Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sai Men Tian Bu La (賽門甜不辣)

I used to be a really picky eater. True story. I realize that's a crappy story, but it does lead to this review... kinda. Anyway, in the past, there's no way I would've stepped into a place like this. Partially because I hated fish of any variety, and wouldn't eat anything that had been remotely close the ocean (and Taiwanese styled tempura is exactly that... essentially fried fish paste). Anyway, my mom somehow convinced me that one of her childhood favorite restaurants would be decent, and that I shouldn't dismiss it just because it has fish in it. I am so relieved that I didn't pass on this place, because since then, it has become on of my favorite places to visit when I'm in Taiwan. It's essentially the savory version of Meet Fresh for me... since I'll pretty much go in anytime I pass by.

The store itself has now become franchised, with locations all over Taipei, but really, if you want the original experience (and in my opinion the only one that stays true to the original taste), you'll want to go to the 西門 branch (West Gate). It also works out pretty conveniently that it's a rather active area, with plenty of shops and other things to eat. Just more excuses to go I guess. The storefront isn't all too attractive, and looks kinda crappy to be honest. If no one told me about it, I'd assume it was just another roadside shack kind of store, but it apparently has a long history. The entrance doubles as the cooking area, with various kinds of tempura and fish balls just floating in a constantly cooking broth. The back area has maybe 6 or 7 tables, again with the cheap metal stools you'd come to expect Asian establishments to have. No air conditioning, so you'll have to tough it out... but honestly there are few things better than having a piping hot bowl of tempura when it's over 100 degrees 0utside. Yum. For 50 NT ($1.50) you get what you see to the right. A mixed bowl of fried dumplings filled with fish paste, some fried fish paste patties, some fried fish paste sticks, fried tofu, and daikon radish. I know, I know... the names sound like crap, but how else can I translate what they are... it'd be pointless to say you get a bowl of tempura, that says nothing! The entire bowl is doused with a brown sauce consisting of chili paste, miso, sugar, and soy sauce (and probably other things), and imho, is superior to the white sauce of the halal carts. Yeah I said it. Side note... I think if anyone ever started a food truck selling this, they'd make an absolute killing, anyone want to finance me? As far as the delicious factor, they taste about the same as most Taiwanese tempura, which is to say mildly sweet and very light on the fishy taste. What sets 'Simon's' apart is that they texture is entirely smooth, with no odd chunks ruining the consistency, but at the same time there remains a certain elasticity which you look for in the skin (not unlike the snap of a hotdog skin). I guess what I'm trying to say is... the taste is spot on, and the texture sets it on a whole 'nother level. Obviously recommended by me. I go several times a week myself haha. Uh, as far as address... it's right outside of 西門盯's shopping area, but even I'd be hard pressed for a street name (check their website...? Sorry I'm lazy).

One last tidbit, there's a giant mural on the right side of the wall as you get in. If you read it, it teaches you the proper way of eating the bowl of tempura. They actually manage to make it sound like an art, but really, it's just... eat the tempura, notice that the bowl is still full of the sweet ass brown sauce (wow, that sounds like crap... but one of my friends Wayne did say "Everything that tastes awesome looks like dog shit," before he proceeded to list foods), go back up to the counter where you order, take ladle that is provided and fill your bowl with the soup broth that the tempura, tofu, and fish balls are cooked in. Sit back down and enjoy. Honestly, the soup is probably the best part. It tastes just like the tempura, since it's absorbed the flavors of all the components, and it's just oily enough to leave the taste in your mouth for hours after you eat it. Another case of... too much win for me to handle. Another side note... I'm tagging this as cart, since... well... I think this kind of food can mostly be found in night market carts (and like I said, would make for sick business venture in Manhattan).

It was wet outside today, and my shoes were still wet from yesterday. So kudos to me for even going out running! Hehe, no seriously though, it was a pretty good run all things considered. I finished with 6.33 miles on the day (though more if you count walking), and I found a second person who can outrun me here, therefore, I have a new target... and he is a middle aged man.

distance for the day: 6.33 miles
distance biked for the day: 0.00 miles

distance on the year: 303.62 miles
distance biked on the year: 142.68 miles


Anonymous said...

"I know, I know the names sound like crap..."
No the names sound like delicious! Went to a Korean restaurant that served a side of kimchi, fish cake, tofu stew and whole fried fish. I ate the sides and packed the meal for later. Those who came with me thought I was crazy for eating "that nasty stuff". I still think I got the better deal.

Nicholas said...

you sound like my grandmother... we once went into a korean restaurant and she told me she didn't want any entrees, because she was fine eating the banchan with rice.

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