Tuesday, May 31, 2011

San Francisco trip

For my school break I went back to the San Francisco bay area to finish some business and show Yuki around the bay area. It's a welcomed relief from Taiwanese food, back to the fattening delicious food of the bay. I introduced her to some real Cali fresh-mex, american pancakes, burmese food, the wine train, Krispy Kreme, Sichuan/Taiwanese at Spices, Indian food, Italian seafood, In&Out, Dim Sum, and filipino food. Showing her the sights of SF and being away from SF for so long, made me really realize how beautiful and victorian San Francisco architecture really is. Also how perfect the weather is. Despite some rain, the sky was always blue and cloudy and dramatic. Taiwanese skies are rarely ever like that. But despite missing having my own car, perfect weather, a variety of ethnic food and a victorian city, living in the bay area is just too troublesome and expensive. Parking tickets, insurance, smog, and the ridiculously expensive SF parking fees really miss the convenient, cheap and traffic-free subway system of Taipei. SF is definitely beautiful and has a lot to offer in it's own right, but it makes me appreciate Taipei's simplicity and comfort. I wish I had more time, but I have to leave some for next time Yuki and I have a chance to visit. Farewell SF!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Minquan old street, Sanxia district

Yuki's been meaning to go to Minquan Old Street (民權老街) for quite some time. We like visiting old streets of Taiwan past. Brings you back in time to the earlier days of Taiwanese living. Minquan is like the old street near Longshan temple. It's a business street built during the Japanese rule, and is a very well-preserved example of Japanese colonial architecture of the time. The street features stores selling art, ceramics, and local specialty foods (most notably Bull Horn Croissants). Speaking of Bull Horn Croissants, we visited the first place in Taiwan that created the Bull Horn Croissants. It was packed and had a long line. They weren't very efficient as they'd sell a batch, then everyone had to wait till the next batch was done baking. the person in front of us bought the last of it and some of the next batch too. I don't know somewhere around 80. Was she feeding an army at home or something!? Geez, leave some for the rest of us! Well, in the end, as hot, buttery and delicious as they were, it wasn't worth the wait. Other places can do it almost as well with out the 1 hour wait. We caught a little snack, oil rice (油飯), before heading out. When we got to Banqiao, we got off and decided to get dinner at the food court in Global mall. At first, we wanted to try the mexican restaurant, but it just turned out to be a mix. They had burgers, cuban sandwiches, mexican, pasta and it was around the $220+ price tag. We were looking for something cheaper as we've already spent too much this weekend. Ended up getting some Zha Jiang noodles (炸酱面). Zha jiang mian (炸酱面) literally "fried sauce noodles" is a northern Chinese dish consisting of thick wheat noodles topped with a mixture of ground pork stir-fried with Zha Jiang (炸酱), which is salty fermented soybean paste. I haven't had it in a long time. For dessert, we ate at Tsujiri in Global mall again. Yuki loves the macha green tea ice cream there. It's extremely rich! If your in the Global mall, you must try this out despite the expensive cost for one drink($150-$185NT). It'll be the best macha green tea ice cream you've ever tasted. Leaving the mall back to the MRT station across the street, there is a pet store/pet grooming store with big windows displaying the cute dogs and cats up for adoption. Enjoy the photos!

Zha Jiang noodles (above)

Bali, Taiwan

Yuki and I have heard about Bali for a long time. It's a small little paradise close to Taipei city, across the river from Danshui. Similar to Bali, Indonesia in atmosphere, which makes it a very popular spot for the Taiwanese. It's very convenient to get to, via MRT and a ferry across the river. Despite this, it took us a while to find the time to get there. So today, in the afternoon we headed over to Danshui and quickly onto the ferry. Once in Bali, you notice a huge difference in atmosphere and you really feel like you've just been whisked away to Indonesia. With palms trees, bicycles, beaches, boardwalks, street food, music, celebrations and rows of sea side restaurants with a view. We immediately went to the generous City funded bike rental. Still about $30NT per person per hour. We rode through town all the way to the Shihsanhang Museum of Archaeology (十三行博物館). It's far away from the main street of Bali, but Yuki is a fan of architecture and interior design, so i'd thought it be of interest. It's a very unique building, in addition, the museum inside is all free of cost. It's small though, it only took us 30 minutes to walk through. It also has a nice grand deck outside facing the river where Yuki and I enjoyed the sun set. The bike rental closes at 7:30pm so we had to ride back to town to return them and find some dinner in Bali. Walking along Renai street (仁愛路) there are several nice cafe's and restaurants to choose from. First was Island (小島泰式料理) a Thai restaurant with a cool bahama design to the patio and interior. Next was Skiff (小艇) a small two story greek looking atmosphere with a tropical patio and roof top tables. Finally was Badasan (芭達叅原住民主題餐廳) a two story elaborately decorated Taiwanese aborigine themed restaurant. They had loud music and it was packed full of customers. Definitely one of the more popular spots. Seems the average cost of most of the restaurants are around $300-400/person. There are a lot more restaurants we failed to explore, so don't think there's only three to choose from. So in the end, we chose the Thai restaurant...Island. We had Pad Thai, grilled chicken wrapped in bamboo leaves and a bottle of Singha (Thai beer). The chicken was the best. Smokey and slightly crispy. With the great food, bahama atmosphere and beer, it was a very relaxing escape from the bustling city of Taipei. I love Taiwan, it has soo much to offer. Further more, I hear there's even Green Island (錄島) and Orchid Island (蘭嶼), which is even more of a tropical paradise similar to Hawaii but without the higher cost. I'll have to visit those in the future :). I have pictures from my film camera but it'll take a while before they're developed.

Badasan (芭達叅)

Island restaurant (小島)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

La Paella 西班牙小餐館

Yuki and I decided to go back to Gongguan today to find that hole in the wall pizza place we saw a while back. It smelled really aromatic. It's tucked away in a tiny alley way and the pizza's were thin crust cooked in a porcelain oven. But walking back and forth from alley way to alley way, we were unable to find it again. Disappointed, we did the best thing you can do in this situation in Taiwan, EXPLORE! That we did. So we discovered a spanish restaurant. Walking in we were greeted by a very friendly host, possible the owner. He said they've been open for about 1.5 years. He noticed I wasn't a native speaker so he asked where I was from. So he was happy to say that he was a fellow Californian too (after moving from NY). After being seated and ordering, we noticed that he goes around to other tables to strike conversations. Thats some hard work and dedication to maintain that with all his customers. He recommended the empanadas. However since Yuki ordered the empanada, I had the hard decision between the 18 spice pork ribs or the 8 varieties of paellas. I chose a crispy skin duck confit paella. The paella turned out to be only OK. I believe it's more of a taiwanese style version. However the duck confit was better. It's still missing the thyme and fat flavor that most confits have. So although it tasted good, it tasted "healthier" than normal duck confit. If you get what i mean. I think next time i'll go for the 18 spice pork ribs. Yuki's empanada was a different story. It was delicious! The sauce so savory, the crust so flaky and the meat inside so tender and tasty! Average price is $180-$250 per dish. Drinks and dessert are separate and I don't think the waitress mentioned a set menu. But it's a pretty good and fancy dinner for a student budget if you don't order any extras. This place really has a lot of potential and I'd definitely want to revisit in the future to try out their other delicacies. Sorry for the poor photos, the place is also lit with a very orangey lighting, completely confusing my camera's white balance.

La Paella (西班牙小餐館)
No. 13, Alley 1, Lane 78, Section 4, LuóSīFú Rd, Jhongjheng District
Taipei City, Taiwan

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Air raid day

Today was air raid day in Taiwan. I'm not entirely sure the reason why. But the way my teacher explains it, is to protect citizens during a bombing run if there happens to be a war between Taiwan and China. She says they do this every year. Sometimes twice a year if the relationship with China is bad. This is the first time in 2 years that they have done this, so I guess the relationship is good. So between 2-2:30pm no one is allowed in the streets. No pedestrians, no cars, no motorcycles. Just police like a city declared under marshall law. So Taipei becomes eerily like a ghost town. It wasn't as dramatic as I thought it'd be, because there are still a few people still on the sidewalks walking. But essentially a very quiet and empty Taipei when it's normally very busy and crowded. Moving on...writing yesterday's blog entry really got me craving for some Yakisoba. So after class, I set out to find a japanese store that sells Yakisoba. I remember it so fondly from my childhood when my japanese grandmother made it. It's so tasty and it really stands out as a special dish for me. She cooked it for me when I was living in Taipei (along time ago). So it seemed fitting to enjoy some Yakisoba again in Taipei. We found it in a small restaurant that I dined at before with a friend from Boston. It's called 紅蜻蜓食事處 (no english name that I saw). They're specialty is Yakitori and Kushiyaki. Having tried it before I can definitely recommend this place. But prepare to bring some extra cash, it's not that cheap. It won't break the bank, but is beyond my student budget for now. It's about $100 NT a plate and you'll need a few plates per person. But I was there for the Yakisoba. It turned out to be tasty too, despite not being grilled. However the serving portion was small and there was exactly two pieces of beef. They have the flavor down, but please give me more! Well, I guess it's a Yakitori bar, so I guess your supposed to order several plates at once in stead of a single plate meal. So I guess that's my fault. I shall return with more money and choose the delicious meat skewers next time instead.

No. 35之1號, YǒngKāng Street, Daan District
Taipei City, Taiwan

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Milano Indonesian cuisine (closed)

Recalling back a few weeks ago, while exploring the Shida side streets, Yuki and I found an indonesian restaurant called Milano. Kind of an odd italian sounding name for an Indonesian restaurant. Anyways...So today after class, we were feeling for some Indonesian. It turns out to be a nice little place with a patio and a spacious interior. It looked nice from the outside, but we never made it in. We immediately grabbed a table outside. The patio looks very tropical with bamboo lamps, wicker chairs and stone sculptures. It would have felt like being in Bali if it weren't for the mopeds riding by and chinese speaking pedestrians haha. There wasn't a lot of business, but we tend to eat dinner early around 6pm. The only other customers outside were possible Thai/Indonesian judging from their language. I ordered the Beef Rendang and Yuki, the Mie Goreng. The Beef Rendang was really good. Tender with a nice spicy kick. It comes with a bowl of long grain white rice. I tried Yuki's Mie Goreng too and it was pretty appetizing also. But I tend to lean towards more intense flavors, so I really liked my Beef Rendang. They serve individual meals from $180-$230. Set meals that include a drink and a very very small desert from $205-$280. I chose the set meal and it cost me $205. Wonderful place in a hidden location away from the bustle of Shida night market. For the price, the portions were a little on small side. So I wouldn't mind a return, but I'd rather find a place with larger portions.

Milano Indonesian Cuisine (2 locations)
No. 33號, ZhènXìng Street, Beitou District
Taipei City, Taiwan

No. 11之1號, PǔChéng Street, Daan District
Taipei City, Taiwan

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Coffee Alley

So I finally visited coffee alley. I was with Yuki and Grace and we didn't have anything better. It turned out to be a very long wait. They said 40 minutes but it turned out to be 1.5 hours. Thats just ridiculous! The coffee better be mind-blowing. So after 1.5 hours of standing in the rain, we got seated in the back. First thing I noticed is that it's freezing cold in there. So from the start, not a very comfortable atmosphere. The seats and tables didn't help add to a comfortable environment either. So I ordered the tiramisu coffee. Horrible. It doesn't taste anything like tiramisu. It wasn't even sweet. It tasted like bitter tasting crappy Folgers in a can. The other half of the order was caramel waffles. They turned out to be very tasty, but the portions are pretty big. Even a large appetite american like me had a hard time finishing it. Perhaps I was off my game that day or it was just too much of one flavor. But, in conclusion, it definitely wasn't worth the wait. The price was ok, from $160-200 for waffle/ice cream combos. ~$130 for coffee drinks. If there happens to be a future venture, I'd share with a friend and get two different flavors and share. But I don't think I want to return for crappy coffee from a place with coffee in the name as well as a 1.5 hour wait. I don't know what all the fuss is about.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tsuke men at 樂麵屋

After class, during some further exploring around YongKang street(永康街), Yuki and I discovered an interesting ramen restaurant. It doesn't have an english name, so here's the pingyin, Lemianwu (樂麵屋). They offered a dry ramen that is getting very popular in Japan these days. Tsuke men. So she was surprised to see it in Taiwan. It's the same as ramen, but minus the soup. They also cover it in a spicy fish egg type sauce called mingtaizi (明太子). It was different and something I have never tried before, so why not!? Well..it turned out to be very very tasty. It's just a mild spicy and it really makes it much more flavorful as Yuki said. Instead of the soup overpowering everything, the individual flavors come out so it's a completely different ramen experience. I like it better this way and this is now my new favorite Ramen style! You can choose between two flavors, noodle thickness and spiciness. Customizable and yummy! Definitely want to return for seconds.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Aunt Su's Pizza House

Yuki and I was looking for a quick dinner after class because we had a 8pm celebration with my friend that just got a job. So I remembered a pizza place I saw several times near the Sun Yat-Sen memorial. It always looked packed and the pizza smelled divine. I can appreciate a good pizza. So we took a bus ride over to the Aunt Su's Pizza House (蘇阿姨比薩屋吃到飽). The place was packed and busy, but we didn't have an issue getting a seat promptly. They have two ways to order. All you can eat or by the pie. All you can eat is around $380 NT. And they do it, brazilian style. As in, a waitress walks around to each table and asks you you want a piece of whatever flavor she happens to have. The flavors rotate. We decided against that. That just sounds like ALOT of food. We ordered a small pizza that comes with three crust options. Thin, Medium and Thick. As a Chicago-an, I'm obligated to select the thick crust. Also, I'd like to mention, they have fried chicken too. Odd, but it looked just as good as the pizza. It took about 15 minutes, before our pizza arrived. Definitely thick crust, not Chicago stuffed/Deep Dish, but thick none the less. It was flakey and buttery! Perfect. For being in Taiwan, this is pretty damn good pizza. And the old 1950's Coka-cola advertisement interior design really hits it home. It's bustling with enjoyment and laughter like a real pizzeria. Cost us $400 for the small pie that can feed 2 people to FULL. I want to make a return visit with more friends!

No. 300號, GuāngFù South Road, Daan District
Taipei City, Taiwan

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Banqiao, Taiwan

Today, Yuki introduced me to Banqiao. It's a newly developing city just outside of Taipei city, in New Taipei City. We visited two large malls there. The FE21 mall and the MRT station Global mall. The FE21 mall is like any other mall in Taipei, but Yuki and I agree it was more comfortable. Possible due to less traffic and feeling of a slower pace. It doesn't feel as busy and rushed as the malls in Taipei. It's possible the racks and walkways were wider. The FE21 is still a very upscale mall. Moving on to the Global mall, It's attached to the Banqiao MRT station, which makes it very convenient to get to. It's smaller, will only two floors and basement with mostly food. But the wooden desk atrium full of cafe's and restaurants was what made it stand out in my mind. It has large skywindows to allow as much sunlight to enter the long atrium. In addition the large planted trees, wooden deck, patio furniture and a neat line of cafes and restaurants give off a very relaxed, outdoor feeling. Afterwards, we decided to stick around for the Banqiao night market. Don't be fooled by the distance, thinking you have to take the next MRT stop to get closer. It's close enough to just walk there. Although I didn't find anything particularly special to this night market, it was good to find another large night market that I haven't explored yet. Overall, I get a much more different, relaxed vibe from this developing city. I'll definitely consider coming back. Although it's so close to Taipei and it's still a city, I got the same feeling as when I first arrived in Taipei. On top of that, it only costs me an MRT fare to get here. A whole new city for me to explore. The Taiwan discovery never stops. *Photo taken from "Taiwan High Rises" photo group.

Global Mall
Banqiao MRT station

FE21 Mall
No. 152號, Section 1, ZhōngShān Road, Banciao District
Xinbei City, Taiwan 220

Banqiao Night Market
Nanya East Road (南雅東路) 2 blocks west of the MRT line.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Donburi in a bucket, 一捕鮮

On Wednesday, Yuki and I walked past a japanese restaurant (一捕鮮) in in the area across from the Shida night market on our way to the gym. They served Donburi in a curious wooden pail. So we took the opportunity to go in and check out the food today. The host was very very kind and friendly. Although there was a waiting line to get a table, we still only had to wait 5 minutes. Although the curious bucket turned out to just be a fancy serving dish gimmick, it still got us in the restaurant. The food still turned out to be damn good. Nothing spectacular, but definitely above average. I like the "wooden bucket" gimmick. The donburi comes in chicken, beef, pork, and seafood (there may be one more i'm missing). But it comes with two side dishes and unlimited drink refills. They're peach tea is sweet, in a good way. And I think Yuki's Katsu curry included unlimited fries. The side dishes however is what made the experience sparkle. They're very fancy and unique. One of mine was the pumpkin skin with passion fruit sauce. Wow! crunchy and sweet and I also love nibbling on the passion fruit seeds. I loved it. I'll take a jar of that home please. All this, for a odd price of $138. I don't remember how much the katsu curry was, but most dishes were under the $200 mark.

No. 1號, PǔChéng Street, Daan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 across from the Shida Night Market. (PS google map is way off)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

YongKang street Okonomiyaki

Yuki and I went exploring more around YongKang Jie after class. We originally wanted to go to a newly opened chinese restaurant that we saw the other day. But it was closed. But when one door closes another one opens. So we decided to go to an Okonomiyaki restaurant (Tenya, TEN屋) we keep passing and never think twice about. We were surprised when each table was a booth and a hot plate grill in the center of the table. It was a DIY okonomiyaki grill. We quickly ordered a Osaka version and a Hiroshima version. Of course We had no idea on how to make it, so they happily taught us by grilling it for us. Of course it's a little complicated and I frankly don't remember. But what I do remember was that it tasted awesome! Fresh, hot and tasty right in front of you. It does take some time to cook though, like 15-20 minutes. So that really builds up your hunger. They also have a beer menu and grilled skewers of meat you can order too. Okonomiyaki orders range from $230-$290. The booths offer privacy and it's a relatively quite place even after it started to fill up. This definitely warrants a revisit with friends in tow and orders of beer. Cheers! It's 106台北市大安區永康街12號之3 (http://www.tenya.com.tw)

Tenya Okonomiyaki Monjuyaki No. 12之3號, YǒngKāng Street, Daan District Taipei City, Taiwan. Edit: I discovered there is another location at the Taipei Main Station building.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

YongKang street vietnamese noodles

After class Yuki and I headed to Yong Kang Jie because we've just about gone to Shida night market every night. We needed to give it a rest. So we did the best thing you can do in Taipei…walk and explore! Taipei is so full of exciting new restaurants and discoveries around every corner and alley way. So walking around the Yong Kang Jie(永康街), we discovered a very tiny Vietnamese food stall. It has seating inside, but it's very cramped. About 10 people inside and 4 people outside. But the cook/owner seemed genuinely Vietnamese, so it got extra interest points there. Their menu mainly consists of noodles. Basically 6 types of curry noodles and 6 types of spicy lemongrass noodles. Sounds unauthentic, but i'm sure my english translation and the chinese description isn't doing it justice. The spicy (mala, 麻辣) flavor seems like Tom Yum soup. I thought Tom Yum was Thai, but I'm not entirely familiar with the difference between the two ethic styles. Prices are pretty much around $100 for all 12 types. The taste, excellent! I love this place because it's distinct enough to separate itself from anything I can get at Shida night market(師大夜市). The store is very humble and small. The flavors are very very bright as typical with Thai/Vietnamese food. And it really is a hole in the wall place. I need to get the address next time (as well as a picture), so I can share it with you. For dessert, we had a waffle and strawberry ice cream plate at a local store. Enjoy the picture of my curry vietnamese noodles. Oh and I have the address now, see below.

No. 5之5號, LìShuǐ Street, Daan District
Taipei City, Taiwan 106

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Citystar 24hr HK style restaurant

Today, I went with Yuki to eat at the Citystar 24 hour Dim Sum near the ZhongXiao DunHua MRT station exit. I've had friends recommend this place, because it was the only 24hour Dim Sum place in Taiwan. Nobody said anything of the taste. Now I know why. It wasn't very authentic. Although it was very crowded. I think the taiwanese don't know what authentic HK dim sum is. Although they live so close to HK and the place tickets are so cheap, an american knows more about what dim sum should really be like. From what I hear, there really isn't any quality dim sum in Taipei. Maybe taiwanese don't know what good dim sum is or there isn't really a demand for quality dim sum or thats just how they like it. Either way i'll continue to search for quality Dim Sum in Taipei or just fly to Hong Kong...

No. 92號, Section 1, NánJīng East Road, Jhongshan District
Taipei City, Taiwan