Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Home cookin': Hot Pot

Yuki and I have been wanted to do this for a long time. It's as simple as getting some vegetables, meat, fish balls, and soup base. But it's just not cost effective, so we just opt to eat out for our hot pot fix. But after eating some great hot pot with my friend from out of town last Sunday, we decided to pull the trigger. It motivated us to plan it for tonight. I'd grab all the ingredients before hand and Yuki would show up at my place where I would have everything all prepared. Preparing for it was easier than preparing for cooking a western meal. Shopping around the Carrefour, it was so much easier finding the ingredients and with so many choices. They have hot pot assorted vegetables and roots packages for singles, doubles or triples. Next, they have specific meat cuts for hot pot. And don't get me started on beef balls, soup dumplings and fish paste balls (and various shapes, no english name for this that I can think of). They have freezer cases full of these in just about every brand, shape, filling and size. It was all too convenient. However it still took me a while to shop because I couldn't decide. Usually I spend too much time there because I can't find what I need. Anyways, as for the soup base, Yuki wanted to introduce me to a Japanese tomato base hot pot. Taiwan conveniently also imports this Japanese brand. So in the end, the DIY hot pot at home was a success. Although the tomato hot pot was delicious, I still prefer my mongolian mala (麻辣) flavor. Next time time on hot pot at home, it's going to be spicy! Just in time, because the evenings are getting really chilly here (22 Celsius).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bone soup beef noodle

It's been a busy past month with so many visitors from out of town, and it still doesn't let up. This weekend I have another friend from California coming to vacation here in Taipei. This noon-ish brunch, she knew of a recommended beef noodle soup place. Unfortunately, I forgot where it was and I forgot to grab a business card. However it's famous for having, what I think is, cow bones strewn across the front of the store as you can see from the photos. The noodles were machine processed. The soup was very good. The meat was excellent, but not to boast too much about. So I guess my overall impression wasn't spectacular. If I ran into this place again, i wouldn't hesitate to try it again, but I wouldn't be seeking it out in the future. Unfortunately in a city saturated with beef noodle soup places, it's tough competition to try and stand out amongst the sea of choices. I do my best, but I'm probably not the best judge of it either. 'Till we meet again.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Home cookin': Lemon Cupcakes

One for my Taiwanese friends has been wanting for me to cook with her for a while. I was busy all last week, so I wasn't able to get around to it. She attempted to make some lemon cupcakes but they turned out bland. So later into the early evening, we went shopping for some butter. That was the last of the ingredients. Most of the ingredients were pretty common and she already had them at her home. However I did buy some pure lemon juice earlier in Tianmu Sogo. It's the only place I know of that has it. Other wise it's just limes. Taiwan only has these smaller green colored "lemons". And I put that in quotes because although they call it lemons in Chinese, they look like and taste like limes. And they only sell it as a fresh produce, not bottled. I prefer bottled because it lasts longer and is easier to use. I can always count on the Tianmu Sogo for my western ingredient depot. After churning out some dough and cooking them in the oven, I decided to add one more element. Some lemon custard! Just eggs, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and butter in a pot stirring constantly over a double pot boiler (similar to melting chocolate). They turned out awesome! Warm and soft, with a good amount of lemon flavor. I used a lot of lemon zest in it, so each cupcake had bits of zest in it, sort of like flavor crystals. After the cup cakes cooled, I poked a hole on top and injected the lemon custard. The custard has a strong but silky smooth lemon flavor. And to finish it off, some powdered sugar. Looking at my photos though, the presentation is a bit ugly. But I just didn't feel like going to extra mile to make some light whip cream on top with a lemon or cranberry candy topper. That was the original idea, but I don't have a electric or manual hand mixer. This was all done by hand. If i had to bake on a daily basis without the help of an electric hand mixer, i'd have the arms of Popeye. However I may try this again to share with my girlfriend's coworkers. Eat with your eyes, enjoy the photo!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mexican dinner with a panda

Tonight was a unprecedented evening for this blog. It's the first time I got to meet one of my blog readers, in person, for the first time. Is she some creepy weird psychopath that i'll regret meeting? haha, No. She turned out just fine. She is cheerful, an ease to be around with, sociable and eager to be here in Taiwan to learn Chinese. Although I'm sure my blog had a very minor influence, it makes me proud I started something of value and where I have opportunities to meet some genuinely good people as a bonus. This blog started out only as my personnel online journal of my stay here in Taiwan. But then my stay, originally expected to only be temporary, has turned into a much longer if not permanent stay. And my blog has changed from a private log to a food blog to a blog that a few strangers follow along with on my adventures here in Taiwan. Hopefully I can meet some you that are reading this or at the very least, the information I post will be of help to you. So I dedicate this entry to "panda" (i'm not sure if she wants to be mentioned by her real name). Thank you!

I'll try to keep it short and simple for tonight's epicurean adventure. I went with "panda" and my girlfriend to Eddy's Cantina. This is also another mexican restaurant that I've been wishing to try out ever since I saw their business card on the bulletin board at my gym. It's in Tianmu near the Taipei American School. Story goes, Eddy is Mexican by ethnicity and Canadian by birth, then later moved to Taiwan. He decided to open a Mexican cantina in two locations: Tianmu and DanShui, using the recipes passed down to him from his family. The food turned out to be OK. But it's partially my fault for ordering a burrito, which is about as mexican as Jay Leno. What can I say, I'm from California and I love me some burritos. My burrito was typical tasting. The skin was warm, powdered with dough to give it that made at home texture. But it ended up being too thin and broke up easily spilling out my burrito contents. I ended up resorting to a fork and knife. Macho Tacos still prefered on this one. On the other hand, Yuki ordered the tacos and she said they were pretty damn good. "Panda" said her's was pretty good too, and the spicy salsa is spicy haha. I'd be willing to have a second go at this place since it's so close by my home. Damage to the wallet is around $200+, thus not considered a cheap eat, but a moderate infliction.

Eddy's Cantina Tianmu

Eddy's Cantina DanShui

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Oh I want my Baby Back Ribs!

For the last of the three restaurants and for American food, we went to Dan Ryan's Chicago Grill. FINALLY, I get to go to this place after passing by it several times and reading about it online. Not only is it known for it's western food and western portions, but it praises itself in representing a Chicago style restaurant. Being born and raised in Chicago, I was very eager to try to place out. So after a fine afternoon at Maokong, we headed down to the closest station. Nanjing East Road MRT station. It's called 芝加哥餐廳 in Chinese, which directly translated just means Chicago Restaurant. Lame. Anyways, to begin, the decor is very old school Italian steakhouse. This is true to Chicago. There's heavy influence of Italians in Chicago so a lot of the steak houses have that similar dimly lit, red leather covered booths with high wall seat back made of wood. If you've been to a Maggiano's before, it's similar to that. Although we basically went to for steak, looking at the menu, they also offer hamburgers, salads and pastas. I didn't see any deep dish pizzas or Vienna hot dogs, but this is supposed to be in the fashion of a grill house, not a pizzeria. But it'd be nice to have a real Chicago style deep dish pizza in Taipei wouldn't it? I'd be the first to line up for it. We ordered crab cakes for appetizers, then for the main course; filet mignon, prime rib and baby back ribs (full slab) for myself. They are big portions! I've gotten too used to the asian portions, i've forgotten how large the portion size was in the states. Now I know how I got fat. The filet mignon was tender and juicy from what Yuki's mom said. The prime rib was bloody and it did come with a cup of it's own juices to use for dipping. However they did not offer horseradish, but I never asked for it either. I ordered the baby back ribs however. It's been a while since I had a good slab. Although it was quite tasty, it was no 18 hour fall-off-the-bone smoked ribs. But I'll still give it credit, with the help of a fork and a knife, the juicy meat did scrap off cleanly. They do offer garlic fries, but only as a independent order. The service is ok and they did know English since they probably have their share of american foreigners visit. This place will put a hurt on the pocket book though. Expect the damages to be around $500-1000 per person depending on appetizers, drinks and desserts ordered. I recommend this place, it's excellent. I'd bring my friends back here once I have the cash flow and a larger belt. I've also heard of another western restaurant called Carnegie's, although it's more of a Bennigans/TGIF party atmosphere than the gentlemen's grill house that Dan Ryan's is. Until my next epicurean adventure...good night!

Dan Ryan's Chicago Grill (芝加哥餐廳)

*Note: While at Dan Ryan's they informed us that they're moving to Xinyi district near 101, inside of a mall. So the independent location listed above will be closed by January 2012.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Shin Yeh: Japanese

The second selection of the three restaurants was Shin Yeh. Shin Yeh is a Taiwanese restaurant that usually serves Taiwanese food, but they have one location that serves Japanese style. At first I thought it was the 101 Shin Kong Mitsukoshi location, but it isn't. Yuki had the privilege of picking out this restaurant. Although it's not truly Japanese fare, she opted to not go completely Japanese with more traditional Japanese food. The Japanese branch of the Shin Yeh is near the Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station. When you first walk in, you'll see a female receptionist greet you in a traditional kimono in a black marble lobby accented with wood and japanese decor. They have table downstairs, but hopefully you won't be seated at any of those because all the food is upstairs. Fortunately we got seated upstairs next to the windows. The food turned out to be pretty darn good. Of course, there is still a lot of Taiwanese dishes and Taiwanese influenced Japanese dishes, but it's delicious. They also have unlimited beer (Taiwan beer not Asahi, sadly), wine and champaign. My only complaint about the food is the sushi selection. Other than the boring shrimp, eel, egg, octopus sushi, they only had yellowtail, salmon and tuna. But Yuki pointed something out that I never noticed before. Taiwan really doesn't have any sushi selection outside of tuna, salmon and yellowtail. Unless you go to a ridiculously expensive Japanese restaurant that can import more fish varieties. It seems to always be these same three selections. Well, in the end, I still enjoyed myself and left with a very happy tummy. The decor, food, drinks, desserts, service was all good to great. I don't remember the price tag, but expect somewhere between $500-600 NT/person. Once again I must apologize for coming back with no photos. Enjoy the one I stole from Lynette Sun courtesy of Google Images, LOL.

Shin Yeh: Zhongxiao [Japanese] branch

Friday, November 18, 2011

Favorite Hot Pot place contender

A very strong contender, if not the best AYCE hot pot place I know of in Taipei. My first visit here was when my cousin introduced it to me several months back. So this time since Yuki's mother was visiting for a short few days, we wanted to pick restaurants from three cultures that represented the relationship we had. Japan, Taiwan and America. Day 1 was Taiwan, so we picked hot pot. The hot pot place is called Chien Yen Hot Pot (千葉火鍋) near Ximen MRT station exit 5. I love this place because it's large and well designed. The interior design is minimalistically elegant and the food is pretty much all equidistant from the tables. But those are the minor points. The big points are the food, drinks and dessert. To start out with, they have several selections of broth including my favorite Spicy Mala (麻辣). Next they have a wide variety of seafood, vegetables, meats and other meats (animal organs). Drink-wise they also have a huge selection. From yogurt drinks to soda to taiwanese drinks (some may say cocktail drinks). Just for desserts, they have scoop ice cream, cones, ice cream bars, fruits, yogurt, cookies, cakes and a chocolate fountain. I didn't see any frozen yogurt though. Although the food there isn't the absolute best, it doesn't have to. The beef and lamb doesn't have too much fat or gnarly hard to chew bits. The quality is above standard and good enough for the price. Speaking of price, it runs about $450 NT per adult. I'd definitely recommend this place if you want to experience some good hot pot for a decent price. Yuki's mother liked it and said she'd wish to bring her husband here next time they're in Taipei. Awesome! I'll be bringing my family and friends here in the future. It's also very convienant that it's next to Ximending, one of my favorite places to be at night.

Chien Yen Hot Pot

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Home cookin': Lasagna

Garfield's favorite, one of my favorites, and a dish rarely seen in the numerous so called italian restaurants around Taipei. Lasagna! I love digging in to a square layered patties of beef, cheese and pasta. Especially the Ricotta, which by the way is super expensive here in Taiwan. $259 per 250g package. It was probably the same package I saw weeks before in the Tianmu SOGO grocery market, because not many people use that ingredient. The semolina lasagna sheets weren't cheap either. I have got to stop cooking western food. It's just not financially feasible anymore with all the, considered rare, ingredients. Pardon the frustration. I take those simple grocery trips to the Safeway (american grocery chain) for granted now. I'm enjoying my Lasagna for now, but I need to start cooking Chinese dishes. On a positive note, it'll be cheaper and a good motivation to learn eastern styles (a chapter missing out of my personal recipe book). Here's a photo of the Lasagna, eat with your eyes. And yes, I ran a little short on the pasta sauce and cheese.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Best stuffed chicken wing evar!

The last few days with my California church friends here in Taipei has been exciting. However, tonight was the last night and the last chance to experience the night markets of Taipei. So we went to the Raohe night market. The last on the list. Once there, I discovered these chicken wings. They are not your normal chicken wings. First off, they're boneless for the win. I hate picking out bones, it's annoying. Second, they're stuffed with rice. The rice comes in two flavors, one is Taiwanese sticky rice (油飯) and the other is Thai flavored rice (泰式吵飯). I chose the Thai flavor as i'm a fan of strong flavors. Awesome idea! It ended up being deliciously awesome. The stuffing could of had a stronger flavor, but it's still a killer snack. The breading has the same texture as Shake-N-Bake which I kind of liked. It's no panko, but it'll do. So basically they're definitely on to something good. The combination of the Thai flavored rice stuffed in a deep fried breaded boneless chicken wing tastes great together. KFC should pick this up (if they haven't already, I don't eat KFC often)! I'd just improve the flavor of the stuffing and keep the Shake-N-Bake breading. Two thumbs up! I want to go back and get another two. Anyone want to go with me?

This second photo is of duck blood stinky tofu soup. Foreigner's be warned. It's a very strong Taiwanese flavor and odor. I think it's delicious, but probably way over the comfort bar of a western foreigner. It's common. Nothing special. You can probably order this at any night market restaurant. But I thought my parents would appreciate this photo. MMmmmm stinky, irony, tasty duck blood stinky tofu soup!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Discovering new beef noodle soup locations

With my friends from the states in town, they wanted some recommendations to good beef noodle soup locations. I told them you can find a decent beef noodle soup stand just about anywhere. The quality doesn't vary by much. I feel ashamed that I don't know where the famous ones are. But it's not like I have totally ignored eating it during my stay here. At first I recommended the knife cut beef noodle soup place at Shida night market that I frequent. They either didn't hear me or weren't very receptive to that. So in the end, with some public wifi help, I still ended up doing my own search on google to see if there were any famous or outstanding restaurants. Eventually, I found a beef shop near the Zhongshan MRT station called 金春發牛肉 (JinChunFaNiuRou). It's actually about a 10 minute walk away from the station. But it's famous for it's beef, as it's primarily a beef butchery shop. This location didn't have Hongshao (紅燒) flavor, but instead it had the milder clear broth version. The soup and the noodles were sub-par in my opinion. My friend's liked it and praised the super tender beef as did I. But I think in order to really experience the Taiwanese beef noodle soup, you need excellent beef, 紅燒 soup and knife cut noodles. Obviously not on the same day, but for a second try at this, we found a famous shop in the YongKang street area. It's called Lao Zhang (老張牛肉麵店). The broth was much better here and they have three different flavors; Spicy, stewed and tomato. The noodles were still pre-packaged machine processed looking, but still good none the less. The beef isn't as good and tender as 金春發牛肉. So in conclusion, I'd still recommend the Shida night market location. It has two floors, free drinks, convenient location, good beef, awesome broth and knife-cut noodles.

P.S. There is also another famous beef noodle shop in YongKang street simple called Beef Noodle Master. Find the address below.

金春發牛肉 (Jin Chun Fa Beef)
No. 20號, Tiānshuǐ Road, Datong District
Taipei City, Taiwan 103

老張牛肉麵店 (Lao Zhang Beef Noodles)

永康牛肉麵 (YongKang Beef Noodles)
No. 17號, Lane 31, Section 2, Jīnshān South Road, Daan District
Taipei City, Taiwan 106

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Xinyi Din Tai Fung

So, I had a few friends (about 25) from my church in California visit me here in Taipei for a few days. The first thing on they're agenda, as with most ABC foreigners, was Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐). They made reservations at the Xinyi location (信義區). Restaurant-wise, everything's the same, so I'll keep this short. I'm only going to comment on the environment of the Xinyi 101 location as I heard concerns from other people about the mall location of Din Tai Fung. Yes, it's true, the front of the Xinyi location looks like another cheap restaurant in a mall. But some of the dining areas sit deep enough into the restaurant that you can't see the front entrance. So once seated, it feels like a normal restaurant outside of a mall. In contrary, I think it has the advantage of being more roomy. Definitely more roomy than the original location and the Zhongxiao Dunhua location. So definitely don't be turned off by the mall location, it's still worth it. And some pre/post dinner shopping is very convenient.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Taiwanese breakfast discovery

This is a long deserved posting. A few months back, my friend introduced me to RuLuoBing (乳酩餅). It doesn't have an english name. It consists of egg, cucumber, soft white crustless bread, two fried chicken patties wrapped in a flaky pastry wrap. The pastry is buttery, flaky and warm. This was probably a Taiwanese take on a European sandwich or something. But I don't care, the end result is delicious success! The combination of buttery flaky pastry with slightly runny sunny-side up eggs and hot crispy chicken nugget patties is perfection. I almost try to get this every other morning now. I also realize there seems to be two types of Taiwanese breakfast shop types. One that's more traditional and has more soybean soups. And the other that is more western influenced with more sandwiches and pastas. 乳酩餅 comes from the latter. Thankfully the western influenced one is much closer to my house, like half a block away. So I'm happy for now, until maybe I find even better! What will I discover next?

p.s. Google translate says the pinyin is RuMingBing. It's possible a Taiwanese language pronunciation, not chinese. I don't know.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Probably not Thai chicken

Well, it's Thai fried chicken. But I'm not sure if they even have that in Thai cuisine. Probably completely made up by western chefs. Perhaps someone can enlighten me. Anyways, I forgot when and where I ate this. But I love it, always have always will. I love that combination of spicy and citrus and crunchy fried skin. Enjoy the picture!

edit: oh yeah, it was the Sogo food court in Tianmu, but I still don't remember the date.

Monday, November 7, 2011

My friend's Beef Panang curry

I'll keep this short and simple. For dinner my friend decided to try his hand at cooking Beef Panang curry. It was a package brought back from Thailand, for a roommate, but they never decided to cook with it. So since we already had all the ingredients we needed and not wanted to let it waste away, he cooked it up. It came out really good! Thick and soupy with enough oily spicy kick. Thanks, awesome cook!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lin Family gardens

Today, we went to Lin Family gardens in Banqiao, New Taipei City, Taiwan. We joined her coworkers for a full day of relaxing and strolling through the gardens and the old houses of the Lin family. "The Garden was built during 1888 to 1893 and it is the only classic garden as historical site. It is also the well-kept model building representing gardens and residences of Qing Dynasty. Its garden scenes are inspired by Chinese traditional gardens as well as the style of south of Yangtze. The place is eloquent and is listed as 2nd degree historical site." The size of the property, various architecture, ponds, artwork, flowers make this a worthwhile visit. They also have occasional traditional art performances. Last time I visited, I was unable to catch a show, but this time I was able to catch a traditional chinese puppet show. Afterwards we headed into the traditional market nearby called HuangShi (黃石市場). There, Yuki's coworkers introduced us to many famous food stands. The famous squid soup shop, breakfast shop, shaved ice shop. Unfortunately the market was too big for me to remember where they were. Traditional markets like these are really off a tourists radar and "local". With no street names and similar looking street stall really make you depend on local Taiwanese help. Of course, you can also just follow the lines of people outside of the famous stands. Here's a picture of the squid soup place. Hard to miss that line wrapping around the corner! I thoroughly enjoyed my day. Thanks to Yuki's local tour guide friends for showing me the local side of Banqiao instead of the typical Far-Eastern mall and Global mall that I visited earlier this year.I hope to revisit this place as it's very convenient to get to. It's just a short skip and a hop away from the Fuzhong MRT station (捷運府中站) on the blue line.

*Photos taken from Google Images

Lin Family Garden (http://en.linfamily.tpc.gov.tw/html/enlinfamily/visit/visit.jsp)
No.9, Ximen St., Banqiao Dist., New Taipei City 22056, Taiwan

No. 37號, Gōngkǒu Street, Banciao District
New Taipei City, Taiwan 220

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Home cookin': Chocolate chip cookies

To kick off my new toaster oven, Yuki and I decided to bake some cookies. It's basic but something so significant with it's simplicity. Just about everyone has baked cookies before, and everyone has happy memories with it. So tonight, we baked some dark chocolate chip cookies from scratch. I told her that in the states, we usually just buy cookie dough. Open the packaging, cut, and put it in the oven. Done. So convenient (and lazy)! haha! Although they came out kind of flat. They still tasted great! I probably used too warm of butter or whipped it too hard (too many bubbles mixed in). After making the house smell like fresh baked cookies and probably the whole condo complex, we watched a movie together with a plate of freshly baked cookies and a cup of tea. Such a great aroma and warming experience! Good night!