Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Apple pie pizza (Pizza Hut)

Apple pie... uh, pizza (Pizza Hut)

A lot of people hate dessert pizzas, and a lot of people hate Pizza Hut... ergo a lot of people will hate this post. In Taiwan's Pizza Hut buffet, you pay 299 NT (~$9) to go apeshit on an assortment of pizzas. The selection is hardly ordinary, with okonomiyaki, Hawaiian pork, pepper steak, General Tso's chicken, and Korean kimchi BBQ gracing the frequently rotating menu (oh, and they serve roast chicken too!). Maybe I've become desensitized to how special some of these flavor combos are, but no, the thing that caught my eye was the synergy between apple pie filling and pan pizza crust. I present you... the apple pie pizza.

To say it's life-changing would be a lie, but to deny that it tastes good would be an injustice. To summarize all that goes on in this culinary jewel, a slightly undercooked pan pizza crust is topped with an ever so thin layer of cheese, followed by caramelized soft apple pie filling, and glazed over with a light sugar syrup, which has a delightfully cinnamon flavor. Yes, the crust is still a tad oily (as are all pan pizzas from Pizza Hut), and the apple topping might have been a shade too sweet, but it's cheesy apple pie bread... there's no way that mix of ingredients isn't 100 sorts of incredible.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Deep-fried cheese potato (起司馬鈴薯)

Cheese + fried potato

Mashed potatoes aren't really a staple in the everyday diet of Taiwanese people. Actually, most stereotypical American foods aren't (except for corn... they freakin' love corn), but if you fry any food item you can think of, Asians will probably eat it. I promise you that. In yet another stroke of genius, mashed potato is molded back into ellipsoid shape of a whole potato (so meta), dipped and battered in panko breadcrumbs, and fried until you get a giant nugget of soft potato wrapped in a crispy shell. If making a giant sized french fry weren't bad enough, it gets dissected, stuffed, and covered with pretty much whatever the hell you want on top of it. Cheese? Of course. Pineapple? Sure! Hot dogs, octopus, and broccoli? I was just about to curl up and die in excitement.

I chose to get the one that's basically their sampler. You get less of every topping (and none of the nifty ones like octopus), but you get a bit of most of the basic ones. As advertised, they pull a freshly re-fried potato from a vat of oil, cut a cross in it, and begin piling shit in like no one's business. Bacon bits, ham, turkey, corn (can't not have corn), pineapple, broccoli, mayonnaise, and a hard boiled egg get mercilessly piled on before cheese potato guy scoops two spoonfuls of hot cheese (American of course!) over the entire creation. It's beautiful (in the sense that you can't really look away from roadkill)! It's like you'd expect, a bit too much for your mouth to comprehend simultaneously, but at the same time, with flavors ranging from sweet to tart to savory, it's as confusing as it is delicious. Texturally, it's like eating mashed potato... but with the occasional crunch of a french fry crust. I don't know anyone who hates french fries... so there ya go.


You can find this in 士林夜市 (Shilin Night Market), where there exists a duo of carts serving the same thing. Both had massively long lines, and to be honest I couldn't tell if there was any difference between the two beside their names, and the fact that one used guys to advertise, and one used girls. Uh, good move girl cart. Anyway, for 55 NT ($1.75) you can get a fried potato, slathered in cheese, and piled to the sky with crap that you might, or might not, think belongs on a fried potato... slathered in cheese.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pan-fried pork buns (原上海生煎包)

生煎包 crust

It seems incredulous that I've never ever written about 生煎包 (sheng jian bao) before. While it seems that every combination of pork wrapped in carbs has been played out, I assure you this is not the case. This stuff is the shit dreams are made of. Some kids dream about clouds of cotton candy and lollipop trees... well, I dream of pork buns. Anyway... in what's the cross between gyoza pot stickers and steamed pork buns, you end up with a piece of culinary genius. A juicy ball of fatty minced pork, dotted with spring scallions, is stuffed inside a moderately thick layer of dough, which ultimately gets stuffed in a what's basically a giant wok filled with a thin layer of oil and water. After covering and waiting for the water to ultimately boil off, you're left with a pan filled with beautiful dumpling like buns.

生煎包 innards

Holy crap, you're lying so hard if you claim you don't want a part of that perfection right now. Fact you might not know: my hand was burning for that picture. It was straight from a new batch, and the oil was spilling out. The things I do for this blog... sigh. What can I say about this that the picture hasn't already explained? It has the juice content of a decent soup dumpling, the top layer skin isn't unlike a perfectly fluffy mantou glazed in pork oil, and the bottom is pan-fried to a perfect goldenrod, like that found on pot stickers. It's like the best combination of dough and pork I can think of.

原上海生煎包 storefront

These came from a shop called 原上海生煎包 (Yuan Shanghai Pan-fried Buns) located in 士林夜市 (Shilin Night Market). Their reputation for making kick ass pork buns is the stuff of legends (even non-tourist Asians are willing to line up for it!). Think about it, of all the places in Taipei that make these kinds of fried pork buns, these must be pretty remarkable if everyone likes them. The best part though, I saved for last. Get this, each of these sensual pockets of pork only costs 10 NT (30 cents). Let's think about this for a second. For any given meal in NYC, it's not unusual for someone to spend $15 minimum. This is the equivalent of 500 NT. You could buy 50 fried pork buns for that! You know how many people you could feed with 50 pork buns? I'm not sure either, but it's definitely greater than one. Seriously... why it's taken me so long to write about this stuff, I don't even know.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Brown sugar shaved ice (水龜伯古早味冰店)

Grass jelly & almond tofu (水龜伯古早味冰店)

I usually don't care much for how a dish is plated, or how it looks. As long as it tastes good, well... I honestly couldn't care less if it looked like it just went 10 rounds with robot Jesus. Basically, if you put food in front of me, and I think it has even the slightest potential to taste awesome, then it's probably going in my mouth. When I saw this bowl of shaved ice though, in 公館夜市 at a shop called 水龜伯 (shui gui bo), it was love at first sight. Color me (pun intended) impressed. For just 50 NT ($1.50), you can buy a masterpiece... of shaved ice I mean.

Not unlike an artist's palette, this bowl of shaved ice blends glassy grass jelly, colorful mochi balls, red beans, almond tofu, starchy little balls (not mochi) made out of yam and taro, and puts it all over the most OG of all varieties of shaved ice... shaved ice made from brown sugar. Luckily, it's not just all looks and no substance. This shop, which predates my parents apparently, makes a mean bowl of shaved ice. Each of the toppings complements the others extremely well. The red beans provide an earthy sweetness, the almond tofu adds a subtle nutty fragrance, and the yam balls, mochi, and grass jelly provide for a myriad of contrasting textures, each worthy of their place. When you run out of toppings, the almond milk mixed with half melted brown sugar shaved ice is unlike any combination I've had elsewhere. Now, I won't say this is the end all be all shaved ice in Taiwan, but damn... it definitely ranks up there.

Seriously though, that's straight artwork. Find a prettier bowl of shaved ice. It'll never happen.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Squid 'geng' (魷魚羹)

Squid 'geng' (魷魚羹)

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.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Mega bowl of noodles (建宏牛肉麵)


Do you ever think to yourself "I just wanna have as much food as possible, for as little money as possible, and I don't even care how crappy the restaurant is, or how mediocre the food is?" No? Well, I think people should think that way more often. Now I'm not saying that you should eat the mac & cheese that your grandmother added sprinkles to, because she can't read food labels (mmm... actually that'd be kind of cool), but to me, there's just too much pretentiousness towards food nowadays, and sometimes I just want to stuff my face on a budget. That's where 建宏牛肉麵 (Jian Hong Beef Noodles) comes in. Seriously, their big bowl of beef noodle soup is comically large.

Fuck yeah jumbo bowl of noodles. The way it works at this shop is that they serve 3 sizes, which appropriately enough are 小, 中, 大... with the prices being 65, 75, and 85 NT respectively. Curious as to how big the large bowl was, I splurged and gave in. For 85 NT ($2.70) you get a bowl about 30 cm across (yes I'm using metric), filled with 12 huge pieces of beef, which I actually counted, and a generous helping of noodles (both knife cut or thin are available). Here's the kicker, if you finish your noodles and still have broth, you can ask for more noodles. That works the other way too, if you have too much noodles and not enough soup... well refills on that. Crazy right? I'm not sure who exactly would even ask for seconds though, I can eat like a champ, and I didn't feel too hot after finishing. For reference... the spoon in the bowl is actually the over-sized metal Asian soup spoons. Epic bowl is epic.

Anyway, the noodles are nice and thick, nothing special, most certainly of no comparison to 良品, but there's a lot of them. The beef isn't all that tender, and is chock full of tendons, which probably need more time stewing in broth, but again... there's a lot of it. The broth, I think you know where this is going, mediocre, but lots. Summary? Massive quantities of food that would only rank as mediocre. Bonus points for giving me a carton of milk tea to wash down the noodles though.

建宏牛肉麵 (Jian Hong Niu Rou Mian) storefront

See how crappy a store this is? It's located next to a beef butcher place, so it doesn't smell too crazy fresh either. When you're paying less than $3 for more food than any normal person could ever want to consume in a whole day, what do you honestly expect? I for one couldn't care less what it looks (or smells) like. That shit is awesome.

I apologize for the follwoing rant, but I really have to mention this. Originally I was just gonna write about a jumbo bowl of average beef noodle soup for super cheap, but I then I started thinking about stuff (which isn't really a good thing). Just... in my mind, there's too much food snobbery these days, and if there's one thing that truly bothers me about food writing (or even those who comment), it's the pretentiousness of dismissing a certain food because 1. it doesn't fit their particular tastes or 2. it isn't fancy enough for them. Screw that, people need to spend less time criticizing food and more time enjoying it.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Scallion pancake rolls and noodles (北平鄉味)

Beef pancake rolls

When you take thinly sliced strips of beef, a thick sprig of scallion, a light brushing of traditional 甜麵醬 (not that awful bright orange duck sauce takeout places give you), and wrap it all inside a tastefully fried sheet of thin and crispy, yet chewy, scallion pancake, you end up with a dish called 牛肉捲餅 (niu rou juan bing)... which is basically the Northern Chinese equivalent of a burrito. Actually, maybe that comparison isn't the best. If you can think of how traditional Peking duck is served, sub out the thin paper like wrap with a deep-fried scallion pancake, and swap out the crispy duck with delightfully soft beef drenched in sweet sauce, then you'd get this. Whatever, I'm bad at making comparisons... I get it, but however you want to describe it, this shit is bananas.

For 65 NT ($2) from a place on 和平東路 118巷, you can get the aforementioned pancake beef roll thinger. That's like Taco Bell pricing... sooo sick. A single Andrew Jackson could get me 10 of these babies! I suppose I could eat 10 of them, but I probably wouldn't enjoy it... it's nice to be presented with the option though. It is as good as it sounds (at least it sounds good in my head). The scallion pancake is probably good enough to be sold individually. Despite being no more than dough + scallions + oil, it manages to bring out the flavors of both the scallions and sesame oil without sacrificing one or the other in the process. The beef is soft and dry (to good effect), so when coated with a light layer of traditional duck sauce, there's a nice contrast in texture as well as a slight hint of beefiness. That scallion? Well it's kind of like a pickle, it's just there to be refreshing.

木須炒餅 (mushu scallion pancakes)

Yeah, I'm a fat ass, so what? I also ordered mushu pork cooked with knife cut scallion pancakes, also known as 木須炒餅. I also really love scallion pancakes apparently? Not quite as good the one from 一品, but it's also a way bigger bowl for 80 NT (~$2.50), which is about the same price, so hey... it's fine with me. Moral of this post? Hm... mixing scallion pancakes with just about anything is a fail proof combination. Fact.

Shh... I know I already wrote about this place last year, but it was good enough for me to revisit (multiple times), so it's good enough to write about again.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Grilled squid (烤魷魚)

Grilled squid

Squid is great (despite my body's every intention to tell me any different). You can use it in dishes, you can fry the bejeezus out of squid tentacles and make them into nuggets (like chicken nuggets on crack... except not made of chicken), and you can grill it whole too! From any of a number of stalls along the 淡水 waterfront, you can get squid, grilled whole, and slathered with a sweet, savory, and tangy sauce, all for 50 NT ($1.50)... what's not to love?

Actually... plenty. Keep in mind everything I say here is purely my own opinion, so if you're a fanatic who swears by eating this stuff, then I'm sorry... I just don't like it. Taiwanese people love this stuff though, so I'm sure it has some redeeming quality that I'm unaware of. Anyway, the smell of grilled squid is... unpleasant. If you've ever burned an eraser before (let's be honest, I burned many an eraser as a kid), it smells kind of like that. Rubber... that's on fire. Easily one of my top 10 most unappetizing smells (not that I've made a list or anything, but I assume it'd be in there).

Grilled squid cart

Secondly, squid also gets super difficult to chew when grilled, achieving the consistency of... well, an eraser. Maybe this is my fault, because the kind lady from the stall offered to cut it into strips for me, but I said no, because I wanted to take a picture. Hrm... okay that's definitely my fault, but moving on. Reason number 3 why grilled squid isn't so phenomenal... it lacks any distinct taste, and just feels kind of rubbery (on second thought, maybe I just ate a grilled squid shaped eraser?). In truth though, the only thing that was remotely satisfying about grilled squid as the sauce. Similar to a mix between the panda sauce, ketchup, and a slight bit of chili paste, it was sweet, tangy, and spicy... as advertised. Basically? I paid 50 NT to lick sauce off an eraser. I'm still not really sure why people like this nonsense.

Fried shrimp wonton thingers

I don't like to make entire posts about fail though, so I'll add these too. They're fried shrimp wonton things called 炸蝦捲 (zha xia juan). This skewer cost 20 NT (~60 cents), so I wouldn't even care if it tasted like a fried eraser, because it's fried, so it's already full of win. Thankfully, it tasted like if you wrapped shrimp and pork inside a wonton and fried it, which you can't really mess up. On top of that though, since 淡水 is a seaport and all, the ingredients are incredibly fresh, and these are made on the spot, so it's like a supercharged version of restaurant wontons... plus shrimp and pork.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Google's cheeseburger

Google cheeseburger

Or maybe it's better known as the burger you probably can never have. Ultimate tease right there huh? Amongst a sea of curry, pan-seared scallops, and other ethnic culinary delights in the Google cafeteria, I felt compelled to see how the Internet juggernaut did in preparing a burger (don't worry, I ate other things too, they just seemed less important at the time). Not wanting to stray from tradition too far, I kept the order simple, cheeseburger... with American. Within 5 minutes of ordering, I had on my plate the burger you see above. Well... sort of, I added the lettuce and tomatoes to convince myself I was "keeping it healthy." How was Google burger?

Well, here's a couple things to keep in mind. For the sake of efficiency, the burgers are partially cooked, and grilled a second time when you order it, so it's to be expected that the meat is ever so slightly overcooked... probably for liability reasons as well, you probably won't find any pink beef here. The buns in use are french bread like... crispy outer layer (enhanced by the time spent on the grill), with a soft center. Nothing incredible on their own, but they do pick up a bit of beef flavor from sitting on an oil stained grill. Plain for sure, but acceptable. Combined with a toppings bar of all the traditional toppings from lettuce to bacon bits, you end up with a burger that's prepared super quickly, and isn't half bad.

G-burger innards

See? No pink beef. As far as complaints, that's as far as mine go. The patty is remarkably juicy for something that seems to be cooked to oblivion (how they do this, I'm not sure. Maybe they spend their 20% time on researching this too?). It possesses a great char, and it also has a certain smokiness that I find oh so appealing in a grilled burger, both major pluses. The bun, like I said, is good enough where it's not a distraction to the remainder of the burger. Coupled with fresh toppings, it makes for a burger that definitely ranks as above average. If you consider the price though... which is free if you work at Google, then holy shit, it's the deal of the decade!

Additional thoughts on Google's cafeteria? Sweet selection of soda (no Mr. Pibb though). They even have a fountain dispenser of generic sodas made in house made from agave nectar. Their curry is pretty good, but their desserts were disappointing (I was told I went on a bad day). Suddenly I want to work for Google... badly. Mainly for the food.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tofu pudding + mochi

花生豆花 (peanut tofu pudding)

In what might be the greatest travesties in the history of blogging (okay... maybe just my blog), I've apparently never written about 豆花 (tofu pudding) on its own. Outrageous! Anyway, to explain... extra soft tofu is sliced into small wedges with a spoon, then doused with a sweet syrup (often flavored with ginger), and then topped with whatever your heart desires (soft cooked peanuts, red beans, jellies... really, the sky is the limit). My advice though... go peanut. It's the traditional topping, for good reason. Served warm or cold, year-round, this shit is versatile, son.

Mmm, where I got the dish above isn't really important. It was somewhere in 淡水 (Dan Shui) that I don't exactly recall the name of. Maybe this is a cop out or whatever you want to call it, but if I don't like it enough to remember the name, then it probably wasn't spectacular (remember...? I'm easily impressed). Anyway, it was average. Which isn't to say it wasn't good... even an average bowl of tofu pudding is still pretty freakin' good, just nothing that'd make me all 'holy crap I NEED TO GO BACK right now' good. The formula is the same though, a sweet soup like dessert with an earthy flavor from the tofu, and a strong sweet aroma from the unprocessed sugar syrup. Devoid of almost any other flavors, the beauty of this dish lies in its simplicity. Oh, and the texture... it's definitely fun to slurp.


And mochi too. Covered in peanut flour (the way it should be served). Chewy, warm, and moist these were also okay, but unremarkable. I've had better... and cheaper too. They kind of jack up the prices for this stuff at 淡水 because of the overwhelming number of tourists. Eh, it's fine... sometimes you gotta pay for crap to truly appreciate quality, right?


Friday, August 13, 2010

Shrimp octopus pancakes (蝦錦章)

Shrimp/octopus pancake?

In yet another stroke of brilliance, a couple of bros opened a stall in 淡水 (Dan Shui) which serves shrimp and octopus pancakes... er waffles? Now, you're probably thinking of something like seafood pajeon, but this is way different. By using minced shrimp, octopus, and pork, they fill little circular waffle tins with oil and batter, and fry the shit out of them. The end result is the thick circular puck of golden red crispy goodness you see above. If anything, it's like if you took a supercharged okonomiyaki, and combined it with the idea of takoyaki... except not in ball form, all for 35 NT (slightly more than $1). Think about it. For $20 you could walk away with like 19 of these hotcakes, awesome beyond belief.

Shrimp pancake man

See? Waffle mold frying action going on. Also, take note of the broseph in the back. He's got a ponytail. Know what that means? Hmm, I'm not sure either, but whatever. If you're making me shrimp octopus waffle pancake thingers for a dollar... well, I couldn't care less if you had 3 eyes and 2 noses.

Shrimp/pork cross section

Goddamn that was tasty. In a whirlwind of pork, cabbage, shrimp, and octopus, there are too many flavors to process. At first you can't really taste anything because of the temperature. Burning isn't really a flavor I don't think. After the temperature drops though, you're put through a dizzying experience of savory pork, followed by an ever present seafood flavor, then by the mellowness of the batter and cabbage. Truly unique to say the least. The praise doesn't end with the taste though, it's a standout texturally speaking as well. A crisp outer shell yields to soft batter, all of which is followed by the occasional, and distinctively different, crunches of octopus tentacle and cabbage. SEE WHY YOUR POOR MOUTH WOULD BE CONFUSED NOW? In what was probably one of the best investments of $1 I've ever made, the only regret I had was not going back before getting on the MRT. Damn.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

XO 黃金蝦堡 (Mos Burger)

XO shrimp burger (Mos Burger)

The owner of Mos Burger must be doing speed or something, since this is the first Summer in which I've seen them come out with 3 different seasonal special burgers. The latest offering is the XO 黃金蝦堡 or 'XO golden shrimp burger,' in which you're presented with a golden patty comprised of shrimp, topped with shredded cabbage, and finished off with a healthy serving of XO sauce (read about this splendidly spicy, sweet, and delicious condiment here). True, shrimp burgers have been around for a while in Mos' history, but I've never seen XO sauce used as the complementary sauce before. Is it so magical that it fulfilled my every worldly desire?

Well... maybe that's asking too much.

'XO + shrimp' sticker

Teehee, I thought the wrapper was uber clever (you can stop laughing at me now... I'm just that childish). Maybe this is something that they've always done on all their sandwiches, but I never noticed until this one. It seems Mos Burger uses stickers to identify their sandwiches so there are no mix ups. See? XO + shrimp. No confusion! Brilliant.

XO shrimp burger (Mos Burger)

Oh yeah, how was the sandwich huh? While I wouldn't say that it 'completes me,' this sandwich is pretty freakin' incredible. Starting with the patty, which, if you can see, uses real shrimp (like 5 of 'em!), and ending with the bun... everything does its job, and something magical is created. The 'golden patty' is delightfully crispy (no doubt due to the use of panko breadcrumbs), and is fried on the spot, so it's guaranteed to be perfectly hot on arrival. The flavor is mild, with only a slight hint of seafood aroma to be found (so if you're into that, you'd probably be disappointed), but I'd say the combination of fish paste and shrimp is delightfully light. The XO sauce is again where this sandwich shines (hmm, I sense a recurring theme... Mos = sauce). While the sauce is probably nothing special in the grand spectrum of XO sauces, the use of slightly spicy, sweet, and tangy chili based sauce perfectly compliments the mild tones in the patty without overwhelming it. Of course, the bun... is the same as always, light and so fluffy that I'm probably gonna die. At 75 NT (~$2.40), it's not as cheap as most other places, but it's still worth a try.

Chinese...?  sauce

I lol'd when I saw this. In Taiwan, MOS Burger calls 酸甜醬... 'Chinese Sauce.' There you have it. Definitive evidence that the Chinese invented sweet and sour dipping sauce. Fact.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Fried durian w/Chinese yam

Fried durian (w/Chinese yam)

As weird as it sounds... I like fried durian. A lot. Not unlike stinky tofu, raw durian has a characteristic stink that, like Wu-Tang said best, "ain't nothin' to fuck with." A lot of people can't stomach the smell for more than a few second, and while I can accept it, I certainly wouldn't enjoy standing amongst a sea of splitting raw durians. There's something about frying though, that truly makes everything taste better instantaneously. Durian is no exception. What once smelled like putrid gym shorts becomes... mildly unpleasant gym shorts? With the flavor greatly mellowed through the process of frying, it's actually possible to actually appreciate the other flavors that are present, but usually masked by the stench of rotten onions.

From the same stall that I visited last year, I got the last remaining variation of fried durian that I hadn't tried yet. Made with the combination of 山藥, otherwise known as 'Chinese yam,' and durian, it looks like a Twinkie that's grown some insane strain of purple mold. As lovely a description as that is, the flavor is actually pretty okay. Just like the plain fried durian, this can be described as mildly sweet, with the fragrance of spring scallions ever present. For some reason, the Chinese yam amplified the flavor of the durian, so it's a bit more 'in your face' than the plain one, but the combination of flavors still worked. In summary? Raw durian, still gross to me. Fried durian, still incredible.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bear donuts (Mister Donut's 熊太郎)

Almond cream bear donut

Screw posting in chronological order. I can't spend my time posting in chronological order when people on Tumblr are jacking my pictures (some credit would've been nice)! Anyway, I couldn't keep myself from wasting some more money when I saw these in the glass case of the Taipei train station Mister Donut. I mean... 40 NT ($1.25)... for a donut that's shaped like a bear (a mother... fuckin'... bear)? Hell yeah! It's a relatively small price to pay for eternal 5 minutes of sheer joy. Sure, maybe... no, definitely I have a Peter Pan syndrome (the only other people I saw buying them were parents... for their kids), but I'm pretty damn sure you're lying if you said you didn't want to get in on this bear on donut lovin'.

It's true...

"Bear donut is the first animal-like donut in Mister Donut. It is so yummy!" This shit is so OG that they can write in Chinglish, and they will still sell a crapton of them. Damn. Anyway, named the 熊太郎 (xiong tai lang) in Chinese, these overwhelmingly cute donuts come in 3 flavors (strawberry, chocolate, and almond), and are pretty much the greatest thing since sliced bread. Really.

Almond cream

Its brains, if you will. The outer donut is similar to the 'Pon de Ring' donuts that Mister Donut is generally known for. They possess a tangibly chewy outer layer, and a delightfully light and airy center (though not devoid of material). Not overly sweet, the donut itself is basically subtle in flavor, and big on texture. The lack of sugar is usually an annoyance of mine in Taiwanese desserts, but the bear donut gracefully sidesteps this issue with a layer of thick glaze. Neither crunchy, nor gluey, their miracle glaze is an absolute feat of Japanese engineering. No, seriously... they probably added a host of preservatives to increase the longevity of their glazes (not that they have to on these babies, since they sell like hotcakes), but I really don't mind, it's still impressive to me. As for the cream... it's whipped super light, and flavored ever so gently that it's the perfect complement for the shell. Basically, you get a donut that's so delicious, and so intoxicating in cuteness that you'll ultimately become a donut serial killer. This shit is legit, and I hope it becomes a permanent fixture on their menu.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mango shaved ice (思慕昔)

Mango shaved ice w/panna cotta

I have a long and sad history with mango flavored shaved ice, with most of them ending similar to this. Sparing you the full details, let's just say it's another one of my food related love-hate relationships. Fully aware of the consequences (which will never be the same, I might add), I couldn't help myself when I found a place that served mango shaved ice with panna cotta (not pudding!). Where? On 永康街, at a place called 思慕昔 (which has the phonetic equivalence of 'smoothie'). Dumb name? Certainly, but as far as the mango shaved ice... they don't dick around.

Now I'm sure that this isn't unique to this one shop, but if you have the balls to open a shaved ice place specializing in mango just down the street from the famous ice shop formerly known as 'Ice Monster,' then you're probably pretty good yourself. Or at least that was my train of thought. Mmm, actually I probably wasn't thinking, I was too intrigued by the concept already. Anyway, it was every bit as good as expected. Soft, yet resilient, panna cotta... heavy in dairy flavor and light in sweetness, capping a mound of traditional mango shaved ice (fresh mangoes in syrup + a healthy serving of condensed milk). Satisfactory across all components, their version can be said to be good, if not remarkable. For about half the price, Ice Monster can suck it.


For one reason or another, they also gave a free cup of mango... um something, with every order that day... (most likely because it was their opening weekend). I think it was sherbet, it tasted kind of like the Italian ice from Rita's, but not exactly. Honestly, I don't remember that much about it. I was pretty damn stuffed from the massive bowl of shaved ice, but I guess it was okay? I don't think I'd spend money on it. To come full circle, I should probably mention whether or not I 'won the lottery' this time. Uh, let's not ruin a good thing by talking about my bathroom escapades, k?


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Soup dumplings etc. (金雞園)

Soup dumplings (小籠包)

In perhaps one of the most idiotic decisions I've ever seen regarding restaurant locations, 金雞園, which translates loosely to 'The Garden of Golden Chickens,' decided to plop itself down on 永康街... right down the street from 鼎泰豐 and 高記. As awesome as that name is, it just doesn't make much sense to place yourself next to two of the most well known soup dumping restaurants. Yet... they're still in business. So they must be doing something right? What I mean is... in Taiwan, soup dumplings are very serious business, and yours better be damn good to stay afloat, let alone in that area. Hmm... life changing dumplings?

Nah, nothing like that. They have great flavor, by which I mean the pork is sufficiently juicy and savory, but the skins are a tad thick, the soup content could definitely be increased, and they almost all have a little nub of dough at the pinch spot. That said, it's like 90 NT (less than $3) per steamer (8 soup dumplings). From a pure value standpoint, that's a shade over 10 NT per. When compared with juggernaut 鼎泰豐, which is 190 NT for 10... well, I think I can forgive them for their shortcomings.

Hot and sour soup

Mmm... hot and sour soup ordered out of habit. I don't like eating soup dumplings (or any kind of dumpling really) without an accompanying soup. As I previously mentioned, I like poking a hole in the skins and filling them with hot and sour soup. The combination is mind blowing.

Fried mantou (銀絲卷)

Fried mantou. This shit is dope yo. Sure it sounds stupid, steam some dough into a giant dense ball of carbs, and then fry it until you have a fried giant dense ball of carbs, but I assure you it's delicious. Before anyone tells me that the best way to eat it is dipped in condensed milk, no... just no. While I do agree that dipping stuff in condensed milk is the right thing to do 99% of the time, doing that ruins the subtle sweetness that mantou inherently owns. So please, try it plain before you dip to oblivion next time. Long story short... 金雞園, awesome name, decent prices, acceptable soup dumplings, incredible fried dough. Definitely worth visiting if you want local authenticity.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Japanese BBQ (我!就厲害... 烤肉)

Stone... pot thing

Japanese (erm... Korean) barbecue is fun for everyone... aside from vegetarians I guess. You get to grill the meat yourself and come out smelling like smoked meat, it's win win! The one thing I could never stomach in NYC though, was the price. Yes indeed, it's more whining from the person who wasted a quarter mil on tuition... ha. I never understood how a plate of thinly sliced pork belly could even come remotely close to costing $20+. Theoretically, I could go to any Asian supermarket and buy damn near 10 pounds for the cost. For that reason, it was something I rarely indulged in. Taiwan fixes all this. Like pretty much everything food related, Japanese barbecue is super cheap. Like 399 NT ($13) for all you can eat cheap. In this post... we explore how I stuff my face with pork and beef!


I actually don't think this place is all that special in the grand scheme of things. There's a lot of these places similar to this, and they're probably more or less the same. Fundamental differences... some places have all you can drink beer, some places have more flavors of ice cream, and some places use gas ranges instead of stone pots. Whatever... 大同小異吧. Why'd I pick this place out of the blue? The name is straight awesome. Named 我!就厲害, it loosely translates to 'I'm the best.' With that kind of self-proclamation, how could I not eat here? Bonus points for using an old fashioned stone pot...

Mixed plate of pork

PORK! Since it was all you can eat, it seemed like a more prudent decision to get a mixed platter of meat. Instead of... you know, like 10 plates of pork belly and only pork belly. They brought this out. If you expect me to remember everything on that plate, well, sorry... I promise you I enjoyed it very much though. The cuts were decent (and supposedly 'black' pork). No complaints.

Plate of beef

And the same thing with beef. It's just a mixed plate of random cuts of beef. There was actually another tray with more beef, but I came to the realization that everything looks relatively similar when it comes to meat. If it's not red, it's white. Mmm, these were good too. It's pretty hard to screw up barbecue methinks. Unless you forget something and it catches on fire. That didn't happen to me at all multiple times that day. Nope, not once.

Pork belly and kalbi

Cooked meat! I'm pretty sure the only things on the grill in that picture are pork belly and beef short ribs. When the fat from the meats melted onto the hot coals... damn, that smell is something you just can't describe or replicate outside of a barbecue house. It's a culinary wonder to say the least. The smell alone is enough to drive me insane. The meat most certainly didn't disappoint either. Fatty enough for the meat flavor to linger in your mouth, but not so much that it's overwhelming or disgusting to chew through. Like I said, with good cuts of pork or beef, it's hard to screw up something as simple as putting meat to heat. Okay, maybe I have one complaint. They wouldn't serve me cow tongue because it wasn't dinner time. What kind of nonsense is that? Hrmph.

Mochi and marshmallows

They also gave us chocolate marshmallows and pieces of sliced mochi. I had this great plan of making mochi smores with the marshmallows, but alas... I am an idiot, and this plan definitely did not work out as I imagined. Basically, I burned my fingers in liquid marshmallow and tried to salvage the situation by shoving mochi in my mouth and licking my fingers. I probably looked like I was an 8 year old with fine motor skill problems. Sigh.

Grillin' mochi

The mochi by itself was pretty good. Nothing spectacular, but if you grilled them until they just began to show grill marks, then dipped them in the peanut flour provided, they tasted just like the traditional stuff. Except... hot? Yeah, that's pretty much all there is to that. Anyway, it was a fun meal, and amazingly, the cost was less than that of a single tray of pork belly in Manhattan. The conversion factor still amazes me when I truly sit down and think about it.

PS - they have apple milk tea here... and strawberry milk tea. Do you have any clue how fat I'd still be if I grew up drinking apple milk tea instead of Yoohoo? Ho-ly crap.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Pineapple shrimp balls (鳳梨蝦球)

Pineapple shrimp balls (鳳梨蝦球)

In the marriage between Kewpie mayo and fried shrimp, you end up with the glorious union you see above. If you've been to a lot of dim sum places, you've probably seen the fried shrimp balls served with pineapple sauce. These things are usually bright orange in color, crispy and juicy at the same time... they taste freakin' fantastic. This is exactly the same, except instead of the syrup like sauce that ends up everywhere, you have Kewpie mayo in various flavors, which makes this that much better... instantaneously. Gawd I love Kewpie mayo.

The shrimp isn't freshly fried (which is reasonable considering it comes from a cart), but it's still pretty damn good for being fried twice. Mmm, maybe that actually enhances the crust. While the shrimp is nothing to brag about, the sauce is out of this world. Available in flavors (pineapple, mango, mustard, pepper, wasabi, and others!), it's simply Kewpie mayo, which is terrific by itself, and make it into a sweet sauce. The duo of sauce and shrimp is quite a combination, with the savory shrimp complemented perfectly by the tart yet sweet sauce. With the fruit flavored mayo mixes, the taste can only be described as 'delightfully tropical.' You also get a small side of cabbage salad, for the sake of appearing healthy, but no one really cares about that. Or at least I don't.

Pineapple shrimp cart (鳳梨蝦球)

And the cart where I got it (it's in the middle of 臨江夜市). Note all the newspaper clippings... THEY ARE FAMOUS, I think? It's 50 NT ($1.50) for a small order, but I somehow ended up with a large order, and samples of the pineapple, mango, and passion fruit sauces (they all kind of taste the same methinks). I think it's because I looked confused and spoke English, or possibly because I kept shoving my camera in the owner's face. Either way, when you're in Taiwan, speak as much English as possible, and take pictures of all your food. You'll get bigger servings... maybe (or maybe you'll piss someone off... I'm not sure). Either way, even if I didn't get extra food, I'd still consider those 50 NT a worthy investment.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Katsu curry (咖哩屋)

Katsu Curry (咖哩屋)

Price shouldn't be indicative of quality... but for some reason, plenty of people associate the cost of a dish with its quality. That's correlation, not causation! I understand that higher costs are, in many cases, driven by the difficulty of preparation, or the cost of ingredients, but in the case of something as simple as fried pork, curry sauce, and rice, where neither preparation, nor ingredients can be considered extravagant... I think what I said is pretty reasonable. Case in point, the katsu curry at 咖哩屋 (Curry House).

Finding a katsu curry in Taiwan is damn easy. Every better or worse, every Japanese restaurant has it on their menu. Finding a good katsu curry in Taiwan... is not as easy (although not impossible). When I happened upon 咖哩屋, located next to an 'adult entertainment' shop of all places, I don't think I was expecting anything great. I just wanted something super cheap and filling. When I saw katsu curry on their menu for 70 NT (a smidgen over $2), I was prepared for mediocrity. It seemed impossible that the cost of their katsu bowl was less than an individual piece of katsu pork in NYC. When I tried it though, the flavor was surprisingly full. With a curry that's both subtle in sweet and spiciness, their sauce is basically liquid crack. Easily worth its own weight in gold. The katsu is pre-fried, but with a quick second frying, comes out crispier than ever, preserving a vast majority of the succulent pork juice. In summary? Nice crispy cutlet and a sauce to die for... for $2. How sick is that?

Is it the best I've ever had? Probably not... but because it's $2, and isn't that far off from the places that charge 300+ NT, it's a place to I've been to time and time again.