Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween 2011!

Happy Halloween! Other than the design expo, Ikea and a roof fire this weekend, I did not do anything partying. I did not dress up, I did not Trick'r Treat, I did not go to a bar/club. I'm so boring! Well my excuse is that I didn't plan ahead, wasn't that interested and didn't feel like spending that much money. But I did see several Taiwanese get festive and celebrate Halloween with costumes all over the streets. Bars, clubs and restaurants were all getting to the mood and had specials for Halloween weekend. I took advantage of said specials, and bought me a toaster oven on discount. It'll do as a oven short of the real thing. So let's get it on! You'll be seeing much more oven cooked recipes in my future blog posts!

The roof is on fire!

Today is a continuation of yesterday. We decided to head back to Songshan Tobacco Factory to finish off the exhibits that we didn't get a chance to see on Saturday. The main halls 1-5, were the largest exhibits and had the longest waiting line. So it still took us until early evening to finish off the last 5 exhibit halls out of 14. After finished up the first location, we took a free shuttle to the second location at Taipei World Trade Center exhibition hall. But in the end, we gave up. It was getting late and we were tired. I also had to head to church at 5:30. Normally, I wouldn't mention anything about Church but this evening ended spectacularly. Well at least for me. First, near the end of service, the building next to us caught on fire. I think it first started on the roof, then spread to the entire building. It was approximately 50 feet away. I could feel the heat from the fire. Sparks were flying, flames were licking the aluminum roofs, thick black smoke was billowing from the fire and electrical units were exploding due to the heat. So the service ended prematurely and we all headed out for dinner as a safety measure from the fire. We ended up having dinner at Macho Tacos (Shida location). Yes, a second location to my favorite (and only) fresh-mex restaurant. They open right next to my school, and after I no longer go there. How unfair. But at least i'm there often, so it add fresh-mex to the option of foods to the Shida area. Coming back from dinner, the firemen were still trying to put out the flames. Fortunately, it seems everyone got out fine and no one was injured. But it made me realize with such a vertically packed city with disorganized alley ways, it must be very difficult for firetrucks to navigate directly to the optimal position to fight a high-rise fire. This blog post goes out to the brave fire men of the Taipei Fire department. God bless you!

Macho Tacos (Shida location)
No. 15, Pǔchéng St, Daan District (Taipower or Guting MRT would be the closest)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Taipei International Design Expo 2011

Today I went to the Taipei International Design Expo 2011. It was the last weekend so it was my last chance to see it. It's actually gigantic and spans three locations. It's all forms of design including environmental, building, interior, architecture, product, advertisement, media, etc. I went to the old Songshan Tobacco Factory location. It's a collection of rustic old cement buildings much like Huashan Creative Park 1914. It boasts a beautiful garden with a large fountain in the atrium though. As with Huashan, the city uses these old historic locations to hold art events or music events, to help fund the preservation of the buildings. Back to the expo, It turned out to be pretty cool. Being free of cost was also a very kind gesture. Some of the painted art and interior design, I didn't have much interest in. But the product design, packaging design and technological design were very interesting. Basically anything with a model or physical object to see. haha. Although it was a design expo, I did find parts of it more of an art show than a design concept exhibition. And of course the Made In Taiwan product had a big presence there. The Taiwanese are very proud of their creative, out-of-the-box, Taiwanese design products. I bought a 8-bit rubber alien earphone cord organizer. It's cute. The earphones snap in to form the eyes, then you wrap the cord around it's body and finally stick the audio plug up it's butt-ular region. It was a fun day! Even though we had plans to visit the second location on the same day, we never finished the first location. So there's plenty to see when you're taking your time. After that, Yuki and I went to Ikea. It was my first time at an Ikea here in Taipei. It's near the Nanjing East rd. MRT station and right next to the Momo mall. Taking a rest, we went straight to the Ikea cafeteria for some drinks and sweets. I don't quite remember the prices of the swedish meatballs in the US, but I think it's more expensive here in Taipei. $200 NT or $7 USD. With an order of pasta, a side dish and a drink, it's run over $300NT. I don't think the Taiwanese think Ikea food is as "cheap eats" as we do in the States. After the refreshments, we were recharged to do a little shopping in Ikea. It's set up exactly the same and let me just say, I really miss Ikea. They have a lot of simple, cheap but creative ideas for furniture. I reminisced about the times at Ikea buying cups, utensils, picture frames, lights, pillows, comforter covers, tables, etc. Their living room, kitchen and bedroom displays really temp you to buy something you really don't need so perhaps your place can look just like that. It makes me want to replace the aging furniture at my current place! Haha! Alas no, But perhaps at a later time. I really don't know why Ikea makes me happy and want to buy stuff. Wonderful marketing strategy! Lastly, after Ikea, we headed over to the Momo mall next door. Yuki said I have visited this mall before, but I have no recollection of it. Perhaps it was another city. But she assured me it was a crappy mall anyways and not worth the time to shop there. So we headed down to it's food court, which is more promising. Along with your typical chinese, Thai, steak, italian, Indian food at mall food courts, we found a Hong Kong Cantonese tea diner (茶餐廳). They're the restaurants made famous in Hong Kong, known for being open 24 hours. There you can always get a simple and cheap Cantonese meal. Although the one we went to was much fancier than what you'd find in HK and definitely not open 24 hours. But they did have Chow Mien (炒麵) with lemon coke. I love Cantonese food and I really don't know much about it. I should get to know it more in the future.

The lake and patio area at Songshan Tobacco Factory where you can take a seat and eat and rest. Ironically, the entire Tobacco Factory is a smoke-free zone.

No. 100, Dūnhuà North Road, Songshan District
Taipei City, Taiwan 105

Songshan Tobacco Factory

Monday, October 24, 2011

Visitor Visa extension legwork

Today I had to head in to the Immigration office to extend my visitor visa. I underestimated the amount of time it would require to finish this task. I had the idea it was as simple as going in and asking for an extension. It was naive of me to think that. So for future reference, I need a copy of my US Passport (+ the visitor visa in it), proof of return flight, visa extension application (duh!), proof of a bank account with $100,000+ NT. Last time I also had to print something out, but didn't know of any place nearby that could do that. But This time, with some walking around, I found several shops that are setup specifically for copy/print work. I Fortunately, someone directed me to one nearby the Immigration office called Double A. It's right across the street on 愛國西路, facing the ancient west gate structure. Although I still got lost a bit, but I did discover a Taiwan pride shop (gift shop). If that's what you would call it. Basically, they sell gifts all with the Taiwanese flag on it. Towels, shirts, armbands, pins, flags, pens...etc. However they did not carry a large Taiwanese flag with the special 100 year anniversary label on it. I'm not sure if they carry that, but I want one. A patron at the store, kindly directed me to the City Hall store, as my chances of finding something like that may be more likely. In addition, I still had to walk to Taipei Main Station to visit the travel agency for a flight itinerary. Walking through the large main railroad station hall (the one with a 10 story high atrium), I passed by a temporary museum exhibit they had setup. They had several historic exhibits and artifacts about the Taiwan railway system. It seemed to be free of charge. Interesting! I'll have to try to visit this one day, perhaps during the afternoon so I can grab some lunch on the second floor food court at the same time. Well that was an exhausting day for such a simple task. I'll be more prepared next time and hopefully it won't take that long. See you next blog entry!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cafe Trouve

Cafe Trouve, another old colonial-era Japanese house turned espresso cafe. Not that it's a bad thing. They each have their own appeal and comfort. This one is near my school at Shida (師大). It's not in the night market but close by it and definitely walking distance from it. As Yuki mentioned, it's an old wooden Japanese house used as Taida (台大大學) faculty housing before and in May 2011 was converted to an espresso cafe. Although you wouldn't know it unless you looked up or at some of the support beams. The old logs of wood criss-crosses everywhere to form the skeletal structure of the roof. What's unique about this place, is the small antiques store at the back of the store. Walking through it, they're mostly antique oddities from the United States, Europe or Russia (yes, russia). I found that odd to find russian antiques in Taipei. They also have a few black & white photos framed on the wall to enjoy. The coffee was great and so are the fruit slushes. It was a hot day, so slushes and A/C was just comforting. Coming to this nice cafe though, expect a wait time. We lucked out at 2 minutes, but it was pretty packed. On the other hand, it was a sunday afternoon and 4 tables were reserved for a large party. Prices run around the typical Taipei cafe prices of $150-200. Here's the location and website info below as well as a google image from Catherine Shu of the Taipei Times.

Cafe Trouve (找到咖啡)
No. 4, Lane 16, Tàishùn St, Daan District
Taipei City, Taiwan 106
Sunday - Thursday 10AM-11PM
Friday - Saturday 10AM-Midnight

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Lost my camera

Yup, lost my camera tonight. I just got back from a great evening at Maokong's 邀月茶坊 tea house celebrating my friend's birthday. About 15 people showed up and the food was great! The homemade chocolate cake and cupcakes were awesome. Then afterwards, Yuki had a friend visiting from out of town, so we headed to Raohe night market. Somewhere between the taxi and halfway down the street, I lost track of my camera. I do remember digging through my right pocket for cab fare. I must have not put it back into my pocket securely and it fell out in the cab. So my only hopes is that the cab driver noticed and turned it into the local police station. So i'll have to check the police station lost and found later. Chances are slim though, so it looks like i'll have to go back to my old compact camera. I'm not actually mad that I lost the camera, as it was cheap, but I wish I could have my memory card from it. Well there's nothing I can do now. So I guess, some time down the road, I'll be looking into a new replacement compact camera. Possible the new micro 4/3s format that's recently been so popular. And to conclude, that means no photos today obviously. Edit: Actually it looks like I save two to my computer before heading off to Maokong. We went to Din Tai Fung in the afternoon for lunch and had the red oil dumplings (紅油餛飩). Always a winner in my books. I'll leave with you the other photo of the original Din Tai Fung kitchen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Home cookin': Jalapeno popper grilled cheese sandwich

This afternoon, I decided to grill some classic comfort food. It's like american cooking 101 chapter 1. Ok maybe chapter 2, boiling an egg is like chapter 1. It's a simple recipe and everyone knows it. Butter on the outside and cheese on the inside. Place on hot pan for a few seconds and viola! But thanks for a Google search of different grilled cheese recipes, there's a page with over 100 of them, I found one I liked. It was the jalapeno popper grilled cheese sandwich. I'm a fan of hot and Jalapeno poppers are just one of my favorites! The combination of deep fried outside, with that distinct spicy Jalapeno and a creamy cream cheese core gets my mouth watering. This recipe is also pretty simple too. Just layer Jalapenos, cheese, cream cheese and panko bread crumbs inside. The recipe asked for whole Jalapeno's slitted lengthwise, but those are not easily as source-able here in Taipei. I changed up the cheese a bit with Pepper Jack Cheese to give it more kick. But I'd gather any cheese would work. It really hit the spot and I just can't get enough. You really can't go wrong with this simple american classic.

Monday, October 17, 2011

OMG Bacon...with butter!

This is a Taiwanese soft pastry bread topped with cheese, bacon and a generous glaze of butter. Oh you have to love the Taiwanese for this creation. I ask you, How can you go wrong with that combination!? It just oozes heart attack on a roll with the taste of heavenly bliss. If you want to scarf one of these down, you can find it at Yamazaki Bakery near the Eslite underground mall section at Taipei Main Station. Probably at any of their locations around Taipei too. This deserves a OMG Bacon...with butter!!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Home cookin': Pumpkin soup

In the spirit of October, I decided to cook some Pumpkin soup tonight. I also felt like something simple and comforting, so soup just sounded awesome. This was also inspired by my friend's pumpkin soup that she made two weeks ago. A quick dash to the SOGO convenience store for some pumpkin, heavy cream and milk was al I needed. The rest of the spices I thankfully already had. After about 1 hour, the soup was done simmering. Although it turned out a bit watered down. I'm not sure if I simmered it long enough or if I have to tweak the recipe to decrease the amount of chicken stock needed (5 cups). accompany such deliciousness, we need some beer and soup bread. It's Oktoberfest time, so I opted for an Austrian beer. Stiegl Weisse (And ice cold by the way, the only way beer should be served). For the soup bread, some butter potato bread. The beer tasted pretty good. It's a hefeweizen with a light flavor, hint of bananas and a minor metallic finisher. But the most important act of the evening, the soup. It tasted creamy, warm and soothing with that autumn pumpkin flavor! I liked that I sprinkled some chopped coriander on top to give an extra complimenting flavor. This has inspired me to try some other soup recipes. Who knows what'll cook up next in my soup kitchen? Corn chowder, French Onion, Mexican bean? 'Till next time, I bid you a joyful Oktoberfest!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Miramar's hidden food court

Oooops, Miramar Entertainment Mall actually does have a food court. I originally thought it didn't have a food court, but today, with Yuki and another friend, we discovered it had one on the basement level. It turned out to be a medium sized one, round shaped. Food is still the same as any other food court, with the added variation of Cantonese food and Singaporean food. However we did notice a small sit-in Indian restaurant. Since it was sit-in, we'd all have to agree to eat there so we didn't end up going. But I absolutely love spicy indian food. Especially northern Indian where they're not vegetarian. Regretfully I didn't glance at the menu or the pricing, but I suspect it's not that expensive. I need to make plans to return back here for lunch or dinner. They have a large window to see into the kitchen and they have Hindu cooks. So i'm really struck with interest to try out their culinary menu in the hopes it'll be different than what I've been finding so far around Taipei. You'll hear about when I do.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Taiwan's 100 year Anniversary

Monday 10/10 will be the 100 year Anniversary/Birthday of Taiwan. So through out the weekend will be celebrations. Yuki, our friend and I headed out to the Taipei Main station area in search of a Russian restaurant called Cafe Astoria. Little did we know, the celebrations had already started or what it involved. The big main streets around the Presidental Palace were all closed off for the parade. When we arrived, we saw rows and rows of military vehicles and military personnel. It looked liked the city declared martial law or something. It's the first time I've seen a line of so many military vehicles driving on the city streets. People were taking pictures, dancing and celebrating along side too. I didn't get any pictures of the main stage or performances though. I'll probably regret this years down the road as this is probably THE most significant celebration for Taiwan for decades to come. It's Taiwan's big 100 birthday! However in the spirit of discovering Taipei on it's birthday, we did the best thing you can do when exploring...get lost! As the tanks distracted us, we walked further along down the parade line to see more of what was going on. Then I discovered something. A big book store full of English technology books. Some used, some new. It's a goldmine! I was disappointed earlier when I found it difficult to find English technology books here in Taiwan compared to the relative ease in Hong Kong. I thought I had to ask my parents to buy it in the States and ship it over. I'm so thankful I found a English book store, and a rather large one at it. I now have no excuse to not pick up a book on Java or PHP. The store's name is Ten Long Computer Book Co. Further on, and with our stomaches growling, we hunted down the Russian restaurant and bakery. However once on arrival, we peeked at the menu and made a judgment that it was too expensive for our pocketbooks. Perhaps next time when I have more padding in my pockets. So we went exploring to another part of town and discovered an awesome little chinese restaurant specializing in spring roll wrapped cuisine. It's next to the 228 Memorial Park. It's chinese name is 種福園斤餅牛肉店. The waiter and possible the owner, helped us order. Since we acknowledged it was our first time there, he quickly recommended the three most popular dishes and a bowl of soup for each. The owner and his wife (I think), were very very friendly. The meal was spectacular! The mixed vegetable dish was tasty. The shredded meat was juicy and savory! The shrimp was fresh and QQ! You just take the meat/vegetables, wrap it a warm spring roll and dip it in what I think is chinese oyster sauce. It's very similar to the spring roll wrapped Beijing duck. It's absolutely delicious and a hidden gem of a restaurant. You'd never know this place existed even if you walked by the storefront. The cost came in at around $300 NT a person. But in my opinion it was well worth it! It's on my list of restaurants to revisit with friend's that want to experience more "Local" cuisine. The photos don't do it justice.

While exploring around the Presidental Palace, we discovered a natural history and bank museum. The building was the original site of the Land Bank Taiwan. The story goes, that a museum of natural history defaulted on a loan, so the bank seized the dinosaur bones and other items. It has since been erected into a small but packed natural history exhibit inside the old Land Bank building. Since today was the 100 year birthday of Taiwan, the museum allowed Free entrance to everyone. How kind! However my friend was deathly scared of dinosaur and shark bone recreations. So we quickly breezed through that. On the way out, towards the back of the building, was the historical display of the bank. According to the facts written on the walls, the building was once a large bank owned by the Japanese during the Japanese rule over Taiwan. After WWII, they kept parts of the bank vaults and storage facilities in tact to act as a historical display of what it once was. Most everything was original and was left where it originally was over 60 years ago.

This is Hong Kong style egg custard buns (奶黃包). They're a dim sum dish that has semi-melted lava of creamy sweetened egg yolk in the middle of a pure white soft bun. My foodie friend is infatuated with this dish and rightfully so, because it's absolutely warm watering! She's been trying to find a suitable replacement for this special HK dish here in Taiwan. And we finally found it in two places none the less. Both in the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi mall near Taipei Main Station (新光三越).

Ten Long Computer Book Co. (天瓏專業電腦書局)


Old Land Bank
No. 25號, Xiāngyáng Road, Jhongjheng District
Taipei City, Taiwan 100

Cafe Astoria
2F, 5 Wuchang St Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市武昌街一段5號2樓)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Home cookin': Japchae

Tonight we decided to cook Korean in the tajine pot. Not the first time to cook korean, but bulgogi is real easy anyways. so...first complex korean dish? Actually this isn't that bad. Most of the ingredients are shared by the Taiwanese, so they weren't hard to find or expensive in cost. Clear cellophane noodles, seasons, meat, vegetables and it's done. Actually without some variations in spices, it about the same as a Taiwanese dish I know of. This dish is called Japchae in Korean pinyin. In the process of cooking it, I think we didn't add enough oil, so some of the noodles got burnt at the bottom. But it scraped off easily and actually adds a pleasant texture to it. It doesn't taste burnt, just some added crispyness. I'll probably keep burning a little next time we try this. Discovery by accident. And for the lubricant? Korean beer Hite! I figured we needed Korean beer for a Korean meal. It ended up complimenting the meal pretty well. It tastes light but with more spice and hoppy-ness at the end. The other beer is Orion, an Okinawa beer. Not Korean, but Japanese beer famous in it's southern most island bordering Taiwan. Orion tastes similar to Taiwan beer. Well enjoy the food photo, i'm off to get some ice cream from the grocery store.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Home cookin': Lemon Tripe with chickpeas

Miniatures! I've always been fascinated with miniatures. I think it's been instilled into our childhood exeriences to like miniatures. Because most toys are pretty much miniatures anyways. Girls get miniature dolls and boys get miniature cars (excuse the stereotype). And the more details involved the more they fascinate me. I've build plenty of scale models in my youth, and it just got more fun the higher the difficulty rating got, because it would include articulating windows or arms or gun turrets. Anyways, the day started of pretty dreary and grey, so Yuki and I grabbed our umbrellas and headed over to the Miniature Museum of Taipei. It's not too far from the SongJiang NanJing MRT station (捷運松江南京站)。 The miniature museum of one of two in Taipei area. The second and much larger outdoor location is called Window On China in Longtan (龍潭鄉). I didn't feel up to bringing my camera today, so I just stole one from Google images. All the scale reproductions were extremely well put together. Most of them were of european and american style houses and castles. However there were a few asian themed examples too. My favorite is the miniature of an old japanese street with food and service stands possible from the 1960's era. There are even some of the beautiful victorian homes of San Francisco. Some miniature rooms, as Yuki pointed out, included a miniature within a miniature. It's really a cool place to visit and convenient to get to. The Entrance cost was $180NT. Student fee is $150 but my school doesn't count. The gift store has miniature kits, so you can bring some home and try for yourself too. Overall, a great place to visit while in Taipei. It's one of the less popular places that may not be in a tourist book. This is all we pretty much did for the day. Relaxing and stress free and most importantly cheap. heh! So for dinner we grabbed some ingredients and tried out the next recipe in Yuki's Tajine cookbook. Lemon Tripe with chickpeas. It turned out sour and powerful in flavor with the great chewy texture of tripe. Although probably too chewy. It was our first time cooking with Tripe. We found out later, after dinner, that it helps soften the Tripe if you soak it in a brine solution for 2 hours prior to cooking. Next time.

MMOT (袖珍博物館)