Monday, November 14, 2011

[宜蘭縣] - 國立臺灣傳統藝術 - National Center For Traditional Arts, Yilan county

Take a Disneyland or Six Flags, Universal Studios kind of theme park.
Kill the cutesy animal themes, remove all kinds of crazy rides and play structures, but replace it with the following:

- a near perfect replica of a Chinese village town setting from the 1800s that include a Chinese opera stage, a temple, an old looking street block of stores that sell various trinkets (including uber old school candies and snacks) that are far beyond touristy rip off junk and yet a marvel to browse

- recreate the old time classic traditions, games, arts, crafts of that period and encase it in and throughout the complex as a means of promoting history and culture of that period.

- use of local produce, wares, skills, and offerings for the souvenir shops.

and you have a real fun and cool place here at Yilan county 宜蘭縣, called the National Center For Traditional Arts.

Getting here is no small feat. It is roughly 1.5 hours drive from Taipei, going through at least 2 to 3 tunnels (one of which is supposedly "the longest tunnel in the world" if you can believe that). Below are a collection of photos and descriptions accumulated over two separate visits about 2 to 3 years ago. If you can make your way here, I highly recommend it. Bring the kids, they will have a blast.

There's just so much to see and enjoy, and of course one cannot miss seeing food and drink everywhere too.

So without further ado:
 Entrance for purchasing admission tickets

Right past the entrance, immediately a food cart. Ice cream and peanut rolls! And that's just the beginning

So many traditional goodies, so little time

I fell for the tourist trap and got the mall food court beef noodle soup, not good at all, but this would sell ok in the USA...

Now this lunch set had fried tofu, fried taro balls (with dip sauce and salt+pepper mix) , and a chicken stock with bean sprouts, shallots, cilantro. A bit more localized but nothing to wow over.

If you are a citrus fruit lover, and like Japanese stuff like yuzu, sudachi, mikan, then when in Yilan, you need to have their kumquat lemon 金桔檸檬 (this is basically the kumquat lemonade stand). About NT$50 a cup but it is freakin delicious. You can even get it hot, perfect during winter and soothes the throat.

Fresh egg rolls 蛋捲, with the one in the back a Japanese inspired nori/seaweed flavor.
Oh look, Anthony Bourdain would like this place too! Grilled Taiwanese sausages with red yeast inside! Healthy? :-o

Upon zooming in, it looks like greasefest.

The view from the food court area.
A toy many Taiwanese kids grew up with, Taiwanese yo-yo (no relation to the 16+ year old pop tart by the same name) or 扯鈴. Haven't seen one on X Factor or American Idol yet...

Oh $h!t, they have dragon beard candy! 龍鬍糖 - made fresh in the store at one of the shops along the old street 老街

some of the raw materials for the dragon beard candy

Beard making!
Looks like he's hand pulling noodles eh?

Shaved peanut powder, a vital touch of flavor and texture.

Back on the old street strip.

Uh oh, more old schoolness. Sweet sticky stuff to make more freaky teeth. The stuff on the left is basically a round wheat cracker sandwich (inside is molaasses) on a stick (like a lollipop). As far as the stand on the right?

麥芽酥 (wheat germ pastry) supposedly from the 1930s era

That's gotta be molasses inside.

You might encounter a parade, a very festival one.

Stay for the show, it can be interesting

You're probably thinking this is CandyLand.... here's an old school ginger candy shop

Yeah this is not as sexy looking as Godiva, Jean Paul Hevin, or macarons...but in the 30s this had to do.

Shop specializing in old Chinese puppets.

This dude caught our eye... making works of art with glass and fire. Plus he looks like a Japanese hippie trucker from Tsukiji Fish Market, and a 60s classic DeadHead rocker! RAWK!

After all that fire, he makes stuff like this.

And this.

Two separate visits were not even enough to see absolutely everything.


National Center For Traditional Arts 國立臺灣傳統藝術

Thursday, November 10, 2011

[台北市] - 寧夏路夜市 - 古早味紅豆餅 The Making Of Red Bean Cake Footage (Ningxia Road Night Market Taipei)

Previously covered here, but who cannot resist some real footage? Unearthed a clip I took a few years back of the making of this local old school delicacy.

Gotta love those "finger condoms" cut out from a dishwashing rubber glove on the person doing the cooking and flipping (where the flipping action reminds one of takoyaki 章魚燒).

It's quite unbelieveable that lines continue to form at this stall at Ningxia Road Night Market 寧夏路夜市in Taipei, and this traditional red bean cake 古早味紅豆餅 is arguably better than other versions. On certain nights, expect to wait at least 20 to 25 mins before you can place your order. These delicacies seem similar to those Japanese style dorayaki's 銅鑼燒, except these are not flat pancakes, but shaped almost like.... a Sausage Egg McMuffin! Egg custard (excellent), red bean (woof woof), and taro (whooo hoooo) are quite kick ass and still taste quite decent if you re-heat in a toaster oven the next day. Haven't been able to try the pickled veg and meat version, but I'm sure it is very decent.

寧夏路夜市 (Ningxia Road Night Market, Taipei)
台北市大同區寧夏路(寧夏夜市中段) (Da Tung District, Ningxia Road, about halfway into the main night market).

Friday, October 7, 2011

二訪 知味館 Yum's Bistro (2nd visit) Fremont, CA (USA) classic Cantonese at its finest

Don't let the front entrance, and the fact that it is in a random non-descript strip mall within minutes of a residential block fool you....the master chef here is hardcore. Chef Boson Yum (任旋) is seriously a Cantonese culinary treasure in San Francisco Bay Area.

Previous visit can be found here

For those who don't have an "in" with the chef, and would like to try the more off the beaten path items, might want to look at the Chinese specials board. What's interesting is that it is written in shorthand Chinese, although the chef's mastery is all Cantonese in nature

A combination of properly fused flavors, along with classic rustic styles. Try to find something like this at some snotty upscale seafood restaurant in town.
Or if you want to pre-order certain dishes, but don't know what to get, the restaurant now has a separate "private kitchen specials" menu
There is a $200 soup for 10 called 海中宝. While I have no clue what's in it, they say it contains a mix of seafood (likely the dried usual suspects). The rest of the other soup varieties are rustic and really unusual, and I'm sure requiring a lot of time and effort to prepare ahead of time, ditto for the special stuffed duck and the stir fried sticky rice stuffed chicken (where a whole chicken has its meat and bones removed, the cavity stuffed entirely with stir fried sticky ingredients and really time consuming to do with a silly low profit margin, hence the US$38 price tag, but it is ridiculously cheap compared to the $70 to $80 price you pay at Luk Yu Tea House in Central during dinner) .

Every hipster out there knows what omakase is, in other words, "chef, sock it to me baby!"
If you know the chef well enough like some of his regulars, and have developed a personal relationship with him (perhaps a select few), it can be done here too...he will sock you, and do it really well. Even if you order from the white board, you will not be disappointed.
紙包乳鴿 deep fried edible paper wrapped squab
Roast squab (deep fried actually) is available on the menu. The chef can execute this dish with his hand behind his back and his eyes closed. But repackaging and re-doing this classic, he chose to wrap sliced squab meat, then deep fry it. Well this is technically not like the versions in Hong Kong at the regional Cantonese joints, but still very well executed and unusual.
But that's not all....the chef even made XO sauce to dip this stuff in! After having his XO sauce, you don't want to eat the BS from the imported jars (not even Lee Kum Kee)
自家製XO醬(配紙包鴿) - house made XO sauce for the squab. Top ingredients, freaking awesome 

迷你燉節瓜湯 (蟹肉, 火腿絲, 瑤柱, 蘑菇, 鮮蝦) - mini stewed/double boiled soup embedded inside a Chinese melon. Supreme broth with crab meat, shredded Chinese ham, dried scallop, mushrooms, and fresh shrimp.
The amount of effort into making this miniaturized version of the classic winter melon soup, instead using hairy gourd 節瓜 (sometimes known as hairy melon/squash) was greatly appreciated. Other than the aluminum foil, this was a mini extravaganza from top to bottom.
Next one seemed like a blast to the past (village style) and even more amazingly done than Hakka Restaurant in San Francisco.
XO醬炒豬肚仁 (非常爽!!) - XO sauce stir fried pork stomach
Pork stomach may be a little bit hard to stomach for many, but with the right touches, this is a truly comforting delight. The chef doesn't just pick any ordinary pork stomach, and he has to find a very particular cut that yields the right texture. It is said he once made a pork stomach tip 猪肚尖 (where he had to go through 20 pigs to find a portion for the dish) so don't even ask for it....but it is also said that this particular dish 炒豬肚仁 was even better... The crisp and mild crunch factor, coupled with the wok heat and the savory XO sauce, made this a real winner. I hate celery, but couldn't help eat as many as I could from the dish as it tasted so good.
The next one is a banquet classic
海参鹅掌 - sea cucumber and goose webbed feet with mustard greens
I love it....banquet style dish (and high level execution) in a Cantonese bistro! The chef has done thousands of these dishes when he was executive chef at the various SF Bay Area seafood restaurants in the last 20 years, so if it feels like Fook Yuen, ABC Milpitas, South China Seafood Village, HK Flower Lounge Millbrae, there's a reason (he used to work at these seafood restaurants!)
香芒牛柳粒 - mango beef (dope ass good)

This dish is on the specials board, and is a must order. With Mexican mangoes in season, it was time for some good ol' SE Asian style with Cantonese touches fusion. Tender/superior cuts of cubed steak with an end result that was sweet and sour, but not the Americanized version you are used to. The natural sweetness all came from the mango. You like Vietnamese style lúc lắc (Shaking beef)  with the Maggi sauce flavoring? This is even better...
And finally, what's a dinner at the crab (and lobster) specialist without a crab dish?
賽螃蟹 - Shanghai style stir fried crab with egg whites 2 way (the other way is salt and pepper fried crab)
It is said that Empress Dowager Cixi 慈禧太后 from the Qing Dynasty was craving crab one day, and being in landlocked Beijing had its challenges to procuring live fresh seafood (especially so last minute). The Imperial Chef came up with a solution by stir frying egg whites with some fish, and provided some black vinegar dipping sauce. She loved it to bits and became a royal hit. Then supposedly this dish made its way to Shanghai and the rest is 賽螃蟹 history.
Now here's the funny part... whoever started this trend by taking the 賽螃蟹 has dish, but adding REAL CRAB, is in a way taking the piss. Upscaling a dish that was orginally meant to have no crab (by virtue of geographic location) and changing it into something else.
Koi Palace in Daly City (the other restaurant that has this on the menu), but if the cards are right, you can also get this in similar quality right here. Out of the box, and really delicious. Don't let it get cold though, won't taste as good.
And yes....I was socked real good, till I was socked out.
In the words of the Terminator.... I'LL BE BAAAAAACK!

Yum's Bistro 知味館
4906 Paseo Padre Pkwy
(between Capulet Rd & Deep Creek Rd)
Fremont, CA 94555
Tel: (510)-745-8866

Monday, April 25, 2011

[台北] - Taiwan Storyland Museum 台灣故事館

One of the greatest things about Taiwan is their dedication to cultural preservation. Not just with food, but also life as it was back your parents and grandparents days. Enter Taiwan Storyland Museum 台灣故事館, a place that sort of lets you be a kid again (but at the same time, not).

It is essentially a large basement level recreated to look like...1950s era Taiwan. It's a great place for kids to explore (especially on rainy days) although the price of admission is not cheap.

Interesting enough, some of the initial planning activites for the annual Taipei Beef Noodle Soup Festival for 2009, began at one of the recreated 1950s era classrooms, right in the basement of Storyland museum.

In some ways the mood of this basement reminds me of the basement of the Yokohama Ramen Museum, a re-creation of the past. However this museum is mostly about the visuals, and not very much about the food, which will get a brief mention later.

Re-creation of the street games kids used to play, for a small price of course.
Outside a replica ice cream and iced desserts shoppe
Iced desserts shoppe
Taiwanese James Bond's ladykiller set of wheels

Old movie poster. Taiwanese James Bond? Taiwanese Sean Connery?
Did Taiwanese James Bond have one of these gizmos?
OK enough browsing, time for an old school snack at the re-created shoppe
There were a few snack items to try, but we had free coupon for their signature item Mien Cha 麵茶...and as we were cheap, that's how we rolled.
Taiwanese old school, almost oatmeal like, called mien cha 麵茶. Original flavor

Black sesame Mien cha 麵茶. 

Insert "Disney didn't get royalities" joke here
They don't make movies like they used to....
Old skool ice cream vendor

Old movie theater's relics.

Taiwan Storyland Museum 台灣故事館
No. 50, Section 1, ZhōngXiào West Rd, Jhongjheng District
Taipei City