Well, it's definitely not black white magic... even though it might taste magical. Black and white placed next to each other in any Taiwanese phrase means whatever, anything, a myriad of something. If you black white talk (ouh beh gonh / 黑白講), it means that you're saying something that is black, but you're also saying something that is white... you don't know if you mean one thing or another. In essence, it means you're talking nonsense or talking bullshit.
If you black white walk (ouh beh jow / 黑白走), it means that you are walking here, but you are also walking there... you're wandering, or you have no idea where you're going. So that means that black white slice (ouh beh tzeh / 黑白切) means that you can have slices of this and slices of that... a little bit of everything.
A little bit of this... a little bit of that... and that's exactly how to eat at restaurants that serve in this black white slice style of eating. Upon visiting an ouh beh tzeh restaurant (Taiwanese: ouh beh tzeh, Mandarin: hei bai qie / 黑白切) for the first time, I was greeted first by a refrigerator case running the length of the chef's chopping counter, which is just inches longer than my wingspan. On display in the refrigerator case were all the freshest items that the chef had picked up from the supermarket and anything that the chef felt was suitable for the evening meal. From freshly boiled shrimp to bright red sausage to the greenest asparagus to a thick and tasty meatloaf to glistening white calamari... you name it; the chef's got it.
Point to something. Choose whatever you please. The chef will slice up whatever you want to eat.
The most popular dish at my favorite black white slice institution is actually not in the refrigerator at all. It's goose. And it's located next to the fridge. The chef lays the glorious geese (whole body intact) out for everyone to see. And I mean everyone. It's sitting pretty right at the restaurant's entrance. Walking to your table? Ya can't miss it.
There are usually two types: salted goose or goose with soy sauce... take your pick. The chef tosses fresh basil leaves and thinly sliced fresh ginger around the tender cuts of poultry for an exotic contrast in flavor. He also throws in some sweet chili sauce just to cover any potential gamey taste that it may have. Still apprehensive about goose meat? No worries... it tastes just like chicken.
Whether it's alive or dead, the second of my favorite black white dishes may scare you too.
Perhaps you've had shark fin soup before, but have you ever had the actual meat from a shark? Probably not. I don't know many cultures that consume the meat from a shark. Well, Taiwanese do. And by the way, a shark is a fish too. It's just... a ferocious, fierce looking, predatory kind of fish. If you've seen Nemo, you know that sharks can't possibly be scary... fish are their friends. (Hopefully, you didn't get past the fishaholics anonymous meeting.) But I digress...
Smoked shark meat is really just smoked fish. I'm not going to say it tastes like smoked salmon because it doesn't. It's nowhere close. It's got more of a firm, white fish flavor combined with a soft beef tendon texture. Contrasted with the spicy wasabi and the salty soy sauce paste it's served with, the meat actually has a hint of sweetness. If you're wondering whether it's too tough to chew on, it's not. But it's not fatty either... the meat is actually pretty lean. After all, the shark swims all day looking for friends to play with. Am I not really selling it? Okay, chicken. B'gok! It's just one of those things you have to taste for yourself to understand. And you have to try it once in your life. Ohhhh, so this is shark.
The next item is also something you have to try at least once in your life... Taiwanese stinky tofu. Wow, I just introduced the scariest three items from a black white slice restaurant... goose, shark, and stinky tofu. Good job, Michael.
The tofu is steamed and then simmered in this spicy sauce that is made with tons of garlic, red chili pepper, and Szechwan peppercorn. The tofu is served in a metal dish that gets fired up right in front of you. The on-the-spot simmering and boiling causes wafts of aroma from the spicy sauce to drift past your nose. It's fragrant, not stinky. I dragged my hungry friends from China and France here for dinner. They were a bit apprehensive at every dish I ordered, but I'm not lying when I say that the delicious goose, unique shark dish, and tasty tofu got them hooked on black white cuisine.
But if the trifecta of black white glory doesn't hold your attention, this magical bowl of chek-ah noodles (Taiwanese: chek-ah mi, Mandarin: qie zai mian / 切仔麵) definitely will. What's awesome about these noodles is that it's just noodles and broth... and it goes with each and everything that the chef has sliced up for you. Take a look around the black white restaurant, and you'll notice that every single patron has a steaming bowl of chek-ah mi in front of them. Some even have two bowls... one recently finished empty and one freshly made.
Each bowl of noodles is complete with fresh goose stock and topped off with crunchy, deep fried onions, deep green leek, and crisp bean sprouts. The leeks and fried onions add a depth of flavor to the goose stock. The profound taste of chek-ah noodle soup becomes more of a feeling than just a means of sustenance. It presents a feeling of home and heart, perhaps the same feeling you get when you have Mom's chicken noodle soup in a warm kitchen while the howling winter winds rage on outside.
There's a deftness of chopsticks usage throughout the restaurant. Groups of co-workers, young couples, and even, ahem, friends with their tourist guests work quickly from the spicy tofu to the platter of goose, then quickly again to dip the shark meat into the soy and wasabi combination, all while swiveling noodles up in between bites. The cheap bamboo chopsticks in everyone's hungry hands are stained with red chili oils and dark brown sauces. And bits of fried onion can barely be shaken off with the nimblest of movements. It's a whir of commotion and a blur of action. Don't be surprised if you hear a loud slurping of noodles and broth. After all, it is this simple bowl of noodles that brings the whole meal of black and white together.
But wait. There's more.
The freshest item in the chef's fridge was the cut of salmon. Its orange hue caught my eye, and dreams of sashimi began forming in my head. Not a problem. I pointed to it, and the chef knew that it would pair with my chek-ah noodles perfectly.
Now... I can't say this is the healthiest of meals, but we did have a lot of lean protein (poultry, tofu, fish in two forms). Why not further our health by selecting the two staples of any black white restaurant?
Crisp asparagus (蘆筍) and tender bamboo shoots (竹筍) are both blanched (arguably the most popular way of cooking vegetables in Taiwan) and then served chilled with sweet Japanese mayonnaise as a dip. Both asparagus and bamboo are symbolized by a common Han character (筍), which perhaps is an ancient Sino way of saying that these two vegetables go very well together. Each is sweet, fibrous, crisp and refreshing, and they both snap quickly with a firm bite. And after tons of protein and a bowl of noodles, I think fresh, crisp veggies are the only way to go. Even after my tourist buddy exclaimed that she could eat no more, I caught her chopsticks veering toward the vegetable plates... "Except this." She picks up another piece... "I can still eat this."
Well then, bring on another bowl of noodles! I think we've still got some stinky tofu to finish anyway. Until the next black white whatever, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.
Black White Slice (台南意麵黑白切)
台北市 中正區/ Taipei City, Jhong Jheng District
濟南路 2段 53-8號/ Jinan Road, Section 2, No. 63-8
How I get there:
MRT: Zhongxiao Xinsheng Station (捷運忠孝新生站)
exit no. 2; walk through the park;
pass Mos Burger, Starbucks, Formosa Chang, 85度C
make a right at Jinan Road, Section 2 (濟南路 2段)
do not pass the produce store
ML - 20110909