Dining in Taiwan can either be very expensive (but delicious) or unbelievably cheap (still delicious). In either case, you’ll leave the country spoiled and nothing will ever taste quite like it does at that tiny hole-in-the-wall, family-run eatery, off that big street and around the corner from that Ikari coffee and a couple blocks before Ellie bakery. The only way I’ve ever been able to navigate to this place for the past several years was, 1) by blindly following my mom and 2) taking mental pictures of the stores we pass on the way from my grandpa’s home. The beauty of this tiny veggie stand is that it was no more than a 5 minute walk from us. (Although we sold my grandpa’s home the year before 😦 ).
If you’re in any way familiar with the triangular park on 安和路135巷 [AnHe Rd, Lane 135] off of 信義 [Xinyi Rd]–which you might if you live in Taipei and shop at 哈肯舖手感烘焙 [Hogan Bakery,手感 shou gan meaning ‘handmade’ and 烘焙 hong pei meaning ‘baked’] in the mornings–Mama Yang’s is right in this area! Trace the back (aka non-pointy) end of the triangular park, and keep going along the same road until you hit the fork between 延吉街 [Yanji St] and 仁愛路四段300巷 [Ren Ai Rd, Section 4, Lane 300]. Take Ren Ai Rd straight down. Mama Yang’s is one of the several food stands before you reach the main road/end of the lane. You’ll know when you’ve gone too far by seeing the Ikari Coffee shop.
On the off chance that you don’t want vegetarian food (and I’ve no clue why you wouldn’t), there’s plenty of selection on this section of Ren Ai Rd. You’ll pass an Ellie bakery, dumpling and ramen stands, teppanyaki, and a fresh juice stand. And if you’re like me–vegetarian and unable to eat anything from these other places–you’ll find yourself shoving elbows to get one of 3 tray tables at Mama Yang’s.
Word of advice: avoid the lunch hour rush. Don’t underestimate its appeal as a 100% vegetarian place, because it is busy and surprisingly popular for such a small place. The owners also tend to (not) be the friendliest. But damn, is their food good. This is a no frills, just-like-mom-used-to-make place. You could even argue that you could make these dishes yourself, but why bother? They do it so well for so cheap.
I don’t think my mom and I have spent more than $6 USD eating here, which is cheap considering we typically order 3-4 items. As creatures of habit, my mom and I don’t stray far from the usual. So I’ll leave it up to all of you to try the other stuff for me and let me know if it’s good or not ;). We always stick with getting the 排骨飯 [pai gu fan], or “spare ribs” with rice. Perhaps you find fake meat strange, but I think it’s tasty. The spare ribs are deep fried til crispy like tonkatsu, and have fresh black pepper cracked over them. There’s an umami sort of taste to it that I enjoy. The spare ribs come with rice, Taiwanese cabbage, 雪菜毛豆[xue cai mao dou] pickled mustard greens with soy beans, and stewed bean curd with fresh bamboo shoots.
Taiwanese cabbage 高麗菜 [gao li cai] is in its own league of delicious vegetable. They’re grown up in the high mountains of Taiwan, such as at 武陵農場[wu ling rong chang, or Wuling Farm], which sits by 雪山 [xue shan, or snow mountain]. Insert some plant chemistry–possibly something to do with cold mountain air and different minerals in the soil–and you have a species of cabbage exponentially more delicious than all other cabbage. The crunch of the cabbage rings as crystal an apple just picked off the tree. There is sweetness to match, too. What I like about Mama Yang’s cabbage is that the cabbage is mostly untreated: lightly stir-fried with some carrots, salt, and oil.
Dish #2: 關東煮 [guan dong zhu], or oden. Oden is essentially hot pot; it’s a Japanese winter dish where eggs, daikon, konjac, fishcakes, and other tasty delights are stewed together in a simmering pot. The 丸子 [wan zi], or fish balls made at Mama Yang’s are very QQ. Their vegetarian dashi broth is light and flavorful, perfect for hot summer days or cold winter nights. And they top it off with slices of 紫菜糕 [zhi cai gao, or seaweed rice cake], which is one of my favorite Taiwanese foods.
Dish #3: 滷豆乾&滷海帶 [lu dou gan / lu hai dai], which are stewed bean curd and stewed seaweed. The bean curd and seaweed are slow-cooked in a soy sauce (+ other magical ingredients unbeknownst to me, otherwise I’d make this all the time) stew for hours until all the flavors are absorbed into every pore. We call this 入味 [ru wei] in Chinese: 入 meaning”into”, and 味 meaning “flavor”. When something is not 入味 enough, it means the flavors haven’t set in yet.
All foodgasms aside, I implore you all to check this place out and support them so they can stay in business for more generations to come! And remember to let me know how the other menu items taste :P.