Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bulgogi pork cheesesteak (Koja)

Spicy pork bulgoki steak sandwich

Have you ever found yourself torn between choosing spicy Korean pork and cheesesteak? One is a well groomed package of oily convenience, while the other is a deliciously spicy mess of a meal with limited mobility. How can you possibly decide!? Good news... you don't have to. In somewhat of a conflict of interest, I didn't write about Koja (the hybrid Korean-Japanese truck that lives on 38th street) here, but this... I couldn't bring myself to write for another site. It's like I'm cheating on myself or something. Anyway, I present to you... the bulgogi pork cheesesteak.

I don't think I need to really explain this one. You take a regular hoagie roll, layer some cheese inside (I'm guessing provolone?), and layer on spicy bulgogi (or however you want to spell it) pork w/peppers and onions. A stroke of pure genius. Nothing could make this sandwich any better.

YESSS Korean cheesesteak

Oh wait. Yes there is. It is $3. For just $3, you get a 10" sandwich stuffed with an entire serving of spicy pork with gochujang. If I could somehow quantify taste and value per dollar, this shit would be off the charts. Just consider the fact that you can have 30" of spicy pork cheesesteak for less than a single Hamilton. Fuck, I bet even Kim Jong Il would be down with that. Insane.

So much pork

But the thing is, even if it were twice the price, I'd still absolutely love it. That's how good it is in actuality. The bread is a plain hoagie roll that gets toasted, but the part that makes it special is the fact that it somehow gets covered in a thin coating of sweet chili oil. Spectacularly flavorful and soft, it's the kind of combination I wish all my sandwich breads used. Inside, the pork is no slouch either. Cooked fresh with a heaping handful of onions and a mix of red and green peppers, the pork is just spicy enough to numb the tongue without going overboard. Adequately tender, the cheapish meat, high in fat content, truly glistens in bright red glory. It's no shabbier than their standard bulgogi, which on its own is pretty good.

I'll put it this way (at the risk of being crucified by traditionalists)... I love my cheesesteaks the original way just fine. Put some peppers, onions, cheese and plain steak on a roll and I'd consider it a fine meal. If you give me the option of having a jazzed up Korean version of cheesesteak? I'll take that 9 times out of 10. Especially at this price. Way to go Koja.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

基隆廟口's best of the rest...

Crab 'geng' (螃蟹羹)

I know what you're thinking... "is he still talking about that stupid seaport? God I wish he'd shut up already." Sorry. Wait, no I'm not. I guess I could've written about 基隆廟口 in a singular long post, but I feel like that would be an insult to each and every incredible shop located there. They're all tremendously unique, and they all deserve their spot in the limelight (even one as weak as my blog). Combine that with the fact that I have the attention span of a goldfish and you'd have a recipe for disaster. Basically you'd get more rambling and made up words than anyone should have to put up with. Anyway, here's a condensed 'best of the rest' post for things I put in my mouth at Keelung.

Stall #55... home of 螃蟹羹, otherwise known as crab 'geng.' Without rehashing a full explanation of what 'geng' is (read here), this stall serves up a crab meat variant. Like Goldilocks said about the stupid porridge, theirs is neither too thick, nor too thin, existing at equilibrium at just the right consistency for slurping with minimal effort. The mushrooms were forgettable, but everything else was spot on. The bamboo shoots were remarkably tender, the cilantro and garlic were playfully complementary in flavor, and the crab meat with fish paste was absolutely sublime. I won't ruin the description by making up fake words to describe how delicious this was, but all I know is for 55 NT ($1.75), you can buy soup that'd put your grandmother's secret recipe to shame. No offense to your grandmothers.

Oil... rice

Still from stall #55, is a single serving of 油飯 or oily rice. They're not really famous for this, but it was 25 NT (75 cents). It just seemed like a good value. Besides, you know how Chinese people are... we fucking love rice. Obviously, if I bought soup, I was going to get rice in some capacity. Theirs was pretty average. Nothing really out of the ordinary, just short grain rice cooked with plenty of oil, mushrooms, pork, and shrimp. Nope, what made me decide to mention this was their accompanying orange sauce. I'm not really sure how to explain what it is (you'll see later that it shows up pretty often), but basically it's a thick, citrus flavored sauce (miso based maybe?), that you can slather on just about anything. For reals, I drowned my bowl of rice in this sauce, and oh it delivered.

Taro cake w/sauce (油蔥粿)

Hell yeah son, return of sauce! Stall #60 serves up something called 油蔥粿 for 35 NT (just over $1), which is really just taro cake. Another instance of things being lost in translation, this isn't the kind that fat kids like, but rather a savory 糕 kind of cake, like turnip cake. They serve this two ways, either fried or straight from the steamer. Clearly I didn't make the ordering decisions here, as the version I got was steamed, but in the end it doesn't really matter. Having the consistency of a fresh and jiggly rice cake, you have a soft and tender block of... stuff, with the slightest hint of taro flavor. That probably doesn't sound overly appetizing on its own, but the redeeming factor, again, is the sauce. It's like liquid crack that you can pour on everything. Slightly tangy with a long lasting sweetness, this is the stuff of legend. When combined with the steamed block of taro, you get both components of supreme texture and flavor i.e. pure and unadulterated win.

As far as 基隆廟口 goes, I'm sure I only scratched the surface (I wish I were a cow, since then I'd have 3 stomachs), but if a preliminary sampling of random food all turned out this well, I get kind of scared thinking about the potential in the other 50 some odd stalls.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tacos Don Memo

Tacos Don Memo

Having grown somewhat bored with repetitive visits to the cheesesteak and Asian food carts (despite what this blog seems indicate, I do eat other things...), I thought I'd take the opportunity to fill a craving I've had since I left NYC last year... Mexican food! I'll admit, I'm someone who's never been to the West coast, and never had a truly mind boggling taco or burrito experience (the best I've probably had is Tacqueria Y Fonda near Columbia). I'm definitely down with the whole Chipotle/Qdoba scene, so take my words how you will. Tacos Don Memo is legit.

Simplicity never tasted so good. That's how I feel about the menu. Short and sweet. I mean... just look at that Asian kid pondering what the he wants. He's got that chin on hand thing goin' on. You know everything on that menu must be good if he's having such a hard time deciding, 100% true. In all seriousness, their menu is crazy short. Burritos, tortas, tacos, tostada, and quesadillas, and that's it. Each comes with the option of beef, chicken, marinated pork, or seasoned pork (sorry vegetarians!). Like I said, super simple, but that's probably why their stuff is so good. They don't have to fuck around with trying to make 20 different types of food. What's that stupid programming acroynm? K.I.S.S. - keep it simple stupid.

Pork torta (Don Memo)

And the pork torta (marinated please, for the juice content factor). For $6, it's a pretty hefty sandwich, stuffed with more pork than you'd think belongs in a sandwich 8" long. From a value perspective it's solid. Filled with shredded lettuce, jalapeno peppers, onions, black beans, and more mayo/pork than you can shake a stick at, this one probably isn't a meal suited for anyone who cares about their waistline, but honestly... who cares? The meat is pull apart tender and the vast amount of mayo and fat make the contents extremely juicy. In yet another engineering marvel, the sandwich somehow doesn't fall apart at any point during eating (which was confusing given how loose the pork was). This is the work of Mexican leprechauns... I swear it.

Chicken taco (Don Memo)

Chicken taco? Yeah, I'm not sure what I was thinking. I never go chicken on any taco... ever. I'm a big fan of eating cows and pigs, preferring my chickens to be fried. In this case though, it was perfect. Their tacos are $2, and adequately sized. By which I mean, I suppose I could buy 5 and make a meal out of it. Anyway, these are definitely above average (in the scheme of what I've tasted at least). The shells are soft and pillowy, although I have no proof of them being made in house, props to them if they are. The chicken was perfectly juicy, adequately flavored, and provided just enough oomph in the presence of the other fillings. With just a hint of spiciness, all the flavors played together to form a light, but still powerful taste... heavy in cilantro for those who like it like that (I do).

Is this the greatest Mexican food I've ever had? I don't know, I haven't really been to enough places to even begin comparing. Is it better than places like Chipotle? Hell yeah they are, with the added bonus of serving their stuff out of the back of a truck. I think all these places deserve bonus points for that. Anyway, craving fulfilled.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

George's Lunch Truck

Double bacon cheeseburger (George's)

I'll never be a professional food writer. I have neither the qualifications, nor the talent in writing to ever make money doing this, and I'm okay with it. So while Sam Sifton can afford the luxury of being paid to shit all over fancy pants restaurants, I do not. As a direct result of this misfortune, when I go out to eat, my first priority falls on the wallet, with taste being secondary (sad... I know). Luckily, I like food... in all forms. Yes, expensive restaurants certainly have their niche in my book, but like Danny, fast food and generally boring stuff is fine with me too. Shit, I'm a grad student, and like I said, I don't get paid to eat.

This is where George's fits in. If you're looking for the holy grail of cheesesteaks, burgers, or sandwiches... feel free to stop reading now. Actually, if you're even looking for an above average meal, you can probably skip this post. Nope, I'm gonna dedicate this one to all the broke ass students who are sick of dining halls. George's is a food truck that specializes in American cuisine, which apparently just means sandwiches and burgers, for prices that keep my checking account adequately full. Sort of. For example... for just $3.75, you can get a bacon double cheeseburger (see above). Like I said, it's not spectacular. In fact, calling it good would probably be a lie. If I had to find a comparable, it's like a better version of a whopper with bacon, which isn't all that awful. The meat is of the frozen sort, and then cooked through and through, but if we consider the fact that it's only $3.75... it's looking pretty decent now no?

George's plain cheesesteak

For the same $3.75 you could also get the cheesesteak. Melted white American cheese, a generic 10" hoagie roll, onions, and frozen chopped steak. The recurring theme here is that it's not spectacular, but it's cheap as hell. In a straight comparison of food, Steak Queen kicks George's metaphoric ass, but at 75% of the price, it's acceptable on days I don't feel like walking that far. Basically, with my limited food budget in mind, even though George's isn't a culinary mecca of burgers and cheesesteaks, it's fine by me.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

天婦羅 tian fu luo (基隆廟口)

基隆廟口 (Keelung Temple Street)

I might've already written about the 'Nutritious Sandwich,' but there's so much more to 基隆廟口 than just that (I just got really excited to share the doughnut mayonnaise sandwich with the world, so I posted that individually). Anyway, Keelung's Temple Street is basically a commercialized night market that operates during the day. Each shop has a numbered stall for easy navigation, and you're basically confronted by a 200 meter street that's just stall after stall after stall of some of the most mind blowing Taiwanese food you'll ever find. It's like a food festival... that exists permanently.

If there's one thing that this place is renowned for though, it's their 天婦羅 (tian fu luo), which is basically an over-sized chunk of tempura, that gets sliced into strips, and drizzled with sweet miso soy sauce (see here for another example).

Unfried fish paste?

Giant ball of dough! No, in actuality, that's a giant hunk of fish paste. It has the consistency of a super wet dough, sans the stickiness. I know this because I poked my finger in it. I was immediately yelled at for doing this, at which point I pretended to not speak Chinese. Situation diffused. Anyway, the next step in delivering heavenly tempura to my mouth is to take chunks of fish paste and...

Frying stuff

Deep fry it. Of course that's the natural progression of things. Everything tastes better fried, so why would fish paste be any different. I have to give serious props to the guy cooking the 天婦羅, since there were a fair number of customers, and more chunks of fish paste frying simultaneously than I'd care to deal with. Anyway, somehow he manages to keep track of frying order (and time!), removing them all with the same characteristic golden hue of perfection.

天婦羅 (tian fu luo)

That's some serious shit right there. So good it should be illegal. Fried to just the right consistency, the outer shell is, at the same time, crisp, yet soft. As if there were miniature pockets of texture interlaced on top of a smooth macro structure. Like a fractal (oh noes... math!). The center carries with it a resilient bounciness, a stretch factor that's firm enough to provide a distinct feel, but not a rubbery sensation. In terms of taste? Absolutely phenomenal. The light flavoring, similar to any whitefish, is complemented by the indescribable taste of tempura oil. Add to that equation a thin sweet soy, which had a slight citrus accent, and you have a dish that's absolutely marvelous, and something you honestly can't find anywhere else... even in Taiwan. Oh yeah... the best part? That dish is 30 NT... that's less than $1. Damn.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Yue Kee Food Truck

Broccoli chicken lunch special (Yue Kee)

Instead of writing about something exotic or unique or anything like that, I'm gonna post about something dear and close to my heart... cheap Americanized Chinese food. Now I'm all for authenticity and all that jazz, but I do have a soft spot in my heart for the bastardization of my culinary heritage. Love me some General Tso's chicken. That said, I took it for granted during my time spent at Columbia. It was cheap, and delivery almost made it too convenient. In Philly though, the takeout places are grossly overpriced, with either an additional charge for delivery or an obscene minimum purchase... I mean, $100. Seriously? I have to order 10 quarts of broccoli with beef before you'll deliver something 4 blocks? Insane. All that changed though, when I happened upon the Yue Kee truck.

In some sort of miracle, they serve a full Chinese takeout menu from the back of a truck. Pretty much every dish you could think of is there, and some that I've never seen before. Broccoli chicken? Check, lunch special for $5.25 with egg roll and soup. Decent chicken, pretty standard broccoli, average MSG laden sauce. All in all, exactly what I'm looking for when I get takeout Chinese.

乾炒牛河 (Yue Kee)

Hardly a one hit wonder, their 乾炒牛河 (rice noodles w/beef) was pretty decent too. It even had that characteristic smoky flavor you'd expect from the dish. The beef was okay, the noodles were cooked to a proper texture... it's every bit as delicious as it is oily. The winning part here is the fact that they pack the box so full that the lid won't even stay closed. All for $4. That's like 1/2 a pound of rice noodles for $4. America... Taiwan, it doesn't matter where, that's a damn good deal.

Mapo tofu? (Yue Kee)

Mmm, I actually didn't know what I was getting in this case. I overheard a bunch of the foreign Chinese students ordering the mapo tofu (like... 4 orders at a time), so I figured it must be friggin' incredible. So I got it too. Aside from the fact that I'm more used to my mapo tofu looking like a pool of chili oil, and that I've never encountered bamboo shoots in any variation of it before, this was pretty okay (especially if you like a dish with some heat). I don't know that I'd ever order it again given the variety built into their menu, but it was acceptable. Also it was $3.50. That's stupid cheap.

Soy chicken leg (Yue Kee)

Not everything is peachy though. I was super excited when I saw soy chicken leg added to their menu. Thoughts of a finely fried chicken leg dipped in soy broth w/pickled veggies swirled in my mind. Light, crisp, and flavorful. Nope, I got that. Which is basically a chicken leg that gets stewed in soy sauce. I can't really blame them for false advertising (since that's exactly what the menu said it was), but my hopes and dreams basically came crashing to the ground when I opened the box. Even though it was only $4, I still feel kind of jipped. I could've gotten sesame chicken instead! As for how it tasted... let's just say that there are additional flavors I expect from a chicken leg aside from salty. The sauce on the rice? Plain soy. Sigh.

To say that their food is outstanding would be a bit of a stretch, but let's think about a couple of things here. They serve a full menu of 60ish items out of the back of a freakin' truck. Give them a break. Their prices? Almost nothing tops $5, and that's only if you get a lunch special or a bigger order... again, give them a break. Nope, there's really nothing to complain about here. Yes orders take a bit longer than you'd expect (I attribute this to the truck factor), and no the food isn't "punch your friend in the face to get it" phenomenal, but you know what? It hits the spot for sure.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nutritious Sandwich (基隆廟口)

Nutritious Sandwich Shop!

You'd be hard pressed to find a sandwich that gets me more excited than the creation found at the 58th stall in 基隆廟口 (Keelung Temple Street), and let's be honest... I've eaten a lot of sandwiches. Some people might consider it an abomination, a culinary sin of sorts, but not me. This is the ultimate culmination of flavors, the evolution of everything Asian people love, and a legitimate slap in the face to your cardiologist, all in an easy to carry form factor. It is the 營養三明治, better known in English as... the 'Nutritious Sandwich.'

Nutritious sandwich

For just 55 NT ($1.60), you get a small piece of culinary perfection. Each of the components are chosen carefully... starting with the bun, you get a deep fried doughnut base, just like those you'd find with curry pan, deliciously light and airy, with a subtle hint of sweetness in the ever so chewy dough. In the vacancy of the bread, a thick layer of Kewpie mayo is spread. I don't think I need to explain why this is awesome to the nth degree, it just is. Next came the toppings, a fried and sliced hotdog fluorescent pink in color, half a soy sauce egg, and a few slivers of cucumber and tomatoes (see? It is nutritious).

The flavors blend together in a truly sublime fashion. The sweetness of the doughnut bun is amplified by the slight tartness of the Kewpie mayo. The soy sauce egg and hotdog add the savory component to the equation, with the cucumber and tomatoes being refreshers, in what would otherwise be way too overwhelming for your mouth to handle. Texturally, it's magnificent in every way. The breading on the doughnut is crisp and light, the mayo is smooth beyond belief, with a secondary crunch from the vegetables. Honestly, at this point, there's little more that I can say that would actually do this sandwich justice. So I'll stop here, and leave you either desperately wanting... or thoroughly disgusted.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bobby's Burger Palace

Palace classic burger (BBP)

Shame on you Bobby Flay. You're supposed to be the All-American expert on grilling (or maybe I've been brainwashed by Food Network). Needless to say, I expect so much more than what you delivered at your 'palace of burgers.' Sigh, no wonder you keep losing on those stupid 'Throwdown' challenges... step it up. Anyway, what you see above is the 'Palace Classic Burger.' At $6.50, it's neither super expensive, nor super cheap (although I'd much rather get a shack stack). It's exactly as described, classic... with American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and red onions as the only toppings. Standard and simple, which is awesome. Too bad that's where the positives end.

Sweet packaging?

Wait nevermind... they have nifty packaging. Clean and minimalistic. That was pretty cool too, also a plus I guess.

Now let me preface anything I say further with this: I think it's pretty obvious that I'm pretty easy to please when it comes to food. That's not to say I don't discern between good and bad food, I just tend to look for the positive in things I eat. This is a notable exception.

Burger cross-section

The bun is fine. You can't screw up a sesame seed white bun that's prepackaged. At least I don't think you can. I don't think I need to describe it past the fact that it was adequately sized with respect to the patty. The toppings were nondescript in the sense that they were nice and crunchy, and plenty fresh. They didn't distract or overpower anything else in the sandwich, so that was fine too. The cheese? Properly melted, no complaints there either actually. Nope, what I was annoyed about was the actual patty. The meat was awfully dry, which was probably a combination between use of a meat too lean, and overcooking. Note the fact that the patty is cooked well past medium-rare, or even medium, and is a single shade throughout the cross-section. Lacking in flavor and overcooked is the name of the game here. Not much better than Wendy's, but at three times the price. No thanks.

Meh... fries

The fries are $2.50... and are okay? Let me clarify that statement. Anything fried usually tastes good to me. These are like the fries from Five Guys, so good, but nothing remarkable. Except the portions suck. Unlike Five Guys, you get a cup, and it ends at that. For $2.50 you could probably do better. Although...

Fry sauce

The fry sauce is pretty sensual. In what is precisely the mix between a chipotle sauce and thousand island, you get a spicy, sweet, tangy mayo mixture. Easily the best part of the meal, which if you think about it... is really sad. Plus, you coul probably recreate this yourself... so, there you go.

Ginormous onion rings

Giant beer battered onion rings! Actually these were pretty terrific. For $3, I'm pretty sure they took an entire onion and made onion rings out of it. The portion is that generous. The batter was fantastically light, the onions were surprisingly crisp, and there was just enough oil to remind you that, no... these probably aren't good for your heart.

Summary... feel free to steer clear of BBP unless you like paying twice the cost for what is basically a fancier version of McDonald's. Sure... Bobby Flay endorses this place, and yeah the inside of the restaurant is pretty spiffy, but there's just not enough substance to justify a return visit. Sorry Bobby, I gotta tell it like it is. Maybe you're better than this, shit... you probably are, but using your name to endorse a lackluster burger? I thought you were better than that. For shame son.


Monday, September 13, 2010

More pork buns (許記生煎包)

許記 Xu Ji 生煎包 cart

Look! A crowd. Always a welcome sight when it comes to food in Asia. Yes I'm sure this post feels kinda like deva ju since it seems I just wrote about these baby pan-fried pork buns last month, but this cart is different (ha, I feel like I write that all the time). Nope, in the case of the Shilin Night Market shop, their buns were moderately thick skinned, juicy pockets of pure pork. A meat bun at its finest. This cart 許記 (Xu Ji), found nestled in 師大夜市 (Shida Night Market), has a slight twist on the interpretation of 生煎包. They use a skin only marginally thicker than that of a soup dumpling and fill it with a blend of pork and cabbage, half and half, resulting in what can basically be considered a juicier, fatter potsticker. Interested yet?

Cookin' 生煎包

Everything is handled outside and done on hand on the small counter that's formed by their cart (I'm pretty sure it's not really clean). Also, no one's wearing gloves, but it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that they can churn out hundreds, if not thousands, of these pockets of pork and cabbage deliciousness per hour, just to keep up with the demand. I can only imagine how quickly this place would get shutdown by the department of health if it were in NYC...

生煎包 box of 12

Know how much the box of 12 cost? All of 72 NT ($2.25). If you think about this on a per bun basis, that's 6 NT for a bun/dumpling hybrid that could put most places in the US to shame. That's less than 20 cents per bite of sunshine, happiness, and everything that's good in the world. It's less than a quarter for 20 seconds of pure bliss. It's like a gateway drug of sorts, except instead of getting arrested, you just get fat.

Sesame laden pork dumpling

A closer look, just so you can appreciate the subtle charring that's present across every single one of these puppies, uniform too. The glistening of the skins should give an indication of just how moist/oil-laden these fried buns are, and I think the juice content should be somewhat obvious given the shape as well. If anyone's wondering which place is better for 生煎包... there's no comparison, these two aren't replacements for each other, they're both spectacular in their own way.

Side note... I've become a champion of ambidextrous chopstick usage since I need my right hand for pictures. Thanks food writing, useless skill attained!


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Cheesesteaks and platters (Steak Queen)

Steak Queen signage

I actually had a lot of trouble writing this post. Most of my first few drafts comprised of me bitching about how there are no 24 hour delis, that everything closes at 10 pm, or that almost all the Chinese places are grossly overpriced, but if there's one bright spot I've found here, it's cheesesteak. Philadelphia is supposedly the promised land of cheesesteaks. This is probably true... I wouldn't know. I haven't really made any effort to go very far to find them (give me a break, I'm lazy), but even my first random foray into steak and cheese exploration was on-par or better than any that I've eaten in the span of 4 years in NYC (don't crucify me for saying that, it's not meant to be an absolute statement). Case in point... Steak Queen, a truck that says they have "the best steaks on campus."

Pepper cheesesteak (Steak Queen)

I don't ever like getting plain sandwiches, and I like to pretend I eat healthy, so I went with the pepper cheesesteak for $5.50. Measuring in at a hefty 11" (yes I used a tape measure), it's a decently sized sandwich, and it's cheaper than M2M, although I will miss conversing with the Filipino sandwich guys. Anyway, wait time is decent, size is good, price is low. I don't hold particularly high expectations for most stuff out of a truck, so it's looking pretty good at this point. Minor gripe, cut the sandwich all the way through please. Maybe it's okay for when you're just eating it, but it makes for a messy picture. Sorry.


And the fillings. They claim to use 1/2 a pound of fresh cut sirloin, neither of which claim I can validate, and fill the rest with onions, green peppers, and I believe provolone cheese? All of this is really irrelevant, since all that really matters is how it tastes. The bread was soft, warm, and glazed over with oil... check. The filling was surprisingly juicy, complete with crisp peppers, sweet onions, and heavy on beef flavor... triple check. Basically? A damn good sandwich that's pretty cheap. Not a sandwich that I would want to marry or anything, but the type I'd bring home to my parents. The quintessential 'nice' sandwich.

Pepper steak platter over rice

They serve other crap too, like burgers, platters, and wraps. Pepper steak over rice platters are $4.50, and I was expecting thinly sliced beef stir-fried with green peppers like from the Chinese places, but instead I was greeted with the above. It's basically cheesesteak filling over rice. Except instead of cheese, they use soy/hoisin sauce to finish it. Just as greasy, just as flavorful, it's as good as you'd expect. As an Asian person, I thoroughly approve of this marriage of rice and chopped steak. It feels so... right. Anyway, what's the point of all this? There is no point, I just felt like talking about the food trucks on campus, and this seemed like an appropriate place to start.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Breakfast for champions (大台北豆漿大王)

蛋餅包豬排 pork chop + egg pancake

Breakfast in Taiwan. Serious business it is. Something that makes me tremendously sad is the idea of breakfast in the US. Despite my great love for pancakes, waffles, eggs, and sausages, I just don't see how it can compete with that. What's that you ask? It's sliced honey barbecue pork rolled inside of an egg scallion pancake. Yeah, take a second to process the combination of all those words, it's actually mind boggling. A thin, almost crepe like pancake dotted with scallions gets married to a layer of egg, then tender pork roasted with a honey soy glaze gets shoved inside. Complicated? No. Delicious? Oh yeah, and all for 30 NT (less than $1).

小籠包 soup dumplings

but holy shit Batman, there's more! Did you know... that soup dumplings are an acceptable breakfast food in Taiwan? True story. The fact that these were only like 50 NT for a steamer of 8 makes it even more incredible. Let's put this in perspective for a moment, 8 soup dumplings for $1.60 is just... well, awesome. Again, for $1.60 in the US, I could get a muffin. Maybe. These weren't terrific (though I didn't expect them to be). There's the little nub of dough at the pinch point, and there wasn't really an explosion of soup, but if you're complaining about something as insignificant as that, then your life is perfect in every aspect, and you should probably just go die.

What is this egg rice thing...?

Rice ball! Wrapped with a fried egg because it's healthy. For 35 NT (a shade over $1) you get a torpedo of rice stuffed with a double fried 油條 (fried cruller), peanut flour, and pork floss. The normal combination of sweet, savory, crispy, and soft, all in a portable package of double fried goodness.

蛋包飯團 egg wrapped rice ball!

Cross section. The fried cruller is quite a bit darker than a normal one, since it is double fried. It has to be though, otherwise you're left pulling and tugging on the fried strip of carbs until your left with an empty and sad shell of rice. It'd be the saddest 飯團 in the world. Ever. Still, their version is good. It's not always piping hot, since they make them in advance and put them out, but the flavors are all there, the textures are spot on. Maybe they went a bit hardcore with the peppers (it's unusually spicy), but that might be one of its charms.


As far as the regular 燒餅油條 (shao bing you tiao)... just skip it. True it's cheaper than most other places, but I feel like this is something that should be eaten fresh from the fryer, with a pillowy pocket of dough straight from the oven. Like their 飯團, they make these advance, wrap 'em, and put them out on a warming plate. By the time I got to it, the cruller wasn't oily, and the 燒餅 was all flaky, and not at all moist. Disappointing to say the least, from a place that does breakfast so damn well in all other aspects.

Oh yeah, where to get all this? From a joint called 大台北豆漿大王 (Big Taipei Soy Milk King), located on 南海路. They have messed up hours... they're only open from 6 pm to 10:30 am. For reals though, Taiwanese people don't joke around with their breakfast.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Shack Stack (Shake Shack)

Shack stack!

I see no reason why I can't concurrently post about meals that I ate in the US, and stuff I ate in Taiwan. I'm a big boy... I can handle that much! I think...? Anyway, that's not the point. I used to hate Shake Shack. Not because I thought it tasted bad or anything, in fact I thought it was too good. With one of the best (imho) burgers in the city, you can't help but feel jipped when you see the size of their burgers. No, what I hated about Shake Shack were their portions. It's like forbidden fruit or something, you show me how incredible beef, cheese, and bread can taste, but not enough to satisfy my hunger? That's just straight evil.

Now I know what you're thinking. Why not just buy more? Well, I'm also not made of money, and if you haven't been to the Shack yet, their price to volume ratio isn't exactly terrific. Still, like a fly to poo (yeah I went there), I just can't help but be drawn in by the burgers there. Seriously, they're the shit.

Cheesy innards

I mean... come on. JUST LOOK AT THAT SPILLAGE. For $8.75, I can't legitimately say it's cheap or anything, but at least it's a big burger. On top of the normal cheeseburger, they throw a giant ball of fried mushroom stuffed with cheese. That's twice the amount of baller, with the added bonus of being able to say you ate healthy thrown in. Sort of (I don't know how okay you are with lying to yourself). I don't know if this is my favorite burger of all eternity, but I would at least say it deserves to sneak into the conversation. In all seriousness, it's really that good.

For all the people who complain about taking photos of bitten burgers. Sorry. I forgot. I was too focused on how to compress the behemoth without it looking stupid.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Tofu pudding and more tofu pudding (豆花莊)

花生豆花 (豆花莊)

There's something about tofu pudding that never gets old. It might be the fact that the tofu portion is so freakin' jiggly and smooth and is fun to play with, or it might be the fact that you can top it with whatever the fuck you want, but it's most likely the fact that you basically get to drink a bowl of straight syrup, which is just awesome. Yes, I'm the kid that got yelled at as a kid for drinking syrup from the bottle, so of course I'd love it. Naturally, I justify this by telling myself that some of the toppings are good for you, and that I'm essentially eating tofu... which in itself is wonderfully healthy. Basically I lie to myself, but I don't really care. If I see a 豆花 place, it's basically like the attraction of a flame to moth... I just can't help it.

This is another thing that 遼寧夜市 (Liao Ning Night Market) is crazy sick at, by the way. Anyway, the most legitimate of 豆花 places in the night market is an establishment that goes by the name of 豆花莊 or 'Dou Hua Pavilion,' and yes... all they serve is tofu pudding. They take their pudding seriously. The bowl above is the traditional peanut laden tofu pudding, which is the standard for me. Super soft peanut stewed in sugar syrup is spread across slivers of tofu pudding and served in a pool of simple syrup (no ginger flavoring here). Their version is pretty remarkable, although, I say that about almost every tofu pudding place... so that that with a grain of salt. The tofu was about as smooth as I've ever had, with a strong soy flavor still present, the peanuts were soft to the point of being creamy, and the syrup... well, come on, it's syrup for crying out loud, of course it was good. Served chilled for 30 NT (LESS THAN $1), I don't think anyone would find reason to complain.

三彩豆花 (豆花莊)

And... their 3 color tofu pudding. In an instance where there's actually even less nutritional content to speak of, they spread 蒟蒻, basically multicolored jelly things, on top of the tofu pudding. These are flavored with fruits, taro, or sweet potato depending on the color, and are basically just like firmer pieces of jello. They don't really taste like what they should, but they add a nice textural contrast to the otherwise smooth and creamy tofu, and of course because it looks ballin'. Again... served with shaved ice in a bath of syrup, and still 30 NT. Honestly, there's not much to complain about here.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Pork scallion pancake rolls (鴻記)

牛肉捲 (鴻記)

I think we've already established that you can wrap pretty much anything in scallion pancakes. Now, I might seem like an idiot for pimping scallion pancake rolls so hard, but these are different, I swear... so just bear with me. In the other case, the scallion pancakes are pan fried to a perfectly delicious combination of greasy and crisp, but here... you have scallion pancakes that are light, airy, and soft (still greasy though), a complete contrast in both flavor and texture, but that's not the only difference. In the traditional sense, you would always wrap roast meats inside, be it pork or beef, but here... they use Japanese style teppanyaki meats. Basically, you get the best of both worlds... sizzling juicy meats, pan-fried vegetables, and sauce, with a wrapper that can soak up all the flavor. Un... freakin... believable.

For 50 NT (+5 NT for an egg fried onto your scallion pancake, and honestly it'd be kind of silly not to...) you can get plate of pure deliciousness for less than $2. Think about that. You can't even buy a hot dog at 7-11 in America for $2. Seems really unfair right? Anyway, the wrap gets sliced into 6 pieces, and you're given a plate of sushi like bits, and a bottle of panda sauce. Slather it on thick, and you're good to go. It's definitely a unique flavor, with a spongy, yet flavorful wrapper containing an explosion of meats and juices. The teppanyaki is pretty damn good for coming from a cart, it's heavy on the pepper, but still exceptionally well balanced in the flavor department. The combination of the two makes for a union of tastes suitable for a fairytale. Not gonna lie, this is the stuff of legends...

鴻記 (Hong Ji Cart)

Now I know what you're thinking... "holy shit bro, where can I get this culinary orgasm if I might happen to fly halfway around the world and end up in Taipei, Taiwan by sheer coincidence?" Yet again, it's a stall from 寧夏夜市 (Ning Xia Night Market), which is quickly becoming my favorite btw, called 鴻記蔥餅捲 (Hong Ji Scallion Pancake Wraps). That's right, it's a cart specializing in wrapping meats with scallion pancakes... what more could a guy want in life? Absolutely nothing.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Oyster omelettes (圓環邊蚵仔煎)

Oyster pancake

Normally I joke around about food (because food should make you happy of course), but when it comes to 蚵仔煎(oyster omelettes), it's serious business. I never really explained this very well, but here goes. If a truck full of fresh oysters ran into another truck carrying chicken eggs, and that collision caused another truck full of potato starch to crash, and some random passerby sprinkles perfectly cut spring scallions and cabbage on the mix, and the giant mixture of random ingredients cooked on a super hot section of a road, well then you'd end up with oyster pancakes. Or something like that...? In all honesty, I have no clue how it's made, and I don't really care. I just know that this shit is bananas, and that my knees go weak when I see it.

圓環邊蚵仔煎 (Yuan Huan Side Oyster Omelette)

Of course, if you want a truly sublime experience, go where the locals do. Sure I could've taken the easy way out and just gone to 西門町 or 士林夜市 and gotten any of a number of generic renditions, but what's the point? Yeah they're all good, but this dish has the ability to be magical. Instead, I went to 寧夏夜市 (Ning Xia Night Market)... to a shop called 圓環邊蚵仔煎, which translates to 'Yuan Huan Side Oyster Omelettes.' I mean come on... they've been cranking out oyster omelettes for 45 years already, I'm pretty sure they know more than that 25 year old college kid working part-time in 士林.

Old guy makin' my omelette

Damn. Look at him. He's so OLD! This is the OG-san that made my omelettes. Just look at his face. That's the face of a man that just don't give a fuck. All he wants to do is flip his omelettes. I will admit I was kind of worried that his sweat was dripping onto the plate, but I guess that comes with the experience. I mean, I honestly don't care so long as it tastes good. Oh, and good it was. Perfectly cooked, the pancake was slightly unsettled, with the potato starch reaching a chewy gelatin-mochi like consistency. The oysters were all still jiggly, for lack of a better word, and the flavor was just spot on. Normally, I'd lather this in the slightly sweet soy miso sauce, but this one didn't need it. For 60 NT ($2), it was probably the best oyster omelette I've had in Taiwan... ever. How's that for an endorsement?

排骨湯 (pork chop soup)

I also ordered a serving of 排骨湯 (pork chop soup) for 50 NT (~$1.60), in which you take a fried pork chop, dice it up into smaller pieces with the bone still attached, and put it in pork broth with daikon radishes. While that sounds awesome if I just list the ingredients... it wasn't. The pork broth was stewed using 中藥, which translates to Chinese medicine. If you know what that is, I'm sorry, since you were probably forced to drink it as a kid. If you don't, it's medicinal bags of herbs that parents put into soup that has a uniquely awful aftertaste. Well yeah, this place did that to the pork chop soup. Thanks. You ruined something that probably would've been splendid.