen... uh 3 top? I don't actually know what their name is supposed to mean, I'm guessing some guy with the last name Chen invented this and started a shop. Whatever the name isn't important, only the tea is. Onto the drink!

For 30 NT (slightly less than $1) you get a ladle of pearls made out of a mix of tapioca and brown sugar that sits in a pot of melted sugar. Directly over the hot pearls, a generous serving of cold milk is poured to the brim. I don't think I ever mentioned this before, but Taiwanese milk is different. It just... tastes richer. I can't explain it, but it tastes like you're drinking cream. This is no different. In any case, once the top is vacuum sealed you end up with a cup of milky white pearls like seen above. Once you shake and turn the cup to your hearts content, you end up with what, in my eyes, is the greatest cup of bubble tea milk you can find in Taipei. There, I said it.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Holy octopus burger Batman! It's Mos Burger...

I normally don't seek out fast food when I'm in Asia. With the abundance of really cheap local establishments it seems both stupid and trivial. Year after year I make it a point to visit Mos Burger though... and that reason is pictured to the left. For readers who are less than fluent with reading in Chinese allow me to translate "holy crap this is delicious" in a bun. In all seriousness, the poster actually illustrates one of my favorite non-conventional burgers from... well, anywhere. Enough with the suspense... it's an octopus burger! What they do is take octopus, dice it up into small chunks, then form up a patty using fish paste (not too unlike octopus balls really). Once the patty gets breaded and fried, it comes out with a similar appearance to a Filet'o'Fish sandwich, or a McChicken. It's then topped with a slight bit of shredded lettuce, and capped with a thick layer of their 'special sauce.' Trust me, the sauce absolutely makes it. Yes the octopus burger has a refreshingly new taste that's reminiscent of seafood, yet not fishy, but without the sauce, the burger is absolutely nothing. Methinks the sauce is heavy on Kewpie mayo, and that's probably why I love it. I can only describe it as a simultaneous blend of sweet and tart, with an overwhelmingly creamy texture unmatched by the dressings commonly found in the US.

Here's a picture of the actual burger itself. To be honest, at 59 NT (slightly under $2), this burger isn't cheap at all. In fact, given its diminutive stature, it can even be considered expensive by Taiwan standards. I will however stand by the fact that I will pay this hefty premium for 2 reasons. First off, Mos Burger does a pimp job at presentation, even if you order 100 NT worth of food, they will hand deliver it to your table, and it will come in baskets. Secondly, this burger is the sex. Fact.

Can I consider this an 'upskirt' shot of the innards, or does that only work with pizza? In any case, if you didn't want to take my word for it, there is visual confirmation of the octopus tentacles. Many of them. Sorry for the poor lighting, I went at night, and for some reason, this location liked to dim the lights, maybe to set the mood. Whatever, octopus in mouth = me not caring about the lighting situation.

Bonus burger! On a completely separate occasion, that I chose to condense into this post for the sake of organization, I got their teriyaki beef burger. This is one of their more 'traditional' burgers that gets offered year round. Basically, you have 2 patties formed of compressed rice that gets cooked on a griddle for integrity, sandwiching whole leaf lettuce (the superior lettuce for burgers imho), which then sandwiches a hearty serving of thinly sliced beef that has been marinated and stir fried in teriyaki sauce. Also pure deliciousness. Not as special as the forbidden fruit that's known octopus burger.

note: the full name of the octopus burger is actually 雙醬章魚堡 or dual sauce octopus burger* (this would explain why the sauce is pure ecstasy)


Friday, March 19, 2010

Half-price Katsuhama! (京都 Jing Dou)

Sorry for the deceptive title. No it's not some sort of promotion that they're running, but rather a clone I found in Taipei. Somewhere near the Taipei Main Train Station, there exists a couple streets that are filled with tutoring centers (you know how Asian parents do... they force their kids to take more classes outside of school). Luckily, business owners have also come to realize that an unhappy student is also a hungry student. These particular streets are also chock full of restaurants from Indian curry buffets to the Japanese katsu houses. Like I said, last Summer (yes I'm still posting about that saga), I was on a curry-katsu bender. Regardless of what else was in the area, I would defer to the crispy ecstasy that was fried pork. Just my luck, I happened upon this restaurant 京都, which was featuring a 150 NT ($4.50) dinner special.

First thing, the presentation was excellent. The inside of the shop was much nicer than most of the cheap student options found littered throughout Taipei. The tables didn't wobble (~strange), the seats were comfortable, and it looked... how can I put this? hygienic. Plus, check out the cool instructions they have for making your own sauce! They give you a bowl with sesames and assorted other spices and seeds which you're supposed to grind and add tonkatsu sauce too. I'm normally lazy, and would prefer my sauce prepared in advance, but the novelty was there.

Oh god, for $4.50 I get more food than I would at Katsuhama! Just a quick rundown of what you get, on the right is the sesame bowl for mixing the sauce, as well as pickled vegetables (mainly there for you to cleanse your palate). On the left was the miso soup, which was surprisingly rich and thick, as well as the rice. A note on the rice, it's covered in sesame seeds and also something called 牛旁 (Niu Pang) in Chinese, which are burdock that's been cut into thin strips, cooked, and cooled. The joke is, that in the raw uncooked and uncut form, they form long rods that are similar to a cow's member... hence the Chinese name. They taste okay I guess. I have no particular love for them. In the center is the golden beautiful katsu, with perfectly crispy skin, deliciously moist and tender meat that pulls apart simply with chopsticks. Seriously incredible. In the back, a couple fried yams, shredded cabbage, and a lemon... no clue what that was there for.

I know I'm not really being helpful since I can't identify the exact street, but if you, by some miracle, find this joint, do yourself a favor and eat there. Serious noms to be had (keep in mind I was willing to spend a bit more than my 100 NT limit to go here haha).


Yesssss it's 7-11... again

I know what you're thinking, 'oh no this idiot is posting about 7-11 again.' Yes. That's true. I am an idiot, and I am posting about 7-11 again. While those are both valid points, I feel like I have to share the wonder that is 7-11 in Asia to the rest of the world (as I have in my series of posts prior to this one). In another installment in what might be the stupidest thing I could possibly blog about, I'll explain how 7-11 has bastardized the incredibly spicy concoction that is 麻婆豆腐 (Ma Po Tofu) into something deliciously commercial, and brought me joy in the form of a rice balls and 2 layer sandwiches. Up first is the beauty you see to the left. While you might remark that it's 'just a plain sandwich,' you'd be overlooking the fact that that sandwich cost me all of 19 NT (slightly more than 50 cents). Consider the fact a plain ham sandwich at any deli in NYC would cost upwards of $4, that seems absurdly incredible. Grab 8 of these and you have enough food for an entire day... maybe not if you're a fatty like myself, but you get the point. It's cheap... fact. There are a few varieties, but I chose the chicken cutlet ham combo. Sandwiched between delightfully fluffy white bread, that carries with it the familiar buttery taste of Asian bread, is a semi-crisp chicken cutlet, melted American cheese, lettuce, tomato, ham, and... oh lord, Kewpie mayo. Surprisingly good, not just for the price, I ate countless numbers of these when I worked at Academia Sinica over the Summer.

Did I ever mention that 7-11 does a crazy good job at preserving rice balls? Again, ranging in price from 17 to 19 NT (just around 50 cents), there's fillings of tuna, pork floss, egg, and a couple others that I can't remember.

Beautiful innards of the rice ball itself. Miraculously, the rice is still semi-moist, the pork floss nice and dry, and the nori crispy. I don't know how it works, but it does. You would think that sitting in a fridge all day would render these puppies tasteless and stale, but you'd be wrong. For 50 cents, paired with a drink, these make for a pretty fair breakfast. Starbucks... take note, I would prefer rice balls over scones any day.

Now... onto the bento version of Ma Po Tofu. In another of their bento offerings, you get a box of compartmentalized tofu in chili oil and a section of rice. When you buy it, they microwave the sauce and ladle it onto the other side for you. At the same 59 NT price (roughtly $2) for this and a drink, that's not all that bad. As far as the taste, it wasn't all that bad. I mean, it's pretty hard to mess up Ma Po Tofu. Add tofu and meat, apply chili oil liberally to taste (until you can't taste anything). For something that you find in a fridge at a convenience store, I was pleasantly surprised. Now don't get me wrong, this will never be my go to option for food, but hey, for $2 can you do much better? Hmpf... didn't think so.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

BOBA knows no bounds in creativity

Another gripe I have with NYC and the US in general. How does it cost you $5 to mix milk with tea and scoop in tapioca bubbles from a giant vat? No, that's a serious question. Is it to cover costs? That's impossible, the components are all super cheap. Labor? Not there either... ~ugh, but that's not why I'm making this post. This isn't specific to 1 specific tea stand (because let's be honest, that'd just be stupid), but rather the creativity that's found in bubble tea in Taiwan vs. in the United States. First off, the tea that I photographed was 30 NT (read, less than $1). The only reason I ordered it was because of the name... 三國戀 (San Guo Lian) or... Romance of the Three Kingdoms. That seems stupid until you realize how appropriate the name actually is. It's a plain rose tea mixed with cream (because that's what they mean by milk unless you request otherwise) with... tapioca pearls of varying size, 仙草 (Xian Cao), and 愛玉 (Ai Yu). I realize that might have you scratching your head, but it's hard to explain. Xian Cao is actually a medicinal herb that Chinese people, especially native Hakkanese people of Taiwan, make into a jellylike dessert. Similarly, Ai Yu is basically lemon flavored jelly. When you mix the 3 things into bubble tea, it makes for a deliciously flavored drink that has hints of lemon, while simultaneously offering 3 different textures. Again, this is nothing overly special in Taiwan, but for some reason, the concept of innovating milk tea hasn't hopped the pond yet.

I should note that there's actually another variant called 三兄妹 (San Xiong Mei) or 3 sisters, that offers rice noodles instead of the lemon jelly. I know it sounds gross, but trust me it works.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

As promised, continuation of 淡水 (part 2)

They're pretty aren't they? For those who are unaware of what that row of gorgeous apple looking skewers are, they're called 冰糖葫蘆 (bing tang hu lu) which Wikipedia explains as candied fruits. Basically you take these things called mountain hawthorns and dip 'em in maltose sugar. End result, sugary goodness on the go. They're traditionally winter candies and are incredible when still kind of warm. I didn't get any on this trip, I just thought the image was a nice one to keep. Unfortunately, as much as I love eating them, I had priorities, and I had to reserve stomach space for less healthy items. No matter what you coat them in, fruits are still fruits are still fruits. Sigh... another time I guess. According to the sign, the shop that was selling them was the first in Dan Shui. Sure. I believe you, along with the other 4 shops that said the same thing (they must've all opened simultaneously, it's crazy).

Following that, I came across a street cart (seriously NYC, step it up) that specialized in something called 珍珠包 (pearl bao). They're basically crossed between soup dumplings and fried dumplings. Now I know what you're thinking, isn't that just a 水煎包? Yeah, something to that effect. Except these are freakin' bite sized. They're deceptive in the sense that they make you wanna pop them 1 by 1 into your mouth, but they hold the same amount of soup to meat ratio as a soup dumpling. End result, burnt tastebuds. For that slight moment before you lose all sensation though. Pure, unadulterated, oily ecstasy. Highly recommended... especially when you consider they're 12 for 50 NT ($1.50). Suck on that Joe Shanghai.

Oh noes! It's child labor at its finest! Honestly, it's fine in my opinion. If you can teach a kid to work hard nowadays, I don't care how you do it. Kids are freakin' lazy, myself included. Don't think about it as abuse, think about it as character building. The same kind you get at private elementary schools, but at 1/4 the cost. What are his comically small hands making you ask?

THIS THING. I don't remember what the name is, and I'm too lazy to consult someone more Taiwanese than myself at the time. All I know is that it's a delicious blend of egg and flour batter engulfing mass of chives and oysters. It's kind of like a self contained oyster pancake that gets fried. Basically if you like fried things, and you like oyster pancakes... you'll love... whatever this is. You know what? I bet you it wouldn't taste half as good if an adult made it. So there. I advocate the use of children to make me delicious things.

Oh crap, it's more stuff on skewers. First up was some of those awesome octopus balls. No better, no worse than the other place. I just assume it was fresher because I was next to a wharf at the time. Honestly, I realized, it doesn't matter who makes these things anymore. I love them (I seriously contemplated starting a food truck to sell Taiwanese street food, if anyone wants to join me, and is rich... let's talk). I finished off my day at Dan Shui with 1 of my forever true loves. Ever since I was a kid, I remember loving having Taiwanese sausages with rice. Continuously, I could eat bowls of white rice as long as there was a plate of semi-sweet sausage available. Nothing has changed. My love for these carcinogenic sticks of pork fat hasn't diminished, not one bit. This particular sausage was no exception. With that, I think it's a pretty good ending to a long winded blog post no?


Saturday, March 13, 2010

It's the Godzilla of ice cream cones!

I don't actually like posting pictures of myself on my blog, I think it detracts from the food in some way, but someone *wink* asked for a picture of the monstrosity of an ice cream cone that I got at 淡水 (Dan Shui) on one of my trips there. You'll have to ignore the goofy bald kid in the rowing shirt... he's just there to act as a scale. Anyhoo, apparently these things originate from 逢甲夜市 (Feng Jia Night Market), but when I got one there... all I got was a monstrosity of fail. Number 1, it was 25 NT... number 2, it barely topped 10". Well, I gave a different shop a chance since it was only 15 NT (less than 50 cents) and they certainly made good. From tip of peak to top of cone, this beauty measured in at just around 18". To boot, they had way more varieties, including mango, green tea, red bean, and taro, and every combination swirl of those in addition to the plain chocolate and vanilla. I personally went with green tea and taro, which would explain the green and purple swirl.

On an unrelated note, I don't know if I've been a really good student, or a really poor blogger. I've neglected posting for senior projects. Look forward to new posts now that I'm on Spring break and have nothing better to do! In other news, I'll have the great (dis?)pleasure of announcing which graduate school I plan to attend in a few weeks. Maybe I'll make it a poll option and let my readers choose my fate haha. Have I mentioned I make poor life choices?