永和豆漿, a journey through Taiwanese breakfast food

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before it closed down…

Whilst traveling through Taiwan, you’ll notice a ton of Taiwanese food stalls under the name “永和豆漿” [Yong He Dou Jiang]. I think–but could be utterly wrong–that the breakfast scene really picked up starting in the district of 永和 (near Taipei), which is why now all breakfast places use that name. Do you know the origins of  永和豆漿?

Every store is owned by a different family. The menu is generally the same, but the recipes can vary widely. Some stores make particularly good 飯糰 [fan tuan, or sticky rice roll], while others are better known for their 油條 [you tiao, or Chinese fried breadstick].

My mom and I tend to alternate between two specific 永和豆漿 locations, depending on how much time we have. The one on 光復南路 [guang fu nan lu, or Guangfu South Rd] at the intersection of 仁愛路 [ren ai lu, or Ren’ai Rd], right across from the 國父紀念館 [guo fu ji nian guan, or Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall], used to be one of our favorites. It has, unfortunately, been replaced by another store as of 2015. 😥

One of the more famous breakfast spots that doesn’t fall under the 永和豆漿 umbrella is 阜杭豆漿[fu hang dou jiang], which is located near Exit 6 from the Shandao Temple [善導寺 shan dao si] station, a couple blocks from the Huashan 1914 Creative Park. We tried out this place several years ago (in 2008-9?), waited in a decently long line to get our food, and thought it was good, but not spectacular. It’s definitely still hugely popular, though. So go check it out and let me know what you think of it! 😉

yonghe_2This brings me to our favorite 永和豆漿 place: the one on Fuxing South Rd, Section 2 [復興南路段 fuxing nan lu er duan]. Easy to remember, since it’s right next to the Taipei City Fire Department and Fuxing Rd has the Brown Metro Line running right over it. The cross-street is 瑞安街 [rui an jie, Rui’an St]. I cannot say this enough: get there early. The line is long, the seats few, and the food so damn delicious. Forget about sleeping in, because most Taiwanese breakfast places have sold out by 11am and tend to stop serving around then as well.

The sacrifices we make.

fuxingruian_4Breakfast item #1:  燒餅油條 [shao bing you tiao]. 燒餅 translated is “fire-roasted bun”–a flaky flatbread typically decorated with white sesame seeds on top. Traditional 燒餅 is baked in a tandoor-like oven: stuck to the sides of thick, metal cylinders and dug out with a long hook. They can be either savory or sweet, stuffed with anything from red bean paste to braised beef.

But in Taiwan, they are most commonly paired with a stick of 油條, literally meaning “oil stick”. 油條 is a 12-16″ long piece of dough, deep-fried. And we all know how tasty fried things are. The best 油條 is one that is not greasy (in spite of being deep-fried), crunches like Parmesan crisps, and slightly glutinous and chewy on the inside. Many places tend to fry it until it’s hollow on the inside. Big no-no. They taste delicious with soy milk or 稀飯 [xi fan, or congee], too.

fuxingruianBreakfast item #2: 鹹豆漿 [xian dou jiang]. “Salty soy milk”. Strange? Maybe. Yummy? Oh yes. 鹹豆漿 is served as a hot bowl of fresh soy milk with dried shrimp, pickled radish, sesame oil, green onion, and/or pork sung [肉鬆 rou song]. Thrown in with a dash of vinegar to balance the savory. Vegetarian versions are eaten with  油條 [fried breadstick] crumbs, veggie pork sung, sesame oil, and/or green onion. I love it, but I grew up on it. What were your first impressions of 鹹豆漿?

fuxingruian_3Breakfast item #3:  飯糰 [fan tuan], Chinese “sushi” or rice roll. 油條 [fried breadstick], 肉鬆 [pork sung], and 榨菜 [za cai, or pickled mustard] are tightly bundled in a sticky rice blanket. Mmm. Good 飯糰/rice rolls don’t have too thick a layer of rice–just like good sushi–and filled to the brim with tasty stuffing.

fuxingruian_2Breakfast item #4: 蛋餅 [dan bing] is a scallion-flavored Taiwanese pancake with scrambled egg. Taiwanese pancake is thin like a crepe, but its texture is closer to an ‘al dente’ tortilla. The best 蛋餅皮[dan bing pi, or egg pancake skin], is QQ: chewy, crispy, and tender all in one pancake. 義美 Yi-Mei makes pretty good frozen 蛋餅皮 (which you can usually find in the frozen aisles of your Chinese supermarket!), but local Taiwanese food stalls still do it best. 

The scrambled egg skin that is layered on top of the pancake is critical to a good 蛋餅 dish as well. It should be fluffy. Eat the egg pancake [蛋餅] with some thickened sweet soy sauce and Huy Fong “Rooster” chili garlic sauce, and I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

fuxingruian_5Breakfast item #5: 米漿 [mi jiang], sweet rice peanut milk. Also a strange-sounding food, but by golly, is it one of my favorite drinks to get in Taiwan. I’ve seen it very seldom in the US, so I drink gallons of this when I’m in Taiwan. It’s thick, still slightly granular, and has this toasty aroma from the roasted peanuts. Basically like a peanut smoothie. Mm.

Breakfast item #6: 黑豆漿 [hei dou jiang]. Black soybean milk. I don’t really have a clear picture of this, but a quick Google search gives a pretty good idea of what it looks like ;). Different kind of sweetness from regular soy milk. Just take my word that you’ll dig it. Mmm.

Did I miss any? These are just some of the foods I eat. What are your favorite Taiwanese breakfast foods? 🙂

穗科 Hoshina Udon, Taipei

hoshina_1

A cursory search of “Hoshina Taipei” yields a number of reviews for Hoshina by various bloggers, with the general consensus being that Hoshina makes some freakin’ amazing udon. While I am by no means as eloquent as other writers, I’m hoping that with the plethora of positive feedback on Hoshina’s food that ya’ll will go out and take some good slurps from their udon.

My mom and I discovered Hoshina [穗科 sui ke] while on our unforgiving search for vegetarian ramen in Taiwan–which has ultimately been unsuccessful. It wasn’t until our 3rd time eating at Hoshina that we realized how popular and well-known of a noodle place it is! Beginner’s luck was what we had when we walked into Hoshina the first two times and were seated immediately. The line moves relatively fast, but it is by no means short. There is limited seating in the waiting area: a few wooden benches by the  zen garden complete with bubbling brook, bonsai, and koi fish.

hoshinaThe front left of the restaurant is a giant glass enclosure in which udon masters stretch, roll, pound, pull, and slice udon dough like taffy machines. Watching induces salivation, making the wait all the more unbearable. And then you’re finally seated. Prompt and generally attentive service keeps your tea cup filled with Genmaicha [玄米茶 xun mi cha, or brown rice tea] the whole time.

A perfectly-sized menu of Japanese appetizers, entrees, and dessert, but with a modern Taiwanese twist. We start with the steamed kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) with toasted walnuts sprinkled on top, followed with some 龍鬚菜 [long xu cai, “dragon whisker vegetable” or chayote shoots] marinating in Japanese sesame sauce. My mom particularly likes the 卷 [bai yu fu pi tang juan, “white jade tofu roll in soup”]: soft napa cabbage leaves stewed in a light broth, wrapped around delicate layers of tofu skin. A pinch of shichimi togarashi [七味唐辛子, Japanese 7-spiced chili] to give the mellow flavors a kick.

hoshina_2Then the moment of truth: the udon. There truly is no better way to describe it other than saying “太Q了” [so Q!!]! In Taiwanese culture, achieving QQ texture is one of hallmarks of a great food establishment. Call it al dente, “chewy”, bite, or tender…that springiness of perfectly made noodle where the edges stick to your teeth for a fleeting nanosecond before snapping back onto your chopsticks. Perfection. 

hoshina_4You must try the 麵 [oo long leng mian, “udon cold noodles”]. I believe this is where you get a strong whiff of the finesse the udon chefs here have. Several whiskers of nori, a dash of sesame seeds, and a drizzle of dashi, but no more. Cold, glassy udon. Ecstasy.

hoshina_3The soup udon  龍湯麵 [oo long tang mian] is fantastic as well. There are no obvious weaknesses. Whether light, rich and thick, or spicy, the broth is almost as good as the udon (but a further almost). Toppings are a mix of aburaage [油揚げ, deep-fried tofu pouches], seaweed, and various vegetables. My recommended add-on item: the 蛋 [wen quan dan], soft-poached egg, to top off your udon. Break the yolk and good heavens–there is nothing more delicious than noodles coated in liquid gold. 

Still not full? Try the 腐 [hei zi ma dou fu, “black sesame tofu” for dessert. ごま豆腐 Goma tofu in Japanese. Goma tofu is not actually made from tofu; it’s made from kudzu powder, but has the silky texture of tofu when cooked. The kudzu is mixed with water and finely-ground black sesame. Envelope your taste buds in a velvet blanket of nutty and sweet flavors. 

You can find Hoshina not too far from the SOGO in Taipei. There are two branches, but I’ve only been to the one on Zhongxiao East Rd. Let me know how the other Hoshina is! 🙂

Hoshina Zhongxiao East:
Address: 台北市忠孝東路四段216巷27弄3號 // Zhongxiao East Road, Section 4, Lane 216, Alley 27 No. 3
Phone: 02-2778-3737
Hours: (Lunch) M-F 11:30 ~ 14:00, (Lunch)Sa-Su 11:30 ~ 15:00, (Dinner) 17:30 ~ 21:00

Hoshina Fuxing:
Address: 台北市復興北路313巷32號 // Fuxing North Road, Lane 313 No. 32
Phone: 02-27171518
Hours: same as above

三六九素包子店, 369 Buns, Taipei

369baoziOne of my mom’s best friends in college recommended this place to us. It’s actually a chain, but she told us the one on 長春路 [Changchun Rd] and  遼寧街口 [Liaoning St] is the best. I haven’t been to any of the other stores, so I can’t say if that’s true. Regardless, they make the best 包子 [baozi, or bun] that I’ve ever had. You would walk right past it if you weren’t careful. My mom and I always get our haircuts right around the corner, and this is the place we go to afterwards for a quick, dirty, and delicious lunch. I’ve managed to figure out its location by looking for the 長春市場 [chang chun shi chang, or Changchun market]. I believe they’re diagonally across from each other (??). Feel free to correct me though. 🙂 And since 2012/13, they’ve had a name change to 正饌素食 [zheng zhuan su shi]. However, the people who run the place haven’t changed, and neither has the quality of their food.

369baozi2The storefront is narrow and sits no more than 20 people at most. There are about 4 small tables inside. The menu is a short list of about 15 items, most of them buns. Go figure. It costs about 17 NTD/bun, which is about $0.50 USD! SO CHEAP! And they’re rather large buns too, which makes it all the more worth it.

369baozi3369baozi4There are 8 flavors of bun, some sweet and some savory. We tend get the savory buns. My favorites are the 香菇脆筍包 [xiang gu cui sun bao, or mushroom and bamboo shoot bun] and the 四季豆包 [si ji dou bao, or green bean bun]. I’m the kind of person who loves food with texture, e.g. chunky peanut butter and minestrone, and the filling made at 369 always fulfills this criterion. The mushrooms in the mushroom/bamboo bun are always tender and juicy; the bamboo is always crisp and fresh. The green beans are never mushy–I love the feeling of the beans popping out of the pod and into my mouth. And there’s always a dash of sesame oil in there. Mmm. 😀 All the other flavors are equally delicious too, so try them all!

369baozi5The filling is then lovingly wrapped in the most wonderfully springy wrapper a steamed bun could have. Upon breaking it open, warm steam powders your face. Fingers leave gentle grooves in the supple and slightly spongy dough, like a Tempur-Pedic mattress. Pair these buns with some 黑豆漿 [hei dou jiang, or black soybean milk] and you’re set. Their black soymilk is made in limited quantity, so beat the lunch rush to get it!

Venture outside of the buns and you will be rewarded with some of the tastiest dumplings outside of Din Tai Fung (in my humble opinion). The style is entirely different, but 369’s dumplings are like little bags of gold–so heavy and full with delicious mustard green filling. You get about  8-10 pieces for 50 NTD, or $1.50 USD.

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I also really, really like the 蘿蔔絲餅 [luo buo si bing, or sesame turnip pastry] they make there. Flaky pastry shell with sesame baked into it, and finely shredded turnip sauteed with white pepper. My mom never fails to get their 冬粉 [dong feng]. Vermicelli noodle soup with Chinese celery, daikon, shredded bamboo, A 菜 [Taiwanese chard], fried tofu, and some really tasty homemade bean curd roll-ups.

So if you want great, cheap food, go check 369 out at 台北市中山區遼寧街152號 [Taipei Zhongshan District Liaoning St, No. 152]!

蓮香齋, Jen Dow Vegetarian Buffet

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You can see them get progressively fancier as the years go on (2007 -> 2010 -> 2013)

This is culinary Disneyland for a vegetarian: all-you-can-eat hot pot, dessert, stir-fry, dim sum, soups, and Haagen-Dazs for a low price of $760 NTD, or about $20 USD. Pretty sweet deal, vegetarian or not. Sometimes buffets can offer a smorgasbord of food, but with all of them sub-par in taste and quality. This is not a problem at  蓮香齋[lian xiang zai]. I’ve been coming here since 2007, and the quality of the food–which is very good–is unwavering. Always delicious, always fresh.

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this was only 1/3 of our meal…

They’re so popular now that you can’t get seats without reservations. It hasn’t always been this hot of a dining place, but since it moved to a new location on 南京東路 [nanjing dong lu, or Nanjing East Rd] about 3 years ago, business has exploded more than ever. They used to let you take photos of the place, but they’re so big now that I have to sneak quick snapshots in.

Now whenever we go, we feel like we’re competing in the Hunger Games with the rest of the diners to get the first rounds served (which usually have the tastiest dishes). My mom and I have developed a system where I take the entire right side of the restaurant, and she tackles all the stir-fry dishes on the left. A sampling of everything, so that we’ve at least had the chance to taste it before it’s all gone. A good number of the stir-fry dishes are only served at the beginning. The fried spring rolls, or 春卷 [chun juan]–which are absolutely divine and are the best I’ve found, ever–, and turnip cake, or 蘿蔔糕 [luo buo gao], go within the first 5 minutes they’re served up.

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Chinese toon fried rice, spring rolls, and a giant pot of spicy stinky tofu (L to R)

Other things, like the 麻辣臭豆腐 [ma la chou dou fu, or spicy stinky tofu], go really fast once they’ve reach their peak of deliciousness. I would suggest waiting a little more than 1 hour after restaurant opening to get the 麻辣臭豆腐, so that it’s had more time to stew and soak in the flavorful, numbingly hot broth that it’s cooked in. But don’t wait any more than that. It’ll be gone by about 12:30pm.

lianxiangzai5My mom’s favorite dish, 湯 [su pi long tang], creamed corn soup with a slab of puff pastry baked to crisp on top. That’s only served on weekends. I’ve seen diners hoard 3-4 of them in one go, and only about 15-20 are served at a time. So worth fighting for though! Buttery, flaky layers of puff pastry to poke through and dip into a rich broth. Mmm.

Two other dishes I really like are the 香椿炒飯 [xiang chun chao fan], or Chinese toon fried rice, and 油飯 [you fan], or Taiwanese “oily” rice. Chinese toon is an herb that tastes like a cross between yellow onion, scallions, and maybe shallots? Quite tasty, in any case. The tender leaves are simply chopped up and sauteed before adding in other ingredients. I really like my Chinese toon fried rice with some spicy peppers for a kick. 油飯 is long-grain sticky rice steamed, and then quickly stir-fried with sauteed mushrooms, veggie ham (or shrimp/real ham if you’re not vegetarian), and rice wine, sugar, soy sauce, and shallots. The one at Jen Dow is served sometimes in 荷葉 [he ye], or lotus leaf, for an extra boost of flowery fragrance.

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Other things we like getting: fresh baby corn, hand rolled sushi [手卷寿司 shou juan sou shi], the wonton soup with 粉條 [feng tiao, or wide rice noodle], 龍鬚菜 [long xu cai, translating to “dragon whisker vegetable” due to the long strands of veggie], and fresh bamboo shoot [春筍 chun shun]. I don’t know how many of you have seen fresh baby corn with its husk still on, but I’ve only ever seen it in Taiwan. It’s steamed in a bamboo steamer and is crunchy, sweet, and dericious. Baby corn haters can hate. 龍鬚菜is seasonal, so if you catch it, you’re very lucky. We used to grow a lot in my childhood home. Crunchy and tender when it’s young. Old 龍鬚菜 can be a bit too fibrous and chewy.  The one seasonal vegetable that goes faster than free food at a college event is the fresh bamboo shoot. Crisp like gala apple, and sweet like morning dew. I’ve never tasted morning dew, but good 春筍 tastes like it’d just been dug right out of the ground in some cloud forest high in the mountains.

lianxiangzai6lianxiangzai7Jen Dow used to offer cold slow-drip coffee that was brewed over the course of 24 hours; however, the yield was so low that they stopped doing it. My mom and I used to make sure to snag a cup for each of us, the moment we set our foot in the door. I’m not a huge coffee drinker, but damn, that was some fantastic coffee. There also used to be a rather extensive loose-leaf tea bar for you to mix-and-match teas.

There’s also a noodle station where you can ask the chef to basically make whatever noodle soup you want. Several varieties of noodles and toppings to your taste. Moreover, there are other stations for made-to-order vegetables, sushi hand rolls, clay pot and hot pot,…there’s probably more that I can’t remember. A smorgasbord of cocktails (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and drinks in general. I particularly love the fruit or herb vinegar drinks: e.g. apple, passionfruit, guava, basil…etc. The dessert section has grown almost every year I’ve gone too.

lianxiangzai8And of course, I can’t fail to mention the chocolate fountain! There’s a 3-tier chocolate fountain with fruit kebabs. Pretty sweet. The second time I went to Jen Dow, we managed to catch a wedding banquet and thus there were two chocolate fountains: one milk and one white. lianxiangzai9Haven’t been that lucky since. They also have two Haagen Dazs sections for endless ice cream, if that’s your thing. My favorite ice cream is actually the lactose-free ice cream, next to the dessert soups ( red bean soup, almond milk…etc.). I’m not lactose intolerant, but I find the lactose-free flavors to be more refreshing than the too-sweet and rich Haagen Dazs. If you’re willing to try it, definitely get the sesame soy milk, bilberry, mango, and peanut flavors. Mmm.

Whether you’re carnivorous or omnivorous, you’d probably enjoy eating here as much as we vegetarians do. My mom and I have brought non-vegetarian friends and family here and no one has had less than an incredibly positive experience.

Interested? Find them at:

台北市松山區南京東路五段188號地下1樓之1

Taipei City, Songshan District, Nanjing E. Rd, Section 5, No. 188
First level underground.

烏來 Wu Lai, Taipei, Taiwan 2008

food“Food” was the name of the restaurant we went to…I believe?? I attempted to find this “Food” restaurant in Wu Lai just now, by furiously Googling various permutations of “Wu Lai Food restaurant” and “Wu Lai restaurant by river” to no avail.

(Edit: a lovely commentor, who runs Thinking About Languages was able to dig up the name of the restaurant! It’s called “Elite Fusion Cuisine“/名流水岸慢食. Thanks YT!).

“Food” serves kaiseki meals (the Western version is prix fixe). Our family friend brought us here since our favorite activity together is sharing the joy in good food. Even if it means driving a farther distance for it. Wu Lai is about a 1 hour drive from Taipei city and famous for its hot springs and aboriginal culture. Its name comes from the Atayal 泰雅 [tai ya] phrase, “kirofu ulai”, which means “hot and poisonous”. We didn’t get to explore much of Wu Lai, so I can’t speak for its other assets, but this 站 [xiu xi zhan, or “rest stop”] was perfect for a short getaway from busy Taipei.wulai

The restaurant sits on the banks of the Wu Lai river and directly faces a Buddhist temple with a large, golden statue of Guan Yin Bodhisattva–a place of terrific 風水 [feng shui]. food_areaMoreover, the glass panels that formed the walls of the restaurant brought in a lot of natural light, adding to the serenity of the atmosphere. Seating was very open; only sheer curtains separated sections of diners. Soft tatami carpeted the floors–no shoes were allowed onto them. You were given sandals upon entering the restaurant.

food3We got a table with a view of the river and sat down for a calm 2 hours of dining. We started with some genmai cha [玄米茶 xuan mi cha, which is green tea with roasted brown rice] and a shot of watermelon slush.

Then came the appetizers: umeboshi [梅干 mei gan, or pickled plum] and a crispy nashi pear [黄金梨, huang jin li] and guava [芭樂 ba la] salad with 醬 [he feng jiang, japanese salad dressing]. We were also served what could be the best tofu I have ever had. 

Handmade silken tofu [嫩豆腐 neng dou fu].

food4So delicate and fine: like slicing through softened butter. Light and airy. There was a faint sweetness, the kind you taste in homemade soymilk. In short, it was divine. They topped it with a dash of vegetarian tentsuyu broth (dashi, mirin, soy sauce) and a fresh gingko nut and dollop of greens for color. Such a simple dish, yet wonderfully layered and complex.

food6The main course was hot pot: rice noodles, kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), buna-shimeji mushrooms, fresh corn, bok choy, tomato, mochi cubes, and 百页豆腐 [bai ye dou fu, a soft, spongy type of bean curd]. Healthy and a beautiful arrangement of colors.

food5A cleanser was served after the hotpot: some fruit vinegar (can’t remember what) on ice. Refreshing and just tangy enough to get our taste buds ready for the rest of the meal.

Another small sampler was brought in: stir fried buna-shimeji, shredded nagaimo [山药 shan yao, a type of mountain yam] served on a shiso leaf, and two small rolls of 薯 [zi se fan shu, or purple yam] with string beans, pickled daikon, and some vegetarian pork sung, all wrapped in a QQ mochi skin. 

food7Nagaimo–if you’ve never had it–is one of the few (? or only?) yams that can be eaten raw. When you cut them apart, you’ll notice a gooey strands of mucus-like stuff. But don’t be put off by it! When blanched or shredded, nagaimo has the mildly sweet flavor and crunch of jicama. So tasty. You can try eating it with blueberry sauce too (that’s how they eat it in Gansu, China). Purple yam is equally different from the orange and white yams most of us are familiar with. They’re white-skinned and have a deep, purple hue; when cooked, they’re velvety (but not mushy) and sweeter than the orange yams. They are by far my favorite type of yam.food8

Then came a small plate of stirfried broccoli with oyster mushrooms and gingko nuts, followed by the cheesiest baked zucchini. Mmmm.

food9food10We finished with one of my favorite dishes: 葉飯 [he ye fan, or lotus leaf rice]. It’s so rare to find vegetarian 葉飯, even in Taiwan, so I always treasure it when I do come across it. Sticky rice with shiitake mushrooms and crispy veggie ham, steamed and wrapped in lotus leaves. What could go wrong? I found this recipe online that gives a pretty good overview of what 葉飯 is. 🙂

All in all, one kickass and unforgettable meal. Have any of you been here? I’d would LOVE to be able to revisit this restaurant again, but neither my mom nor I remember where it is/what it’s called.

東區粉圓, Eastern Ice Store

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Caught the magical 15% where we can actually find seating.

東區粉圓 [dong qu fen yuan] is a shaved ice shop in the Daan District of Taipei. My mom first brought me in 2008 and we’ve always made it a point to return for every trip since then. The first time I went, the shop only had one section with at most 5 small tables with a couple pairs of stools. Regardless, the line went straight out of the shop and down into the street.

東區粉圓 has expanded since then, opening up a seating area adjacent to the original area, complete with TVs and A/C! Yet somehow even with this expansion, it has not made finding a seat any easier than it was back in 2008. There’s almost always a line: my mom and I have gone in the morning, late morning, early afternoon, late afternoon, evening, and late evening. About 85% of the time there’s a truckload of people huddled outside of the store, either waiting to order or waiting for a seat. It’s really hit or miss.

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left: yam balls with lotus seeds, grass jelly, and 豆花 [dou hua, or tofu pudding]; right: taro balls with peanuts and red bean. 2008.

In any case, this is a must-try 小吃 [xiao chi, or “snack”] place in Taipei! I’m sure there are hundreds of other 刨冰 [bao bing, or shaved ice] places in Taiwan, let alone Taipei, but this is the one I stick to because it is so so good. 東區粉圓 is famous for their taro and yam balls. Taro balls [芋圓, pronounced “yu yuan” in Mandarin and “o-yin” in Taiwanese] and yam [地瓜圓, di gua yuan] balls are made by mixing the mashed taro or yam with water and sweet potato or potato flour. The latter makes the balls springier or softer, respectively.

Taiwanese tend to like the springy and chewy a lot, which we say is “QQ”. At 東區粉圓 they are indeed incredibly QQ (albeit 九份 [jiu fen]  is the city in Taiwan that these originated from and reportedly has the best 芋圓 and 地瓜圓, but that’s another story).

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ooey gooey taro awesomesauceness with mung bean and aiyu jelly. 2013.

The selection of items you can put in your shaved ice is overwhelming. I’ve never counted how many choices there are, but I do always feel a ton of pressure trying to figure out what exactly it is I want. My mom and I definitely get the 頭 [da yu tou] because they slow-cook giant chunks of taro until it’s very 綿[mian], or cottony, and then let it sit in something like honey or sugar syrup for hours. But it’s never saccharine, just sweet enough to bring out the natural sweetness of the taro. The taro itself falls apart when you poke at it with a fork–like expertly-done pulled pork–and maintains a QQ texture. Simply delightful.

Source: My Kitchen Snippets

We also tend to add 愛玉 [ai yu],  a jelly made from the seeds of a variety of fig. Really floral elements and refreshing in the summer with some lemon juice and sugar. It’s not grown anywhere outside of Taiwan and Singapore, but you can find it in cans at Chinese supermarkets in the US. Red beans [红豆 hong dou],  mung beans [綠豆 lu dou], lotus seeds [蓮子 lian zi], and grass jelly [燒仙草 sao xian cao] are the things we always tend to add. And stewed peanuts [花生 hua sheng], which are slow-cooked in the same way the taro is.

The shaved ice from 東區粉圓 has not changed in taste or quality for the past 6 going on 7 years and however many trips my mom and I have made to Taiwan. Delicious without fail, every. single. time.

Now go. You can find it at:

忠孝東路四段216巷38號, 大安區, 台北市
No. 38, Lane 216, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Rd, Daan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106

If you’re taking the MRT [捷運 jie yun, or subway], get off at the Zhongxiao Dunhua stop on the Bannan line, 3rd exit at the station [板南線忠孝敦化站3號出口].

If you’re getting there by bus [公車 gong che]:

  • 232‧204‧235‧662‧299‧663‧212‧278 (阿波羅大廈站下車) [ah po luo da qin stop]
  • 275‧33‧292‧52‧605‧285‧630‧262‧905‧906‧909(捷運忠孝敦化站下車) [MRT Zhongxiao Dunhua stop]

Let me know if there are other shaved ice places in Taiwan that you love going to!

礁溪 Jiao Xi, Taiwan

jiaoxiJiaoxi is the hottest hot spring [温泉 wen chuan] destination in Taiwan. It is located in Yilan [宜蘭], about an hour drive from Taipei. While it’s doable as a day trip, I highly recommend staying overnight at Jiaoxi for at least a night to fully enjoy bathing in all the wonderful hot springs! My mom loves staying at the Hotel Royal Chiao Hsi [礁溪老爺酒店]. I don’t blame her. The facilities, the service, the meal plans, the environment…everything is just what the doctor ordered for a relaxing getaway. The hotel is mostly an open-space environment, with tall glass walls to let in ample sunshine.

jiaoxi3If you’re lucky enough, you may snag one of the ocean view rooms; both times my mom took me to Jiaoxi, we could only manage to get a mountain view room. Still a beautiful view: palm trees, lush rainforest, birds flying overhead.

The rooms themselves are a work of art. Hotel Royal Chiao Hsi is modeled after traditional Japanese hot spring hotels, complete with tatami beds, a tea room, and little  [cha dian], or dim sum treats. When I went in 2008, they even brought in fresh fruits to your room, daily! You’re also provided with a set of yukata [浴衣 yu yi in Chinese], and sandals to wear around the hotel and to the hot springs. They used to let you bring the sandals–which are really comfy–home, but not anymore.

jiaoxi2The central baths are wonderful too. There are outdoor [露天風呂 lu tian feng lu] and indoor baths, ranging from boiling hot water to near-freezing temperatures. My favorite thing to do is to jump from the hottest pool into the absolute coldest. It’s absolutely cathartic when you feel the heat dissipating from your body–like being bandaged in Icy Hot all over (except you’re hot first then cold). Showering facilities are meticulously clean, with wonderful-smelling shampoos, creams, and body washes. The ones by the pool come with small wooden buckets to pour over yourself.

jiaoxi4If japanese hot springs aren’t your thing (as you have to bathe in the nude), the swimming facilities are amazing. Giant infinity pool and hot tubs and whirpools galore! Essentially an outside water-based playground. They even have pools of the doctor fish, which are these tiny goldfish that nibble away at your callouses. I don’t know if my feet were more beautiful after wading in the doctor fish pool, but it was a ton of fun to see how long I could keep my feet underwater; the nibbles tickle a lot!

jiaoxi5Beyond that, there’s a games room with pool and ping pong tables, as well as a computer lab if you want to spend your hot spring vacation surfing the internet (…why?). When I first went in 2008, the hotel offered a lot of outdoor excursions: the most memorable being crab catching at night. It cost about $25 per person–a small price to pay for a priceless experience. You’re put on a shuttle bus to this serene and isolated beach somewhere in Jiaoxi (neither my mom nor I remember), given lanterns, a net, and a bucket to put the crabs in. There’s a contest to see who can catch the most crabs; I forget the prize.

And no, the crabs were not for eating. We all set them back into the ocean once we tallied who had the most crabs. It was a blast! There was such diversity in the crabs we caught; tiny ones the size of my thumb to bigger ones that could cause a painful pinch. Red ones, blue ones, brown ones, gray ones. I’d never seen so many! Once we all set the crabs free, our guide ordered us to all shut off our flashlights. We were surrounded in complete darkness; no streetlights or any illumination for miles. With no buildings or mountains to obstruct our view, the sky encircled us in a snowglobe of twinkling celestial bodies. I have never seen anything as stunning or divine since that night.

wufengqiwufengqi2There’s plenty to do outside of the hotel too; I love climbing the Wufengqi Waterfall [五峰旗瀑布] and exploring downtown Jiaoxi for a lot of good snack [ xiao chi] booths. Wufengqi is about a 90-minute to 2-hour hike, and totally worth it even on the muggiest day. The falls are split into 3 tiers, with the final fall being the largest and the harder one to get to.

The trail is well-maintained, albeit wet from all the spray. After a rock slide in 2009, the last section to the upper falls was closed and is yet to be reopened. When my mom and I went this past summer (2014), we jumped the railing and found that the trail was perfectly in-tact and walkable. Still, I’d recommend using common sense if it’s a rainy or stormy day out.

jiaoxi6Downtown Jiaoxi is incredibly small, but cute and full of tasty treats. Jiaoxi is famous for high-quality preserved duck eggs [蛋 xian dan], scallions/green onions [蔥 cong], hot-spring tomatoes [番茄 fan qie], hot-spring mochi [麻糬 mua ji], and dried kumquats [金棗 jin zao]. Hotel Royal Chiao Hsi, however, already has an astounding selection of good eats for its lunch and breakfast buffet, as well as a beautiful kaiseki meal for dinner. All of this is already incorporated into your stay when you pay for the hotel, too!

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Mushroom soup with morels and truffles, taro balls, fresh bamboo shoots, sauteed asparagus, rose and ginger vinegar, 10-grain fried rice, and sushi rolls for dinner.

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So much delicousness in one breakfast!

Shin Yeh, Taipei 101

Mom, ever so wonderful, booked a restaurant located on the 85th floor of Taipei 101. Restaurant on a high floor in a super tall building = $$$$. But hey, we flew almost 7,000 miles to get to Taiwan, so might as well make it worth it! I don’t know why it is that fancy restaurants are always dimly lit, but they are. To be romantic or something silly like that, I guess. Makes it hard to feel your way around the restaurant though.

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The views from 欣葉 Shin Yeh are as stellar as you would expect being about 1200 feet high to be. It was a rainy day in Taipei, so we couldn’t see as far. Nevertheless, it was beautiful being among the clouds and watching the rain fall below. Shin Yeh’s decor is quite modern, with lighted walking paths, soft, red mood-lighting,  and black, lacy curtains. Friendly and attentive service too.

shinyehMy mom first discovered Shin Yeh when she was invited to dinner there by one of her college friends. She loved it. Finding vegetarian food is usually hard enough, but finding good vegetarian food in a swanky restaurant is even harder. Yet, she found it in Shin Yeh! Shin Yeh serves very typical Taiwanese cuisine in the highest culinary fashion.

When my mom and I eat in Taiwan, our motto is “go big or go home”. If there’s anywhere we shouldn’t care about gaining weight, it’s when we’re out traveling. So we decided that 9 dishes for 2 people was entirely acceptable.

Starters were some pickled vegetables paired with a passionfruit iced tea. Then came a bowl of warm rice porridge sweetened with chunks of kabocha (japanese pumpkin). I could write a love song about kabocha, if I had the talent. The meat is always so sweet and fine; not stringy like American pumpkins. My mom also ordered a dish that I was not very familiar with at the time, called 菜脯煎蛋 [cai bu jian dan]. In Taiwanese, it’s pronounced as “cai bo neng”. Cai Bo Neng is a thick omelette scrambled with preserved turnip, so that you have this golden, crispy egg with tiny shots of salt and crunch from the turnip. So tasty.

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A four-course tasting dish was then served: honey-roasted cashews; mashed kabocha topped with sliced oyster mushrooms, a dollop of mayonnaise, and a kuromame (japanese sweet black bean); steamed okra with some delicate plum sauce; and braised shiitake with stewed daikon.

Fifth dish was a bird’s nest with deep fried tasty things–I can’t remember what it was anymore. Deep fried foods are inarguably delicious though.

hsinye2For a boost of fiber, we had a plate of stir-fried asparagus, 百合 [bai he] or lily bulbs, gingko nuts, and watermelon (?!). Pretty interesting combination. There was also broccoli with incredibly convincing sea cucumber imitation. Having been vegetarian all my life and having never touched meat, it looked real enough that I couldn’t really stomach it.

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At this point, we were appropriately stuffed. Yet there was still more! A delicious plate of vegetable fried rice with crispy string beans, vegetarian ham, and red and yellow bell peppers. You know you have good fried rice in your bowl when each grain glistens with a bit of oil and each slightly springy when you chew. Taiwanese are all about that QQ texture. I think the closest English translation is “toothsome”?

We topped off this feast with almond milk tea, peanut mochi, and a plate of fresh fruit. Just perfect. Would go again.

 

Info if you’re interested:

欣葉國際餐飲集團
Shin Yeh Taipei 101
85F-1, No. 7, Sec. 5, Xinyi Rd., Xinyi Dist., Taipei City (Taipei 101)

Let me know how Shin Yeh works out for you! 🙂

Ice Monster 冰館

icemonsterFor the past 7 years in a row I’ve been traveling to Taiwan, one of my must-stop eateries is Ice Monster. It wasn’t until about 3 years ago (??) that Ice Monster moved from the crowded 永康街 Yongkang Street–best known for being the flagship location of infamous dumpling house 鼎泰豐 Ding Tai Fung–to a larger and more spacious location on 忠孝東路四段 Zhongxiao East Road, 4th Section.

The move was due in large part to the divorce of the couple who started the shop together. Both of them now own competing mango shaved ice stores: one still in the old location on Yongkang Street and the other in the new location on Zhongxiao East Road.

icemonster1I hate to say it, but the division has resulted in a dip in quality of the mango shaved ice. The popularity of Ice Monster has continued to skyrocket over the years, resulting in 1-2 hour waits just to get a seat in the Zhongxiao location. CNN has even done a piece on it (they’re #5 on the slide)!

Ice Monster used to be this tiny booth on the corner of the street with no more than 2 counters, and at most 15 stools. People flocked to it then, but my mom and I never had to wait more than 20 minutes for some space to open up. It was this old Ice Monster that we both had the most amazing mango shaved ice of our lives.

The key to amazing mango shaved ice is really the quality of the mangoes. Taiwan’s most popular type of mango is the 愛文芒果 [ai wen man guo], or Aiwen mango. They have beautiful skin painted like the sunset and this delicate, tender, honey-colored flesh that bursts with sweet mango juice when you bite into it.

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The old Ice Monster shaved ice that jump-started my addiction to mangoes.

Ice Monster uses high-quality 愛文, chops them up, pours the chunks over a light bed of snow, drizzles about a teaspoon of sweetened condensed milk, and serves you this delectable concoction with a scoop of creamy mango gelato on top of it all. Like 75% mango, 25% ice/condensed milk/gelato. It’s glorious.

Recently, Ice Monster has tweaked the recipe. Now the ice is shaved into thin, sheet-like layers and there is significantly fewer mango chunks. There is now also the addition of this strange almond tofu thing, which is simply not the same mango shaved ice I’ve always looked forward to eating.

icemonster

The new Ice Monster with fancy new seating.

Moreover, the service is a lot slower now. The last two times I went to Ice Monster, I felt like our server had completely forgotten about us. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the major increase in price though. A serving of mango shaved ice at the old Ice Monster on Yongkang Street used to be about 100-120 NTD (~$3-4), and now it is more than double that price.

Overall, still pretty solid mango shaved ice, but a little too expensive for my tastes and too long of a wait to get a table. But if it’s a humid 95-degrees out and you’re a walking waterfall of sweat, it’s worth checking out. 🙂 To find Ice Monster, this address will come in handy:

Ice Monster
Taipei City, Daan District, Zhongxiao Rd. Section 4, Number 297
台北市大安區忠孝東路四段297號

台南 Tainan, 2010

tainanTainan literally means “southern Taiwan”; it was established by the Dutch East India Company as a ruling and trading base. As a result, you can still see traces of Dutch influence on the architecture, culture, and even some of the food in Taiwan. Tainan is also the oldest city in Taiwan, and with its complex history, has received the nickname “the Phoenix City”.

For our day trip in Tainan, we first went to Chikan Lou ‘赤崁樓’ or Fort Provintia. Chikan Lou is one of the most important historic sites in Tainan. It was a Dutch outpost built in 1653 during their colonization of Taiwan. The fort houses a library of dictionaries and business transactions documenting the Siraya language spoken by indigenous people of Formosa during Dutch rule.

tainan2Chikan Lou was surrendered to Zheng Chengong 国姓爷 when he and his army landed to take Taiwan from the Dutch. Since that point in history, Chikan Lou has been the residence of the governor, an army hospital during Japanese rule, and now a bookmark in Taiwanese history. There are two towers, Haishen Temple, and Wenchang Pavilion ‘文昌閣’. Both now serve as small museums. In Haishan Temple hangs small wooden plaques upon which students have written their wishes and prayers for good grades. Since I was just about to enter college at the time, my mom insisted that I write a plaque too.

We didn’t spend more than half an hour exploring Chikan Lou because of the blistering heat. What we decided to to afterwards was to get some 雪花冰 [xue hua bing], or more commonly known as “mian mian bing”.

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In short: shaved ice. Mango and blackberry shaved ice, with some green tea and mango panna cotta to boot.  The panna cotta is one of those foods from my travels that I still reminiscence about from time to time. So silky and smooth and cool–it just slithers down your throat. Nothing more gratifying in muggy, 96-degree weather.

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We visited a couple more temples, and spent some time sitting in a large park with this incredible banyan tree. It could have been almost a thousand years old for all I knew; looked like something you’d find in My Neighbor Totoro. Uncle Chen, mom, and I just relaxed on a park bench until the sun set. And then it was time for dinner!

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Perhaps I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: if there’s one thing you never should miss out on when you’re in Taiwan, its the fresh bamboo shoot that you dip in sweet mayonnaise. It is a godsend food. Crisp and sweet, almost like some buttery Gala apple. That was a pretty strange characterization, but it is so good.

We also ordered a large plate of 山蘇 [shan su], which is one of my favorite vegetables to eat in Taiwan. “Bird’s Nest Fern” is native to tropical areas; I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in the US.

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The large leaves curl outward, giving it the appearance of a nest. It’s delicate, crunchy, and (dare-I-say-it) kinda slimy. Like the tasty okra kind of slimy, unless you don’t like slimy vegetables.

There was also 絲瓜 [si gua], or loofah, steamed in a pumpkin sauce. Loofah is one of my favorite vegetables, hands down–it basically looks like a giant cucumber. And it is indeed the same loofah we use in scrubbing sponges! What a practical plant. One of my favorite things was the sticky rice balls stuffed with delicious things.

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sunset by the park!