Sure, I've written about the thick starchy soup known as 肉羹 before, but when you take that same winning recipe and substitute in succulent pieces of fish paste battered squid, well that's a game changer. The premise is more or less the same, garlic and bonito flake laced pork broth, thickened by cornstarch, is filled with juicy pieces of randomly shaped pieces of squid, sliced bamboo shoots, thinly sliced slivers of mushroom, and topped with cilantro. Doesn't that sounds just freakin' dandy?
The above bowl was from a small shop in 中崙 (Zhong Lun), on 遼寧街 (Liao Ning Street), called '三代圓環老店阿財魚翅肉羹.' Let's just ignore how stupid and long that name is. Supposedly, their family has been in the squid geng pimping business for the past 3 generations, and I always figure you don't stay in business for that long without being at least halfway decent. For, I think, 50 NT ($1.50), it's not exactly cheap, since I've seen some street cart vendors selling the same for 35 NT, but you're paying for history... er, sort of, so it's more or less okay. Their version is nothing short of spectacular, blending all the elements of the dish artfully, like a symphony of flavors in your mouth. The subtlety of the squid is articulated, not masked, by the prudent use of garlic, ginger, and fish flakes, with the broth seemingly absorbing every last bit of flavor from the other components. All in all, for what most consider pocket change, you can get a stew that would put most soups in NYC to shame. Sigh... and to think I used to think this mystery meat creation was vile. Man was I a dumb kid.
PS - if a full meal is what you seek, look no further than the addition of thin noodles. A similar, yet at the same time a completely different, experience to that of oyster noodles.