Tuesday, January 28, 2014

168. Taiwan Day 3: Traditional British Food at Amy's Brit Shake / Amy姐的英國奶奶 (New Taipei: Tamsui / 新北市: 淡水區)

My family and I watch a television program called WTO Sisterhoods (WTO 姐妹會), a very entertaining talk show that features expats and spouses of Taiwanese nationals that share, very candidly at time, their experiences living in Taiwan as recent immigrants.  The guests range from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures, from nearby Asian neighbors to a surprising number of Latin American and African countries.  One of the guests on the show is Amy Rattigan, a British national who fell in love with a Taiwanese man while on a backpacking trip in China and eventually moved to Taiwan after their marriage.  Because she missed the food from home, Amy opened Brit Shake (英國奶奶) with her husband where she happily serves traditional British fare and milkshakes.

We ordered the obligatory fish 'n chips made with a Boddingtons beer batter and served with mushy green peas and tartar sauce.  The batter on the fish was so crisp, and the fish itself was ridiculously tender.  After squeezing the wedge of lime over the golden brown exterior actually made my mouth water.  The chips were served golden brown as well, but importantly, they were seasoned well and served piping hot.  Steam escaped out of the soft, fluffy potato when I broke it in two.  The portion sizes are made for the local Taiwanese, which is a bit disappointing for my American born appetite.  I wished there was more.

Fortunately, my aunt and I also ordered the cottage pie.  It also arrives in a portion size that I am not quite used to, but what the cottage pie lacks in quantity it makes up for in flavor.  I loved the strong cheddar cheese flavor and smell... it isn't something that the locals usually opt for, but that just affirms the authenticity of the ingredients at Brit Shake.  I noticed that the shelled peas really do taste different from the typical frozen green vegetable.  These peas are actually good.  As with the fish 'n chips, I only wished there was more to chow down on.

My aunt and I did not try any of the milkshakes on this occasion, but we saw many high school and college students walking out of the shop with the icy dairy beverage.  Perhaps on my next trip here.  It was so great to meet Amy (she is actually cooking in the back), and I wish her and Brit Shake all the best.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Brit Shake (英國奶奶)
No. 65-1, Yinzhuang Rd., Tamsui District, New Taipei City

ML - 20130702

Friday, January 24, 2014

167. Taiwan Day 2: Pleasantly Palatable Chen's Beef Noodle Soup / 陳記牛肉麵不錯食 (Taipei: Da An District / 台北市: 大安區)

A trip to Taiwan without eating at least one bowl of beef noodle soup (牛肉麵 / Mandarin: niú roù miàn) is like not having visited Taiwan at all.  There are so many restaurants, corner shops, and roadside stalls that serve the supposed national dish in various forms and flavors.  Whether it is the red roasted version (紅燒 / Mandarin: hóng shao) that is darkened with soy sauce, the version with clear, unadulterated beef broth (清燉 / Mandarin: qin dùn), the version that is stewed from tomatoes (茄汁 / Mandarin: qié zhi), or the increasingly popular spicy Szechwan flavored (川味 / Mandarin: chuan weì) version, there is a flavor for everyone.  Everyone's tastes are different.  What one may think as the best beef noodle soup, another may think of it as nothing special.  Despite the annual search for the top purveyor of noodles at the Taipei International Beef Noodle Soup Festival (臺北國際牛肉麵節), it really is quite difficult to say which restaurant makes the best noodle soup.  I tried Chen's Beef Noodle Soup (陳記牛肉麵), and it was pleasantly palatable. 

This is pure and indulgent beef noodle soup porn.  Tender beef shank... yesssss.  Umami broth completely indulgent in beef essence... ohhhhh, yesssss.  Slurpable, slurpable, slurpable hand cut noodle strands... oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, yessssssssss.  Hot and bothered yet? Sweating a little bit? That's what I thought.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Chen's Beef Noodle Soup (陳記牛肉麵)
No. 56, Andong St., Da An District, Taipei City

ML - 20130701

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Taiwan Day 2: European Style Bread at Maison Kayser / 梅森凱瑟的歐式麵包 (Taipei: Songshan District / 台北市: 松山區)

European style bakeries are popping up all over Taiwan, but the tried and true Maison Kayser (梅森凱瑟) still stands as one of the best in Taiwan.  The local Taiwanese palate is not quite tuned toward Western breads, for most of the locals believe that the texture is rather tough and not as soft and chewy as expected.  Good news for the locals here... Maison Kayser inside Breeze Center (微風廣場) bakes up both traditional pan as well as breads with flavors and textures tailored to local taste buds.

The French classic pain aux raisins is always a must.  The spirals are crisp through to the core, and the multiple layers are visible from the edges of the bread.  What I really like about this bread is that the center continues to be light and flaky.  Many pain aux raisins tend to have the heavy density of pretzels in the middle.

For something a little less sweet, the olive bread is one that hits the spot.  The crusted cheese on the toasty flat bread is a texture that I always look forward to, and I liked the sweet black olives contrasted with the briny green olives as well.  There was also a hint of either rosemary or thyme in the bread that gave an extra dimension in the flavor.

The pineapple danish is an example of a traditional European classic filled with local Taiwanese ingredients.  Since Taiwan is famous for its tropical fruits, the Taipei location of Maison Kayser offers the deep, rich sweetness of its island pineapple in the center of its crisp and flaky pastry.  The shredded coconut flakes decorated around the danish are small enough that it does not give the added chewy bite that its infamously known for but just plentiful enough that the aromatic tropical fragrance complements the pineapple.

Other top offerings include their pain aux chocolat and the expansive selection of cakes and other desserts at the front counter.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Maison Kayser (梅森凱瑟)
微風廣場 B2F
No. 39, Fuxing South Rd., Sec. 1, Songshan District, Taipei City
Breeze Center, Basement 2

ML - 20130701

Friday, January 17, 2014

165. Taiwan Day 1: A Quick Bite at Little Lin's Noodle Shop / 小林麵食館 (Taipei: Da An District / 台北市: 大安區)

Just a few hours into my trip in Taiwan, I called up fellow Triton alum Diana.  We just so happened to be right across the street from each other, so we met up and headed down to Little Lin's Noodle Shop (小林麵食館) for a quick bite.  Thankfully, this little corner shop puts its air conditioning on full blast because the heat and humidity in Taipei was slowly killing me.

We started off with an authentically prepared sliced goose.  It is simply poached in its own broth and served with strips of fresh ginger and green onions.  The meat is tender and flavorful, and the juiciness oozes with each bite.  Ask any local, and they will tell you it is one of their favorite Taiwanese delicacies. 

Of course, since it is a noodle shop, we had to order a big bowl of their house special black sesame noodles (黑芝麻麵).  The sesame sauce is covered by the porcelain white noodles until mixed.  When the sauce covers the strands of noodles, the aromatic fragrance of the sesame wafts up from the bowl.  The restaurant says that sesame, along with green tea and miso, are key ingredients to the Japanese people's longevity.  The Taiwanese have adopted many Japanese culinary and lifestyle habits since their rule in Taiwan, and health has been one of them.  There is also an option for white sesame sauce, but this is Diana's usual go-to noodle choice.

Eating with Diana means that there are bound to be vegetables on the table.  We went for some gorgeous, green sweet potato leaves (地瓜葉) to round out our quick meal.  Whether blanched or sauteed, the sprouted leaves taste like a tender version of spinach, and they are another local favorite as well.

And now... maybe an iced beverage to cool us down... or perhaps more noodles? Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Little Lin's Noodle Shop (小林麵食館)
No. 28, Da An Rd., Sec 1, Da An District, Taipei City

ML - 20130630

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

164. Taiwan Day 1: Must Have Rice Balls from Eastern Ice Store Down Lane 216 / 到216巷就是要吃東區粉圓 (Taipei: Da An District / 台北市: 大安區)

After finishing lunch at Du Hsiao Yueh (度小月), my aunt and I strolled down Lane 216, one of the most famous little back streets in all of Taipei.  We swung by Eastern Ice Store (東區粉圓冰店), an extremely popular rice ball dessert shop in Taiwan.  They are known for their chewy rice balls (粉圓 / Mandarin: fen yuan), a smaller variation of Japanese mochi that is commonly submerged under an covering of shaved ice and other sweet toppings.

Whether it is for chilled red bean soup, grass jelly, or sweet dessert tofu, the toppings range from taro rice balls, almonds, stewed peanuts, chunks of sweet potato, pineapple, passion fruit syrup, or strawberry jam.  Other choices include extra red beans, konjac jelly, white wood ear fungus, barley, and sweetened condensed milk.  The options really run the gamut.

I added the classic taro rice balls to my cold red bean soup; I loved how the rice balls were so elastic and chewy.  I also chose the almond tofu, a jello that merely looks like tofu but is actually just almond infused agar agar.  Of course, everything was topped off with a good amount of condensed milk, and I helped myself to a few extra scoops of ice... available for all customers in the strongly air conditioned seating area around the corner from the counter.  Thank goodness for Eastern Ice Store in the dead middle of summer on a sub-tropical island.  Until the next meal (give me about an hour), let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Eastern Ice Store (東區粉圓冰店)
No. 38, Lane 216, Zhongxiao East Rd., Sec. 4, Da An District, Taipei City

ML - 20130630

Friday, January 10, 2014

163. Taiwan Day 1: Straight to Slack Season AKA Du Hsiao Yueh / 馬上到度小月吃擔仔麵 (Taipei: Da An District / 台北市: 大安區)

As soon as I found my aunt in the airport arrivals area, we headed straight into the heart of Taipei City for lunch at Du Hsiao Yueh (度小月), a restaurant that has specialized in traditional local Taiwanese fare for over 100 years.  The tan tsai noodles (擔仔麵) are what the restaurant is known for.  According to restaurant legend, these noodles originated in the southern city of Tainan, where supposedly a fisherman made his living selling them during the off or "slack" season when the rough waters of typhoon season prevented fishing boats from going out to sea.

As customers enter the restaurant, they immediate see that a special noodle station has been placed directly in the lobby of the restaurant apart from the main kitchen where the other dishes are cooked.  The noodle station is set up in the traditional way, with the cook squatted on a stool near the floor and all the ingredients for tan tsai noodles arranged within arms reach so that he can quickly assemble the bowl of noodles.  He tosses, in order, bean sprouts, cilantro, minced pork that is still stewing in a ceramic pot over an open flame, minced garlic, black vinegar, peeled shrimp and shrimp broth into the bowl in just a few deft movements.  The result is a beautifully presented snack sized bowl of savory, slurpable noodles. 

A perfect pairing to the noodles are A tsai (the A is pronounced exactly as it is written in English), a vibrantly jade colored crisp vegetable with a texture that is a hybrid of cabbage and lettuce.  This vegetable is most commonly blanched in salted water and sometimes topped with minced pork or soy sauce paste to add flavor.  However, I like to add some of the leaves directly into my bowl to have with my noodles and soup.

Another vegetable that simply cannot be missed during the summer season on this sub-tropical island is the very fresh local bamboo.  It is served chilled with a side of Japanese mayonnaise as a condiment.  Many visitors to Taiwan who have never had chilled bamboo shoots often scoff at the common local practice of dipping fresh vegetables into mayonnaise.  It is weird, yes, but it is also damned delicious.  The bamboo itself is delightfully and naturally sweet, and the chilled temperature at which it is served brings a refreshing calm to ease the sweltering hot and humid summer climate of East Asia.

My aunt and I also picked a couple of bite sized toothpick skewers of grilled fish roe.  Just one mouthful brings together the salty and rich flavor of the roe along with the bite of the green onion stem and the smooth finish of the radish.  It's difficult to savor such a small bite of heaven, but it's even more difficult to forget the taste of this treat.

To finish, we split a slice of a savory taro cake.  The shredded taro root was packed and stacked in a way that reminded me of thick American home fries or hash browns.  Although taro is usually served with sweet flavors, this dish was drizzled with thick soy sauce paste and green onions.  The added saltiness from the soy and searing kick from the onions brought the natural sweetness out from the starchy taro.  It was the first time I had taro served in that way.  And as a later trip down to southern Taiwan will reveal, it will not be the last time I have a sweet fruit or vegetable served flavored with soy sauce paste.

What a great first meal on my eighth trip to Taiwan! Now... who's ready for some famous dessert in Taipei's Lane 216? Until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

Slack Season or Du Hsiao Yueh (小月)
No. 12, Alley 8, Lane 216, Zhongxiao East Rd., Sec. 4, Da An District, Taipei City

Other information:
  • Du Hsiao Yueh is also spelled Tu Hsiao Yueh; it is pronounced dù xiaǒ yuè in Hanyu pinying.
  • Tan tsai noodles are also known as tan-tsu noodles or peddler's noodles; they are called tanh-ah mi in Taiwanese and dàn zaǐ miàn in Mandarin.
  • Other branches are located in Taipei with the original store in the southern city of Tainan.
  • A branch has recently opened in Beijing with future plans to open in Hong Kong and Tokyo.
  • The legend of the restaurant is depicted in a short cartoon here; no need to understand Chinese to know how the story unfolds.

ML - 20130630

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

162. Taiwan Day 1: Tokyo to Taipei on ANA's 787 Dreamliner (HND-TSA: NH 1185)

On my eighth trip to Taiwan, I flew from Haneda Airport (羽田空港) in Tokyo to Songshan Airport (松山機場) in Taipei.  Both of these airports are closer to the main city center compared to their newer airport counterparts.  In Tokyo, it often takes an extra one hour train ride to reach Narita Airport (成田空港), where the main international airport is located.  The same goes for Taoyuan Airport (桃園機場), which is located about an hour outside of Taipei, depending on your mode of transportation.  Flying from Haneda to Songshan trims a few hours off the journey, which means less travel and more fun.  Luckily for me, this decision also allowed me to fly on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  All Nippon Airways (ANA), which was the launch customer for Boeing's new jet, designed a clean, fresh interior but not without some cool mood lighting.

There are no shades for the windows.  There is simply a button that controls the level of brightness streaming in from the outside.  The controls gradually adjust the light so that the eyes also have time to adjust.  I played with the button the way a kid would play with the power windows in a car.  The Dreamliner was like a new toy to me, but I quickly zoned out on puffy, white clouds over the East China Sea.

The most exciting part of any flight for me is still the meal.  Since it was my first time flying with ANA, I was looking forward to what was offered on their shorter international flights.

I started on the rectangular rice bowl first.  Various vegetables were arranged over a flavorful bed of rice.  The bamboo was particularly fresh and crisp, and the egg and shrimp were not overcooked despite being reheated during the flight.  It was clear that the airline put effort in producing not only a good tasting meal but a healthy and visually appealing one as well.

Not only was there rice, but there were noodles too.  Though it was a very simple, thin soba noodle, it was offered in two colors along with the traditional tsuyu dipping sauce.  Alongside the noodles were a wasabi flavored seaweed salad.  Even though it looked harmless, it definitely had a strong nose-clearing kick to it.

After a very quick four short hours of flight time, we landed safely at Taipei International Airport, more commonly known as Songshan Airport.  Since it is closer to the city center, we could see the outline of Taipei 101, the world's second tallest skyscraper, from the tarmac as we were taxiing to the gate.  It is a pretty neat way of welcoming passengers to Taiwan.

The flight was noticeably more quiet than flights on 747, 767, or 777 aircraft, and I definitely did not feel as tired or as dehydrated.  It may also have been due to the short flight time. 

Now that I had landed safely in Taiwan, it was time to eat! Until my first meal on the ground in Taiwan, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20130630

Friday, January 3, 2014

161. The One and Only Maruhide Uni Club (LA-South Bay: Torrance)

Happy new year, everyone out there in the blog world.  It is safe to say that 2013 was filled with moves on the career front, changes in my personal life, and discoveries in the culinary world that made the year quite memorable.  I can only hope that 2014 will be full of unforgettable moments as well.  Before we traverse across to the delicious things I've already eaten so far in the new year, I want to finish off a post from my birthday in November and a series of posts from my trip to Taiwan in July.

I had been eagerly anticipating the gigantic bowls of fresh fish, seafood and uni over rice for the longest time.  My bowl, in particular, was stocked with both salmon and tuna, scallops and sea cucumber, fresh, boiled and salted sea urchin roe, salmon roe, and sweet Japanese tamago.  It is a big, big, big bowl.  Come hungry, and come early before the massive lunch crowd arrives.  Thank you to Vickee, Kevin, and Brian for treating me out the entire weekend.  Maruhide Uni Club was a great start to my 28th birthday.  Until next time, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20131122