Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Grilled lamb from 聖陶沙 (Sheng Tao Sha)

考羊肉 (Grilled lamb from 聖陶沙)

You know what's the best? When your food comes to you on a sizzling hot plate built around a giant bamboo basket. If I could, I would request that every one of my meals came this way. So I was undeniably overjoyed when I found a restaurant that did just that, in the basement food court of 遠東百貨 (Far Eastern Department Store). Whilst I had seen this before in various places, I've never had the opportunity to actually try it. Mostly because the people around me would always say that they didn't want to look like idiots with giant wooden bowls in front of them. Well guess what, I relish the opportunity to look like a clown with my food, so I decided to force my grandmother into eating a behemoth of a meal as well. She was reluctant, but I insisted, since I wanted to take pictures of multiple things. Ha, that'll teach you to make me run errands with you grandma.

I got the grilled lamb as the first dish, which is just sliced lamb, grilled in soy sauce broth, speckled with sesame seeds, and served with bean sprouts. The entree is placed in the center of the giant wooden burning plate contraption, with sides of tofu, seaweed, cauliflower, and a fried egg. Accompanying the plate of sizzling meat is rice... served to you in a cup. Yes, that is indeed as wonderful as it sounds. I would really like to meet the person who went "man, I bet it'd be splendid if we put rice... into cups!" As cool as the concept is, if you think about it, it's rather dumb. Given the height to base ratio of the cup, you'll soon find getting the rice at the base of the cup becomes rather difficult. Oh well, the price you pay for creativity. In any case, it was definitely okay for the price (I think 115 NT or just under $4). It wasn't mind blowing, but it's worth checking out for the novelty factor.

炸豬排 (Pork cutlet from 聖陶沙)

I also got a pork cutlet version for 110 NT, because I can't resist ordering fried pork. Ever. Anyway, it's the same thing as the grilled lamb (probably to speed up the ordering/cooking process), with the same exact sides. The pork cutlet is made from a cheaper cut of meat, so it's a bit tougher, with tendons present, but the same description applies here... good for the price. Cool bucket thing. Plus, have I mentioned your rice comes in a cup?


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Taiwanese 豬血糕 (Pig's blood cake)

豬血糕 (Pig's blood cake)

豬血糕, loosely translated as pig's blood cake, isn't really a food that many in Taiwan actually think that much of. It's a throwback to yesteryear (as proof of that, my parents talk about it as a food they loved to eat in their childhood... and they're old as sin). As such, because it doesn't really get much love amongst Asian kids, and because a lot of foreigners find it 'strange,' less and less vendors are selling it, even at night markets. This makes me really sad. Before I go on a tirade about how everyone should rally to their local 豬血糕 stand and support the vendor, I should at least explain what's so special about the Taiwanese variant, and why it's worth trying.

Pig's blood cake in the box

The owner of the cart insisted I photograph the inside of the wooden steamer as well. I didn't really want to, but he gave me a death stare that I found hard to refuse.

So what is this black crap on a stick, and why should you care? Taiwanese blood pudding is different from that served in Europe, fundamentally it's closer to what the Koreans call soondae. Pig's blood is boiled with sticky rice (short grain please), until it forms a matrix with the consistency of an eraser. You know which ones I'm talking about, the flexy ones that would break if you kept bending them too much. Anyway, once a giant block of it has been cooked, it's then sliced into ice cream bar sized chunks and stabbed with wooden skewers. They remain housed in a giant steamer box until some one comes and buys one, see above.

Bathed in peanut flour and cilantro

The final preparation step (and the reason why these are supremely sublime) ends with the condiments that finish the order. The pudding pop is pulled from the box and dipped inside a sauce that is the lovechild between tonkatsu sauce and pork soy broth, then rolled around in a bath of peanut flour, and finally topped with a sprinkling of cilantro, and a dabble of hot sauce (should you choose). End result is a flavor combination foreign to most Western mouths, that is probably similar to ecstasy (or so I imagine). The rice provides a textural interface that is consistent throughout, it's chewy, but it also maintains individual grains at the same time. The sauce is savory, and the feeling of pork fat from the broth is guilt inducing. The peanut flour renders a sweet complexity that only amplifies the taste of the broth, whilst the cilantro allows the mouth to take a flavor break with every bite.

I also realize that they put this stuff in soups, hot pot, and also fry it... but, the traditional kind truly is a hidden gem. I could go on about this, I really could, but I think I'll end this here. Is this gourmet dining? HA, of course not. It is something that I feel is worthy of mention though. So yeah, go support your local 豬血糕 vendor!


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Potstickers from 八方雲集 (8 Upway)

鍋貼 (Potstickers 八方雲集)

If you think this looks familiar, it's probably because I wrote about 'Overseas Dragon' last year. 八方雲集 is a similar chain (akin to BK vs. McDonald's in the potsticker world). In any case, I did a pretty crappy job explaining Taiwanese potstickers last year, so I'll try to remedy that with this post.

Most people in NYC have had fried dumplings from Vanessa's, Prosperity, Northern Dumpling, or any of a number of the 5/$1 joints. They are, simply put, just wontons that get pan fried. Nothing more, nothing less. That isn't to say they aren't delicious, but that's not what I think of when I see the words '鍋貼' on a menu. Nope, the Taiwanese potsticker is an elongated wrapper that houses a thin strip of filling, most commonly pork with cabbage, but other varieties do exist (curry, kimchi, shrimp/pork, crab/pork are the others I've seen), that gets pinched in the middle, but not at the ends. They're basically like mini burritos that are open at the ends. Unlike traditional wontons which get boiled first, these go straight into a covered wok with a slight amount of water and a fair bit of oil, coming out with charring only on the flat bottom side. As a result, you end up with a string of potstickers that are conjoined in rows of fried dumpling perfection.

The 鍋貼 from '8 Upway' aren't tremendous (not unlike their brethren from across the hall), but you shouldn't expect them to be. It's basically fast food. At 4 NT per for the original pork filled ones, you can get 8/$1. At that rate of exchange, I would've been happy if they were even remotely close to what you find in NYC (and boy do they exceed that). In the end, you'd be pleasantly surprised by how good they manage to be. The skin is thick enough so that each bite is satisfying, but not so thick that it's a chore to eat. The filling is certainly tender and juicy enough, but small pieces of cartilege/tendon (or offal matter) are still present to remind you that it's a cheap street meal. Basically, don't expect the world, and enjoy the fact that you can buy 100 dumplings for $15.

Hot and sour soup (八方雲集)

I also ended up ordering a hot and sour soup because it was 25 NT. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. Asian people love drinking soup prior to eating their meal. I don't have that habit, but eh, it was pretty good. If I had to rate it, I'd say it's better than the average soup you'd get from your local delivery place, but nothing to go nuts over. In summary, fast food dumplings are good by me. As for 'Overseas Dragon' vs. '8 Upway?' I'm not entirely convinced they're not the same shop with different names (my suspicion stems from the fact that they seem to sometimes use the other store's plates).


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hawaiian Whopper (from Burger King)

Hawaiian Whopper

What is this creation above you? Okay, so maybe the post title gave it away, but it's indeed what Burger King tells me is a 'Hawaiian Whopper.' I don't really understand the motivation behind these seemingly random promotions, but every month, the fast food joints here serve up a new signature creation, presumably to boost sales. For some unexplainable reason, this month is Hawaii month(?). They take the classic Whopper, smother the patty with barbecue sauce, add on a measly slice of pineapple, and a layer of fried ham. I know what you're thinking... "man, that looks awful, why would you buy something like that?" Let me respond to both those questions.

Burger King signage

This is how they advertised it. Indeed it looks much better in their photo. I suck at taking pictures, I'll admit that, but I don't think my lack of abilities morphed their gorgeous burger into that blob sitting at the top of this page. Trust me, I tried to rearrange the bits into a more manageable sandwich, but this was the best I could do. Anyway, from the ad, clearly I had high hopes for a sandwich that was flame broiled, yet had a tangy and sweet flavor. I hope that explains it. The sandwich itself is not actually all that awful. If you're okay with Whoppers, then it's exactly as I described it. Kind of sweet from the sauce, and kind of tangy from the pineapple. The rest is the generic burger you've probably come to expect from the 'King.

My opinion? Unless you have some sick obsession with BK, then you probably shouldn't feel bad if you don't get one of these before they're gone. If you're hungry, go ahead, it's really not as bad as it looks. Plus you get a free ice cream sundae to boot. Which kind of makes up for the lack of aesthetics of the burger. Yes, I like fast food soft serve (it's a guilty pleasure of mine).


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cakes in Taiwan. They suck.

Raspberry chocolate liqueur mousse (from Lamour)

Within the culinary arena, Taiwan can hold its own in a fairly vast range of foods, from soup noodles to shaved ice desserts. One would think that baking should fall under that umbrella as well, given the existence of the pineapple bun, pineapple cakes, and pretty much anything that consists of bread and red beans. The failure exists when they try to mimic the baked goods of other cultures... like macarons and chocolate mousse. Case in point, the cakes from a very well liked bakery near the 台大 (NTU) campus, Lamour.

Now, keep in mind, this is entirely my opinion... I'm rather mediocre at baking, and I'm probably not qualified to criticize, but I for one find cakes in Taiwan to be rather bland and boring. Let's start with the raspberry chocolate liqueur mousse seen above. The macaron was lacking in flavor, overly doughy, and seemingly missing any semblance of filling. Following the same theme, the mousse was subtle in flavor... almost too subtle. While the texture was light and airy, which was nice, the inner layer of raspberry was essentially a layer of thick gelatin, which made for an overly resilient center. Now I don't know if that was purposefully done to maintain the structural integrity, but it was certainly a detraction from the mousse itself.

Chocolate Cake #704 (from Lamour)

The chocolate cake #704 wasn't really that bad (I mean, it's pretty hard to screw up a chocolate cake), but it also wasn't spectacular, which was what I had expected since this particular bakery draws such high praise from almost everyone. It was like one of those chocolate cakes you buy from a local deli's fridge, except with thinner, less sweet frosting. A tad lighter than most cakes found in America as well (I want to use the word airy for pretty much every cake I've had here).

To be completely fair, I think Taiwanese people have a different taste palate when it comes to cakes and other desserts normally associated with coffee or tea. They like things with a subtle sweetness, and more bitter than the average American flavor. That would certainly explain what I called a lack of flavor. Either way, color me disappointed. At the very least... they make pretty cakes, right?

Now, this probably shouldn't have been generalized to every single cakery in Taiwan, as I'm sure there's at least some remarkable ones, but as a whole, this is what I've experienced. Now I wait for people to tell me I'm dumb. PS - I knew that already.


Katsu at 杏子 (Anzu)

杏子 store front

In an unexpected alley near the 和平捷運站 (He Ping MRT), there exists a quaint little Japanese restaurant that has a store front that garners little attention to onlookers (see above), but houses one of the more famous pork Katsu dishes in Taipei... 杏子 which apparently is 'Anzu' in Japanese. Well aware that I am a grade-A fatass, one of my aunts decided it would be a good idea if I experienced what she called the 'best pork cutlet in Asia.' Coming from a woman who could possibly out eat me, I respect her opinion greatly. Despite that, I was still a bit skeptical of that claim, considering we weren't in Japan. Anyway, I'm not one to turn down a free meal, so I went in with low expectations...

The 'specials' menu

Before I could make it into the front door, I was greeted by a little sign with the daily special, which was a cheese filled pork katsu. This isn't tremendously unique in Taiwan, but it also isn't something that every shop has, so that was a pleasant surprise. Let's be honest, I like cheese a lot, I like pork a lot too, and I most certainly like when people fry stuff. At the very least, I would be snacking on something that combines 3 of my favorite elements of cuisine.

Scallions & garlic katsu

I made someone else order the scallions and garlic katsu (290 NT or ~$9) for comparisons sake. I actually didn't get to eat too much of this (okay, so maybe I stole a few pieces from the other plate), but my overall impression was... despite an excellent crust, the toppings of scallion and garlic paste was overwhelming when compared to the delicate taste of the pork. In the end, you just end up with a mouth smelling like garlic, with no positive memories of the dish. Skip this unless your taste buds are entirely dead.

Cheese katsu

I ordered the special as advertised. For the same 290 NT, a pork katsu sandwiching a thick filling of cheese. Mmmm, golden fried pork with creamy dairy filling. What hidden treasures lay inside?

Cheesy innards

THIS! So let me explain this dish. You might think you've experienced katsu, but you haven't experienced it. The shop selects a supremely fatty cut of pork cutlet (not disgustingly oily, just enough to render the meat stupid tender), beats the crap out of it, slices it along the bias, stuffs in a large slab of mozzarella, then covers the creation in panko breadcrumbs, then fries to a perfect tint of goldenrod. The end result is a crust that presents an initial crunch reminiscent of a potato chip, yields to a layer of meat tender enough to pull apart with chopsticks, and a center layer of melted cheese just barely viscous enough to remain within the sliced cutlet. Yes, it's that good. I'm no authority on pork katsu (or any other food for that matter), but I have eaten enough of them to recognize the superiority of this one. Maybe it's not the greatest cutlet on the Pacific rim, but let's be honest... for under $10, I'd be a mega idiot if I said it wasn't incredible.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Napoli Pizza (where fried chicken meets mayonnaise)

Fried chicken mayo pizza (from Napoli Pizza)

At a chain pizza place in Taiwan called 'Napoli Pizza,' there exists such a topping combination that is fried chicken and Kewpie mayo (the 洋食黃金脆雞披薩 Popcorn Chicken Pizza). While this isn't really that special for anyone who lives in Taiwan, since they regularly see things such as abalone and octopus gracing the tops of their pies, it surely was impressive to me, since I actually make it a goal of mine to see my doctor cringe. For 299 NT (~$9... although it's often on sale for 199 NT) you get a pan pizza similar in consistency and taste to Pizza Hut's, oily, thick, and rather bread like, which is then topped with their 'popcorn chicken' and a lattice of delicately drawn on mayo. How was this abomination of a pizza?

Surprisingly good actually. Their popcorn chicken is actually nothing like what you'd get from Popeye's or KFC, but rather like chicken nugget pieces, which have an odd Japanese curry aftertaste (this was unexpected, but rather refreshing). Combined with onions, peppers, and 'black pepper' Kewpie mayo, you end up with a synergy of sweet, mild spiciness, and savory. No, it's true, this isn't a 'gourmet' offering by any means, but for ~$6-9, it's certainly edible, and definitely different than most pizza places would offer in the US. I would say it's worth trying at the very least, but then again, I'm no pizza snob. I'll eat pretty much anything with cheese, sauce, and crust.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

碱水粽 (Jian Shui Zong)

碱水粽 (Jian Shui Zong)

I was talking to a friend yesterday when I realized how woefully bad my grasp of Chinese culture actually is (despite being an EALAC minor!). The topic of 粽子 (Chinese rice triangles) came up, and after a while, I realized that I had no clue what exactly Chinese people were celebrating, or why they were wrapping stupid rice balls, tying them together, and tossing them into a river. I mean honestly, if I told you I was gonna make food, bind it all together, and throw it into a large body of water, all whilst smiling like an idiot, you'd swear I was nuts too. Anyway, I thought I'd take the time to explain both zongzi and the story behind the history of making them.

Turns out, a poet named 屈原 (Qu Yuan), who lived during the warring states period, tried to warn his nation about an imminent invasion. When they didn't listen, and were ultimately defeated, he killed himself (out of shame/patriotism?). Since everyone loved him so dearly, they made rice balls, and stuffed them inside leaves to hold the rice together, then threw them into the river so the fish wouldn't eat his body. I guess that's kind of emo poetic?

As for zongzi, most people are familiar with the traditional kind. They're made of glutinous rice, and hold salty fillings of pork, egg yolk, and more often times than not, some form of salted veggies. Alternatively, the vegetarian parallel would use turnips or radishes in place of meat. What my grandmother made though, are 碱水粽 (Jian Shui Zong), which are zongzi made with glutinous rice + lye water. The end result is a yellowish rice that ends up binding together into a much smoother matrix. It's chewier, it's stickier, and is more of a pain to unwarp, but you're rewarded with a dessert type zongzi. Savory fillings are shunned in favor of either red bean, lotus, taro, or other sweet pastes, although they are often unfilled and eaten plain with sugar syrups. To be honest, I don't know that much about them past that. I did try making one, but it came out looking demented, so clearly my knowledge of the subject only extends as far as eating them.

Anyway, hope someone finds this interesting (I did). I feel like a better Asian for knowing it haha.


Peking duck... from a stall

金廚北平鴨 (Golden Kitchen Peking Duck)

It's been raining non-stop for the past week, up until the day of 端午節 a.k.a. the Dragonboat Festival (sorry, I guess I should be posting about zongzi). Why does this matter? Because for the past week, I've been held prisoner in my apartment by ever present rain clouds. So when the weather cleared up, ever so slightly, I went out venturing to find a place called 金廚北平鴨 or 'Golden Kitchen Peking Duck.' When I got there, I found that this Peking duck 'restaurant' was no more than a hole-in-the-wall on 師大路 (Shi Da Road), near the night market. I wasn't entirely sure whether I should've been impressed or disappointed, given how 2-bit this rather well known place seemed to be. One way or another, I wasn't leaving without some duck, especially since it started pouring when I was there.

Hanging ducks...

As I looked in the glass, I was eerily mesmerized by the hanging ducks. Yes the shop seemed rather rundown, but the food looked downright tantalizing... whole ducks, donning crispy and 'puffed out' skin, glistening with bright red duck sauce/oil. I quickly placed an order for half a duck, which cost 240 NT (just short of $8), and stood patiently as they went to work on it. They slice off the surface layer of meat, which is to be eaten with thin pancakes called 薄餅 (bao bing), sweet bean paste, and scallions. Then the rest of the duck, bones and remaining meat, are stir fried with chives and other greens to be served separately. They handed me my order... the sliced duck, the stir fry, and the pancakes, and I left. Into the downpour. The entire walk back home (like 2 miles!) was done in sandals and soaking jeans. All I could think was "this better be some crazy good duck." Seriously, this was flood worthy rain.

Sliced Peking duck

And ohhh, it was. That's what I meant by sliced duck. Each piece just thin enough that there's appreciable meat, accompanied by enough crisp skin for texture. As I mentioned, in each thin pancake, you place a single piece of duck (okay, if you're like me you sneak two in), smother it with sauce, and add a piece of raw scallion. It's the Chinese burrito, but without the accompanying gas ha. The other dish, the stir fry also tasted good enough, heavy on the chive flavor, with a hint of herbal medicine. I did not take a picture. Being completely honest, it wasn't very photogenic. Was this place good? Well, I don't think I'd brave torrential rain again, but yeah it was, maybe not as good as a dedicated Northern Chinese restaurant, but better than the $1 bun place in Flushing. To get authentic Peking duck for $8 is fine by me.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sorry, more beef noodles (濟南牛肉麵)

beef noodles from 濟南牛肉麵

This'll probably be my last entry that deals with beef noodles for a long while. I'm sure most people who look at pictures read my blog are pretty sick of the beef and carb heavy content, so that's probably a welcome relief. To be completely honest, I'm kind of sick of it myself. Despite how truly awe-inspiring (yeah I said it) a bowl of really good beef broth and noodles can be, having it all the time can ruin the experience as well. Too much of a good thing I suppose. Anyway, as of this post, consider me officially on hiatus from beef noodles. That said, prior to my self imposed embargo, I did manage to go to one last restaurant I feel justifies a post on its own. Enter... 濟南牛肉麵 (Ji Nan Beef Noodles). Onto the words that describe the food and whatnot!

A small shack located on the street behind my apartment (as expected by the name... 濟南路), barely larger than my dorm room from last year, houses this old mom'n'pop shop started in 1976. The smell of beef is overpowering, and wafts to the end of the block and across the street. Upon walking in, the menu is simple... more or less simplifying to 10 different varieties of beef noodles with varying cuts of beef. For 110 NT (~$3.25) I got the default order, seen above... a small beef noodle soup with thick noodles (the choice is yours whether you want thin or thick). The noodles are clearly not made in house, but they're good enough for the purpose of being satisfying and non-distracting. The beef is fall apart tender, and the broth carries with it all the juices that were present in the meat. The experience after finishing the meal is even more sublime, as you're left with an oddly satisfying thin layer of flavorful oil coating your lips that just... lingers. Despite not doing any one aspect spectacularly (like the noodles at 良品), it does everything adequately. While I don't know if it's one of the best bowls of beef noodles I've ever had, it certainly made me happy at the time.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Imagawayaki time! (光華紅豆餅)


Hello hovering golden puck of joy (let us pretend my fat hand is not present in the picture)! That floating disk of golden sunshine is what is generally known as imagawayaki (or obanyaki depending on where you're from in Japan). What is essentially pancake batter is poured into an over-sized waffle pan of short cup shaped holes. The batter is then brushed along the edges until the it gets spread evenly throughout the cup. As the batter cooks, the baker deftly squeezes the desired filling into the centers of half the shells, then takes the other half and caps them over top of the filling. What results is the Asian equivalent to a jelly doughnut, known in Taiwan as the 紅豆餅 (red bean cakes).

Makin' Obanyaki

As described above, filling is plopped into the middles of these batter filled cups. For 10 NT per (that's like 30 cents folks), you have the choice of 紅豆 (red bean), 奶油 (cream), 花生 (peanut), 高麗菜 (cabbage), 菜圃 (Asian turnips) as a filling... I know, the thought of a a savory obanyaki is weird, but it works, I swear. The reason why I love this cart in particular, is because the owner goes ape shit when he fills said cups. I don't know if the picture does it justice, but the height the filling reaches is like 2x the actual thickness of the obanyaki. Think about how much compression that goes under when he caps it... THINK ABOUT IT!!!


I'm have a personal preference for the cream filled ones, as they tend to be the most buttery, but the red bean is probably the classic, and the peanut has its charms as well. The cabbage and turnip ones are good if you're hungry, and don't feel like going sweet (which I think is moronic), but they're worth trying, since my tastes probably don't gel with most peoples'. I'd also be lying if I said I didn't like them at all *whistles*.

Anyway, if you're in the area of 光華 (Guang Hua), do yourself a favor and snake over to the old electronics market area, and find the cart that has the really long line (it always does). Also, if this post seems like something I've written about before, it's because I did. I feel like it deserves rehashing though, and plus... this particular cart merits specific mention.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

More from Taiwan's KFC

So true Colonel...

How right you are Colonel, you've done it again...

I know people get annoyed when I post about fast food, but I feel obligated to tell people in the US about what kind of things Asians are holding out on, like how to hold chopsticks, how to see when the sun is really bright, or this sensational new chicken sandwich. All racism aside, KFC in the US is pretty lame when it comes to sandwiches. Sure we have the 'Double Down' and an assortment of miniature 'Snackers,' but when it comes down to it, none of these offerings can constitute a full meal. Even if you ate like 8 'DDs' at once, it would be little more satisfying than having a bunch of smaller chicken cutlets laced with cheese. No, Taiwan KFC is serious business. They make meals out of their sandwiches, and they up the ante every Summer with some new stupid (debatable) variation.

雙醬卡啦巨無霸 (from KFC)

Not fully understanding the thought process behind this, some Asian person thought it would be awesome (and it is) to stick a hash brown on top of the regular 卡啦巨無霸 (the spicy chicken sandwich from KFC). The original sandwich is satisfying in its own right, starting with a piece of thick white meat chicken coated in an oddly spicy, but satisfying breaded layer that measures at almost an inch thick, topped with tomato, lettuce, and a spicy mayo that's as good as it is questionable in color (fluorescent orange). For 80 NT ($2.50), they take the original sandwich, throw in a triangular hash brown on top and rename it the 雙醬卡啦巨無霸 or the 'Dual Sauce Chicken Sandwich.' A couple things, firstly, yes... it tastes pretty good. Secondly, that's a misnomer, I don't know what the second sauce is, I only found the orangish mayo present. Is it a life changing sandwich? Eh, adding a hash brown wasn't going to make a plain chicken sandwich into something of a revelation, but you know... I still feel like it's something that people in the US should know of.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Korean from 龍山寺捷運 (Long Shan Temple MRT)

Pseudo-bulgogi (from 龍山捷運站)

I've been eating Korean food a lot lately for some reason. Nothing against beef noodles, fried rice, or any of the other foods that Taiwan does exceptionally well, I guess I just wanted to break the monotony of my eating habits. After a somewhat disappointing, and very overpriced, experience at Jeju Tofu House, I actively sought out another Korean place to try, when I unexpectedly found one in the 'food court' of the 龍山 MRT station. Without a name, proper seating, or an actual store front for me to photograph, my expectations were set low. How did it end up tasting?

For 70 NT (~$2) you have your pick of virtually everything on their menu. I got their 韓式拌飯, which just translates to Korean mixed rice. In my mind this meant bibimbap, but it's closer to bulgogi. Final verdict, not life-changing, not awful. For the price? Pretty good. I wouldn't tell anyone to go out of their way to find this 'unnamed Korean stall,' but it serves its purpose at a price that's hard to argue with. Although... I have to be completely honest, this is another one of those posts I made simply because I like the colors. I love food, but I love food even more when it's aesthetically pleasing.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Two Peck (Fried Chicken)

花枝丸 (squid balls from two peck)

There's this chain store in Taiwan that is beyond incredible. It's called... Two Peck (hit the link if you want your mind blown in Chinese). The concept is simple. They have a full menu of food that food carts in Taiwan normally serve (french fries, sweet potato fries, taro fries, octopus legs, squid balls, onion rings, pigs blood) and they fry the crap out of it. If that doesn't sound awesome to you, well then... I bet you probably care about your health. For 40 NT (~$1.25) I got an order of 豬血糕 (fried pigs blood cake), which is really just pigs blood + sticky rice + batter meets fryer, and also an order of 花枝丸 (fried octopus balls).

The octopus balls I've had before on numerous occasions. They're basically paste made from octopus tentacles (occasionally with chunks of tentacle!) that gets mixed with fish paste and gets fried to a delicious golden hue. I know, the use of the word paste gets me going too. Anyway, these were as expected, crispy outer, surprisingly 'bouncy' inner, with a mild amount of seafood flavor to boot. Accompanied by a light drizzling of chili powder, the amount of flavor and heat inside your mouth is pretty indescribable.

豬血糕 (pig's blood from two peck)

As for the other thing I ordered. Fried pigs blood cake is a revelation upon an old time classic. Traditionally served in hot pot, these Lego sized bricks of black sticky rice would be cooked to an al dente texture, just a bit rubbery when bitten into, the frying gives for that same experience plus a crunchy outer layer. Not better or worse, but different. Good different. As far as the taste, it doesn't really taste like anything, so they put some sort of chili powder or plum powder on it for flavoring. It's something you mostly eat for the texture. Obviously I can't convince people that pigs blood cake isn't revolting, but I like it (and I know for a fact Koreans have something similar in soondae).

Oh, almost forgot... they serve fried chicken too... not the type the Colonel makes though, it's a single giant cutlet that they pound into a giant disk of chicken goodness.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Meet Fresh (again)

紅豆杏仁冰 (red bean almond ice from Meet Fresh)

One of the huge reasons why I love Taiwan is shaved ice. Taking random toppings, putting them over ice shred so thin that it has no texture, and dousing them with sugar syrup and condensed milk has to be one of mankind's greatest inventions ever. If you've read my blog for a while, then you're probably aware of the my love affair with the place known as 'Meet Fresh.' For a bit of background, they're a chain that specializes in shaved ice and tea... that just so happened to have a location right behind my house. How incredible is that? Last year, I ate there so often, I paced out to about 5 bowls per week. Well, in any case, I was super excited to go as soon as I got off the plane this year. I walked home, threw my luggage down, and went off to grab dessert and lunch (in that order) only to find that... it had been torn down. WHAT WAS GOING ON?!?

Turns out, they downsized some locations, and that only the larger stores were still open. This would explain my lack of posts talking about shaved ice. Anyhoo, as I was walking around 信義路 (Xin Yi Road) the other day, I found one of the remaining locations and slid on in. Looking at the menu, I ordered their one of their Summer creations for 50 NT ($1.50), a 杏仁紅豆冰 (almond red bean shaved ice), which is that pile of black at the top. Wait, wait... this is just a pile of black jelly, where's the almond!?

Mixed ice

Upon mixing you're greeted by white ice. Basically what the dish ends up being is... 仙草 (xian cao), which is really just a minty leaf that Chinese people make into a black jello, covered by sweetened red beans, tapioca pearls with sweet potato gelatin inside, all over thinly shaved almond flavored ice. Hope that explains it clearer. Obviously it was nice to have a good shaved ice for the first time in a long time (compared to anything in NYC at least), but this dessert was a real winner too. The almond flavor, which usually gets overshadowed by other elements, was strong enough to stand out on its own, and the 仙草 made for nice complementary texture against the ice. The red beans added just enough sweetness to remind you that it was dessert, and the tapioca bubbles... well, they're just fun to play with. For 50 NT, you get every pennies worth, and it's totally worth trying if you're in Taiwan.


Monday, June 7, 2010

A lesson on pineapples

Tiny pineapple

Saying this has anything to do with food just because it's a pineapple would be a huge stretch. I learned something today that's kind of cool to me, so I thought I'd share with everyone. Apparently you can take a pineapple, slice off the top bit, proceed to eat and enjoy the fruit (see? there's eating involved), take said top bit and stuff it into a pot of dirt. Give it some time and bam! Suddenly you have a brand new pineapple plant, which in turn produces another mini-pineapple. The circle of life is awesome. Have a great Monday.

Damn, I need a tag called 'Things Columbia Didn't Teach Me.'

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Hot pot from 辣根香

辣根香 placemat

I like Korean/Japanese barbecue. I also like hot pot. Basically I like restaurants where I get to cook my own food. Maybe I'm childish, but it's more fun when I get to see my food go from raw to cooked in front of my eyes. So when my family asked what I wanted to eat for my birthday (you'll notice that I'm not posting chronologically), I said I wanted to go to an all you can eat hot pot place. Now, there's a lot of these in Taiwan... so what made me pick 辣根香 (La Gen Xiang), which I can't translate very well aside from 'spicy?' Hm, this probably sounds dumb, but I went online and looked for hot pot places that also had all you can eat ice cream. Turns out they have 20 flavors available at any given time, so I was absolutely sold. Woo, onto all you can eat food!


For 399 NT ($13) per person, they bring you a pot that sits in the middle of the table that comes with 2 soup broth choices. I don't actually remember what kinds they had, except that 3 of the 5 had Chinese herbal medicine in them, which is absolutely gross to me. If you're a fan of that, then... 3 of their 5 soup broths are awesome! You're then given a checklist menu of about 50 items ranging from meat, seafood, and vegetables that you can cook. You check what you want, and they bring it. Simple as that. Their service is incredible btw. For some reason, my grandmother kept getting cabbage. I don't know why. In that picture (going clockwise from the cabbage), there's also squid paste, pork meatballs, fried tofu, blood cakes, and glutinous rice noodle things. I know, all of it sounds delicious... maybe... if you're Asian.

Boiling action

Then you put everything in the giant whirlpool of hot liquid! We chose 麻辣 (ma la) and some 蒙古 (Mongolian) broth as our soup base combo. Note to anyone thinking of going here, when they say 小, 中, 大 for degrees of spiciness in the ma la, go small. I can eat spicy with the best of them, but holy crap the medium spicy made me cry and run straight for the drinks. They don't joke around with their chili oil.

5 COLOR BEEF (五花肉)

So would I go again? Resounding yes. First off, their beef is incredible. They offer something like 6 different cuts of beef of varying amounts of fat and marbling (and the same for pork and lamb), all of which had their strong points, whether it be overwhelming beef flavor or tenderness. Secondly, the staff is super nice. They thought nothing weird when I put in an absurd number of orders for meat (some places in Taiwan get pissed off if you order too much). Oh yeah, that all you can eat ice cream thing too. They get bonus points for that. They have all the regular flavors you'd expect, but also varieties like passion fruit, mango, lychee, etc. that I didn't even know Haagen Dazs makes. My only gripe though, goddamn that ice cream was hard to scoop. I'd like to think that I'm fairly fit, but after 3 rounds of wrestling with the ice cream, I was done. Eh, minor complaint. In summary, I love this place. I mean, how could I not, they throw endless beef and endless ice cream in my face.

PS - it's on 館前路 (Guan Qian Road) if you actually want to go...


Friday, June 4, 2010

I love you the Mos! (Burger)

Cod burger

Sorry, that was the best pun I could come up for a post title. Cheesy I know, but it's true. I love Mos Burger. I honestly believe that it's the greatest fast food joint in existence (I'm sure there are plenty of people who disagree with that statement, but whatever). They have the speed and efficiency of a fast food establishment, but the charm of a smaller store. I mean, come on... it'll be a cold day in Hell before McDonald's starts to bring your food to your table in a wicker basket... that's classy. Anyway, I had a love affair with their octopus burger last year, so I was equally excited when I found posters plastered all over Taipei of a new seasonal burger for the Summer. The long-winded name in Chinese is the 冰鱈樂活鱈魚堡, which translates to 'Cold Fresh Happy and Lively Cod Burger.' No, I'm not joking. The name alone screams all sorts of incredible.


Didn't have to wait all that long, but I thought having the placard #1 was pretty cool. Oh yeah, back to the food.

How was it in actuality? It was... pretty good. For 75 NT (~$2.25), you get a soft generic hamburger roll which sandwiches a slice of American cheese (don't be deceived by the photo, by the time I ate it, it was melted), a fried patty of cod meat smothered in some sort of weird sweet and sour sauce, shredded lettuce, and a smattering of Kewpie mayo that would make a cardiologist weak at the knees. The thick mayo is actually supposed to be a salad like topping, with bits of corn and octopus tentacles inside, but sadly mine was devoid of the latter. In any case, this 'burger' is like the Asian version of a filet-o-fish sandwich, and it certainly is 12 sorts of awesome. The mayo in itself is pretty flavorful (I bet it'd be better if I had tentacles...), and the sauce of patty is beyond mention. Strong in flavor, but moderate in viscosity, it somehow draws attention to the fish without overwhelming it. My only gripe? I wish the batter were fried crispier. A nice crunch on the patty would've sent me over the edge. Would I go back and get one everyday? Probably not, it's not as good as the octopus burger from last year, but goddamn this was a good burger. I could foresee myself craving one of these from time to time.

Grapefruit Sprite thingy

They also had drink specials (non-alcoholic...) that you could get by swapping out the meal's default drinks. I spent an extra 20 NT (60 cents or so) to get their new Summer creation. It's basically grapefruit concentrate in Sprite with a lemon. Not all that awesome, nor is it worth 20 NT. Good thing their burgers are awesome, or I'd be uber annoyed ha.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

There's fast food Korean places? (濟州豆腐鍋之家)

Bibimbap (from 濟州豆腐鍋之家)

In the US, we tend to think of things like Chipotle, McDonalds, Dairy Queen, and Taco Bell as restaurant chains. In Taiwan, they have all those, but they also have chains for beef noodles, Japanese donburi, and apparently Korean food. Color me (pleasantly) surprised! The place I went to is called 濟州豆腐鍋之家 (in 西門町), which translates to 'Jeju Dubu House.' With only a few locations in Taipei (I've personally seen 3 just wandering around), it appears to be a smaller chain, which kind of negates the commercial feel of a place like Yoshinoya. Seeing as how I've been craving Korean food since I left NYC, and I was curious how good a 'fast food' Korean place could be, I wandered inside.

Their menu is somewhat limited, comprising of 3 rice bowls (bibimbap, a vegetarian bibimbap, and kimchi fried rice) and 3 bowls of soup type meals (2 different seafood soups, and a noodle based meal). The prices are moderate compared to the US, with everything being 140 to 160 NT ($4.50-$5). I ended up getting the bibimbap, which, for 160 NT, is as seen in the picture above. It was more or less what you'd expect... bean sprouts, pork, kimchi, seaweed, some sort of greens (I have no clue what they actually are), gochujang, and a raw egg served over rice, all of which is supposed to be mixed in a searing hot stone pot. Just regular bibimbap, no twist or anything.

As for how it was? I didn't really love it. For 160 NT, there's plenty of other places I would've rather gone to. That's not to say it was awful, or that you should avoid this place at all costs, but it's definitely nothing special. In my opinion, what ruined it was the fact that the meat was sliced a bit too thick, with giant chunks of difficult to chew pork interrupting every few bites. Eh, in the end, I was full (the servings are quite generous), and my craving was satisfied... so I guess it was okay, but not great. Oh well, not everything in Taiwan can taste incredible I suppose. It sure is pretty though isn't it?