Friday, May 28, 2010

[永和] - 北平致美樓 - Beiping Zimei Restaurant, Yongho Township

The average person in Taiwan would normally wolf down some bowl of starch based goodness, with or without broth, for lunch. Maybe a side dish or two. Perhaps a drink to go to signal the return back to daily paid slavery. Others might get something that's portable and hand held, whether it be a sandwich, or some buntastic orgasmic explosive delish contraption.

So what is the definition of an OVERKILL yet delicious lunch? When relatives decide to get together, and just so happens it is one of those special occasions when you are visiting. And they go all out pimp on you and order a 2+ hour banquet meal consisting of courses in the teens, yet when you learn what the price tag is, it might even cost upwards of HALF of what you might pay in the Golden state also known as Cah-Lee-Fo'-Nee-Ah. Quite the bargain indeed.

Zimei 致美 or loosely translating to "heading towards beauty or perfection", is a Northern Chinese style restaurant (Beiping 北平) that offers a variety of fare, including Peking Duck, in house made dumplings, sour cabbage hotpot, amongst a myriad of other things I can't remember because I almost passed out from all the good food. It is located in Yongho 永和 city (yeah famous for ahem...soymilk and quite possibly nothing else for those on the outside looking in)

Anthony Bourdain was so proud when he was visiting Tokyo on No Reservations that in the last segment, it was as if he was boasting, yet complaining, that he ate a 15 course (nigiri) meal in 20 minutes at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza.

Well unfortunately he has yet to go to Taiwan at a banquet like this, FOR LUNCH, and eat 18 courses, each plate serving at least 10 to 12 people (WITH EXTRA LEFTOVER TO SPARE), in 2 to 3 hours. Beat that mofo!

Zimei would be considered above average in Taiwan (and supremely excellent by NorCal standards), but just too expensive for the average collared worker to partake in.

Our table had (only based on the photos and a few things that I barely remember):

- Lao Beijing (Old Beijing) brand of sour plum drink. Insanely addictive and very appetizing...went well with the meal. Sooooo good. Can't find it in supermarkets :-9

- appetizer of drunken chicken (Shanghainese style steamed chicken at room temperature marinated in herbs and Chinese wine) with Taiwanese sausage (a very local touch)

-Broccoli with....I can't even remember! Sea cucumber?

- Peking duck (skin with a bit of meat), thick white tipped scallions with in house rolled roasty near perfect crepe skin (made and roasted in house, ditto with the tian mien jiang sauce). The duck is considered average by some local bloggers! Dang my standards must suck over there.

- a humongous Beijing style hotpot filled with sour cabbage, broth, shrimp on shell, pork belly, gong wan (Hakka Taiwanese pork meatball), tong ho (green leafy veg), mushrooms, and possibly 4 to 5 more things in there

- finely minced shrimp with slices of crispy fried dough stick (yoh tieo). You can eat this as is, or scoop it into a lettuce cup, eaten like a taco. Very tasty. Liou's House in Milpitas offers this (maybe as a pre-order item) but probably more expensive.

-beautiful Northern style pork and delicately sliced mixed veg steamed dumpling, almost like a siu mai but different.

-For dessert, everyone got fresh orange slices and a peanut mochi dumpling thingy that was quite good, but by the time you bite into it, you are already passing out from the food coma.

This is only like a third of what I had listed, there were MORE dishes I didn't mention or photograph!

If you're visiting and experiencing one of these banquets (or a more pimp and extravagant wedding banquet) for the first time, it's quite a novelty and an interesting experience. But if you were a local resident or staying there for over a month, and had to eat one of these banquet type meals two to three times a week (or even ONCE a week), you'd rather do some Kate Moss style binging and purging.

But Zimei was quite a pleasant experience. Unbelieveably affordable. If only we could have more skilled chefs like the ones at Zimei open up restaurants in Ca Lee Fo Nee Ah.

永和北平致美樓 (Yongho Beiping Zimei Restaurant)
台北縣永和市竹林路73-1號 (Taipei County, Yongho Township, Chulin Road 73-1)
Hours: 11 am to 3 pm, dinner 5 pm to 9 pm

Thursday, May 27, 2010

北二高 關西休息站 (Guansi Freeway Rest Stop)

When you think "freeway rest stop" like in California on the interstates, "pit stop", "free willy", "shaking the weasel", "taking a slash", or even "taking a dump", as well as America's favorite corporate fast food and restaurant chains, all come to mind. Of course some pull off the freeway at such rest stops to sleep/nap, stretch out, before going back on the long haul.

So what do they do in Taiwan (and apparently in Japan?) They kick it up a notch. Some even make it a DESTINATION STOP. Yes... drive something like an hour or more outside of Taipei, just to come to a place like Guansi rest stop 關西休息站 near Hsin Chu. Not only is it a rest stop/pit stop, but it is also a pseudo one stop shop. In fact, savvy business types have decided to set up shop at places like these to offer interesting regional delicacies. Of course you can also get your latte's and supermarket snacks.

Some parts on the inside look like a shopping mall. Does your typical American rest stop or vista point have something like this?

Japanese style and influenced dessert cakes, kind of like a mix between a Cantonese egg puff and a Japanese sponge cake. This was the only photo I was able to take before the vendor kindly requested that I didn't (wow even in the middle of nowhere??)

Don't miss the pickled peanuts, snacks, and interesting delicacies (including spicy dried shrimp snack).

The supermarket offers hot bien dang/bentos, including stir fried rice noodles (mifen) and oden.

Don't miss regional delicacies like Danshui's fish puff chips (previously only available in Danshui), which you cannot buy at Welcome/Ding Hao or the bigger chains, insanely good (even with a lil' MSG). Good stuff this is.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Indian/Pakistani/Middle Eastern grilled meat wraps at night markets

One of the joys of Taiwanese night markets is that some will feature vendors that offer local versions of grilled Middle Eastern/Pakistani/Indian style skewered meats, and usually made into a pseudo burrito with a really fresh (kneaded, tossed, and grilled to order) wrap skin (roti) that's so delicious. Even a run of the mill typical and perhaps considered average stall like this, is way better than a lot of the crap served in the USA.

I can't for the life of me remember where this stall was located. And it was quite decent. Some skewered meat wrap and fresh grilled dough skin stalls are run by immigrants from their native countries, and a few are either owned or run by locals like this one. Either way, it's a fun side twist if you're bored of local street food. While some stalls don't serve pork (especially if Middle Eastern/Islamic in nature), there are some that do. But most of the time you will find beef, chicken, and lamb offered.

There's something enjoyable about seeing this stuff grilled, usually to order, right in front of you. Secret sauce, secret marinade, secret spice. So good.

No this dude is not making pizza, but he rolls the dough in front of you as you place your order, tosses it up in the air a few times, then lays the roti on top of the dome shaped grill to ensure an even roast. What a far cry from going to an Indian restaurant in the US, not seeing this type of action....who knows what goes on in those kitchens!

 Less than $4. My local so called hipster Indian taco/burrito truck can't even pull this one off.