Wednesday, March 10, 2010

[台北市] - 火車頭鐵路便當 Taiwan Dinkey Railway Bento (Taiwanese style Eki-Bento) chain shop

When some people need to take a short break from work, they may go out for a walk to get some sun and fresh air (especially if you work indoors and sit down a lot). Or they may hang out with friends for a quick espresso at some fancy coffee joint and get a la-tay, with or without cigarettes (espcially if your arse is on the line). Some might hide in their offices (if you are not in a cubicle), plaster cardboard on the windows, and take a long nap. Arguably there are some who like to get high during work and secretly bring crack, dope, shrooms, and use them during breaktime. Next thing you know they're your boss or high up in the ranks of the company ladder.

And there are those who like to sit in the toilet stall. Some delight in reading a book, newspaper, or surf the net if you have a wireless connection. Me? Sometimes I go through my wallet and see what kind of junk I accumulated. In this case I found a business card with a printed menu I kept as a souvenir during my trip to Taipei, which leads us to our next review.

People who grew up in Taiwan might remember that old style flavor of bento meal boxes sold only at train stations (known as eki-bento in Japan), that you could take to eat on the train (coal buring engines too). This is arguably a Japanese tradition and influence that perhaps found its way to Taiwan during and after WWII, except the train station (railway) bentos have seasonings and ingredients that cater strictly to Taiwanese tastes. Homesick Taiwanese ex-patriots in the USA will surely remember this old flavor, including certain instant noodles that you eat right out of the bag without cooking them (e.g. the Prince brand of cruncy instant noodle snacks).

Enter Taiwan (spelling Tawain on their business card) Dinkey Railway Bento, with 3 locations throughout Taipei county. They set up one shop where I went some years ago, in the heart of downtown Taipei on Nanyang Street where there are many tutoring centers (bu-shi ban) for afterschool high school (and college) students, and tons and tons of places for cheap eats. Needless to say, there are a lot of budget and demanding gourmets as a result. You can't bullshit the people here.

Nanyang street location (not sure if is still around). Quite a few selections beyond the standard pork chop and chicken leg, including katsu (breaded fried items). There's a help yourself side konbu sauce (spicy or original) too.

The upstairs seating area is modeled to kinda/sorta look like the inside of a train, or somewhere in a train station. Not the cleanest space, and if you are lucky there's maybe a small box of tissues. Bring your own drink, or you can get a free fruit juice carton packet that comes with the purchase of any bento.

Each bento at TDRB is a humble but decent sized portion, with the most expensive one under US$3, and the cheapest one a tad bit over US$2.

I actually tried two bentos, one with chicken thigh leg, and the other with pork chop. The pork chop was supreme, really beating out any version in SF Bay Area and even parts of Southern California where there is arguably the highest concentration of Taiwanese expats and restaurants. There were also some marinated peanuts, 2 scoops worth of rice, one whole soy sauce and spices marinated egg (like a tea egg but no tea flavor), one piece of marinated tofu (tofu gan) and some preserved vegetables. While I never tried or had the opportunity to eat at a train station in Taiwan, just based on the flavor I'd say this was pretty damn authentic, and best of all CHEAP eats.

Other bentos on the menu include "Hokkaido style fish sticks", shrimp steak (probably a variation of ebi-furai), fried fish steak, fried calamari, minced marinated ground pork.

This is a fine shining example of a business that at least for me successfully re-creates an old flavor for many grown ups. You probably won't be able to eat this everyday as you would get sick of it, though should you find yourself in Taipei, this is an interesting experience.

This is a chain, I do not have an updated address, sorry.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

[台北] - 大學口胡椒餅 - Mouth of University's Pepper Pork Bun - Gonguan Taipei (near NTU)

If I could re-live my life again, maybe in some alternate reality or universe (like in the comic book world), I wanna be either an exchange or foreign student of Taipei University.

Why? Only because of all the cheap good sexcellent food right across the street! Nearby is Gonguan District, home to many bookshops, coffee places, local businesses, and cheap quick fast, goooooooood eats.

Sure you can go to a presitigious university like Berkeley and dine on the great (and some former) places like Bongo Burger, Intermezzo, Ethiopian, some Korean Bear place, sub par but cheap mall style food court mixed eats, but the food just won't compare.

But there are a few shall we say hiccups in the area. Not bad, not great, but just enough to hit the spot.

And one of them is a place called Da Hshir Koh Hu Jiao Bing 大學口胡椒餅, or University Corner Fuzhou style Pork Pepper Bun.

This is unfortunately nowhere near as good as the Fuzhou Pork Pepper Bun that originated out of Rao He night market (and has another branch at Shihlin and arguably somewhere downtown Taipei).

But they do offer more than one version
These guys operate just against the wall of the side of a building!
The grill in which they make the buns.

They do deliveries. Flavors include curry lamb, beef, pork, and chicken.

You line up, place your order. I believe it costs the same as the competition, NT$50 (under US$2) and they go into their makeshift charcoal powered pseudo tandoori oven, and scoop out one of these roasted buns, put it in a paper bag.

Then you eat with a lot more care than a McScalding coffee (worthy of a McLawsuit but these guys won't McGiveaF**k if you Mcburn yourself).

The outside was indeed nice and toasty and roasty. Pictured is the pork version.

After a first few bites you see the really juicy and moist insides, and sure enough a ton of white pepper smothered in the marinated ground pork, just sufficient scallions. A ton of juices (and grease) inside. The marinated pork is a nice hue of dark brown. But when you eat that top layer away, towards the center, the pork is looking a lot lighter, and in some cases just a shade of pink away from looking fully cooked (although I'm sure it is fully cooked). Then some weird taste of sweet and sour, as if they used Worcester sauce....WTF? The exterior is doused with sesame seeds that after roasting does give the outside layer a very nice well rounded flavor.

The outside is decent but the inside is only good until you get towards the inner middle.

So sad to say and for once, been there, done that.

There are way better food stalls in the area and elsewhere, and with literally hundreds of thousands of eating places to choose from, I have less than a lifetime to try new things.

On to the next adventure....

大學口胡椒餅 (Mouth of University's Pepper Pork Bun)
台北市大安區羅斯福路三段335號‎ (Da An District, Roosevelt Road 3rd portion #335)
Tel: 02-2363-2181‎

Monday, March 8, 2010

[新竹縣] - 春上布丁蛋糕 - Chunsun Pudding Sponge Cake from Hsinchu

Oh why oh why is it so freakin difficult to find a nicely done cake?

I don't mean the western styles that you can hop into Whole Foods, Safeway, Costco etc and get your sugar overload.

Japanese style soft sponge cakes....., even the Sheng Kee's, Sogo's of Northern California are generally a big fat fail. :-/. While I like certain Hong Kong style bakeries (e.g. Kee Wah), it's out of the way and not even the same thing. Unfortunately the best Japanese style bakery is Satura, which is 1) too expensive and 2) closer to French/Cali style in nature for their offerings.

This is where Taiwanese bakeries in Taiwan make the perfect match....localized but yet amazingly delicious and light.

Anyhoo, someone was super kind during our last Taipei trip to have his friend pick up a Chunsun Pudding Cake 春上布丁蛋糕 for us. From the little I know, this shop has been around for some time and specializes in this delectable sponge cake which for some reason they call it "pudding cake". I suppose it does have the texture of really really good Asian style milk pudding.

We tried the regular flavor and also a chocolate one. Both were SEXCELLENT.
You'd think something like this is readily available in Northern California and should at least taste as good.

But I guess not.

春上布丁蛋糕 Chunsun Cake
新竹縣竹北市文興路二段98號 (Hsin Chu county, Chubei city, Wen Hsin Rd 2nd portion #98)
(03) 6577-222