Friday, March 19, 2010

[台北]- 胡同燒肉夜食 Hutong Yakiniku Taipei

Izakaya's 居酒屋 are the rage everywhere now and you can't avoid them. Taiwan has taken izakaya's to the next level, by mixing in other elements, including yakiniku, as well as top notch service and making the customer experience a top priority (which lots of restaurant in the US fail to do so). They've even redefined izakaya's, the word itself, by removing the "alcohol" character in the word and basically calling it "Ju Ler Wu" 居樂屋or iza-happiness-ya and implementing it!

Hutong  is a very hip and relatively new (less than 2 year old) eatery that mixes the best of izakaya style atmosphere, top notch service with knowledgeabke and energetic/passionate/update staff, with the elements of Japanese style Korean BBQ that the owner claims is a revival of old school Beijing style BBQ. What makes this place different from its surrounding competition is the fact that it is like a grilling school, the staff tries to educate without intruding, the art of charcoal grilling thinly sliced pieces of the finest cuts of meat. To top it off, this place offers a local flavor twist that caters to the pickiest of Taiwanese eaters who want nothing but the best.

We arrived at Hutong at 6 pm and were the first ones there. They provided lockers to store bags and jackets/coats to help alleviate your outer shells smelling like BBQ grill smoke. Such a fine attention to detail and care! Who wants to smell like smoked meat coming out of the restaurant? The counter was the best place to be, as we could see everything that was going on and interact with the staff. The owner hired and trained his staff so well. Superb service and quick to refill on tea, water, drinks, lemon wedges and condiments.

This is not your standard Japanese yakiniku. There's no kim chee/panchan and certainly no dipping sauces except for all you can squeeze lemon wedges. Are they being cocky bastiches? No...all the meats are pre-marinated and seasoned so you don't have to, or they are best enjoyed with lemon juice that you squeeze yourself. It is really that good.

Before the plates of meat arrive, flaming hot grey charcoal with a red firey halo is removed from a storage area that heats them up, placed into a container and placed in front of you, with a grilling net on top. Then the meats arrive and you are ready to go. This is what we had:

thinly sliced beef tongue with tons of green onion on top - what a superb way to start the meal. Very Japanese yakiniku style. Instead of squeezing the lemon over the grilling meat, we did so on our plates. And we had to eat it in one bite. Our waitress/hostess grilled these for us and told us when it was done (it didn't take long). Superb texture and the flavors exploded all over. One of the highlights of the evening.

high end cuts of pork neck meat with sesame seed on top. - Holy cow this was as good as pork belly but without the filling feeling. They recommended that we eat this with lemon juice and minced daikon+onion.

beef belly - thinly sliced marbled beef, it was the highlight of the evening for me. The marination was apparently garlic sesame oil, salt and pepper, but the grilling time was perfect and the fatty oils got pushed out and further enhanced the flavors with the citrus lemon juice.

pork intestine - yep very Taiwanese. And who knew how chewy and smooth this tasted after being charcoal grilled? Turns out the intestines were already cooked and pre-sliced. The grill only served to give it a more smokey flavor, and the inside of the lining tasted like bone marrow of osso bucco. Wow. Even more sublime after the lemon and minced goodness.

baby lobster and butter enoki mushrooms in aluminum foil - first time I've ever seen an entire baby lobster. The meat was all in the tail but after grilling the little guy to pieces, the shell was soft enough to be still crunchy and you could eat the whole thing to get your shot of calcium for the week. The enoki mushroom dish is very izakaya/fusion, something one might get at Tanto in Sunnyvale/San Jose, delicious!

lamb chops - I think they used Australian or New Zealand lamb chops for this. Unbelieveable how this came out. Forget those fancy American or Euro fusion restaurant versions, THIS is how I want to enjoy lamb, over a charcoal grill in Taipei! Came to about US$80 ish for 3 people, which for Taipei is expensive but for us visiting it was a steal. -1 star because while they apparently take credit card, Taiwan is still a cash loving country, sigh. But heck this place rocks so much no earthquake can take it out.

胡同燒肉 Hutong (
北市敦化南路一段161巷17號 Taipei City, Dunghua South Rd 1st portion, Alley 161, #17

Thursday, March 18, 2010

[台北市] - 波記茶餐廳 - Boji Hong Kong Cafe (Taipei)

Boji, or simply Bor's place in translation, was opened by a Hong Kong expat living in Taipei upwards of 6+ years ago when the local market for Cantonese cuisine centered mostly around dim sum (some restaurants offering supposedly less than authentic fare and open upwards of 24 hours!), jook (congee/porridge), and BBQ (cha siu, roast duck etc). Since then many competitors have opened up. I'm told a majority of them have closed, and Boji is one of a few still standing.

Three key aspects and criteria should apply to any HK style cafe worldwide: Variety, Quality, and Value. All three are and can be relative, but VQV is pretty much the golden standard at such places.

Boji definitely does 5 star work in variety, as Bor touts upwards of 17 kinds of drinks, 5 kinds of street food snack items, 10 kinds of sandwiches including French Toast, 9 kinds of HK style snacks, 19 kinds of stir fry, 17 kinds of rice plates, 2 kinds of green veg dishes (haha only TWO), 6 kinds of congee, 12 kinds of instant noodle (soup and stir fry!), Cantonese "old fire" slow cooked soup of the day, 10 kinds of stir fry noodles (egg & rice noodles), 11 kinds of lo mein, 3 kinds of dessert, 4 vegetarian dishes, 6 kinds of curry rice, 5 udon based dishes, 6 dishes with a ham & egg theme, 6 kinds of non slow cooked soups.

The interior looks rather run down and old, and I believe this was entirely on purpose to make it look old school and historical. So in that regard, the owner didn't really have to do much! This included the cracks on the walls at random, chips and wear n' tear around the chairs.

What is cool about the interior is that the owner tips his hat in tribute to 王家衛Wong Ka Wei's films with movie posters for Days of Being Wild and 2046. Coincidentally Days of Being Wild had some scenes filmed inside Queen's Cafe in Hong Kong (also a HK style cafe, but for the anal retentive, it's Shanghainese style Russian food).

Here are the restaurant's supposed specials that claim to represent their best:

*silk stocking milk tea - a mixed leaf blend placed inside a cheese cloth filter in a large tall metal teapot. Hot water is poured in then after straining the liquid is poured back in another teapot with the filter, 4 to 5 times.

*Yin Yang milk tea - red tea at the bottom, coffee is poured in. Add milk and sugar...

*HK style French Toast - peanut butter, add egg, deep fry, add honey and butter

*HK style desserts of stewed milk and egg white, add fresh fruit

*fried pork intestines (for you nasty bit fans) - after cleaning, marinated with honey, white vinegar, red sauce, rock sugar for 12 hours, hang dry for a day and deep fry that muthafugga.

*spam with 2 fried eggs over rice (eggs are cooked halfway) and served with old soy and sugar based special sauce.

*shui gow dumpling Fung Shing style - salted duck egg based dumpling skins, and insides are fresh shrimp, woodear funghi, bamboo.

*XO sauce stir fried instant noodles - doesn't get wackier than this

*satay skewers with Thailand Jasmine rice

*Soup of the day (Cantonese style slow cooked, limited to 30 bowls a day)

Didn't get to try much here, as I ate dinner at Ningxia Night Market before coming here and was already 80% full where most people would stop. But heck I was on vacation, a little more binging never hurt anyone right?

Shared and ordered:

Curry Fishball skewer - ok so this is supposedly one of their specials. Perhaps I'm used to the kind that's not been deep fried first and even so it tasted nothing like my childhood. Thankfully no diarrhea occured after eating this. The curry had mild to virtually no kick. A great effort but for Taipei this was surprisingly disappointing.

HK style silk stock milk tea on ice - I'm not sure what to think of their rendition. It tasted a bit malty at the same time, and well very different than HK style cafes in the San Francisco Bay Area (at least some of the nicer ones). Perhaps it is a flavor I'm not used to, but it certainly was not a 5 let alone 7 leaf blend like at Charles Phan's Out The Door version.

Pineapple bun with butter slab - First of all the bun wasn't fresh out of the oven, it's been sitting for a while (granted not baked, but reheated to order). The sugary top crust was not golden brown but more of a dark red hue that wasn't as visually appealing. The amount of butter they put inside was absolutely criminal (way too thick) which luckily did help improve the enjoyment of its consumption a wee bit more. The thickness however didn't help as not all of the butter melted like it should in concept.

If this is the best Taipei has to offer, it is definitely a very low standard indeed. Not bad but not great.

Perhaps there are better selections off the menu. Alas this once again proves that solid Cantonese (or HK style western) is actually quite rare in Taipei.

波記茶餐廳 (Boji Hong Kong style Cafe)

北市延吉街70巷8號 - Taipei City, Ting Ji Street Alley 70, #8 (near Zhongxiao E Rd 4th portion

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

[台北市] - 寧夏夜市 牛媽媽 - Ningxia Road Night Market: Beef Mama Taipei

Finally a place where I think Anthony Bourdain might like if he were to visit Taipei! Yes, a place that also dishes up the nasty bits! And it isn't in one of the more super touristy places either, but a night market that has a lot of history, in addition to preserving the cultures and traditions of what the locals like to eat in terms of classical no nonsense street food.

All you hard core Asians will love this place too.

Especially Koreans and Singaporeans!

Located about halfway through the Ningxia Road Night Market 寧夏夜市, somewhere on the left side of the enclosure is a vendor that specializes primarily in beef and beef parts, and dirt cheap and might tasty too, called Beef Mama 牛媽媽. They've been around quite some time and are now at the 2nd generation of family ownership. My dining partner in crime told me this place is a fine example of old school (1950s era) Taipei street cuisine, where it all started.

It would be nice if we could transplant a beef specialist street food stall like this...

Beef Mama also uses A LOT of Sa Cha (or sacha) sauce  沙茶醬 to kick up the flavors multiple notches. WIKI has a small entry on this

If this is not your bag, stay away. Sa Cha is sometimes confused with satay, which has similar flavors but are in fact very different.

Gasp.... pig? Well apparently they also specialize in Kung Rou Fan. It's not on the beef themed wall menu though.

Sa Cha sauce can be purchased at any Bay Area Chinese supermarket. Make sure when you buy one to try at home for cooking or hot pot, get the brand that has a cow or red bull on it, and made in Taiwan. That's the best quality you can get. Similar to the WIKI picture.

Honeycomb tripe (stomach) soup - NT$80

Beef "hip" soup - NT$50 (if I remember correctly, "hip" is a nice way of saying the testes, the Mandarin naming is "Yau Gwor" or fruit of the hips, how ELEGANT, more so than calling chicken feet Phoenix Claws in dim sum... screw the feet, go for da BALLSAC!)

Beef liver soup - NT$50
Beef heart soup - NT$50
Lamb meat soup (no nasty bits) - NT$50
Beef tripe soup (see other picture) - NT$50
Stir fried heart valves - NT$110
Sacha sauce stir fried bone marrow - NT$150
Sacha sauce stir fried beef brains - NT$110
Sacha sauce stir fried honeycomb tripe (stomach) - NT$110
Sacha sauce stir fried (beef) testes - NT$110
Sacha sauce stir fried beef heart - NT$110
Sacha sauce stir fried beef liver - NT$110
Sacha sauce stir fried beef (non nasty bits) - NT$90
Sacha sauce stir fried lamb - NT$90
Sacha sauce stir fried beef with noodles - NT$80

The beef tripe soup was insanely homey good.

A light but flavorful clear broth, obviously cooked for a long time with a lot of material, including the tripe. The julienne slices of ginger added a very nice and fine touch to the flavors. Included on the side was some soy sauce paste dipping sauce seasoned with vinegar and garlic, to dip the sexcellent tripe pieces in which added to the enjoyment a beefillion fold. Interestingly the tripe wasn't really the stomach lining or anything. It actually tasted like high quality beef with a lot of tendons and ligaments in it. You would have thought this was a cut near the rib eye or something!

The hollow stem veg (kung shin tsai) stir fried with lamb slices in sa cha sauce was incredibly good also.
Crispy stems, bursting with juice, flavor. A non gamey lamb with all the energy from the wok, made this a great body warmer from the cold and super wet winter during my visit.

Sa Cha stir fried noodles, other people's orders.....

Didn't try the balls(ac), the hearts and the brains.

I'll let Dorothy eat those on her way to find the Whizzer of Oz.

台北市大同區寧夏路50號前﹝牛媽媽攤位﹞Taipei City Datong District, Ningxia Road #50 (Beef Mama stall)


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

[永和市] 永和樂華夜市拉茶攤 - Yongho Township, Stretch/Pulled Tea stand Lir Hua Night Market

This stall showed up at the neighborhood Yongho Township's Lir Hua Night Market 永和樂華夜市over a year ago.

The idea is taken from Singaporean/Malaysian style "stretch" or pulled tea aka Teh Tarik. The young budding business owners took the idea a step further and incorporated several tea flavors and milk teas in the lineup, including

-Hong Kong style milk tea
-Okinawan milk tea with black (re: brown) sugar
-Indian style milk tea
-Hong Kong style lemon tea

and one or two other flavors I do not recall.

The ordering process is very simple. Pick which one you want, and a wicked demo begins (as shown on the youtube clip above).

The drink is then poured into a mini non porous plastic bag pouch (that strangely resembles American trash bags), its tip tied with a string and a straw inserted. The mixture includes ice, and you drink from it. The cost was roughly NT$30 or so which is literally US$1.

The HK style lemon tea was newly introduced during my 2nd visit in Dec 09 and I have to say it was quite horrid.

The Okinawan milk tea with black sugar was much better, not too sweet, and you could still taste a little bit of tea.

Other than that you are pretty much paying NT$30 to watch some young kid demonstrate his tarik/pulling skills and your iced tea in a trash bag. Oh yeah.

Yong Ho's Lir Hua Night Market, pulled/stretch tea stand
Yong Ho township, Taipei City

Monday, March 15, 2010

[ 台北市] - 寧夏夜市 李家香無刺虱目魚 Li Jia Hsiang boneless milkfish cuisine (Ningxia Road Night Market)

Right next door to Formosa Chang in Taipei City at Ningxia Road Night Market 寧夏夜市
is a proper sit down restaurant called Li Jia Hsiang 李家香, or loosely, "Lee's Home is Fragrant".

But what is Li cookin' that got the locals jonesin'?

One Fish
Two Fish
Boney Fish
Milk Fish (OK let's not go there)

They specialize in the cuisine of "Shir Mo Yue" (in Mandarin) 虱目魚. Also known as Milk Fish in English, Chanos Chanos (Latin), Milchfisch (Germany), Bangus (Phillipines), Badeng (Indonesia), Sabahii (Japan), Bandang (Malaysia), Cá Máng (Vietnam), and last but not least Awa-Awa (Hawaii).

It's one of those "you haven't eaten like a local until you've had this" kind of dish.

Milk Fish / Shir Mo Yue is plentiful around the south western island of Taiwan, and it is said that the Dutch (who were the early occupiers of Formosa, now Taiwan) brought with them the milk fish farming methods
to Taiwan. When Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong or Tei Seiko according to Japanese) kicked the Dutch out of Taiwan circa 1662, he apparently was one of the first Chinese nationals (although his mum was Japanese) to have the milk fish and his reaction was: "daaaaaayum bitch, this shit is gooooooooooood! What's the name of this fizzle shizzle?" And the locals eventually came up with a name, "it's Shir Mo Yue, my man!"

So anyway, Shir Mo Yue or Milk Fish, is also a Tainan staple. The locals there would have congee made with this fish as a breakfast item. Milk Fish has a ton of bones, so it is not very pleasant to eat otherwise. Fortunately the Taiwanese over time have developed a technique to debone the fish, well at least get rid of the major ones. I dare not say their knife technique is anywhere near as good as the Japanese are with deboning the super boney hamo eel, but now there are many restaurants that specialize in "boneless" milkfish cuisine 無刺虱目魚, like Li Jia Hsiang, that can be enjoyed as far north into Taipei.

The best part of the milk fish? It's da BELLY. Rich in all sorts of goodness (omega 3, etc etc). The fish is virtually never eaten raw locally.

The grilled filet looks like a butterfly, served with a wedge of lemon. It's the local version of shioyaki, where the center part is the belly PHAT goodness. This one you want to eat as your very first bite, as it is quite filling.

Milk fish soup of any sort is not cooked for very long, and this is a local style. The idea is to preserve the natural flavors of the fish, with the only ingredients to enhance are ginger slices and pinches of salt. To some the fish may be a bit fishy, but rest assured it is how it tastes, and not fishy in a bad way.

Li Jiang Hsiang  also serves it Shanghainese style, with vinegar and sugar, as well as a stewed version with soy sauce (the Japanese parallel to this would be nitsuke).

Other uses of the fish:

Fish skin
Fish ball (made with paste of the ground meat)
Fish belly noodles

Want some non fish items to go with it? They do the plain ol' minced pork rice, and it is of a very decent standard.

李家香無刺虱目魚 (Li Jia Hsiang)
北市大同區寧夏路60號 (Taipei City, Datong District, Ningxia Rd #60)