Thursday, January 28, 2010

[台北] 許家黃金牛肉麵餃子館‏ - Hsu's Golden Beef Noodle Soup and Dumpling House

This place was rated mostly 4 out of 4 stars in several categories by the "Taiwan Michelin" team, a self professed group of local beef noodle enthusiasts/rabid fans/experts who are really not as douchey as the real Michelin folks, because for once, it is not about hype but the food. Yes, four stars for delicious restaurant food, 3 stars for sanitary environment, 4 stars for value, service quality, and reasonable price. However don't worry too much about sanitary environment.....this is not a place to take a date, unless he or she is a beef noodle lover of epic proportions, in which case you are so getting laid after eating here (although I'll recommend an even better place for you, keep your panties on).

Here's a view of the kitchen as you enter on your left, before the dining area.

Self help side dishes, NT$30 or roughly US$1 a plate.

The owner during some recent glory days of winning awards, including 2008 Beef Noodle Soup Festival first place (via internet voting).

The owner is a very friendly guy and provided that you speak Mandarin it's smooth sailing all the way from service to pride in their product.

The store has struggled for quite some time, and literally spent half a million (US$) over 8 years in R&D to produce the exact kind of beef noodle soup they want today. And it shows in their effort.

The menu basically offers you a choice of beef noodle soup, or noodles with soup, and also dumplings in beef broth. They also offer Taiwanese style wonton noodles, sesame sauce noodles, stewed minced pork brothless noodles, side plate of veg, fishball soup (made with milkfish), and seaweed eggdrop soup.

But really you come here for the beef noodles and dumplings in beef broth.

Complimentary self help preserved spicy sour veg. Pungent Taiwanese sauerkraut.

Hua Gan 花干 (side dish)

Combination Lu Wei (marinated soy hard boiled egg, dried tofu strips, seaweed, smothered with scallions, drizzled with soy sauce paste and sesame oil)

Oh yeah the "Golden" name. It's weird, because the broth does really have a slightly golden hue or tone to it. And this is their strength. It's not a huge bowl, and for roughly US$3.50 I would not expect it to be, but it does hit the spot. The beef is the standard shank cut (I've been saying criss cross flank too much) and is very nice, although the noodles were typical "yoh mien" that you can find anywhere. Best of all no MSG, the broth is indeed flavorful and deep, but light and not oily. Anyhoo the picture of the owner getting some award and good media coverage is a testament to his success

Now the same broth makes their black pork and cabbage dumplings (also with no MSG) taste soooooo much better, and if you come here make sure you get that as well. Unfortunately I am unable to re-create this flavor of dumpling at home, even with Nijiya black pork from Canada and douchey whole foods cabbage!

Good value, although a little bit divey in the interior. These Taiwan Michelin Folks have been fairly spot on otherwise. Recommended if you are in the area!

許家黃金牛肉麵餃子館‏ (Hsu's Golden Beef Noodles and Dumplings House)
台北市松山區八德路四段272號‎  (Songsan District, Ba Der Road 4th Portion, #272)
Tel: 02-2747-6600‎

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

[台北] - 肥前屋 HIZEN-YA Taipei - spectacular unagi over rice (unaju 鰻重)

Somewhere on Zhongshan North Road 中山北路 off into an unsuspecting alleyway is a Japanese eatery that all the locals know about. The wait time if there is a line, can be anywhere from 20 mins to upwards of an hour, but well worth it.

The locals call it "Fei Chien Ou" 肥前屋 which in separate characters translate to "fat" "front" "house". Technically it should be the other way around (ie you become a fat a$$ after the meal not before). However if you read it from a Japanese perspective, it translates to Hizen-Ya, where Ya = House, and the name Hizen came from an old province in Japan that consisted of what is known as Saga and Nagasaki prefectures.

The interior

At Hizen-Ya, you can get donburi, agemono, tenpura, kushi yaki (skewers), sakana shioyaki (grilled fish), or sakana nitsuke (stewed fish) here (no sushi or big ass stupid name rolls, teriyaki, no udon, no soba here), perhaps more like a real Japanese Shokudo in Taipei. All of which are very very good.

However Hizen-Ya is most famous for Una-Ju 鰻重, or perfectly grilled freshwater eel over a bed of rice inside a laquered rectangular box with a lid. Accept no substitutes or replacements. If the eel is served inside a round ceramic (or god forbid plastic) bowl, it's Una-Don 鰻丼. It's pseudo if you find carrots and broccoli alongside. Leave that $hizzle in the frozen $ection please.

After having unaju here, you will never want to eat frozen pre-grilled unagi from China served over Cal Rose rice with an overly sweet goopy sauce ever again in the U$A.

All unagi here is sourced to local FRESH live and kicking local Taiwanese freshwater eels, prepped from scratch in house.

For about NT$240 or US$8 (which is a bloody bargain), you can get a LARGE unaju (which is easily a fraction of what it would cost in Japan).

Not only are the eels prepped from scratch, but the preparation remains traditional and unchanged for the past 20 or odd years Hizen-Ya has been around.

- the eels are first grilled, then steamed, then grilled again to remove excess fat, keeping the interior moist, and the skin cripsy, toasty, and flakey. Carefully controlled process. They do this enough in advance that the average unaju order takes less than 5 minutes to get to your table.

- the unagi sauce is actually an in house made stock (nikiri) made from unagi bones and arguably seasoned with soy sauce, mirin. Not the pre-made teriyucky big ass stupid name roll sweet sauce prevalent around California. The sauce here is perfect, not too salty, very very mildly and natural sweet taste.

- 2 additional signs of authenticity. You sweat like a muddafugga after the meal (well to be fair ventilation is a bit shoddy once it gets crowded in here). Also the amount of unagi they give you in a large order COVERS THE RICE where you practically can't see it. Call it A$N cheapne$$ if you will, but I want my unagi to play center stage.

- tasty rice! Taiwanese rice?

- shchimi torigashi (ie udon pepper spice) and the obligatory sansho (by House Foods) self help on the tables. Sansho elevates Hizen-Ya's unaju to even greater heights.

A sexcellent unagi appetizer here is unagi dashimaki tamago. Juicy and delicious. It's unagi inside an egg omlette if you will.

Tenpura here is beautiful. Authentic flavor, not greasy but hearty. The batter looks like golden snowflakes. Pictured is the dipping sauce that is miles better than anything in Northern California

At lunchtime if you are lucky they have grilled unagi liver skewers. Sooooo good. They usually sell out so you won't be able to order any for dinner. Ditto for stewed fish (nitsuke).

Word of warning, most cab drivers don't know where this place is, so just have them drop you off by the intersection of the main road (if you see 24 hr convenience store then you are close). It's actually not too bad of a walk from the closest MRT station (15 minutes or so).

肥前屋 (Hizen-Ya / Fei Chien Ou)
台北市中山區中山北路一段121巷13之2號‎  (Taipei City Zhongsan District, Zhongsan North Rd, 1st Portion, Alley 121, 13 of No 2)
Tel: 02-2561-7859‎

Monday, January 25, 2010

[台北] 饒河街元祖胡椒餅 (士林夜市 & 饒河夜市) - Fuzhou style Pork Pepper Roasted Bun (Shihlin and Raohe Night Markets)

Rao He Night Market in Taipei is a semi touristy destination that sports a beautiful structure at the night market's starting point or entrance, that slightly reminds one of the gate by Grant Street, representing the door to San Francisco's Chinatown, except RH's is more festive looking especially during Chinese New Year period. You might find similar kinds of sturctures at Chinatowns worldwide (including Japan and Canada)

But let's move on to the meat, or swine of the matter here.
once you go past the gate, wander across the market with food stall after another on the street, with various shops on either side of the road, and reach near the other end of the market, there is a small food stall with a sizeable line. The size of the line can vary depending on weather, time of night or week, but one thing stays constant.

Yeah dude, it's the Rao He Jieh OG Fuzhou Style Pepper Pork Bun! 饒河街元祖胡椒餅

The stalls sells one thing only, and that is the Fuzhou supposedly old school traditional preparation of what is known as Hujiao Bing 胡椒餅, or loosely translated as Pepper Cake. In Taiwan and in some culinary circles, Fuzhou style fish balls are arguably more famous (delicious soft yet bouncy shark meat balls with very finely soft minced pork inside, typically served in a soup), but this Pepper Bun is a major force to be reckoned with.

This stall has branches in Shihlin Night Market, and one year ago opened up another location in downtown Taipei. But the one here at RH Night Market is the original and first ever location, and arguably the best out of the three I've been to.

There are basically four people at this stall, taking care of the following:

1) A pre-marinated container filled with ground pork and other secret ingrdients. Not surprisingly one of them is quite a bit of Chinese white pepper.

2) Containers of diced local scallions

3) Creating/kneading the dough for the outer later of the bun/cake

4) A scoop of pork, a lot of scallions put on top of the dough, then covered up and molded into round buns, and one side gets a layer of sesame seeds on top

5) Putting the uncooked buns in step 4 in the cooking section of the stall and roasting the f**k out of them until the outsides are brown, tanned, and at the right consistency.

The stall sells these near fist size buns for NT$40 per and have been doing so for years, which translate to a tad over US$1 each.


I'm not kidding, this Pepper Bun makes Shanghainese XLB a severe afterthought. It's not as pretty or artfully crafted as a XLB, but it sure tastes way better.

When you get one, it comes piping hot, and inside a small paper bag. The outer layer is crispier than your most favorite toast, yet the inside is steaming with the juiciest pork badonadonk you've ever layed your senses into. That first bite of the outer layer is like a supreme Australian or British style meat pie, but even better (no offense to you pub fans.) The inside is juicier and arguably more soupier than XLB, with so much flavor you'd never think pork could taste this good. Then the white pepper flavor comes into play and KICKS YOUR ASS, but without that wasabi burn feeling. If you're a pepper or spice wimp, then this might be a little too hardcore for some. The bun is thick enough on the outside that there's sufficient distance between the hot crispy outside, while the juicy insides soften the interior part of the dough, giving it a different dimension and taste experience.

Underneath that sexier pork is a layer of scallions (inside the bun) that has absorbed enough juices and soup of the pork, allowing the flavors to further come out. 5 to 10 minutes into eating the effin bun still retains its heat and passion (and yours included). It's a truly unique and amazing experience.

I'd hate to find out the calorific, fat, and whatever weight and cholestrol/lipitol/fuckitol content in in these things.

Here are some pics of the Shihlin Night Market 士林夜市 location.

The "making of" MTV (meat television!)


The result? A really toasty roasty crispy exterior. The insides gush with fantastic pork and porky soup flavors (be careful not to McBurn yourself like a scalding coffee).

饒河街元祖胡椒餅 (Rao He Street OG Shiznit Pork Pepper Bun)
台北市饒河街249號前 (Taipei City, Rao He Street #249, inside the night market)

Open from 5 pm to midnight