Friday, October 29, 2010

Chicken tikka masala (Curry on Wheels)

Chicken tikka masala (Curry on Wheels)

I have fond memories of this dish from the Biryani cart. Perhaps it's because it was one of my first experiences into the world that is street meats, but that dish has been burned into my mind as something that I would consider phenomenal... moist and succulent chicken drowning in sea of a creamy and smooth yogurt sauce flavored with spectacularly strong spices and hot sauce, all sitting atop a bed of deliciously fluffy yellow Basmati. When I saw this on the menu of 'Curry on Wheels,' my spirit soared, and I thought... maybe, just maybe it'll be awesome like Biryani cart's is.

Now, Wikipedia tells me that there's no fixed recipe for the dish, only that 'the only common ingredient was chicken.' You know what? It's true, that's probably the only thing the two interpretations shared in common. I don't like being a negative Nancy about food, but this was a dish I seriously couldn't get behind. Instead of fluffy yellow rice, I had mushy stuck together rice, that was both under and overcooked simultaneously (I don't know how you even fuck up something like rice so bad). Instead of a thin yogurt sauce as spicy as it is smooth, you get something doused in cream... heavy and overpowering in dairy flavor. The chicken... well, to be completely honest, it was bland and dry. Maybe my expectations of the dish were too high, or maybe I got a bad batch of it, one way or another, it made me sad. So sad that I probably won't be returning to try anything else on the menu (not that I can, it disappeared from it's regular spot next to Pottruck).

NYC peeps, be thankful that Meru and his cart exist. That stuff is the shit.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More cheesesteaks (Hemo's)

Cheesesteak (Hemo's)

Since moving to Philadelphia, my food pyramid has gotten a bit screwed up. I don't classify my foods in terms of labels like poultry, meats, dairy, sugars and fats, or vegetables (what the hell are those anyway!?) anymore. Nope, my diet consists of things that are either a) Asian food from a truck, b) Mexican food from a truck, or c) cheesesteaks. I know, it's the epitome of healthy. Being surrounded by a glut of cheesesteak places is the absolutely terrific. I can imagine what you're thinking... when it comes down to it, all these places just chop up steak and put it in a long roll, what's so special about all that? The truth is, every place has their own lovable nuances that distinguish themselves from the competition. Case in point, Hemo's... who's secret white sauce is as delicious as it is questionable in origin.

Hemo sauce + melted cheese

Yeahhh... just look at that white goop seeping through the crevices of the beef. Imagine the semi-sweet sauce from the 53rd street chicken & rice stall, thinning it slightly, and adding it on top of a cheesesteak with green peppers and onions. The word scintillating wouldn't be overboard as far as I'm concerned. The sauce isn't a perfect reproduction. It's slightly thinner, slightly sweeter, and has a somewhat pronounced salad dressing taste, but this doesn't diminish the overall effect. You end up with a nice and oily steak sandwich that has a secondary flavor profile highlighting both a subtle sweetness as well as a tangy element. If that weren't enough to convince you to at least give it a try, the fact that it's $5 doesn't hurt either...

Cheesesteak w/mushrooms (Hemo's)

I'll be honest, Hemo's plain cheesesteaks aren't that good. When it comes to steak sandwiches on campus, I think I'd rather default to Steak Queen if we're talking plain steak on bread lovin'. The difference between the two appears as soon as you add that magical white sauce, it makes every sandwich on their menu fantastically delicious (from the cheesesteaks to the grilled chickens). It instantaneously elevates the flavor profile from mediocre to something that would cure even the worst of hangovers. Absolutely incredible.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Artisanal tacos (Coup de Taco)

Southern BBQ (Coup de Taco)

Towards the West, in a faraway land, there exists a very special food truck that serves tacos. "But tacos are just tacos are just tacos," you might say. Well, my friend... you'd be wrong. They don't just serve plain beef, chicken, and pork tacos, they make splendid interpretations of other cuisines into taco form, an idea that's as equally brilliant as it is bold. Flavors such as 'Sweet Thai Coconut,' 'Southern BBQ,' and 'Chicken Tikka Masala.' Indeed, they're what I call... artisanal tacos.

All hyperbole aside, there actually is such a truck. It's normally parked on 40th, between Locust and Spruce, and it's called Coup de Taco. I've been on some sort of Mexican food bender lately, going to the Mexicali truck and Tacos Don Memo more than I care to admit. When I found out there was a truck serving tacos filled with roasted chicken and sweetened coconut sauce, I was sold. I begrudgingly trekked 4 blocks (that's like 10 NYC blocks!) over to 40th and got myself some fucking tacos, like a boss. They're $3.50 per, or 2 for $6 (and supposedly 3 for $8, but that wasn't written), so they're not as cheap as Don Memo's are. Seeing as I'm a poor/cheap, I only got 2 of 'em. The first being the 'Southern BBQ' you see at the top.

The pork is soft, no doubt. It's basically pulled pork, plucked from the bone, drenched in a slightly tart BBQ sauce. The sauce isn't overpowering, and lets the sweetness of the meat really shine in the big picture. Finished with just enough rice to soak up the juices, a smattering of melted cheese, and just a hint of cilantro, this taco was good. Plain and simple. Not an epiphany of flavors, but definitely noteworthy.

Sweet Thai coconut (Coup de Taco)

What I really wanted to try was their 'Sweet Thai coconut.' Juicy shredded chicken is placed on a bed of fluffy rice, and smothered by a combination of sweet coconut sauce, a thicker, more robust peanut based sauce, and slivers of soft apple. A magnificent blend of the savory and sweet, I fell in love with the mix of sauces. If I could have a bowl of rice and just blend it in (they serve rice bowls for $6 btw), I'd be overjoyed. The aftertaste is a bitch... it lasts in your mouth for a while, and makes you regret not buying more...

Except I'm a student and I can't do that all the time. Sure, Coup de Taco does a bitchin' job at making fusion-artisanal tacos, but are they so good that I'd spend $8 on 3 (and be left hungry and wanting)? Maybe once in a while, but there's something that just feels inherently wrong about that.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Roast beef and cheesesteaks (Tony Luke's)

Tony Luke's wrapper

If you read my blog, I'm sure you realize I like most combinations of meat and bread. That runs the gambit from Oscar Meyer to Porchetta, as long as I have protein surrounded by carbs (cue the jokes), I'm a fairly happy guy. Now, I've heard good things about Tony Luke's. Not that there's much that can go wrong by stuffing beef and cheese inside a hoagie roll, but the consensus is that their sandwiches are truly something special. When Tony Luke's does it, it's culinary art, not like the random dude selling frozen cheesesteaks on the corner of 34th and Walnut. I guess the saying "too legit to quit" is completely appropriate in this case.

Roast beef Italian (Tony Luke's)

I actually first learned about Tony Luke's watching Bobby Flay get his ass spanked on 'Throwdown.' If I recall correctly, he made a bootleg fancy schmancy version of a cheesesteak (probably with some form of chipotle mayo, since that's the only trick he has up his sleeve), and was promptly disposed of when Tony Luke busted out a broccoli rabe and provolone sandwich. Naturally, I ordered the Roast Beef Italian since it has all those elements. Basically, they stuff as much freakin' roast beef as they can without tearing the spine (I'm not sure that's what it's called) of a foot long hoagie roll layered with a creamy mix of broccoli rabe and provolone cheese.

Roast beef Italian (Tony Luke's)

This thing is truly epically large. The sandwich is fantastically well thought out... the beef is proper and juicy, tender enough that it pulls apart easily, but with tendon interspersed so there's distinct textural contrast. The flavors are carefully planned, with the strong beef scent accented by the sharp cheese, which in turn gets offset by the slight bitterness of the broccoli rabe. Honest opinion? It puts DiNic's to shame... and that's not a knock on DiNic's, but a testament to Tony Luke's.

Cheesesteak! (Tony Luke's)

Of course, going there meant getting a cheesesteak. Since the Roast Beef Italian already had provolone, it made sense to change things up and to go with cheese wiz. Things that come from cans = always better, for instance... whipped cream, cheeseburgers, cheese... I rest my case. Anyway, this sandwich didn't feel too far off from the roast beef one. Maybe my palate isn't very refined when it comes to differentiating different cuts of meat, but it feels the same, with the exception that this was cooked on a flat top griddle instead of roasted in its juices. Appropriately tender and adequately fat, the beef flavor melds just as swimmingly with the cheese wiz as the roast variant did with the provolone. Both are great, just with different flavor profiles.

I think each of these runs about $7-8, so they're not quite as cheap as the cheesesteaks I could pick up from random carts on campus, but that's not really a fair comparison either. Tony Luke's shit runs circles against those guys. Do I mind paying an extra couple of dollars for that kind of quality? Nah, it's okay to splurge sometimes.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Boneless roast Thai chicken (珍口味)

Roast no-bone chicken leg

With my brain hardwired to go ape shit when I see things like beef noodle soup and shaved ice, I have a tendency to forget that Taiwan is also home to plenty of fantastic South East Asian restaurants. Given their culinary prowess and close proximity to Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, etc. it would make sense that there's a fair number of these places around. Ignoring everything my brain was telling me to do, the last place I ate at in Taiwan (no, the Burger King in the airport doesn't count) was actually a restaurant specializing in boneless roast Thai chicken... and you know what? I don't think I regret that decision at all.

Where from you ask? The shop, called 珍口味 (zhen kou wei), was located in 師大夜市 (Shida Night Market). Nestled in a small nook the size of a studio apartment on the side of the main street, I'm not entirely sure what possessed me to stumble inside. It might've been the giant oven/fire pit they had roasting numerous boneless chicken legs at once, or it might've been the cheap ass prices they had listed on their menu outside (everything was like 65 NT! ~$2), whatever it was, all I can say is... this place is fuggin' awesome.

The roast chicken is entirely scintillating. A juicy slice of meat (which they claim to be entirely chicken leg) is flattened and roasted, skin on, inside a giant box of flames. Seared to perfection, the amount of charring is balanced delicately by the areas of skin that remain ever so soft. Glazed with a sweet soy garlic sauce, the crust is as tantalizing as anything I've ever eaten. The meat is succulent and tender, coated in a thin layer of oil from the skin itself. Absolutely terrific would be the only appropriate description. The sides are nondescript, but who the fuck cares when you can make chicken taste like that? Not me, and neither should you.

Coconut curry

Don't be deceived by the aesthetics here, since let's be honest, it looks pretty awful (and I'm probably partially to blame for that). It's Thai coconut curry chicken, and it was decently tasty. Not "holy shit, I'd punt a baby kitten if I could have this" good, but I wouldn't turn down a bowl right now. The chicken was just as tender as the ones in the roast variant, but this time it was immersed in an oily sauce of super pungent curry, which had a slight hint of ginger. Drizzled over a bowl of white rice, it's a simple (and guilty) pleasure. Now, is this gonna make me a Thai food addict? I don't know if I'd go that far (it's like betraying beef noodles or something), but shit, I'd be lying if I said that chicken wasn't something else.

For all of you who hate my postings about Taiwan since you can't actually ever eat at any of those places, rejoice. To everyone else, it's okay to cry... I won't judge.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Kim's Oriental

Sesame chicken (Won Oriental)

When I first got to Penn, I complained about the cost of Chinese food. I was used to $5 orders that could feed small families, so when I had to pay $8 for an order of sesame chicken (from Won Oriental if it matters), I was not only perplexed, but veritably annoyed. Yes, it tasted exactly as it should have, crispy breading, deliciously sauced, but on a fundamental level, I felt ripped off. Seriously. Then something magnificent happened, I found Yue Kee and Kim's Oriental, two places that would fill my desire of cheap Americanized Chinese at a price I was more accustomed to, located within a block of each other.

Kim's is basically the same thing as Yue Kee to me. They both do certain dishes better than the other, for example... Yue Kee takes it for 乾炒牛河 (beef chow fun) and broccoli chicken, Kim's does pretty much every sauce + chicken better. One way or another, they're equal in my eyes when it comes down to cheap Chinese food, it just depends on what I want to eat that day, or if it's raining and where I'm located.

Partial menu (Kim's Oriental)

Like I said, Kim's is solid when it comes to pricing. Check that shit out, nothing on their menu tops $5. Even taking into consideration that their portions might not be on the same order as the behemoths of NYC takeout, it scales accordingly. So one way or another, Kim's is a decent value.

Mapo tofu (Kim's Oriental Truck)

The first thing I ever ordered from their truck was mapo tofu. I don't know what possessed me to go with a non-meat order, but I did. Sinfully cheap (I think it was like $3.50), it was decent.

Tofu and... sauce

Except it wasn't really what I expected when I order mapo tofu. I usually think Szechuan style tofu and pork, swimming in a pool of red hot chili oil... not a sauce based concoction with carrots? I dunno, Yue Kee fucked this dish up something fierce too, so maybe it's just different interpretations. It was definitely okay, nothing offensive, but I don't know that I'd ever order it again. Or maybe I would if I only had $3.50 in my pocket.

Sesame tofu (Kim's Oriental)

Their sesame tofu was also pretty good. Again, coming in at $3.75, this dish is super cheap. Drenched in a deceptively sweet and thick clear sauce, it was pretty much as much win as you can pack in a vegetarian dish. The tofu was soft in the center, with a delicately crisp skin that held its own in the barrage of sauce. I like my rice with meat... so I probably won't get this again in the near future, but still, it was definitely pretty good if you're into that kinda thing.

Sesame chicken (Kim's Oriental)

Transitioning from that, it's the same thing but with chicken. The sesame chicken is $4.25, so a bit 'pricey' by Kim's standards. They're really hit or miss on this dish actually. If you go one day, you'll be given a crapton of chicken fried to perfection, just crunchy enough to provide surface area for sauce, yet still tender. On other days, you might find that you have chicken fried to oblivion, with a veritable crunch where there shouldn't be crunch. Eh, I'm indifferent. For the price, their servings are pretty generous, and they're good more times than not, so I'll take my chances.

General Tso's (Kim's Oriental)

For me though, the end all be all point of judgment usually lies with General Tso's. They call it 'Grandfather Chicken,' so don't be surprised when you see it missing from the menu. I don't know that I'd say their version is of particular excellence, but it's certainly satisfactory. The sauce is actually different from the sesame chicken's (it's the same as the bright reddish orange one as seen in Won Oriental's). Powerful, but not overwhelming would be appropriate to describe it. The chicken is just like the sesame version's, can be great, can be good, can be over fried at times. Basically, a perfectly average General Tso's, but when you consider the fact that it's from the back of a truck, and it's only $4, it instantly becomes incredible.

Hm, this post seems overly long compared to most of the junk that I write, so I'll offer up a quick summary. Kim's Oriental fills basically the same niche that Yue Kee does for me. While Yue Kee does noodles infinitely better (seriously, the beef chow fun at Kim's is utter fail), Kim's is pretty nifty when it comes to any sort of fried chicken coated with sauce... orange, sweet and sour, sesame, grandfather... they're all pretty damn good. So if you're actually reading this blog as a quality source of information (ha!), then my opinion is this, if you have no clue what you want, then go to whichever is closer to you. It really doesn't matter. They're both pretty good.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Soup dumplings and fried rice (鼎泰豐)

Shrimp fried rice

Little known fact, the super famous soup dumpling joint 鼎泰豐 (Ding Tai Feng) was founded by a Hakka couple. Bonus fact on top of that, when they first started, they weren't even supposed to serve soup dumplings, they sold freaking cooking oil and ran a fried rice restaurant. It was only after someone made a random request did they start to make 小籠包, and well... it was history after that. They turned mega successful, and started pimping soup dumplings left and right until they couldn't make them fast enough. Baller status... achieved.

Soup dumlings

I've actually wanted to make a post about this place for the longest time, but you know what was stopping me? The fact that I felt they were so grossly overrated and overpriced that I could never bring myself to visit. Now before people flip out and plan out how to crucify me, hear me out. I actually think their soup dumplings are absolutely titillatingly good. There's no question their soup dumplings are the bees knees when it comes to pockets of carb stuffed with pork. The problem that exists is that people have come to make them out to be something their not. Foreigners will travel from all over Asia to try these things, and to be honest... they're not that phenomenally special. So when I say they're overrated, it's not because I think they're lacking, I just don't know if they're worth international acclaim. Problem two is kind of similar in that their pricing is absurd (for Taiwan). At 190 NT ($6) for a steamer of 10, they're more than 3x the going rate as other places. I realize in terms of quality, there's quite a gap, but come on... really? Fuck, if you're making me choose between 32 pockets of above average dumplings and 10 really good ones, I'm going value 10 times out of 10.

Soup dumpling

In all seriousness though, if you didn't make me pay for it myself, these are pretty much the greatest little treasures ever. Thinly skinned, bordering on transparency, grasping without puncturing is almost a thing of art. The pork is juicy beyond my abilities to describe, and the soup content is immeasurable with traditional soup spoons. Oh lordy, special... they are. Mmm, where am I going with this? I don't know. I want to hate them, I want to love them, I don't know what tell you. I just thought I'd write about the famous little soup dumpling place that everyone loves, and that I haven't visited for years.

Edit: I just realized I never talked about the quality of their fried rice, despite making a tangent about how they were originally a specialty shop. The dish was appropriately oily, and somehow, defying logic, the individual grains stuck together in spite of this coating. Honestly though, I don't know how to evaluate fried rice objectively. It's something that's pretty hard for even amateurs to screw up, so I doubt the chefs at 鼎泰豐 will bust out an unsatisfactory dish. With that said, I finished it without complaints, so it was okay in my book... still overpriced.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Boneless rib sandwich (The Rib Stand)

The Rib Stand's sign

When I was a younger, I absolutely loved eating ribs. Except for the bones part. I had fat fingers, I didn't have particularly good coordination, and I had the patience of... well, a child. As a result, it was pretty difficult for me to truly enjoy ribs to their fullest extent since I'd probably leave 50-75% of the meat on the bone. Sad, I know. I like to think that I've overcome this problem with age (not unlike people who can't turn left), but let's be honest... if you advertise that you make a boneless rib sandwich. I'll be all over that like white on rice.

Boneless rib sandwich combo

Which is where 'The Rib Stand' in Reading Terminal Market comes in. I think the combo of a boneless rib sandwich and 2 sides ran something like $8.75, but I can't be entirely sure since the woman at the counter gave me back more change than she should've (thanks!). By default, I tend to go with fries and mac and cheese as accompaniments if they're available. Their mac and cheese was pretty standard, nothing that would make me fight someone for it or anything, but it is what it is... well cooked macaroni drowned rich and creamy cheese sauce. Maybe if they gave me a serving from the freshly baked (and beautifully charred) batch, and not the last scoop from the almost finished tray... I'd think otherwise *whistles*. The potato wedges are the bees knees though, thickly cut and cooked to perfection... soft to the core, but a certain feel of rigidity. No one goes for the fries and mac and cheese though... it's all about this:

With sauce...

~Drooool, boneless rib sandwich. Basically a 10" hoagie roll stuffed with rib meat that they ever so graciously pull off and pulverize for you. Tender and juicy enough to be eaten alone, I made the mistake of piling on the sauce before tasting for real. It's not that their sauce is bad or anything similar, but the overwhelming tangy flavor from the sauce masks the beautiful scent from the unadorned pork. Note to self, in the future, skip the sauce... enjoy the sandwich in all its pure unadulterated glory. To be completely honest, I don't know if the sandwich is worth the cost (given other alternatives when it comes to sandwiching), but out of convenience of not having to deal with ribs and bones, in concept... methinks it's pretty nifty.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Lion's head noodles (麵對餡實小麵館)


One of the great things I appreciate about the Chinese language is the wit and subtlety within which it operates. Sure, in English, clever puns exist too, but you have to realize that within the lexicon of the Chinese language, homonyms are much more frequent, and idioms are just as abundant... so yeah. On that note, I'd like to mention a restaurant that I felt obligated to visit on the sheer cleverness of its name alone, 麵對餡實小麵館. It has the pinyin of 'Mian4 Dui4 Xian4 Shi2,' with characters that match a phrase that translates roughly to 'noodles done right with excellent ingredients,' but the more obvious phonetic translation would be to 'face the facts.' That's Sherlock Holmes level wit right there, but no amount of wordplay can save a restaurant from lackluster food.

蔥油辣麵 (麵對餡實)

Thank goodness they're pretty famous for their noodles too. Having no clue what the phrase 'in moderation' means, I started off with an order of 蔥油辣麵. Without giving any background, the literal translation is basically spicy oil noodles (similar to 擔擔麵, but with a thicker and less soup like sauce). Basically a sweet and spicy sauce is poured over a dish of hand pulled noodles, a giant handful of minced garlic is thrown on, and finally finished with a helping of cilantro. Freakin' phenomenal. For, I think, 55 NT (~$1.75) it makes for a pretty fulfilling meal. The hand pulled noodles were spot on in texture, and the sauce was absolutely sublime. Just sweet enough for you to look forward to coating each bite, but spicy enough for you to be slightly hesitant in doing so, it's truly the perfect tease. I probably would've been fulfilled having this alone, but then again... I knew this wasn't the star of the show here.

Lion's head noodles (麵對餡實)

This is. The famous lion's head noodles. I forget how much it cost (maybe ballpark ~120 NT, but I'm pretty much pulling that figure out of my ass), but you know what? It doesn't matter. This dish was good enough to make the 蔥油辣麵 look like a sad consolation prize. If I had to explain, this was one of those instances where I really didn't care that I spent more than 100 NT on a meal (yes I'm a cheapskate). If you're unfamiliar with what lion's head meatballs are, have a quick read on Wiki. Basically, you're given a giant pot of noodles, cabbage, and two of these monstrous fried meatballs roughly 3" in diameter, all immersed in one of the richest pork broths I've ever put to my lips. Heavenly, would be the only way I can think to describe it. The post meal experience of licking my lips was as if I had just made out with strips of freshly fried bacon for several minutes prior. To a guy like me, that's pure bliss (yeah I'm weird).

I'm not sure what a chit is...

At the end of my meal I was greeted with this awesome check. Or I guess I should say 'chit.' It's definitely true that Chinese is a beautifully complex language, but I guess it's no match for simple English haha.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Roast pork sandwich (Tommy DiNic's)

DiNic's sign #3

I've been told that Tommy DiNic's is basically the mecca of roast pork sandwiches (at least in Philadelphia). They say that the sandwiches made from their pork and beef selections are magical in flavor, unparalleled in juice content, and make your farts smell like cookies and flowers... simultaneously (I don't even know how that works). As a sucker for pretty much any roast meat (Asian or otherwise), a lover of sandwiches, and a fatass in general, it was inevitable that I eventually sauntered over to Grand Terminal Market to shove one of these bad boys down the hatch. And disappear it did.

DiNic's menu

Like I said, there's a certain elegance in simplicity. Their menu is deceptively short. Six choices of meat, 3 possible toppings, with a discount if you do a combination. I think that yields 48 possible sandwich + topping combinations, so you do have some decisions to make. Luckily, you have plenty of time for this, because the line is legitimately long. Stupid long. It curls around the span of the eating counter and around the back.

Roast beef sandwich

Since they're supposedly most well known for their roast pork, it seemed obvious that it'd be what was ordered. Trying to keep it traditional, cheese was provolone, topping choice was left as sweet roasted peppers. I don't think photos really justify how beautiful this sandwich is upon unwrapping. The bread gleams with an ever so thin layer of oil from the pork, as juices spill out from the ends of the bread. It truly is a spectacle to behold... that is, if you stare at your food like I do. I've been told it's weird.

Roast beef sandwich innards

Holy Batman, look at how thin that roast pork is! The bread was okay, certainly not a detracting factor or anything, but obviously the standout is the pork. Sliced with the precision of a Japanese samurai on LSD, each layer is absurdly thin and uniform. As a result, you end up with more surface area, an extremely tender texture (almost as soft as pulled pork), and juices going everywhere. Entirely satisfied, I can't actually complain about anything here, except for the fact that I was not warned about said juices. My pants will never be the same.

Some people might say that DiNic's is more hype than substance, and that's probably true. My farts didn't smell like cookies OR flowers later that night, but it's definitely not just a tourist trap (at least I don't think so). Now... having tried their roast pork, I still feel compelled to get a brisket sandwich. I watched them slice that, and I can only imagine eating a sandwich filled with it. I think I'd probably have to change my pants afterwards... again.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ramen from a chain (甘泉魚麵)

Szechuan pork ramen (甘泉魚麵)

Speaking of ramen... I just don't get it. It's not like there's not a lack of a market for ramen in America. People love it... from the rich, hearty broths, to the delightfully springy noodles. There's something for everyone when it comes to ramen (that is, unless you have some odd patriotic reasoning that prohibits you from eating Japanese food). So how come in Taiwan, they can have chain ramen restaurants, that can churn out consistently good ramen, while we have to settle for hit or miss ramen more often than not (a few select establishments notwithstanding)? Case in point? A joint called 甘泉魚麵 (Gan Quan Yu Mian), which can put more than a fair share of NYC ramen places to shame.

Fuck yeah, never have I ever... had spicy Szechuan pork ramen. For just 110 NT (~$3.75) you get a bowl of fantastic pork broth impregnated by chili oil. Hiding in the soup is fatty pork sliced so thinly that upon cooking, it actually curls onto itself, delicate cubes of firm tofu that just soak up the flavors, and a spattering of crunchy greens to balance out the overpowering nature of the spiciness. As for the noodles... they carry the consistency of extra thin hand pulled noodles, superbly springy and playfully chewy. No, this certainly isn't a bowl of ramen for the traditionalists, that is, if you can even call this truly ramen. What I do know, is that it tastes fantastically kick ass, with a certain feisty aspect that I normally associate with beef noodle soup, but with a lighter touch.

Hakata ramen (甘泉魚麵)

I forget how much the plain hakata ramen was... not that it really matters, in the end it's a matter of cents on the dollar. I felt obliged to get it just because excellent hakata ramen is a veritable white whale of mine. I don't think I'll ever find a bowl that can live up to my unrealistic expectations of creamy bone thickened broth and lightly charred pork glistening in fat. Theirs was good, nothing spectacular, but for no more than $4, there's absolutely no reason for any complaining. Basically, I didn't look very hard for good ramen in Taipei, but the ones I found were all pretty good.

Now that the food is out of the way, let me spew some useless opinions about ramen in the US vs. ramen in Taiwan. First point of contention... price. I realize this isn't exactly a fair fight, like David vs. Goliath, but come on. The average pricing is ~115 NT ($4) for a giant bowl of above average ramen. I consistently pay between $15-20 in NYC. If every bowl that I tried in America was undeniably incredible, I'd have no gripes. I mean, I can understand that location matters, but when you churn out something that's below the standard of a chain restaurant in Taiwan, and want to charge me 3x the cost just because you're in Manhattan? Sorry, that's just not cool. Now I know some people will tell me that I'm an idiot, and that I'm ignoring the fact that I paid $1000 for a plane ticket to gain access to all this food. This is true, but this is also my blog... so I'm going to ignore that tidbit and consider all else equal because I can.