Saturday, January 16, 2010

[台北] 高家莊米苔目 Taipei, or should I say Hooker Noodles?

I miss this place heaps, as it was my last night in town December2008.

One week ago today on a chilly evening around 11 pm, two dudes cold and hungry descended upon this street eatery Kao Jia Jang 高家莊 (over 30 years old) for deep hearty yet calorifically light and delightful bites. KJJ is located in the Zhongsan District of Taipei City (also quite famous for a high concentration of Japanese expats/businessmen traveler white collar types, and inevitably karaoke, nightclubs, and ho$te$$ men behaving BADLY).

Seafood covered in ice to preserve freshness

Signature stewed pork intestines 紅燒大腸 - supremely good.

紅燒肉 (Taiwanese style roast pork, marinated in red vinegar and deep fried)

You won't find any touri$t$ here, it's entirely local hardcore.

Folks hanging around Zhongsan District for fun & games hit up KJJ 高家莊米苔目 either for a mildly late dinner or a late night snack.

KJJ 高家莊米苔目 has been around 30 years and going. Very famous for soy sauce simmered/stewed pork intestines 紅燒大腸 (a plate is about NT$80 or roughly US$2.75). It sounds nasty, but it is deeply deelish. Normally it is rather chewy, but KJJ manages to make it uber soft with the interior fluid tasting exactly like sexcellent pork bone marrow. The secret marination sauce contains about 20 kinds of special herbs and spices.

To go with it you need to order their signature starch bowl, mi tai mu (米苔目), which a small bowl is NT$25 or less than a US buckeroo. It is a Fujianese and Hakkanese rice noodle, arguably a distant relative to the Japanese udon, but much denser, chewier. The broth they serve it in was slow cooked with pork bones and maybe kelp, for hours and hours on end. On a cold day, the broth hits the spot, and you can ask for free refills (who needs drinks anyway).

For NT$100 (less than US$4) gets you a plate of squid sashimi. They give you a plate of sweet soy sauce paste and wasabi on the side. Nice chewy and crunchy local squid.

Don't miss the roast pork 紅燒肉, which although looks like Cantonese cha shiu, is more like deep fried, with a nice crispy outer layer (and of course marinated in red vinegar before slicing).

The atmosphere here is incredible and definitely not replicable abroad.

Oh did I say ho$te$$ bar$ catering to Japanese businessmen in Taipei?

Apparently KJJ is located in an area where the biz-men come in search of local hourly love. They say that these hourly ladie$ are di$creet (so you won't see them hanging around the street) and do meet with their client$ in hotel$ or what not. However on their break or "inbetween job$", I'm told they hit up KJJ for a bite, so you may see them if you go even later into the night, for an even more "authentic" local atmospheric experience.

Inevitably, my friend and dining compadre started nicknaming this joint as "Hooker noodles" or ahem "chicken noodles" (where chicken is Chinese $lang for hooker$). But no poultry here...

台北市中山區林森北路279號‎ (279 North Lin Shin Road, Zhongsan District Taipei City)
Tel: 02-2567-8012‎

Friday, January 15, 2010

安里和辛 Japanese Izakaya in Taipei

When it comes to living life, the golden rule used to be

"work hard, play hard.".

Well that's fine and dandy, but when it comes to delivering, it had better well be:


because nobody likes the soft, half-assed limpy BS failed fusion wannabe attempt$. Unfortunately we get a lot of that these days in everyday life, from the ground and around, all the way up to the government. Hardcore doesn't have to mean extremism, but just staying true to the roots, using wits, skill, and passion, maximizing available resources, to win the hearts and minds.

Luckily I got hardcore everyday while on vacation in Taipei. Sock It To Me Baby was like a request given every night without even asking. And the sock was a swift kick up the you know where, to remind everyone that one should not need to settle for less.

With that in mind, let's focus on this place, 安里和辛, Anri Wako (JPN), Anli Hirshin (Mandarin) that is one major hot spot in the Zhongsan District of Taipei City, known for a concentration of Japanese expats who flock to numerous authentic restaurants, like the one here after hours on business.

A small almost tiny space that seated maybe 24 people tops (with overflowing space separately next door), for a brief moment, turned into a full house right past 6 pm w/o reservations.

Before 6 pm:

And after 6:30 pm...

And holy smokes, even more stellar than Ishin Nihon Ryori Taipei (一心日本料理)

Japanese ownership and chefs, Taiwanese/Mandarin speaking waitstaff. The menu is practically in Japanese (like wall specials) and ditto for regular menu (but w/pictures). However any basic knowledge of J-food and kanji, and you're set.

We ordered an Okinawan special "tofu with fishlings" but it never came! :-/

Not terribly different in menu variety from a J-restaurant in America, this izakaya, like Ishin, categorizes the food by appetizers (including sashimi, NO SUSHI OR BIG ASS STUPID NAME ROLLS), agemono (fried stuff), yakimono, stir fry dishes, nabemono (hot pots), a few noodle dishes (zaru soba). The only difference is that, it's practically a clone out of somewhere in Japan.

It is said that the chef/owners are from Okinawa, but without a working knowledge of its fine food, it was tough deciding what to get that might give us a feel for the place. However to our surprise, EVERYTHING was executed flawlessly. The only setback was that one Okinawan dish was ordered but it never came (xiao yu doufu, aka little fishlings with tofu, how it is prepared I will never know until I go back)

The hardcore performance went like this

Freebie appetizer: A small bowl of "salad" consisting of wakame, fried fish and fried octopus (served lukewarm), strips of squid, scallions, spices, in a delectable vinegar sauce (like a nanbanzuke 南蠻漬). So good.

Combination sashimi: ika (light surface cuts to enable better chewing), ama ebi (green brains, yum), local whitefish hamachi/buri looking, local salmon (supreme), and aji with scallions and ginger. My guess is most or all the seafood are sourced within Taiwan.

Tonsoku Yaki (豚足焼)- I suppose this is one of the Okinawan dishes. Almost missed it off the menu. This is grilled pig foot (likely from a Taiwanese black pig), so it isn't foreign to Taiwanese (who partake in the stewed version a lot). Served with something that tasted like doubanjiang (spicy bean paste) on the side. The collagen overload was superb, and the meat near the bone? Oink oink!

Yaki ika-mentai moyashi - for lack of better word, squid and spicy cod roe (a classic combo) with bean sprouts, stir fried. Hard to beat.

Saba shio(yaki) - when you get insanely fresh saba that's smooth, juicy, fatty, oily and is not fishy and is met with a chef who knows how to grill it perfectly, the results are stupendous. A squeeze of local green lemon, the daikon oroshi pairing, is like Batman and Robin, a dream team. So simple, so good. A shame we can't get pristine saba here (it's either Taiwanese saba or the kind imported from Japan).

Una-kimo - grilled unagi liver skewers. This one was plastered with a sauce (tare) versus the lighter salted (shio) version at Hizen Ya (肥前屋), then some sort of peppery spice on top (sansho?). Zugoi!

This was not on the menu, but we requested Ku Gwa Tsao Daan or Goya Chanpuru (bitter melon stir fry with egg and pork) which they complied without batting an eye. Amazing to say the least.

Seafood zosui (nabe) - this was a very complicated hot pot dish, like a porridge of epic proportions. White fish, salmon, shitake,mushrooms, cabbage, seaweed, egg, in a wonderful broth that's virtually indescribeable. When your nipples are full erect from insanely cold weather, a nabe like this softens em up. Za-zing!

Kimuchi stir fry - kim chi stir fried with black pork and bean sprouts. It sounded like a weird idea, but this was actually great. The pork was on the chewy side but a really wonderful heartwarming thing to have.

What a feast it was!

安里和辛 日式居酒屋
Zhongsan District, Lin Shin N. Road, Alley 119 #84
Tel: 02-25682736

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Goose City Seafood (鵝肉城) Taipei 台北

Liao Ning Street (遼寧街) in Taipei City is known for a small block that has some street food stalls and a few restaurants. Arguably the most famous and best place to eat in the area is not a stall, but a proper sit down seafood restaurant (where "restaurant" is a loose term here, and still very informal where you don't get chairs to sit down on, but stools).

The outside looks very enticing with bright signs, almost looking pseudo Las Vegas like but without the blinding flashing bulbs, perhaps sort of a food brothel if you will, with employees standing by the curbside and on the street trying to usher potential customers to come in. But rest assured that this food brothel is worth hitting again and again.

To the left of the main entrance is more of a smorgasboardgasm of seafood display, from numerous sashimi blocks inside the counter, to containers and tanks of live seafood, to fresh fish on ice. Everything here is as fresh as it can be, quite possibly trucked in personally by employees and the owner from the port of Keelung (基隆) within an hour northeast from Taipei.

Choose and point to whatever you want, and how you want it prepared (or ask for recommendations). All seafood is charged by weight with a scale nearby to calculate what your tab would be for one item. In a very small corner of the seafood display are the various vegetables they offer (so yeah no need for a fixed printed menu, everything is seasonal!!) Goose City I suppose can be also regarded as a kind of restaurant one would take a visitor to, in order to experience some of the best of local cooking that's not a street food stall type of setting. You get a few hungry friends (or fiends for that matter), order several dishes, rice/noodles or starch of your choice (not really needed if you don't want to be full), beers or what not, and it's all good.

The interior is not exactly sexy or fancy

But the food was SEXAY.

We received a nice little appetizer on the house that was a small but good sized portion of a cold fish skin salad with julienne cucumbers, carrots, onions, and a type of mildly spicy fish sauce that hinted towards Thai and Vietnamese (like ngoc mam but different). The fish skin was very similar to that of tai 鯛 (Japanese sea bream or snapper) sushi (when served with the skin on) and was excellent.

Next were local raw prawns on ice with a soy sauce dish (and paste wasabi squeezed around the edge for Yoda Mud Bath mixing), artfully arranged like a flower petal under ice. Surprisingly sweet and even the prawn heads were juicy and burst with flavor.

Not pictured was bitter melon stir fried with salted egg, 苦瓜炒鹹蛋. Taiwanese bitter melon is not very bitter at all, and the salted egg provided a nice counter balance to whatever bitterness was there in addition to the smoothness of the egg white (impressive), which also gave the whole dish a very home cooked feeling. The overall texture was very similar to the Okinawan version of the dish (Goya Champuru).

Now onward to the signature dish. It seems that seafood overshadows their goose here! They have two versions of the bird, smoked or plain steamed. These guys must have gotten a lot of exercise and fed a diet of protein shakes or what not, as there was literally zero fat on these folks (then again, these geese don't live in near or sub zero weather to accumulate the fat they need). Which is not necessarily a bad thing, as you can taste the nice firm texture of the bird, with literally no fat under the skin (unlike Hong Kong style artery clogging heart stopping roast goose). The smoked version was very pleasant, and prepped in a way that did not have any overpowering flavor like some of the local versions of smoked chicken (熏雞). Two kinds of dipping sauce to choose from, one being a vinegar based, and the other a mild chili sauce with garlic, both very enjoyable in their own right.

We also got a small steamed fish for two, and I can't remember which of the two kinds of red colored fish (white meat inside) that was picked. One of them I heard in Mandarin was golden eye (like kinmedai or ) but I could have been wrong. Firm flesh but not dry. Taiwanese style steamed fish uses much less soy sauce than their Cantonese counterparts, using just enough oil, salt, and scallions and ginger to bring the flavor out.Did not get beer which would have been good with the meal. However there is a great non alcoholic substitute here, which is called 蘆薈露 (Aloe Juice). It's like a thin gelatinous jelly (soft and transparent) mixed with honey and one or two other ingredients. You cannot find this at supermarkets or convenience stores. Runs NT$60 or US$2 a can. Tab was close to NT$1200 for two, or US$40. Not cheap, then again it isn't street food, but very high quality.This place is also a favorite amongst Japanese businessmen and those who need to entertain clients.

Honk Honk! Me love Goose City longtime!

鵝肉城(Goose City)
台北市中山區遼寧街77號‎ - 02-2751-6922‎
77 Liaoning Street Taipei, Zhongsan District