Monday, October 29, 2012

Street Food in Taipei

Ah ... the land of street food, Taiwan! When I think of street food, no other country comes to mind besides Taiwan (well, maybe Korea too now that I've been), and the night markets in Taipei come stock to the brim with all manner of food stuffs - some sweet and tangy, some piping hot in a bag, or some crunchy delight on a stick - but they're allllll good.

 Our first stop to ease our hunger pangs from a morning flight to Taipei is Shida Night Market which is about 15 minutes walk from our hotel. We did our due research beforehand reading this wonderful post - the rather useful map can be gotten there.

 The one biggest thing I wrote down to try was the lantern stew, or 燈籠滷味, which we glad to find after a few twists and turns. Utterly confused on how to order, I started queueing before being shoved a basket where I was supposed to pick my food first. Lovely selection of animal parts, noodles, veg, beancurd, meat, tendons ... gah so much to choose!

 The aforementioned blog mentioned the noodles as must try so I took one. Large intestines is another personal favourite in Taiwan, and after a few more items I realized I took too much.

After paying, you queue for the guy to cook it, then let him if you wanna eat in when you collect. There's a minimum drink charge if you eat in, so just get two drinks and you're set.

 It's like an imba version of yeung tau fu, everything's stewed in this wonderful braised sauce. And this huge hefty plate enough for 3 cost us only $8! The giant mushrooms and pork tendon were great, as were the noodles which were like chewy maggi.

 T'was delicious but sadly we overestimated ourselves and we were full just after one dish. Street food is all about eating many little things! So we were kinda disappointed we didn't have more stomache that night.

 We did have space for crepes though, and back to this popular Arnott's Crepes where they were selling helm sized crepes for cheap!

 Not a stickler for whipped cream and too full to try anything heavier, we got a plain one with blueberry jam. The crepe itself was great - just a tad crispy and a lot eggier than other inferior ones I've had in Singapore. Very generous with the jam too (think we paid about $2 for that).

  Arguably the most popular night market is Shihlin Night Market, I don't think it's the biggest and it's certainly considered to be. They have a slightly wider variety of food (if you can find it) - do go in from the main entrance which is diagonally across Jiantan MRT Station.

 Big sausage wrapped small sausage (大腸包小腸) - my initial fear was big intestines stuffed with small intestines (sounds disturbing but would actually be quite tasty), but it wasn't so - what it was is just a rice sausage MacGyver-ed to a taiwan sausage with some vegetables. The rice sausage was  overly heavy and I thought it was overly extremely oily and hard to eat!

 One of my personal favourites, BBQ quail eggs with some tender loving sauce.

 Five in a stick for 20NT (just under a dollar), it's a cholesterol-filled trip to heaven with every pop.

 The original (?) hot star giant fried chicken still exists in Shihlin, though you can get it in Singapore now (City Square, Serangoon NEX, and Tampines) but friends tell me it's still not as good. The main difference from others you can find in Singapore is that it's a single giant piece (including some bone at the end) and they don't chop it up for you. And of course, it's fried to golden goodness, at less than 55NT ($2.50) a piece.

 Do give the standalone taiwan sausages a try as well - remarkably different from the poor ripoff in Singapore. Those made from wild boar meat are about 5 times better as well - not sure if you find those in Taipei but they were common in Cing Jing.

 The holy trifecta of street food as I like to call it ... taiwanese sausage, pig's blood rice cake, and giant fried chicken!

 What I previously thought was a specialty only found in Raohe, charcoal baked pepper buns (胡椒餅) are now pretty common all over. Crusted with a ton of sesame, the thin cripsy bun skin gives way to a lovely blend of pepper, pork and spring onions. Just be careful cos it's piping hot!

 Shaved ice or 刨冰 was surprisingly different to find this time round! But if you're willing to look, there's still some to be had! Weather was generally cold, but we still couldn't resist.

 Definitely the most surprisingly street food I had, it was literally fried milk! Frozen milk, fried. Melts the second you bite it open, into a glorious custardy cream.

 My brave  finally keeled and agreed to share a plate of stinky tofu with me! While smelling like rotten corpses, the fried ones are awesome - there's only a slight fermented tinge beneath the crispy exterior, strengthened with sweet chilli. 

 Not exactly street food, but definitely one of the most popular - oyster mee sua (vermicelli)! Supposedly better than the popular Ah Zong, this standalone near the Longshan Temple station serves mee sua with both large intestines and generous oysters! The portion was generous, and a mix of the oysters, large intestines, garlic and trademark chilli (do NOT eat it without chilli!) really gives it a much richer, fuller taste than Ah Zong! We arrived around 730pm on a Monday and there was no queue, though it seems sometimes there is.

There was plenty more to eat, but we had run out of stomache over the three nights we had in Taipei. Nothing in Taipei is really dangerous food, so don't be afraid to squeeze through crowds, order things haphazardly, and eat your way through :)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Din Tai Fung, Taipei 101, Taiwan

A couple of people asked me upon my return from Taipei/Taiwan: "So did you go to the Taipei 101?"

To which I always replied, "Yes but not to go up. We went down to the basement actually - to Din Tai Fung!"

 We knew we had to check out this 1 Michelin Star restaurant. How good could it really be?

 It was a good thing we made a prior reservation. There was already a line forming not long after it opened for business! We were led by very friendly and cheerful wait staff to our table. The interior is a lot bigger than you'd expect.

 It's simple - here it's all about the Xiao Long Bao. And this is serious business.. they've got a XLB Army going at preparing the little scrumptious juicy parcels. You can watch them from outside the glass kitchen.

 It's really quite amazing - so many hands, yet the quality is surely kept consistent for the restaurant to merit the award of 'very good cuisine in its category'.

 Watching the chefs go, we had no doubts that the XLB would arrive quickly - but nothing really prepared us for how good it actually tastes!

 There was a weekend special lunch promo thingy that included 30 Xiao Long Baos, but we chuckled it off (thinking it was overkill) and got the tray of 10 instead so that we could try other dishes.

 Man. We wished we stuck to the 30!!

 These may look like your regular XLBs.. until you pick it up! You can see the skin is almost paper-thin - it's translucent to the extent that you can see the broth inside. As a flimsy chopstick user I was on an edge here, fearing I'd leak every single dumpling just by fumbling to pick it up, but luckily the top bit is a bit thicker. I think my puncture count was only 1/5 despite the delicate skin :)

 Holy shit. While I won't say I've tried the best XLB Singapore had to offer, I've definitely tried my fair share (crystal jade, din tai fung, paradise dynasty, various dim sum places). This one just blew me away by how subtly better it just was. The skin was thinner, there was more soup and it was much much tastier, the temperature was justtt riighhttt (guaranteed NOT to scald yourself from the soup even when they just arrive). You don't even need to poke it to let the steam out, just pop it in and let it explode. In your mouth. XLBplosion.

 We also ordered guo tie / pot stickers and I was surprised to see it in this form, with the whole horizontal piece on like that. I guess this shows how these literally stuck on the pot! These were really good - the filling was moist (not oily), skin was thin and crispy (unlike many other doughy renditions I've had).

 The guo tie was great as well - crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside (a hint of soup inside??? maybe it just that juicy), just lovely.

 Got a small bowl of hot and sour soup (Szechuan style) to share. Not bad! Not starchy and loaded with ingredients. Could have been spicier and more sour for me, but I did enjoy this.

 Lastly we tried the noodles with spicy sauce - la mien tossed in chilli oil.. mmm. Simple but quite potent and very flavourful! A good contrast to the milder dumplings.

 A memorable trip to arguably the best food I had in my trip (the simple XLB!), this place was jammmmm packed by the time we left! And extremely regretted the decision against the 30 XLB discount ... after we wolfed down the 10 perfect XLB we were game for 30 or even 50 more ... had we not ordered the other foods! Do yourself a favour, and do not miss Din Tai Fung on your next trip!

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