Thursday, December 30, 2010

[北加州矽谷] 陳媽媽家 台灣小吃 - Mama Chen Santa Clara, Silicon Valley, California USA

Back to the USA for a moment. Santa Clara, Northern California, USA to be exact.

This might just be the best Taiwanese restaurant in all of Northern California that perhaps can rival some of the good ones in Southern California.

The general at the helm? A 70+ year old grandma, known as Mama Chen 陳媽媽.

Don't mess with this mama (or grandmama). She may look cute and cuddly, but man, she (and her crew) can cook!!! I've seen her at the restaurant before. Unlike Liang's (or Mama Liang 梁媽媽, a chain in Southern California that has spread to 2 Northern California locations) where Grandma Liang appears to be the only one who really knows how to cook, maybe is really hiding in Taiwan and counting her wealth (from the franchise) while contemplating how many more Mercedes Benz, BMW, Lexus, and real estate to purchase. Mama Chen is a mom and pop type operation (no branches), and yet so much higher quality, albeit a different style. This is another legend where grandma is basically in retirement, but maintained her passion of cooking and wanting to share that joy (while making a living), so lucky for us in the area, this place exists.

So Mama Chen herself is supposedly a veteran of the Taiwanese/Chinese restaurant business. One of the reasons why her food is so ass kicking is because approximately 20 of those cooking experience years were spent in Southern California Taiwanese restaurants. The other reasons are that the food just rocks.... very simple and at times homey tasting, yet minimal use of MSG (based on not feeling thirsty afterwards at all) if any, pretty authentic tasting given the ingredients and skills available. She apparently did a short chef stint when the Tainan restaurant 台南風味小吃 in Cupertino Village (Northern California) opened circa 1996 , but I never recalled that place being stellar at all.

If you are at Mama Chen later than 5:30 pm on certain days (especially weekends), you'll have to sign your name on the waitlist and then the rest is up to the clock. This place fills up so quickly with locals (ie Taiwanese expat community) craving a fix of the homeland. Given that there are virtually no other good options around, this place is pretty much the best in town (with quality and value to boot!).

One of the absolute best dishes is 攪和攪和 (Mix Mix / Jiaohe Jiaohe) , a savory blend of soy sauce simmered/marinated excellence (lu wei / 滷味)
containing dried tofu strips 干 (doh gahn), pig's ear (豬耳朵) that tasted very smooth and like beef tendons, and beef tripe (honeycomb/stomach 肚). Topped with scallions and cilantro. This dish tasted like it was cooked to order, as it was nice and warm (not refrigerated and not piping hot). The marinade receipe was perfect, not too salty, just the right soy sauce and herb flavors with complexity. Not as beautiful as the stir fried combo 眷村炒滷味 at 72 Beef Noodles in Taipei , but for NorCal this is as great as it gets.

This might just be the fugliest looking Taiwanese oyster omlette 蚵仔煎
I've ever seen. While it looks like barf on a plate, it actually tastes quite good. Instead of griddling or grilling (over charcoal) like they do in Taiwan, this looks like it was pan fried. The diluted ketchupy looking sauce is their house receipe, and is a valiant effort despite the poor visuals. The addition of soy sauce paste added that needed savory flavor to the mix. A little more oysters would have helped. Since Ay-Chung / Ocean Harbor cafe in Milpitas is gone (that made a half decent 蚵仔煎), this will have to do for now. Not sure I can afford the US$18 Singaporean style omlette at Shiok in Menlo Park :-o
For the pittance they charge, something like US$5.75 (oh yeah cash only place), you get a humongous portion of chicken leg rice 雞腿飯. No wonder this place is so appeals to the El Cheapsadores in us! Pickled mustard greens (suan tsai 酸菜)are awesome, probably the best in town (even better than Formosa Bento House in Redwood City). Even the chicken tasted good.

Ahhh yes, Beef Noodle Soup 牛肉麵. Better than a lot of overpriced and poorly executed Japanese style ramen most of the time. Tsing Jiang Tsai 清江菜, thick wide slurpy noodles, excellently cooked beef shank slices (thick but soft and good chunks of tendon), perfect pickled mustard greens (酸菜), and the crucial element that holds it all together, a deep rich flavorful thick beef broth seasoned with herbs and a little pepper (although with a thick layer of non spicy oil or grease on top...wish they would strain it beforehand, but during cold winter nights this actually helps and adds further punch like true Taiwanese soul food...). Also a shade under the $6 mark, and for a cash only place it cannot get better than this.

Had to come back again earlier tonight, as the need for a fix was so great. To start, a tender crispy juicy appetizer of blanched vegetables or tang tsing tsai
菜. The house veg changes depending on what they stock or in season. Tonight it was A-tsai (A 菜, where A = Taiwanese dialect for duck, a large crunchy leafy green that well, used to be fed to the ducks, but eventually people discovered how great it was!). The best part? The magic soy sauce seasoned broth it was cooked in, and a little bit of rou zhao (stewed minced pork 肉燥) that was done excellently....airy, puffy, and light. Wished they put more pork on the veg! 

OK the oyster noodle 蚵仔麵線 wasn't stellar, but this is Northern California where the standards are very low, so it was fun to be able to eat this in half decent quality (and quantity to boot). Flavor wise it was a great effort. I'm trying reaaaaaaalllly hard not to compare this to 宏麵線 (let alone Ay-Chung Xiemending...), but can't help it. KC gourmet is so right.... to be able to properly judge a dish, one should at least have had the real thing in the country of origin to have a baseline. Anyway, a little minced garlic could have gone a long way, and perhaps making the broth smokier via katsuobushi (bonito flakes). Whatever they used still worked to some oysters (too few), bamboo shoots, cilantro, some pepper, black vinegar. The noodles were the weak link, pretty much the supermarket variety, unlike the thinner fresher tasting ones in Taipei. But in the end, this was still satisfying.

 Drum roll please.....gua bao 割包, the original version of the steamed bun pork sandwich (sometimes nicknamed Taiwanese hamburger), before the likes of David Chang, Chairman Bao capitalizing on this classic snack. A good rendition, even though this was a very healthy prep of lean pork. Good mustard greens, a little cilantro, shaved peanut powder. Around the $4 mark for two...can't complain. 

Stinky tofu here is not that stinky, more like mildly and briefly annoying.
Oyster noodles looked good but perhaps do not expect the exact replication of Taiwan.

Overall a very solid effort by this retired grandma. Were it not for her, it would be easy to give up hope and settle for extreme mediocrity in the SF Bay Area (or suck it up and drive 8 hours to Southern California for a wider variety of much higher quality Taiwanese....)

Mama Chen 陳媽媽家 台灣小吃
5075 Stevens Creek Blvd
Santa Clara, CA 950510
(408) 249-9888

Monday, December 27, 2010

[台北縣永和市] - 世界豆漿大王 - World Soymilk King in Yongho - The Breakfast of Champions

Sometimes you just want to start, end, or break your day (or night) with a Taiwanese style breakfast. Like dis classic combo of hot soymilk with a carb sandwich (shaobing yohtieo / 燒餅油條). Don't forget to dunk the carb wrap like a donut (or cookie) in the soymilk!

The township of Yongho 永和市 is primarily a residential area with lots of small mom and pop type shops and businesses. Certainly not a foodie destination to say the least. Whatever the local food shops sell, there are places that generally do it better, from oyster pancakes to beef noodles. Even the local night market Lir Hua (樂華) isn't particularly high on the must-eat list (although nice if you are in the area, but certainly not a destination stop).

But if you mention the word (or town) Yongho 永和 to any Taiwanese ex patriot living abroad one thing that will inevitably associate them (similarly to the effect that Din Tai Fung has become the brand name for Xiao Long Bao) is that 永和 goes hand in hand with soy milk 豆漿, or at least 9.9 Taiwanese out of 10 will immediately react and say "oh, 永和豆漿!!". If you live in Yongho, you will probably respond by saying "yeah, WHATEVER clever".

There are a ton of shops in Yongho that sell the good stuff for breakfast. But there is one shop, probably the most famous in the area, that deserves special mention.  The shop is now 55 years old, and pretty much operates around the clock (yes open 24 hours!)

The name is World Soymilk King 世界豆漿大王, and is pretty much the landmark of Yongho breakfast. The Din Tai Fung of breakfast maybe, but of course, not Michelin star, and certainly not a date kind of place.

The history of this place is quite amazing. Apparently two former soliders from Mainland China (Shandong province to be exact) moved to Taipei and missed the breakfast food of their homeland (namely the breakfast stuff) and what started out as literally a street vendor/hawker small business eventually blossomed into a shop. It is also interesting to note that initially not many customers embraced the style of breakfast in the early 50s, but eventually that changed. The owner(s) pretty much started their days at 3 am, soaking the soybeans, and by 5 am started to cook the soymilk, so that they can serve their customers by breakfast time (students and adults on their way to work needing a fix).

Need your fix at 3:15 am right now? No problemo. Why at that hour you can even order some Hong Kong style dim sum too... like 蘿蔔糕, 叉燒包, 燒賣 if you crave it. Even xiao long bao at interesting street vendor quality.... but why bother with that one.

Seriously, you just want to stick with the classics.

Soymilk any style or rice milk (mi jang / 米漿)

Shaobing 燒餅 - roasted flatbread with sesame seeds on top, crunchy multi layer pastry shell thingy. Or request this with yoh tieo 油條 to double your starch pleasure. For those who like sweet starch, there's a kind sweetened with molasses 麥芽甜餅 that's quite delectable too.

There's something about World Soymilk King's signature soymilk flavor that is not present with the competition, and frankly an acquired taste. It has a slightly burnt flavor! Well I do not believe it to be burnt, but more so earthy. I don't think anyone has decyphered the secret to this, but I have to admit I did not like it the first time, but having tried it again for the 2nd or 3rd, it started to grow on me. Sometimes a chilled earthy (re: burnt tasting) version can hit the spot! This is what makes their soymilk unique, and not easily copied by the competition. Let's just say I've had truly burnt soymilk before abroad, and it was stuff that you want to throw away. Not so with the Elvis of Breakfast!

Surely there are other breakfast places in Taipei city that are as popular or even arguably equivalent or better, especially those who work downtown.

However you cannot just dismiss Elvis, who really started it all.
世界豆漿大王 (World Soymilk King)
台北縣永和市永和路二段284號 (Taipei County, Yongho township, Yongho Road, 2nd portion #284)
Tel: 2923-9635

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

[台北縣] - 永和市 - 宏麵線 - Hom's Oyster Noodles in Yong Ho township, Taipei County. Homina Homina Homina!

When not in the mood to be satisfied by a bowl of some fatty pork over rice, let alone a simple bowl of beef noodle soup (with hopefully a complex broth), sometimes one would have to resort to the local bowl of noodles that hits the spot without being too filling.

Perhaps the rendition known as 蚵仔麵線 or Er (sometimes pronounced Oh) Ah Mi Sua in Fujian Taiwanese/Min Nan dialect. Fresh baby oysters, a special type of sun dried vermicelli noodle, an intricate simple yet deep secret broth (thickened probably with some cornstarch) with perhaps strong hints of turnip or daikon, katsuoboshi (shaved bonito flakes) to give it that smokey edge, meat bones. Then a little garnish, like chopped cilantro. Toss in some minced garlic, and you're all set.

Oh yeah...don't forget the chopped pork chitterlings/intestines....with a soft chewy casing and a bone marrow like interior! This is when access to a good oyster pancake 蚵仔煎 is somewhat restricted. And Ay Chung 阿宗麵線 is probably too far out of reach (Ay Chung's broth is spectacular, but he doesn't put oysters in his...doh!)

I'm sure there are other places that do the oyster noodles much much better elsewhere, but it just so happens that this neighborhood vendor, known as "Hom's" (yes, same "Hom" as pretty boy pop idol Wang Li HOM but no relation) is just so down to earth, been in business nearing 30 years and is located at the end of a local market, almost to the point of obscurity, and delivers the bowl in quality, that I have no problems going back everytime.

You will find this vendor in the township of Yong Ho 永和市, virtually at the end of Chu Lin Road market  竹林路市場,  touching the residential areas. Right across it is a 24 hour convenience store, and it is not that hard to miss.

NT$30 or pretty much rounded to US$1. So simple, so satisfying and light.
A taste of the streets. A taste of the neighborhood. Delicious fresh baby oysters (fresh off the coast of western middle Taiwan is truly unbeatable), alas not enough in the bowl most of the time. But for now it will have to do.

Don't forget to splash on some black vinegar to seal the deal.

And sometimes I cannot resist ordering this called Yu Su Gunh 羹, just to have the crispy chips, that are essentially dried fish puffs. The broth unfortunately is not as interesting as the oyster noodle's, and is also thickened with cornstarch. But the fishy chips are amazing.

宏麵線 (Hom's Noodles)
Taipei County, Yong Ho Township, Chu Lin Road Alley 225, #64
Tel: 02-89280228

Tues - Fri : 8:00-18:00
Sat - Sun : 8:00-14:00

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

[基隆] - 基隆廟口夜市- 百年吳家鼎邊趖 - Wu's Ding Bien Dzuo (91 year old shop in Keelung Night Market)

Some say that Keelung (基隆) Night Market was born out of the main temple in the area (hence the term 基隆廟口) when people in the old days would travel like pilgrims to worship.

Eventually worshippers got hungry and needed some food at whatever hours of the day or night, even if they were praying into the wee hours of the morning. Savvy entrepreneurs would set up stalls and stake out a location adjacent to the temple's entrance exterior, and thus the rest they say is history.

One of these entrepreneurs set up a stall called 100 year Wu's Ding Bien Dzuo 百年吳家鼎邊趖. The truth is, they started in 1919, which means in nine more years, and this joint will officially be 100 years old!

You will find this stall in Keelung Night Market, literally adjacent to the temple (I believe it is on the left side). Of course there are one or two competitors nearby, but you really can't go wrong here for a first visit.

They say the original and founder Mr. Wu Tien Fu 吳添福 was one of the greats, not only in being a pioneer in this night market movement, but he had a heart of gold, and was very active in his community. For a man who had no schooling whatsoever, he built success with his bare hands, and even his offspring and family ended up opening different kinds of food stalls nearby, such as the famous 天一香肉羹順 (famous for minced pork rice), opened by Mr Wu's daughter. 

And now ownership is into the third generation, who have taken a step further and enabled the franchising of the business. Unfortunately the quality at the Taipei 101 branch food court is not close (let alone no ambience whatsoever).

This 鼎邊趖 is some serious hardcore Chinese indeed, and let me see if I can explain it. "趖" seems to be referring to the slow paced movement (against the side of the pot (金鼎) from boiling. But not just any pot, a 金鼎 looks like this

(although I'm sure Mr Wu didn't really use a gold one )

 The cooking process of involves taking some grounded rice in liquid form (sometimes known as rice milk, or mi jiang 米漿) and cooking it to a boil, stirring it so it revolves around the circumference/edges of the pot, while adding water in the process (resulting in a steaming and cooking action).

The result is actually somewhat similar to Cantonese or Chiu Chow ho fun or the "cheong fun" you get at dim sum, but the taste and texture are different.

鼎邊趖 has Fuzhou origins, and doesn't need to be served in soup (although Wu's is) and can be done brothless, or dry stir fried.

What makes Wu's version shine is indeed the broth, that contains

肉羹 - pork potage
蝦仁羹 - shrimp potage
金針 - Lily bulb
香菇 - mushrooms
魷魚 - squid
小魚干 - dried fish
竹筍 - bamboo shoot
金勾蝦 - a kind of local shrimp
高麗菜 - cabbage
蒜頭酥 - shallots
芹菜 - celery

The result is a true wonderland of mixtures, flavors, and textures. The rice noodle roll is but a condiment, but a delicious one at that.

It doesn't look like much, but it is one of true Keelung delicacies (another one strangely, is a hearty sandwich with deep fried bread.... but that's for next time). Just stick with the flagship location and you won't be disappointed.

百年吳家鼎邊趖 (Wu's Ding Bien Dzuo)
基隆廟口攤位編號27-2號 (Keelung Night Market, Stall # 27-2)
Tel: 02-26945750

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

[台北] - 鼎珍坊 - Ding Jen Fong - superb private kitchen style Cantonese

Ding Jen Fong, or 鼎珍坊, (no relation to Din Tai Fung) specializes in what they call private kitchen Cantonese. It's one of the hotspots in Taipei, and is within easy walking distance to both Zhongxiao Road Sogo department stores. Since this place rests on prime real estate, prices are not cheap by local standards.

This is probably the best sit down tablecloth Cantonese I've had in Taipei, although the flavors do seem a bit re-adjusted slightly for local tastes.



vegan goose, mushroom, edamame

pig feet (mild herbal, steamed, very good)

ginger scallion Taiwanese crab with fun si clay pot

Yu Hsiang eggplant (spicy but good)

Lap mei fan clay pot rice, soft juicy but sweet (instead of salty) lap mei. Qing Jiang Tsai veg. Overly sauced rice

Salted fish chicken tofu cubes (with skin) claypot, excellent

Fried chicken (za zi gai)

stir fried pea sprouts

Sa Wor (claypot) chicken soup (NT$1500!!!!! but really good, with napa cabbage, range chicken, and a few others I can't remember)

As this was a privately hosted dinner, I kept the camera in check this time, except for a shot of the soup.

If you go inside, check out the cabinet on the way downstairs to the bathroom.

And if you're a dude, the men's room has a few interesting signs, one of them along the lines of "please step closer to the urinal, your long john is not really that long" :-)

鼎珍坊 Ding Jen Fong, website (only for mail order)
台北市大安區復興南路一段219巷1號‎ (Taipei City, Da An District, Fuxing South Rd, 1st portion, Alley 219, #1)

Friday, October 8, 2010

[基隆] - 基隆廟口夜市- 紀豬腳原汁專家 Pig Feet Specialist near Keelung Night Market

Pig Feet Guy here

                           / O__O \
                          ( ( (oo) )  )
                           `- . o . - '

I must hand it to the Taiwanese Chinese (and the Germans/Bavarians) who make foot fetish a good thing. I don't mean the freaky creepy designer shoe salesman's problem when he tries to put on some high end designer Italian sandals on Charlotte Yorke in Sex And The City and creams his pants in the process, but swinetastic cuisines and preparations involving pig feet, or trotters.

It is true that when you are in Taipei county alone, you might spend many years trying new places and never come back to the same one, and still have many more to try in your lifetime, and perhaps the next.

So think about that one when you take a car ride 30 to 40 mins outside of Taipei City to Keelung 基隆, namely their night market 基隆廟口夜市. You want to know what "decisions, decisions" means? When you have over 200 food stalls to pick from.

Let me complicate things for you some more.

If you have foot fetish of galactic proportions, and feel like polishing your glittering skin some more (especially you ladie$ who are into the collagen), then Keelung is certainly pig feet heaven, from those who know their ways around the feet to give you that sextra pleasure.

Enter a one of a kind pig feet specialist vendor, known to the locals as 紀豬腳原汁專家. They're off the main strip of the long block of vendors, kind of slightly off the beaten path, but not too far away. Opened in 1964 originally as a street vendor stall (still around), they've made enough moolah to have  expanded seating to a building nearby. They are considered young for the night market area that has over 100 years of history.

These guys don't do it like the others (where it is typically stewed with soy sauce and herbs till melt in your mouth tender, that you can find on the main strip). Nobody likes hairy toes (whether on males or females) so they clean up the feet, remove the hairs and do things right. Although it is said they deep fry it first, they ultimately steam for a while (instead of stewing) in their secret receipe clear broth to preserve the original flavor, and there's no MSG or sugar or additives. They take the front leg and feet, and cut it up into 3 portions, so you get the best of everything (especially the tendons in the pig foot, so good).

Since your stomach space is likely limited, bring a friend or two (if you can), get a bowl of signature pig feet (tendon) soup (sweetened with goji berries and red dates), and an order of the original flavor pig feet. Refreshing, sweet, and full of goodness. Maybe it's not as healing and nurturing as Hong Kong's Luk Yu Teahouse Chinese almonds, bok choy, and pork lungs creamy white soup, but it sure hits the spot.

Then save room for the other 200+ things in the area...

紀豬腳原汁專家 (Pig Feet Specialist shop)
基隆市愛四路29號2樓 (含29號前攤位) (Keelung City, 29 Ai Si Rd, 2nd fl)
Hours: ~ 3 pm to 2 am

Friday, October 1, 2010

[台北] - 饌王精品牛肉麵 Chuan Wang Gourmet Beef Stew Noodles Taipei

Along the busy shopping district of Zhongxiao Fuxing in Taipei, where all the celebs and ladies go to blow their cash on clothing, make-up, fashion accessories etc, a man can only tolerate so much of that, spend so much time inside Sogo, with the random snack shop, or the tempting Ten Ren Tea Station, or Rose Records (pricey CDs by the way).

When the clock strikes 12 noon, the inner cavity gut goes "grrrrrrrooowl" and suddenly you need a fix of something.

You look around this stretch of road.

Hmmm... Mickey D's? Nah.

What are those interesting looking indoors restaurants on the 2nd, 3rd floor of this building? Dunno, but you would have to hike up the steps of them office buildings to take a peek....too time consuming.

Sushi? Could be shady....

Street food? Oh have to duck into the side streets and alleyways, and even those can be a risk taking adventure.

Then you fixate your eyes on a sign that says beef stew noodles 牛肉麵, and suddenly all common sense goes out the door.

It can't be that bad!

Saw this giant sign, and I figured, hey why not. It's somewhere up on the 2nd or was it 3rd floor of this old office building. When I get to the top, there's a sliding door entrance. It looks like a clean fast food joint, tables everywhere and friendly service. So you go up to the cashier, order what you want, and the food is brought to you on a tray.

Too bad I didn't consider the tomato beef noodles...would have tried that.

So I settled for the half beef flank, half tendon combo.

Looks good doesn't it? Well it better be for US$9 (circa NT$270). This was a large, and man I must have overpaid.

Definitely decent, but not the best I've had in town.

4 years later, I look this place up on the net.
They won one of the annual Taipei Beef Noodle Soup Festival competitions, like the #1 most popular beef noodles restaurant in town.

And then I found out that the owners somehow got people to vote for them online, many many many times, just to push themselves to the #1 spot and win. Ayeee yai yai.

饌王精品牛肉麵 (Chuan Wang Gourmet Beef Stew Noodles)
106大安區忠孝東路4段94號2樓 (2F, #94, Zhongxiao E. Rd., Sec.4, Taipei)
Tel: 2-2711-0388

Monday, September 27, 2010

[台北] - 八王子新懷石料理 Hachioji Japanese Cuisine

This meal was quite a few years ago, when Chen Shui Bian 陳水扁

was president of Taiwan (from 2000 - 2008).

It is said that Taipei's Hachioji restaurant 八王子新懷石料理 was his all-time favorite Japanese restaurant. I'm sure he dreams about it now behind bars.

Don't remember too much about the meal, but it was quite decent. Certainly very different from the mom & pop izakaya types or the high end kappo & sushi dining experiences in town. Very relaxed surroundings and despite the words kaiseki in the restaurant name, seemed more like an upscale yet semi casual mood dining kind of place.

Seemingly Japanese but yet has a Taiwanese influenced slant (with kaiseki touches).

For some reason the restaurant's website is down, but they do have a very extensive menu, covering the basics, as well as elegantly arranged set dinners.

Presentation and quality is certainly no slouch

Combination sashimi platter over a bed of ice. Salmon, hamachi, squid, tuna, julienne mountain yam (yamaimo), and sea urchin (not as sexcellent as Santa Barbara or Mendocino unfortunately), arguably all sourced locally. NT$900 which is roughly US$30...ouch.

 Marbled beef slices with some sort of garlic butter mixture on top, white stem of large scallions, resting on a lotus leaf, on top of a square bowl of very very very hot stones (with hot water). The heat from the stones cooks the meat, melts the butter, you roll that sucka up like a joint with the scallion, then dip in the seasoned side of sauce. Good stuff. Light elegant, and good use of butter that didn't make you shameful of being a gluttonous bastard (unlike at Ruth Chris steak house).

Combination vegetable tempura (local interpretation, not the traditional kind), The round thingies are veggie rolls deep fried with cooked salmon inside.

A nice change of pace indeed.

八王子新懷石料理 Hachioji Japanese Cuisine
Tel: 02-25079900

Friday, September 24, 2010

[台北縣] - 深坑廟口豆腐王水成老店 - Shen Kang Tofu

There's a chubby bald dude who hosts a program on The Travel Channel, infamous for eating all sorts of bugs, nasty bizzare parts, and the ilk (no it is not Anthony Bourdain). He has no problems eating bee larvae or maggots, or the most vile thing known to mankind.

But the moment he tried a piece of fermented tofu in Taiwan's capital of Stinky Tofu at Shen Kang 深坑, he spits it out (even though the tofu is covered in what looks like green moss and other funky things).

Immediately I lost all respect. It's a piece of fermented bean curd.

On our way to Keelung Night Market, we stopped by the township of Shen Kang 深坑 and marveled at the old streets as well as the numerous vendors. 

There's quite a lot of variety, but the most common item we saw was tofu themed things, and of course stinky tofu grilled skewers. Then there were Hakka Taiwanese grass mochi buns with assorted flavors and delicacies.
So we did the tourist/visitor thing. You want some good food? Find the main temple. Historically them hungry monks and pilgrims traveled miles and miles to worship. When they were done, they needed something to eat, and the savvy street food vendors would set up shop in the evenings, and late into the night, to service the traveling religious folk. It is no secret that where-ever there is a big temple, there is usually some good food nearby. Hence the term "by the temple" or "temple's mouth" (miao kao - 廟口).
Thus it is fitting that in the capital of stinky tofu, that the temple mouth's flagship restaurant is none other than a place that specializes in tofu.

Ordered two items which sufficed for a transisent bite before heading northward to Keelung. The tofu soup was like a hot and sour soup (plus the Hong Kong style westlake beef soup) in texture, a little white pepper and it is quite satisfying.

The star of the show is their fried tofu. This is not the stinky version but does have a mild smell to it, yet interestingly fragrant. The dip sauce is similar to soy sauce paste 醬油膏 but seems to be seasoned with a little sesame oil and vinegar. This mixture is pretty much the defacto street food outdoor dining dip sauce, that goes well with boiled meats too (e.g. pork cheeks or the meat connecting the liver).
Probably not a place where you would go out of your way to eat, unless you are a hardcore tofu fan. But if you are in the area, sticking with historically tried and true (with receipes unchanged for 50 years) can be sometimes quite rewarding.


深坑廟口豆腐王水成老店 (Shen Kang Tofu, flagship store, by the temple)
台北縣深坑鄉深坑街135號/123號 (Taipei County, Shen Kang suburb, Shen Kang Street #135/#123, adjacent to the temple)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

[台北] - 長白小館 - Chang Bai Xiao Guan - a taste of the North East

For those who cannot eat or even look at pork due to personal beliefs, religious reasons, or whatever, please avert your eyes to the following photograph (warning: may cause temporary blindness, foaming at the mouth worse than a rabid dog, impulsive uncontrollable desire for lust, decadence, debauchery, you might rip off your clothes for this.....then again maybe not)

If Las Vegas is sin city for gambling and uhm...riding horses at the Mustang Ranch, then Taiwan is the sin city for fine and not so fine dining. Even the orniest meanest looking street vendor or hole in the wall restaurant is sooooooooooo good it's not even funny.

Almost 5 years ago on a very cold night before leaving the fine city on a plane ride back home, we came here for dinner.  Located somewhere near the shopping district (not too far away from Sogo) was 長白小館 (Chang Bai Xiao Guan).

長白, or "long white" literal translation, is named after the Baekdu Mountains bordering between China and North Korea, where you probably don't want to take a vacation during winter. Perhaps long white, refers to the snow capped mountains and land, for long periods of time during the winter months...

But there is something special about NorthEastern cuisine....sour (fermented) cabbage, a main staple preserved veggie of the diet, and of course, copious pork belly slices to keep one's body temp optimal, and ensure that a dude's testes does not integrate or assimilate into his body entirely from the frigid temperatures (they're supposed to hang for a reason).

Oh yes, 酸菜白肉鍋 (sour cabbage pork belly slice hot pot) It's Chang Bai restaurant's signature dish. Some of you might be wondering, where's the sour cabbage?

It's underneath the mondo layer of pork belly slices. They are very rich in flavor, but you don't get that filling or disgusted feeling afterwards. Why? The secret is in the sour fermented cabbage that numbs the fattiness, and makes your stomach feel warm and fuzzy inside.

The fermented cabbage must taste like ass, you will think. Actually's a very mild and refreshing taste, unlike other versions where it's heavier than sauerkraut or as pungent as stinky tofu (or kimchi). This is unlike any other sour cabbage you will have abroad.

Similar to Lin Tung Fong in Taipei, there is a shelf filled with small plates of mostly cold/room temp appetizers. All self help, and to be charged to your tab. A few of these will kick off the bacon hot pot goodness palooza.

Chang Bai (restaurant, in Taipei) is a fine example of specialized regional Chinese cuisine, multiple versions and wide varieties all over the island. A shop over 30 years old and still kicking ass, and keeping people's bellies warm and happy during the colder months of the year.

長白小館 Chang Bai Xiao Guan  
台北市大安區光復南路240巷53號 (Taipei City, Da An District, Guang Fu S Road, Alley 240, #53)
Tel: 02-2751-3525

Thursday, August 19, 2010

[台北市] - 西門町 - 老山東牛肉家常麵店 - Lao Shan Dong Beef Noodles (Xiemending, Taipei City)

While stumbling and fumbling around the busy fun district of Xiemending some moons ago (somewhere between 2005 to 2007), this place was discovered completely by accident, tucked away into an unassuming commercial/office building that had some shops on the ground level, but if you dived further in, you would find escalators going up and down. This building was actually like a multi story shopping arcade (or mall if you will).

The basement was a bit uninteresting at first. Very few shops, a lot of vacant business spaces and literally a dearth of restaurants save about 3 or 4 places. I recall there being a restaurant that specialized in Taiwanse style fried pork chops that smelled absolutely baconlicious and sorry for the Japanese pun, oink-shii. But the thought of overgrease was a bit daunting for a lunch. The other option was a small counter shop of noodles, northern style won tons (huan duan) in chili oil whose name I forgot. We were thinking of trying this place but decided to hit the restrooms first. However on our way there, just feet away from the entrance to the ladies and mens room, was a table with two employees of that food stall, making and prepping fresh huan duans on the spot. Uhm no thanks, as fresh as your wontons might's all about location, location, location!

So we chanced upon this no brainer called Old Shan Dong or Lao Shan Dong Family (specializing in Beef) Noodle House - 山東牛肉家常麵店, that looked super bright and inviting. This restaurant is over 50 years old and has remained in the same location ever since!

Hand made, rolled, and prepped dumplings in house, de-facto standard. It's the equivalent of watching a sushi chef make nigiri, except this is cheap stuff.

Their specialties? Knife shaved hand made fresh noodles, pork based boiled dumplings (jiaozi), and beef in beef broth with xifen (bean thread vermicelli noodles). This is not a place where you mess around.

27 things on the menu. The signature knife shaved beef noodles ran about US$4.70 for a large, and about $1 less for a small bowl. This is perhaps mid end expensive for Taipei but not as expensive as Lin Tung Fong beef noodles in Taipei.

The appetizers were excellent, particularly the marinated pig's ear slices (that tasted like a cross between bacon and tendon) as well as the strings of seaweed that were crunchy with good vinegar marination and also very heavy in garlic which gave it the needed boost. At $1 per plate, it's a no brainer to kick start the appetite.

As for the signature bowl: the beef was very tender and delicious, and the broth was quite good. I'm hardly a fan of knife shaved noodles but I have to say it was executed very very well. At the time, there were no thinner noodles available, and bean thread version would have been uber soggy.

Dumplings were excellent. Primariliy pork but I believe had cabbage in it. And you know what, they were as excellent as San Tung (on Irving Street in San Francisco), if not better.

A taste of the past, stuck in time. There are arguably a lot better places around town, but for a place that has been around 50+ years, you have to respect that.

老山東牛肉家常麵店 - Lao Shandong Beef Noodles
台北市西寧南路70號 Taipei City, Xi Ning South Rd #70
地下室15 (萬年商業大樓地下室) Mahn Lien building, basement level #15

Monday, August 9, 2010

[台北市] - 寧夏路夜市 - 古早味紅豆餅 traditional red bean cake (Ningxia Road Night Market)

Ningxia Road Night Market Taipei's best dessert snack shop "Traditional Red Bean Cake". 寧夏路夜市 - 古早味紅豆餅

You won't find any fancy froyo or cupcakes in this night market (thank gawd). But there is one sweet munchie that is on the top of everyone's list and a must try should any of you make it to Ningxia Road Night Market in Taipei City sometime.

"Gu Tsoh Wei Hung Doh Bing" 古早味紅豆餅 - or Old School Flavor Red Bean Cake.

There are at most 2 people inside the stall. Very simple but slightly time consuming operation:

1) Vendor pours secret receipe egg batter into two rows of the cake cast iron grill.

2) When the first row is about halfway done, toppings are placed on top.

3) When the 2nd row is done cooking, vendor takes a metal pick and loosens the contents of each cast. This is the top portion.

4) When the first row is done, vendor loosens it with a pick to get it out

5) Place top "lid" and sandwiches the topping and the bottom half.

Well what can I say. A toasty crispy exterior made of a light egg batter, similar to that of Cantonese eggette snacks or waffles with an ample thick layer of goodness in the middle (whether it's taro, egg custard or red bean paste which are both excellent, or some wacky savory salty preserved veg or a new offering of black sesame paste which I didn't see before), for only US$1.50. Take it home, reheat and it's a quickie snack or breakfast the next morning!
Try not to squeeze to hard, the fillings would burst out.

Egg custard is nice and thick, and surprisingly doesn't taste like butter even though that's the Chinese translation of it. Red bean is sweet, firm, and rich, not like some of the watered down crap at some Asian dessert places in the San Francisco Bay Area.

寧夏路夜市 (Ningxia Road Night Market, Taipei)
台北市大同區寧夏路(寧夏夜市中段) (Da Tung District, Ningxia Road, about halfway into the main night market).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

[台北縣永和市] - 樂華夜市 樂華米粉湯 Lir Hua night market Mifen Tang/Lu Rou Fan/Er Rou

Lir Hua Night Market 樂華夜市 has a more down to earth neighborhood feel with  slightly more shops than there are eating places, unlike the more famous and touristy food night markets e.g. Shihlin where on weekends they bus in tourists from Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea. Thus, you are competiting with these folks just for valuable elbow space and a table at some random yet not so spectacular eatery. And suddenly you feel like a tourist yourself, even if you are just visiting.

Every night market in Taipei serve more or less the same snacks, small eats, local specialties. Some things are more common than others, with varying quality. The key to maximizing your decadently indulgent food orgy snack munching bingefest (with hopefully no purging) at such places, is to quickly identify and be familiar with what the more seemingly popular places are, what they truly specialize in, and to concentrate on those.

In the midst of food vendor stalls and sit down eateries that appear rather random and potentially ho hum is one sit down restaurant that not just dishes the variety and goods out (street food style), but does it so well that it has the full patronage of locals filling up almost all of the foldable stools at the tables. Don't be surprised if you have to wait when you get here.

Almost every rice, rice noodle, regular noodle, bean thread noodle dish you can find at any night market, you can also find here. Their menu sports over 50 items, and arguably more.

The interior is not fancy at all, just white tiled walls with various signs including some excerpts of the menu. Each table has a pad of paper with the menu printed on it in Chinese. The procedure here is simple; you mark off the item you want, quantity, then give it to your server. Disposeable chopsticks are wrapped in plastic, the wooden but circular variety that is arguably a notch better quality than the low brow bleached wood kind made in China that is everywhere. No chairs here, just foldable stools, so get used to it.

No smoking allowed in here. The only alcohol they serve here are 3 kinds of beer (including Taiwan beer which is an aquired taste they say)

Here's what we ordered:

Minced pork with rice (lu rou fan) - One of the more well known Taiwanese street food snacks. Small bowl of rice topped with marinated stewed minced pork. It wasn't the best I had, but not bad for a local rendition.

Steamed pork cheek meat (sai bang rou) - this doesn't qualify to be a nasty bit, but it's one of the best cuts of swine you'll ever have. Served with cilantro, shredded/julienne ginger to give it that extra flavor, and of course the important soy sauce paste with vinegar and garlic that is a must (and elevates this dish to fan-f**king-tastic status)

Smoked shark belly - also with julienne ginger and cilantro. It's really hard to describe this dish properly, except the smoked flavors helped take the fishiness and edge off. Beneath the skin was either fat or collagen, it was quite rich and filling. Served with a side of wasabi paste, so you can make an uber wasabi mud bath with your soy sauce, which would be the best way to enjoy this.

Pork rinds - served in a similar fashion, and with a slightly sweet and sour sauce that was very nice. This was definitely easier to stomach than the smoked shark belly. Not crunchy and not rubbery, and was disturbingly juicy...

Steamed goose - This was a mondo buff  goose on steroids! Well maybe it was also big boned. There was meat, but it was a little on the chewy side (not rubbery), but good flavor.

Stir fried vegetable - one can only have so much meat and nasty bits. A juicy, flavorful, garlic stir fried local greens dish is just what the Taiwanese doctor ordered to lessen the guilt of the bingefest (and to make you feel a little better, like ordering a Diet Coke with Three Big Macs and Supersize Fries).

I must say that it was quite a pleasurable experience to go into a neighborhood joint like this. It's not famous or touristy by any means, and while some of the stuff might not be terribly appealing, it is interesting nonetheless.

樂華夜市 - 樂華米粉湯 (Lir Hua Night Market restaurant stall)
台北縣永和市永平路151號 (Taipei County, Yongho Township, Hir Ping Road #151)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

らあめん花月嵐 - Kagetsu Arashi Ramen Taipei Main Station (upstairs Breeze Center)

Oh Arashi

you're so fine

you're so fine

you blow my mind

Arashi! ARASHI!

Just SICK, absolutely SICK



Wait, WTF is Arashi? It's actually Kagetsu Arashi. らあめん花月嵐

I was told there was a place in Taipei City (NOT IN THE USA) that supposedly has some of the best Japanese ramen, which ended up being a consolation afternoon snackeroo after learning that the best Japanese tsukemen in town closed for the New Year.

Enter Kagetsu Arashi ramen, which is actually a popular chain restaurant from Tokyo ( There's a location by Narita Airport (Japan) and apparently by expert ramen blogger $tandard$, the Narita location was decent mall food quality (ouch). There are two other locations in Taipei, and this one is upstairs in the Breeze Center food court (a proper sit down restaurant) from Taipei Main Station.

But hands down some of the best ramen I've had so far.

Their signature broth appears to be a shio tonkotsu ramen, so disgustingly creamy and rich, it makes Saint Nizzle ramen in San Mateo an afterthought.

But I ended up checking out their seasonal limited edition offering a while back

just called BLACK

Once you go BLACK you never go BACK. And no I'm not talking about BALACK OBAMA, although I'm sure he'd endorse this BLACK ramen.

Here's what's inside this SICKENINGLY DISGUSTINGLY GOOD bowl.

1) Pure Porcine Porkgasm Bliss of pork bone broth (arguably Taiwanese black pork), as a hybrid shoyu tonkotsu, so rich and so creamy it hurt$ $o good

2) minced garlic pan fried (HELLA garlic) that melts into the soup

3) nice chewy noodles with decent texture

4) digustingly unhealthy FLOATIES, also known as upper (back) side fat of the pig. Doesn't taste like fat but bone marrow for some reason. OINK OINK OINK!!!!

5) Ni-tamago (slow cooked in soy sauce/broth) but sadly overcooked

6) Good chewy menma (bamboo shoots)

7) Piece of nori (yummay)

8) two pieces of porktastic perfectly stewed chashu that is nicely marbled

9) and finally to make it BLACK, delectable kuro mayu (black sesame oil) drizzled on top (like R.Kelly doing a number on a girl)

All this for NT$190, or a few shades over US$6!!!! You can't touch dis, Kuro Ramen @ Maruichi Mountain View....

They have a small pot of self help kim chi. No cabbage here, just spicy chives. Soooo spicy it caused instant hiccups...very potent stuff. Plus several self help special sauces and seasonings for your own application.

Best of all? Crush it yourself garlic cloves. To add more HELLA garlic to your ramen....

In addition to the signature ramen and BLACK ramen...
they seem to have this new seasonal offering called Aka Oni (red demon/ghost) which is supposedly a spicy aka (red) miso flavor.

Also highly recommend but did not try, teppan yaki meshi or cha han. Fried rice on a cast iron skillet. You can add additional bits to kick things up a notch (like butter). Think Benihana style teppan fried rice, but DIY at the table. Even the plastic display behind glass looked so good I wanted to eat it.

The Black Ramen I had around 2 to 3 pm that day. Less than four hours later, I blew out my belt buckle and had a grilled unagi over rice (unaju) dinner at


followed by an extra large sized tapioca milk tea as a late night drink.

Guess what the combo of greasy, fatty, unagi, and milk did? LOL you don't want to know...

But was it worth it?


One more thing. A surefire sign of authentic ramen is that AFTER you eat the bowl of noodles, you sweat like a muddafugga. As if you engaged in hot monkey love. Kagetsu Arashi was like hot sweaty funky monkey sex.

None of the San Francisco Bay Area ramen places made me sweat after eating. Maybe Daikokuya in LA did but then again it was 108 F that labor day weekend in 2007 when I didn't count. So what's up with that?

A fairly recent visit a year ago, the Black ramen was no longer offered. But one of their broths that had fish and meat bones in it, in addition to shaved bonito flakes, was out of this world. They skimped quite a bit on the chashu unfortunately. There may be better ramen spots, but this place is quite excellent otherwise.

This one is supposed to be their best seller. Pork front trotter bone broth with a ton of garlic.

Kagetsu Arashi Ramen [らあめん花月嵐拉麵」
Taipei Main Station, Breeze Center, 2nd FL
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