Saturday, October 13, 2012

Where are we? 船仔頭

On the weekend of October the 13th I had a chance to join my fellow Shida classmates on a trip to a small village called船仔頭 (chuan zi tou). It was a unique experience to say the least. Together with the comradery, the new friends I met, the dragon boat rowing and the midnight oyster grilling, it was an experience I will not soon forget.
            From the video showed to us at the very beginning of the trip, we learned that 船仔頭 had a population of 300. It was a long forgotten and run down village until a recent renewal of the village brought in tourists and business. It still remains a village of traditional three-section courtyard houses with the three houses enclosing the courtyard. Many of the other houses still haven’t been renovated and still have the feel of a sleepy old ghost town. It’s a stark contrast to city life in Taipei. I found it relaxing and easy going as if life slowed down for those two days.
The accommodations were very acceptable for a tiny village in the middle nowhere Taiwan too. I’m a bit of a stickler for well-kept and clean living quarters and I’d have to say they held up their end.  The bathrooms were new and clean. The sleeping quarters were traditional style (Japanese style?). We sleep on a mattress that is on top of a platform (like a stage), so it still feels like sleeping on the floor without being on the floor. I slept so well that night. Better than I’ve slept in a while. And since it was a bed and breakfast place, we woke up to a typical Taiwanese breakfast in the dining hall. Toast, rice porridge and soymilk!
The annual 朴子 temple paradeOur Shida coordinator, Lisa, was kind enough to arrange many wonderful activities for us to participate in. These included two days of dragon boating and kayaking down the Puzi river, making red turtle cakes, Chinese embroidery, bicycling and a night of oyster grilling. The last one is my favorite. I can’t deny the beer, oysters, good food and great friends. The staff at the village was kind, friendly and courteous. They helped us setup a grill, a table and chairs. In addition, they also brought a giant basket of oysters and several large bottles of beer. We all ate, drank and laughed into the hours of the night until everyone passed out. Might I add, the weather was perfect. Slightly warm during the daytime and cooling during the evening. You could have asked for better weather. Oh I almost forgot to include the awesome picnic lunch we had outside under the whispering trees. 米粉, shrimp, earthen jar oven roasted chicken, deep fried king oyster mushrooms and earthen jar cooked sweet potatoes. There’s still the surprising large 朴子市觀光夜市 night market that went to, Garlic’s Sugar Factory (Garlic is the town name) and a tour through the town and it’s traditional farming techniques. Thinking back on it, we experienced a lot of activities on such a short and slow paced trip.
In the end, it is a memorable departure from your usual touristy spots in Taiwan and I appreciate it. My thanks goes out to Lisa for organizing this for us and to the friendly townsfolk of船仔頭 for the wonderful time I had.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My apologies for a lack of entries

I'd like to apologies for my recent lack of entries. I found a job two months ago as well as joined a competitive sports team with a demanding schedule. Hopefully things will calm down soon and I can get back to entertaining my readers with my adventures in Taiwan.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cafe Astoria Confectionary

Crispy Pig Knuckle
My aunt wanted to introduce this place to me. As soon as she mentioned a Russian restaurant I knew where she was talking about. Taipei as far as I know only has two russian restaurants. Salt & Bread which seems to have some negative reviews accusing it of being too compromised by the Taiwanese preference. Fortunately that's not the one my aunt was talking about. It was Astoria near the Taipei Main station. It has an awesome history dating back to the 50's. Here's Wikipedia's excerpt on it's history. Yeah, this place even has it's own wiki page! "In October 1949, 18 year old Archiybold Chien became business partners with six Russian immigrants who fled Shanghai to Taiwan. Together they opened Taipei's first western style pastry shop on Wuchang Street in downtown Taipei. They offered pasteries on the first floor and a cafe on the second floor. One month after the Astoria opened for business, Chiang Kai-shek resumed presidency of the Republic of China and relocated his government to Taiwan. After the Korean War broke out in 1950, the United States maintained a significant troop presence on Taiwan. During this time, the Astoria hosted many important guests from abroad, including Jane Fonda. The cafe was also a frequently visited by Chiang Ching-Kuo, who had studied in Moscow for many years and his Belarussian wife Chiang Fang-liang. In 1950, Astoria hosted a Russian New Year Celebration which was attended by Chiang Ching-Kuo and his family. Chiang Kai-shek's last birthday cake was also prepared by chef's from the Astoria. After World War II, the Cafe Astoria became a popular spot for many socialites and government officials. It was also a spot where many struggling writers and intellectuals met and composed their works."

Their specialty is the borscht. It's a beetroot soup with a deep red color to it. I was expecting  something a little more hearty. But since I have no previous experience, I'll just say it was awesome. It'll be my benchmark until another russian (or eastern european) tells me otherwise. ha! However that was what my aunt had. I chose a pig knuckle plate. Fall off the bone pork with a crispy fried skin! The meal comes with some brown bread (also soft and very delicious) and a bowl of mushroom soup (i think) and a cup of Ronnefeldt tea. Expect your bill to be around $500+ a person. But they also have some afternoon tea for a cheaper price. The decor was very much matched with the eastern european or russian theme. The windows let a lot of light in and I saw several people there reading books and just relaxing over some tea and cookies. The restaurant doesn't mind. Or if your in the mood for something quick or sweet, head downstairs to street level and visit the confectionary. One of it's specialities include a soft Russian marshmallow candy called Mazurka walnut cakes. It was once only available to the Russian royal family, but can now be bought on the go. I highly recommend going to this cafe and confectionary as it's one of the rare, if not only Russian restaurant in Taipei. Let along a long illustrious six decade history that dates back to CKS.

Astoria 明星

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wendel's bakery

Yuki and I attended a free cooking class near SYS memorial. It took about 2 hours and they fed us some of the food that was cooked. Cheese and black sesame mochi balls and Taiwanese sticky rice. But we were still a bit hungry, so we headed around the corner to Wendel's German bakery and bistro. I forget if I've mentioned this place before, but it's a great little western bakery. Sounds german, but I'm not knowledgable enough in German breads to judge. The interior looks very comforting. It really has a clean luxurious european bakery look to it. Perhaps normal in other parts of the world, but in Taipei it's pretty swanky. They have large glass display cases of breads, chocolates, brittles, danishes, cakes and cookies. But don't forget the pretzel tower on the counter. MMmmmm.
I totally miss a hot giant pretzel sprinkled with those large salt kernels. Kind of like the ones you get at the county fair. Alas it was for another day. I eyed the chocolate raspberry crumble cake before the pretzel. Too many deliciousness to try for one evening. I settled down in the cozy patio out front with my chocolate raspberry crumble and hot cocoa. Prices are around $350 for a cake and drink. From what I hear, a cake and drink is the minimum order for dine-in. I will be back possible for a nice afternoon tea or just desserts. I took the liberty of listed all their locations in chinese for easier google maps look up, but please visit their website for more information and awesome photos at

Wendel's German Bakery and Bistro
No. 28, Lane 260, GuangFu S. Rd.



台北市士林區忠誠路二段55號 大葉高島屋B1


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Home cookin': Pancakes on a lazy sunday

Lazy Sunday pancakes. I woke this morning not wanting to do anything except feed my hungry stomach. And it was asking for only one thing, pancakes! After some research on places in Taipei that offered pancakes, I gave up. It was either too far or too expensive. So I called up brother from another mother aka Kiwi, which happens the live in the neighborhood. I remembered last time he had some left over Costco pancake mix and golden syrup. So my girlfriend and I strolled on over to the Yonghe traditional markets for some fruits and toppings. After fighting our way through some thick crowds, we ended up with some strawberries and bananas. Thinking back I saw a vender that sold nuts. Some crushed pecans or walnuts would have added some stellar crunch texture. Next time. So we zipped on over right in time as Kiwi was just starting to fry up the first batch. We tried some plain and some with banana slices mixed in. Some chopped fruits and golden syrup, viola! Enjoy!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Killer pizza!

They serve the most killer pizza at Chicago Pizza Factory. Walking in, the decor really gave off a down home feel. It felt like I walked into someone's spare room filled with memorabilia clutter. After closer inspection, it all Chicago memorabilia. This really hits home for me. Looking around at some of the toys, signage, pictures, Cubs and Bears items, an old midway airport status board (i think)...really brings back the memories. However this only leaves room for about 4 tables. Once the owner discovered I was from the states, he opened up and started to speak in fluent English. He also spoke to my girlfriend in Japanese too, so he's at least trilingual. I learned Chicago Pizza Factory is actually a Japanese pizza brand, not a local restaurant started by a long time Chicago resident that moved to Taiwan as I would have assumed. Taiwan originally had 14 locations, if my memory serves me right. But the owner found it way too hard and stressful to manage 14 branches. He would teach the chef's how to properly make the dough and pizza, but after a month, they would cut corners and the quality would suffer. So he closed all but one location. Now he can get off of work at a reasonable hour and see his family and also personally manage the pizza quality. This means a lot. We ordered two pizzas because there was a special going on. Looking through the menu, they had some localized versions with very odd ingredients and some traditional versions with american toppings as well. He recommended that I order it with extra thick crust and extra sauce option. That way it'll be closer to what I was used to in the states. The sauce really makes or breaks the flavor of a pie, so extra is a must. I don't understand how Taiwanese can call their bland sauceless pizzas, pizzas. I dreamed of a stuffed crust or a properly Chicago-style thick crust, but in the end the crust was about normal. Thick for a Taiwanese that's used to cracker crusts, but not thick enough for a die hard Chicago pizza fan. But don't get me wrong, it's still an exceptional crust. Crunchy, buttery and golden delicious! The owner said he only uses the freshest and most natural ingredients, so the crust will stay moist even eaten as leftovers. It won't get hard and dense like cheap crusts. But why not a super thick true Chicago-style thick crust? Because he used to do that on special order, but it would take up to an hour to cook. He discovered many customers were too impatient and complained of the wait time. So he trimmed the thickness and cook time down. They do make deliveries, but dine-in or pick-up will net you a better deal. Pies run about $300-400 for a 9" and $480-580 for a 14".

Chicago Pizza Factory
No.1, Ln.11, Sec.2, Jianguo South Road, Daan District, Taipei

Friday, March 9, 2012

Danshui Fisherman's Wharf

Despite the dreary, rainy and grey day it was, my Aunt was intent on showing me the Danshui Fisherman's Wharf (淡水漁人碼頭). So far I've only been to the Danshui old streets and haven't ventured out to the Fisherman's Wharf. Probably due to laziness as usual. So I have to thank her for dragging me over. I appreciate it. You can get there via MRT+Bus. After taking the MRT all the way to the most northern station of Danshui (now called Tamsui), we exited and waited around for my Aunt's friend to show up. During our wait I discovered a small food stall selling Taiyaki. I go all crazy over Taiyaki. Not only are they small fish shaped cakes but it's filled with delicious custard or red bean. I've found them filled with other fillings before, but this place only offers the two. It reminds me of my favorite Taiyaki shop back in California called Sweet Breams. I miss the weekly off-the-wall flavor specials. The Danshui station shop does have a particularly unique fish mold. The fish come out even smaller, in these perfect bite-sized and slightly pudgy fishies. Cute enough I almost couldn't eat them...almost. It costs $100 for a school of 10. Afterwards we headed on the bus to the Fisherman's Wharf. Bus R23, R26, 836 all take you there. Upon arrival we went straight to the dim sum restaurant on the first floor of a large luxury hotel that when viewed upon from afar, looks like a cruise ship. Unfortunately we arrived a bit too late in the afternoon and they were closing up. It's one of my aunt's favorite dim sum places in Taipei. So moving on, we walked down to the boardwalk scenery area along the shore. The boardwalk which sits right above all the restaurants offer some great views. The boardwalk will take you to the end of the pier and to the famous Lover's bridge. In addition, the restaurants/cafes below offer the same great view but under shelter on a inhospitable weathered day like today. Most of them have a panoramic window on the back wall facing the water. During the evenings, they have live bands and much more of a festive atmosphere for young couples. NOt so much of that activity during a dreary weekday afternoon though. My Aunt recommend coming on a weekend day before sunset between 4-5pm, so you can watch the sunset and the lights of Bali (neighboring seaside town) light up across Tamsui river.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

OMG BBQ in Taipei!

I've been craving and searching for a good american BBQ restaurant for a while. Maybe I wasn't searching that hard, as I didn't have high hopes for something like that. But fortunately through my cross-fit trainer, he introduced me to a BBQ joint opened by a foreigner in the jhongshan district 中山區. It's called Ed's Diner. Looking at their Facebook page, I see they ordered and imported a rather large oven. And judging by the stacks of wood, it's a wood burning oven. So I was salivating with anticipation of a properly slow cooked wood smoked BBQ pork/beef/chicken. I had to pick up my girlfriend from the Songshan airport today, right about the time for lunch. Coincidental timing. So we took a quick MRT ride over to Jianan Rd. MRT station (the same one next to Miramar mall). The walk over to the restaurant which didn't take long, about 10 minutes. When we arrived, it was empty because it was a bit early for lunch (a little past 11). But I wanted me some BBQ! The interior has a very simple American design of wood and brick. They only have about 12 tables, but I think I remember a few outside too. Walking through the saloon doors in the back, is the bathroom. The bathroom has a hawaiian theme to it. Odd. I don't see how that ties into the BBQ, unless they served some Kalua or Lau Lau, which they don't. But that's ok, perhaps Ed has a love for Hawaii too. On a tangent, this bring sup another good quest...Is there a good Hawaiian BBQ restaurant in Taipei? Now back to the BBQ, I ordered a pulled pork hamburger plate and my significant other, some BBQ chicken. The pulled pork turned out pretty delicious. Tender and juicy with that good porky flavor. The sauce was tangy but not too strong that it overpowered the flavor of the pulled pork. I was a tad disappointed with the smoke flavor though. It didn't have much. Perhaps it's because he's using 龍眼木 (roughly translated Dragon's Eye wood). I'm not familiar with that wood, but from my knowledge, cedar/hickory/mesquite would be the wood of choice. However I guess that type of wood may be hard to come by. In addition, it was raining that day. Perhaps the moisture got to the wood and the smoke wasn't able to penetrate to the meat properly. Furthermore, I felt the hamburger was a tad on the small side. My girl's BBQ chicken on the other hand was much better. Our meals came with a soup, salad (or fries) and baked beans (other sides available). The baked beans were good in my opinion. Soft, sweet and smokey in flavor. However my cross-fit trainer brings up a good point. Ed's Diner used black eyed peas instead of haricot beans. It's been so long since I had quality BBQ I totally overlooked that. Either way, it was still tasty and had a great smoky and sweet molasses flavor. I WANT to visit this place again. Perhaps with some of my foreign friends that miss good ol' down south BBQ. I was eyeing the brisket sandwich on the menu, so I'll be having you next time! Prices range from $150 to $350, with a wallet smashing $750 NT 14oz Angus beef prime rib steak. Browse their menu on their Facebook page.

Ed's Diner
1/F, 216 Le Qun 2nd Rd, Taipei, Taiwan

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Woolloomooloo. Yes, I think I spelled that correctly. Odd name, great restaurant. Introduced to me by my girlfriend. We met up with another one of our culinary roadies to try out this new Australian owned restaurant. I say Australian owned, because we originally thought it was Australian food. That's what intrigued us being that we're in the middle of a major asian city where quality western food is hard to find. However once we gazed at the menu, we discovered it was mostly Australian-Italian pastas and pizzas. Woolloomooloo was never marketed as Australian food, just a mix up or loss in translation. Anyway, we had a reservation so we were quickly escorted to the second floor. We were given the choice of an indoor seating or outdoor balcony seating. We chose the outdoor balcony, despite the wet weather. The outside patio was a simple concrete design with sheet aluminum table tops and wooden crates as stools. The industrial contemporary design carries on inside with burlap wrapped ottomans, communal tables lit by modern art looking lamp, concrete and stainless steel countertops and a chain link fenced staircase. But the best seating I think was on the balcony. Since it was a wet day, no one else wanted to go outside despite the fact it was a covered balcony. The view from the balcony offered a very nice panoramic view of the city and streets. This section of the street actually had an abnormal row of tall buildings, making it look more like Hong Kong than Taipei in our opinions. This was nice as it let us escape for a moment as if we were on vacation in a foreign metropolis. Moving on to the food, looking through the menu, you'll discover some uniquely named pasta dishes like the one I chose. I chose "meat pie, please!". We also ordered a glass of wine from their extensive menu of imported wines. Beware though, the wine by the glass selections are very limited. And most of not all bottles are over the $1000 NT range. It's a reasonable price if I think about it under an American budget, but pretty pricey adjusted to Taiwan standards. There is also a cheaper alcoholic option of imported Australian beers. The pastas ended up pretty good. Noticeable, but not spectacular. The meat pie however was the best of the bunch. Great flavor and a delicious pie crust. I'd recommend this dish over the pastas. I believe they also have a very satisfying dessert case too, unfortunately we did not get to experience that. So for next time, perhaps an Aussie beer and some Aussie inspired dessert. Cheers to the not-so-Australian Italian restaurant with a unique balcony view. Pricing averages to around $300 NT for your main dish, $220 NT for a glass of wine, less for beer.

No. 379 Xinyi Road Section 4, Taipei, Taiwan

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Topping off the night with a Swensen's milkshake

Tonight is a revisit night. A revisit back to my favorite local deli for the freshest cut of meat between two soft slices in Tianmu (天母). Yes, It's Willie's Deli, formerly called 6&6 deli. I love this place. The interior reminds me of those old southwest general purpose stores you find scattered all over the Sierra Nevada valley. Back before super convenience stores and Costcos. The time of horse drawn carriages and cowboy hats. HaHa, I'm not that old. But thats just what it reminds me of. If you missed my old entry about this place, then let me do a brief reintroduction. Tianmu is Taipei's foreigner central hub. All the Americans, Europeans and Japanese tend to congregate here and live here. Therefore little shops like Willie's Deli is in huge demand. Willie's Deli is primarily a importer of rare American/European goods as well as a meats/cheese deli. Supplementing the deli, are a few tables to sit down and enjoy some of the sandwiches freshly sliced from the deli counter (ranging from $180-$300 NT). But as a fine foods importer, the place is also packed ceiling high with rare imported good that you can't find anywhere else in Taipei. In addition, this foods market expands to the basement where some great imported pastas, beers and cereals are. Furthermore, there's a small modern and very professional kitchen tucked into the corner for the monthly culinary classes they hold. So tonight I enjoyed a great little half pastrami and half corned beef sandwich on a soft whole wheat bread. By the way, you can't order it half and half. I traded with my culinary partner panda girl. In addition, we tried some of their awesome baked mac 'n cheese. I totally forgot about mac 'n cheese! Oh how my taste buds thanked me for brings back some good old traditional flavors. I...I mean, we...promptly inhaled that. As a result, I decided to make a stop by Swensen's Grill and Ice Cream on the way home. This is another great american restaurant. It resembles a TGI Friday's or a Bennigan's, for those that know what I'm talking about. I just wanted an ice cream float ($219 NT). Another down home delicacy that I have forgotten about. They have about 12 flavors to choose from and it's served in a tall, classic, frosty mug. Delicious and very satisfying down to the last slurp! I didn't get a chance to try out their dishes, but it's definitely on my list of places I have to visit. Great american food and dessert and a great way to end the day.

Willie's Deli
No.6-1, lane 14, ZhongShan N. Rd. sec 7, Taipei, Taiwan

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tokiya 陶板屋

Tonight I was in for a pleasant surprise. I was recommended to a nice restaurant called Tokiya 陶板屋. They have several locations across Taipei, including Ximending area, Zhongshan MRT area, Dongqu area, Songjian Nanjing MRT station area and many more. During the booking process for a Sunday evening, we discovered that it was a very popular restaurant even for a Sunday evening. We booked at 4pm for a 7pm reservations. Most locations were booked full for the evening except for one at 8:30. That was the Songjian Nanjing one. Once I arrived, although very late due to being horrible lost, I found the place to have a very nice interior design. It had a simple post modern design with blacks and white and some wood in places. With the addition of the mirrors, the black shelves and see through boxy art railings, it was hard to determine where the walls are. Or where one room started or ended. So despite the restaurant having a small dining area, they designed it to be a nicely put together optical illusion. I find that common with restaurants in Taipei though, as real estate here is expensive. Tokiya however pulled it off nicer than I've seen at other places. Moving on to the cuisine. It's a set menu restaurant. Which means there are no individual plate orders. I like that. It gives variety in small portions to keep your tastes buds guessing. You get to exercise every part of your palate if the set menu is chosen correctly. Looking over the menu, the cuisine seems to be a fusion of Japanese, Chinese and Western. It's a six course set menu with a salad, antipasto, soup, rice roll, main course and dessert. But there is also an unlimited refill mulberry vinegar juice and a final after meal drink. All this for a minor hit to your wallet at $500+10% service charge. The meal turned out gastronomically sublime! The garlic seafood consomme soup was full bodied with flavor. The beef steak with fried garlic and plum was cooked perfectly medium rare and perfectly tender. Supplementing the steak was a red wine sauce and it was beautiful. The hint of bordeaux danced on my taste buds. The final note in this symphony though, was the mulberry vinegar juice. It was considerable sour, but that was a good thing as it was a stark contrast to the rest of the meal. It offers a tasteful reset button to my palette, getting it ready for that next performance. All in all, as you can tell, I was very satisfied with this meal. I know I knock a lot of restaurants for their lack luster attempt at american cuisine. But I believe this restaurant is different. It doesn't try to be something it isn't. This was a nice fusion of multicultural cuisine, taking the best of each and representing it individual unique characteristics. The master chef at some point must have went abroad to study Chinese, Japanese or Western cuisine or all three to really understand it. I hope some of you get a chance to try this place out. At least in my book, it scores with high marks with out having too high of a price tag. Here's some of the other menu items that I had and some that I didn't get to try. If you go, let me know what you had and your opinion. Thank you!
*Images taken from Tokiya's facebook page

Celery and Smoked Chicken Roll

Tokiya Set: Steak and Fish

Caramel-Nut Cheesecake

Osmanthus and Dark Plum Tea (Excellent!)

Tiramisu Iced Coffee, Apple and Apricot Macchiatto, Grapefruit and Basil Seed Juice

Tokiya 陶板屋






plus others, see website

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A hidden eat called Rice Cafe

Yes, it's that time again. Farewell to another Shida 師大中文中心 student/friend. He'll be heading back to New Zealand in a week. So today, we all decided to gather at another small and quaint restaurant that Taipei has so many of. It's tucked away in a small alley in YongKang Jie 永康街 right behind the Shida campus. The restaurant only has about 8 tables, so the wait was 30 minutes. It would be best to have someone come early to make the walk-in reservations because phone-in reservations are not allowed. The outside wall is made of sandstone colored brick with a simple backlit sign that reads Rice Cafe. The interior design is very simple with one long wood bench along the back wall, sandstone colored wallpaper and gleaming white tables. I liked the blue swirl accented glass cups. The collective atmosphere kind of gives off a Japanese beach feeling. As a group, we ordered Katsu-donburi (deep fried pork cutlets over rice), Tempura-donburi, shabu shabu, Japanese style Mapu tofu donburi and Korean-Japanese Kimchi donburi. If you see a reoccurring theme of donburi, it's because Rice Cafe is known for it's great Donburi. It's also known for bringing in a more authentic Japanese cuisine to Taiwan. The restaurant Rakumenya Ramen (樂麵屋) next door is also run by the same owner and brings in it's own culinary following of authentic ramen lovers. The Mapu tofu donburi was of my choosing. At first I dismissed the dish as a Chinese-Japanse fusion. But my knowledgable girlfriend corrected me saying that Japan does have it's own traditional version of Mapu tofu. The kimchi dish however I believe is a fusion recipe. The Mapu tofu donburi turned out spectacular! The rice base is a subtle sweet koshihikari rice, with a slightly spicy and tangy mapu tofu on top, topped off with a little saffron was absolutely the best dish on our table in my opinion. I sampled some of the other donburi dishes, and they just didn't compare to this unique flavor. I highly recommend trying this dish out. Or some of the other menu items that sound equally delicious, but more expensive, like the Chirashi bowl and steak donburi. Prices were quite reasonable for the quality, $180-$350. The donburi bowls also come with pickled sides and miso soup to add to the value. I really enjoyed my meal and would be willing to share this experience with others in the future. It is truly a rare gem of a restaurant in Taipei when it can offer value, authenticity, AND quality.

Rice Cafe
No. 7號, Lane 10, Yǒngkāng Street, Daan District
Taipei City, Taiwan (台北市永康街10巷7號)
11:30-2:30PM 5:30-9:30PM (closed Tuesdays)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Home cookin': Chocolate Brownies

I'm usually much better at baking brownies. So I was quite disappointed this time when my first brownie baking experience in Taiwan went flat. Literally. Take a look at the photo. They came out all flat and slightly bitter. The bitterness was due to using vegetable oil instead of butter. Instead of using my instincts, I just followed the instructions on the box which used vegetable oil. Why am I baking brownies from a box? Truthfully this is the second attempt. But the first attempt was with my girlfriend, baked from scratch. She used her japanese recipe and they honestly came out as brown bricks, not brownies. Anyways, back to my failure. In addition to the flatness, the bottoms were burnt too. Researching further, i discovered i made three mistakes. First, was using a dark metal baking pan. Second, the pan was too large. Third, the cooking method was too hot and too fast. Back in the states, I've always just used a glass 8x11 pyrex dish. which happens to be the right size and material. In addition, light colored aluminum works too. For my third mistake, I didn't take into account the year round 80%+ humidity here in Taipei. Because of the wetter climate, the internet recommends to turn the heat down and increase the bake time. Altitude is a factor too, but not in Taipei. We're close enough to sea level. But to my readers, keep that in mind if you ever find yourself baking brownies on Mount Everest. I'll try again, and hopefully they'll turn out better. Best way to learn is to make mistakes. See you next batch.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Coda Restaurant near NTU campus

After church, a few members got together to have some dinner together at a favorite Italian-American eatery. The background information stories of a man named Andrew Lunman that started his first sit-down restaurant in Taipei called Bongos. Bongos which is very close to Coda near the National Taiwan University campus, is an american style restaurant with a little southwestern flavor thrown in. After the success of Bongos he started another establishment around the corner called Coda, where I found myself today. Coda is a more upscale restaurant serving Italian-American dishes like pizza, pasta, seafood and wine. There is also some baked rice au gratin dishes, poutine, burgers and salads in the menu too. Prices range from $200-350. The atmosphere has a slightly dim but comfortable environment. The colors of cream, dark wood and salmon are used to create a more sophisticated atmosphere. I ordered a spicy baked sausage rice au gratin which turned out pretty darn good. I tried some of the pasta and that also turned out very delicious. It had a very bold and unique flavor, that shows it's a creation from the chef that wasn't borrowed from a cheap cookbook. The wines were eclectic and enticing, but over my budget for the evening. The burgers and fries looks pretty meaty and juicy too. It's something i'll have to try next time. However i'll definitely have to book early. Due to popularity, there is often a long wait and limited tables.

Coda Restaurant
No.23, Lane 283 Roosevelt Rd. Sec.3, Taipei

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Home cookin': Shanghai vegetable rice

For this afternoon, a real simple dish. A lazy but good dish. Shanghai vegetable rice. Well Shanghai or Hong Kong, i'm not sure which. Maybe neither. But it's just a really simple and cheap dish, but great for a quickie lunch. Here is what I did. I just cooked (steam in a rice cooker) a single serving of long grain white rice with chicken broth, a teaspoon of sesame oil, a dash of cumin, one minced glove of garlic. Halfway through the rice cooking, I'll add in, one separated and cleaned head of baby bok choy and sliced chinese fatty pork. You can substitute with chinese sausage as well. Sometimes, I'll also add slices of shitake mushroom. I don't add any salt, as there's enough salt in the fatty pork or sausage that will drip down into the rice. When the rice cooker clicks, your done. Remove it without burning your fingers and enjoy. Oh and don't burn your tongue with hot rice either. It's like eating napalm. Ask me how I know.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fresh Mex night in Hsinchu

After LuGang, we took a train over to Hsinchu to visit my cousin. Then promptly joined her and her friends to a local bar and drank ourself silly. Then promptly crashed out back at her place. This morning...correction, late morning, we headed over to a famous mala beef noodle soup place (麻辣牛肉麵). It's called Sichuan Duan Chun Zhen Chongqing famous snack (四川段純真牛肉麵). There was a long wait so I was very eager to see how good this place was. Seems everyone in the crowd was in the same agreement. After 30 or more minutes, we headed in and was escorted to a small square traditional wood table with bench seats. The interior had a very simple dark wood and white walls theme. It was also very clean and tidy. My cousin told me to order the regular noodles, not the mala one, because they were all spicy to begin with. She was right. The regular one was just perfect on the spiciness. The hand made noodles were Q (Taiwanese term for perfect chewiness) and the meat tender with a good marbling of fat. And their sour vegetables 酸菜 is really good. It's not the normal dark green limpy cabbage you find at just about every beef noodle place. It was lighter in color and tasted a lot fresher. Different and a positive check in the quality department for me. I really liked it! Overall, I'd put the dish up at a high 8.5/10. If your ever in the area, you must try this place out. Apparently it's a chain so there are other locations. Later that evening, we had ourselves a mexican dinner. I cooked some quesadillas and my cousin made tacos. It turned out to be a very simple and relaxing weekend. Also I discovered there was a rather large and extensive indoor bouldering gym called iClimb in Hsinchu too. So i'll have to plan another visit to we can all go together and climb some fiberglass rocks.

Sichuan Duan Chun Zhen Chongqing famous snack (四川段純真牛肉麵)


Saturday, February 11, 2012

LuGang Lantern Festival

My girlfriend informed me of a lantern festival that was happening in LuGang. It's apparently this year's chosen city for the lantern festival and it has an old town, which I always find interesting. Our plan was to head out for one day and then head over to Hsinchu to visit my cousin which I haven't seen in a while. First off, we took the train and only had a small 7-11 breakfast. It took a good three hours. So when we arrived, I was starving. On the way to the festival, they had setup a rather large food market with temporary tents. This could have been LuGang's night market, but I can't tell the difference. Even some permanent night markets are still under tents. There were some unique foods there and some common staple foods. But I did see a guabao 掛包 (chinese hamburger?) vender and that's what I ended up desiring. Usually they use fatty pork but this vender used lamb. I love lamb, so i couldn't pass up this opportunity. It tastes awesome. Although I still think gaobao is better paired with fatty pork because the lamb makes it too lean. But it is definitely a unique take. Moving on, we headed over to where every else was going...the old street. Upon arrival, there were thousands of people, street venders, lanterns and street performances everywhere. It took forever to walk down the street or even take an unobstructed picture. Several of the buildings were over 100 years old. I always enjoy looking at old asian buildings. The wood braced roofs and the intricate stone carvings on the building corners make them so attractive. Looking further, you can see some of the japanese, chinese, western and taiwanese influences in the architecture. Sometimes renovated over the years and you can see a mix of cultures. We stopped by an old cafe that served Taiwanese and Japanese cuisine. It was decorated with advertisements and trinkets from the 20's to the 60's. It seems to be a popular theme here in Taiwan and I like it. It's like visiting a diner car back in the states, you know, like the one's converted from old pullman trains. For dessert we also tried miancha 麵茶, which is an old porridge dish that used to be popular 30 years ago, but has slowly phased out of popularity. LuGang still carries on this dish for traditional purposed. According to my Aunt, the government at that time would give out rice and noodles for free and milk was expensive. So someone invented a way to grind these free ingredients into a porridge that was supposed to taste like milk. It doesn't. But it still tastes pretty good! I regret not buying a $100 NT bag of this to bring home. It's a nice place to revisit, during lantern festival or not. It's still a tourist attraction, so the businesses will still be open during the regular season.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Recommended to Kitchen 66

A while ago now, iBurger and another reader recommended that I try out Kitchen 66 near the Taipower MRT station. I'm always up for a try at some good burgers in Taiwan. As cliche as a westerner craving a burger is, a good meaty juicy burger is just what my stomach was craving this evening. So I took two of my usual culinary explorers with me to hit up with supposed great burger joint. Wandering down the alley, I see a neon sign that looks like the old Route 66 sign, but instead it says Kitchen 66. Walking inside, you are visually confronted with a TGIF looking interior with a black and white checkerboard floor. An old gas pump that looked like it was found in the middle of the New Mexico desert was next to the door. Random bits of old american signage and trinkets were hanging on the wall. And there were several cityscape pictures of New York and Chicago too. I ordered a spicy burger (i believe some jalapeno and Chipotle were involved) and some one else ordered a pizza. The burger turned out to be excellent! Big patties, juicy, cooked slightly under medium and a great spicy tangy sauce. I wish they asked how I wanted my burger cooked though, as i do like it a little more pink. The burger bun to meat ratio was good. However they toasted the bun on the outside not the inside. I don't really think there is an edible difference, but it's a new method I've never seen. Perhaps it's to keep the crisp from being "sogged" from the juices of the burger. The other burger was the bacon cheeseburger, with one lonely strip of bacon. How stingy of them! The fries were OK. I like the seasoned fries from 1885 better. The pizza on the other hand was a huge disappointment. It had the thinnest crust I have ever seen. I mean cheap cracker thin! Can you even call it a crust? Someone please teach the Taiwanese how to make a proper pizza crust. Why do the Taiwanese people like this brittle flavorless cracker crust that can barely hold the weight of it's cheap corner cutting ingredients on top (peas and string beans...really!?). Moving on, I also saw they had fish and chips. I'll have to try that next time as one of my new culinary hunts in Taiwan is to find a good fish and chips joint. I'm skeptical, because even in the States, it's hard to find a decent fish and chips place. For now, stick to their burgers and use the pizza as a frisbee.

Kitchen 66
No. 11, Alley 3, Lane 74, Wēnzhōu Street, Daan District
Taipei City, Taiwan 106

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Home cookin': Soy milk hot pot

Here's something different. Soy milk hot pot. My girlfriend's friend sent it to her as a care package from Japan. I'm not sure of the origins, Japanese or Chinese or other. But I do know it has a oddly striking appearance. I'm used to sour cabbage hot pot, mala hot pot or other broths. But the broth on this is white. At first glance at a restaurant, prior to today, I didn't know what it was. My girlfriend enlightened me on it. So tonight after some time of wonder, I got to try it out. It turned out rather light in flavor and not really much of a soy milk taste. Which is good. Hot pot can sometimes be pretty heavy and oily, so this is a refreshing option. Add more vegetables and seafood, and less meat and it's a rather healthier and lighter feeling meal. If i'm in a hot pot restaurant next time and it's an option, I wouldn't mind trying it again. Anyone know where this soy milk version originated from?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Home cookin': Morning porridge

It's been ages since I've last had Xifan (稀飯) or Chinese porridge or congee. The recipe for the rice is pretty simple. Just cook the rice extra long with an abundant amounts of water. Water varies with how thick or watery you want it. Experiment. It's served with various condiments you can add to it. It varies from the Hong Kong version in the ingredients and the serving method. I love both, but since the Hong Kong version tends to have more meat involved, I prefer it for lunch or dinner better. So for a nice sunny weekend morning, it really brings back memories to have Taiwanese porridge (or so I think, probably handed down from some provence in China). Add some pickled pork, peanuts, chinese pickles, pickled bamboo shoots and tofu skin (not entirely sure) and we have a meal. There are other condiments too, but I don't want it to get out of hand. Served with piping hot congee fresh from the rice cooker. So good..i'm having flashbacks to when I would wake up Sunday mornings to xifan, right before we would scurry off to chinese school. My favorites was always the pickles and the pickled bamboo shoots and rousong 肉鬆 (pork floss). Which breakfast dish do you miss the most from childhood?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bianco Italian

Happy Birthday Macaron girl! Or at least that's what i'll call her to keep her identity hidden. My girlfriend found a nice Italian restaurant in the Daan area. According to the reviews she read, it scored some pretty high points. I was at first still skeptical as good quality Italian food is hard to come by in Taipei. To start off, it's a quaint shop hidden away in an alley, away from the main street. They do have a small patio at the back of the restaurant and a small waiting area in the front where the gelato refrigerator is. If you walk over to the shelving area, you'll find they also sell some Italian ingredients. For example, black truffle sauce, arborio rice, pastas and aged Aceto Balsamic Vinegar. Unfortunately, when we were called we had to squeeze four people around a small table in the front. This was due to a party reserving all the tables in the back of the restaurant for the evening. They were as accommodating as possible. However they said they'd move any available tables over. From the beginning to the end, throughout our evening, there was one larger table in the back that remained unused. Moving on, once the food arrived, I forgot about our small quarters because I didn't want to spoil my friend's birthday. Once we received our food (not at the same time I have to add) we dug in. The pasta was damn good! Probably the best pasta i've had in Taipei so far. The portion sizes weren't too small and the meat/pasta balance was good. Especially the pasta with the black truffle oil on it, gastronomically stupendous. I forget the name, but look for the black truffle oil. Absolutely have to order that one! The spicy pasta with mushrooms 'n prawns and the mozzarella penne was also excellent! In addition, they gave us a plate of rosemary bread and balsamic vinegar. I love balsamic vinegar with bread! For dessert, we got macaron girl a macaron cake covered in chocolate and filled with fruits. It was deliciously awesome! A perfect blend of sponge cake, fruits, chocolate and sweet macarons. I got it in the food court at Q-squared. She loved it and I'm glad she loved it. However to sum our meal up, A+ chef, B- service. Despite the slightly sub par service, the food was excellent. I'd want to come back and try some more of their pasta and possible purchase some of their aged Aceto balsamic Vinegar. Oh and by the way, after asking the wait staff, the risotto does not use Italian arborio. They use a cheaper southern Taiwan rice alternative. I sneer at that, but sometimes you just have to cut corners to meet public demand. Prices range from $300-$500. Reserve ahead.

Bianco Italian