Monday, April 20, 2009

Sichuan Noodles: Sichuan Noodle King 四川麵王

Bold taste.

This is one of my favorite restaurants in Taipei, where I have never eaten a single dish I did not thoroughly enjoy. I cannot testify to the authenticity of their Sichuanese food, but wherever their recipes come from, they lead to beautiful taste combinations that dazzle the tongue.

Their menu has convenient pictures for those who cannot decipher the Chinese, and I can completely recommend all of the food in the line of pictures at the bottom of the menu. You will notice a similarity between those pictures and the dishes I feature in this post. The place is popular with locals and non-locals alike. At lunchtime there is often a line waiting for the place to open.

Now for the food: I particularly love the chicken cold noodles and the steamed rice that comes from the bamboo containers sitting outside the shop. The chicken cold noodles is a particularly tasty version of a dish commonly seen on the streets and even 7-11's of Taipei. Cold noodles, or 涼麵, are a nice treat on a steaming 36C, hot summer day with 80% humidity when a bowl of steaming hot soup doesn't sound appealing. The Sichuan Noodle King has a delicious, spicy sauce covering a bowl of cooked and cooled noodles tossed with some fresh vegetables and shreds of chicken. The seasoned, steamed rice dish has sweet potatoes and a rib inside that has been tenderized to the point of being fork tender. Other fabulous morsels include the Dan Dan Mian, and chicken that is covered in a particularly strong brown sauce that has a definite afterbite of anise and the famous Sichuan pepper, or prickly ash. The little bites at the front are all delicious starters, as well.

But really, order anything and you will be happy. If you like bold flavors, this place never dissappoints.


四川麵王 Sichuan Noodle King

Address: 台北市南海路2巷2號1樓 1F, No. 2, Lane 2 Nanhai Road, Taipei City---just behind the Nanmen market 南門市場.

Phone: 02-3322-1088

Hours: 11:30-14:30; 17:00-20:30

Metro: CKS Memorial Hall 中正紀念堂

A garden restaurant: 拉麵丼飯

This modest place perched in an alley just behind Roosevelt Road has both delicious food and a nice environment. The rooftop garden patio might be a bit hot on a midsummer's day, but in the evening it is a nice place to enjoy a good bowl of noodles or rice. We ordered the ramen, or la mian 拉麵,which come in a soup bowl full of goodies: green veggies, an egg, bamboo, bean sprouts, and thin, tender strips of beef or pork. Included in the price of a meal is a cup of tea and a small dish of tasty, cool, pickled vegetables.

The menu only has four items: beef la mian, pork la mian, beef rice, or pork rice. We didn't try the rice dishes, but judging from the quality of the noodles, I wouldn't hesitate to order the rice.
This restaurant probably just opened, as indicated by its special price--everything on its short menu was 100NT. The normal prices are not much higher: 120-150 NT.


The restaurant doesn't seem to have an actual name, as the sign simply says 拉麵丼飯--which is what they serve.

Address: 台北市師大陸92巷46號2樓 2F No. 46 Lane 92, Shida Road, Taipei City

Phone: 02 3633569

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Night Markets: Tonghua

Late night munchies.

Taiwanese night markets are an integral part of the food culture here, where late night food in large variety is always a welcome sight. Tonghua Night Market is not the largest or most spectacular one, but it is a relic of the east side of town. The market runs along Linjiang Street in between Anhe Road and Keelung Road. In years past, apparently the market actually followed Tonghua Street (which intersects Linjiang Street), and even though technically it's new name is Linjiang Night Market, everyone, especially the locals, still call it by the old name.

The main appeal of Tonghua, is that you can find most of the good night market snacks on one easily-accessible street. It's busy and flashy enough to make it feel like a real night market, but not to the point that you have to wait 30 minutes for a packet of fried goodies. Most importantly, the food is delicious. At the Keelung end of the market are two of the best finds: the Shanghai dumpling stand and the variety frier stand. The Shanghai dumpling stand often has a line, but they are pretty efficient about handling their customers. One of my very good Taiwanese friends says that these are among the best dumplings in Taipei, and she might be right: fluffy dough wrapped around tender ground pork prepared in a shallow iron steamer. The variety frier stand basically has a wide selection of foods from broccoli to fish cakes ready to season and flash fry.

Other things to look out for: battered and deep fried mushrooms, various types of hot or cold veggie wraps (sometimes with bits of meat), oyster omlets, sashimi, cut fruit, teppanyaki, Thai papaya salad, sausages with your choice of topping, meat on a stick, mochi, italian ice cream, and stinky tofu.

Of course, like all night markets in Taiwan, you will find a wide selection of pop-fashion vendors selling belts, t-shirts, bizarre plaid pants, underwear, and hair accessories. If you are bringing young ones, their eyes will be delighted to see all kinds of noise-making toys. You get all of this on a short stretch that can be covered in a mere 15 minutes. Even though the massive Shilin Night Market is an experience that should not be missed, sometimes it's nice not to have to wind your way through the hoards of people and wait in the long lines forming at each stand.


Tonghua Night Market (Linjiang Night Market)

臨江街 Linjiang Street (the whole length of Linjiang Street, which extends from Keelung Road to Anhe Road), 大安區 Da'an District

Metro: It's not really close to any metro stop, but you can walk about 15-20 minutes from either Zhongxiao Dunhua or Liuzhangli stations.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Outdoor Ambiance: 西門紅樓The Red House Theater

The great outdoors.

It's becoming ever more common to see tables with umbrellas perched outside around Taipei, but it has not always been as easy to find this type of outdoor ambiance. Smack in the middle of the bright, flashing, Asia-pop lights of Ximending sits the Red House Theater 西門紅樓, a historic monument which was built in 1908 during Japanese occupation. This charming red-brick relic of the past still has performances on the second floor. On the ground floor, you will find a cafe and gift shop--which is a good place to find kitsch Taiwan-themed souvenirs.

The courtyard surrounding the Red House Theater is the real attraction for the locals. Here you will find an astonishing number of tables and umbrellas clustered together in the outdoor courtyard area. The tables are attached to various establishments lining the side of the courtyard opposite the theater. It can often be difficult to distinguish one bar from the next, but if you pay attention to the general shape and style of the chairs, you can sort of guess which ones represent each bar. Choose your chairs wisely, for this may determine your drink selection for the night. Most offer a wide selection of upscale cocktails. If you are on a budget, check out the Thai restaurant closest to the entrance of the theater. It has the cheapest beer in the courtyard, at 50NT/ bottle for Singha or Taiwan beer, and the Thai food isn't too bad either. If the Thai restaurant's tables are full, they will deliver food to some of the neighboring bar tables, but unfortunately not the cheap beer.

A few practical notes: there is a public access restroom close to the Thai place, though it seems to inconveniently close in the early evening. It can be challenging to find an alternative, as not all of the bars have public facilities. Plan your drinking well.


西門紅樓 Ximen Red House Theater

Metro: Ximen Exit 1

Random Little Restaurants: 山東燒雞

Unpolished charm.

My favorite restaurants are the proverbial "hole-in-the-wall" family-run spots where the focus is on the food rather than the decor. This is probably one of the reasons why I adore Taiwan--it is a place where the emphasis is almost always placed on the food over anything else.

I stumbled upon this tiny, unremarkable restaurant once while I wandering about the Zhongxiao-Fuxing area in search of cheap eats. It's just a humble little place set in a very fancy area of Taipei set just blocks away from the glitzy glamour of Sogo. Five tables, bright yellow chairs, Chinese landscape paintings, and a fridge are about all you'll find on the inside.

The menu offers a nice selection of traditional Chinese dishes, including 麻婆豆腐 ma-po tofu, 宮保雞丁 kung pao chicken, stir-fried green vegetables, 京醬肉絲 Beijing sauce meat slices, and of course what must be their signature dish 山東燒雞 Shandong braised chicken. The most expensive dish on the menu is the Shandong braised chicken at 180 NT, but everything else is between 40-120 NT per dish. The dishes are not massive in portion, but this gives you an excuse to try more dishes. We ate everything above except the Shandong chicken, which I realized after I was already full was an unfortunate mistake. This is another one of those places where the food provides good value for money in a friendly atmosphere. They really stick to the basics here, so bring your own beverages.


No. 22, Lane 177, Fuxing South Road Section 1, Da'an District, Taipei City

phone: 2721 7293, 0966 657724

Metro: Zhongxiao Fuxing

Friday, April 10, 2009

紫藤廬 Wistaria Tea House

Enjoy the refined art of drinking tea.

A tranquil garden and koi pond lie beneath a lush canopy of draping tree branches, the strong perfume of freshly cut flowers, the aroma of musky antique wood, and the pleasant fragrance of tea all come together to welcome you to the historic Wistaria Tea House. This relaxing oasis located in central Taipei provides what could be called the most relaxing atmosphere in the city. Drinking tea at the Wistaria has a similar effect on the mind and body as a gentle massage. Time seems to drift away as you are left to sit and slowly sip delicate teas while tasting a scrumptious variety of snacks.

The kind staff will offer you a choice of seating: tables and chairs in the first, central room of the tea house, or tatami mats set with floor cushions next to low tea tables. All seating areas are calming and pleasant. Each room is tastefully decorated with Chinese landscape paintings, or other art pieces, and is illuminated by soft paper lantern light. If the weather outdoors is a pleasant temperature, the windows leading into the outside garden are left open to the breeze.

The menu abounds with a selection of top quality teas, most of which the average consumer will have never tried before. For those unfamiliar with the vast array of delicious choices, no need to worry, the helpful staff can help you decide which tea will best suit your palate. At least a few of the waiting staff speak English very well, and will both answer questions about which tea to drink but also about the proper way to consume it. They provide delicate teawares including a heated water kettle, clay steeping pot, pouring cup, tiny smelling cups, and tiny drinking bowls. Our selection was a type of Oriental Beauty Oolong tea 東方美人 - 白毫烏龍 that was deeply delicious, boasting a delicate perfume and a slight taste of honey.

The snack selection almost matches the tea in quality. The selection varies from day to day, and we were presented with a sample tray of at least 15 choices of sweet and salty snacks. We choose dried mango, a type of crunchy, caramel sesame snack, and an assortment of nuts and seeds.

This experience should not be missed. Pause and enjoy a few simple pleasures.


For a more thorough article on the history of the Wistaria read this.

紫藤廬 Wistaria Tea House


No. 1 Lane 16, Section 3 Xinsheng S. Road Taipei City

Metro: 15-20 minute walk from Guting Station. You can take a number of buses from Guting toward Da'an park and get off at the Da'an park 大安森林公園 exit.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Teppanyaki: 福賓 FWU BIN

Japan's influence on Taiwan is clear on a number of different levels, but perhaps the easiest to spot is the food. Taiwan has a wide selection of Japanese, or heavily Japanese- influenced food and most of it is cheaper than pretty much anywhere else I have eaten Japanese food. Shabu- Shabu style hot pot, sushi, sashimi, udon noodles, and Teppanyaki are all found everywhere on the island. Teppanyaki is a particularly popular choice, probably because it is one of the best bites for just a few bucks around.

The word Teppanyaki comes from the Japanese, which is pretty much directly used in Chinese-- 鐵板燒, or "iron-board- cooked." The iron board is actually a big steel cooking surface where the food is prepared in front of all of the customers who sit around it. Most westerners should think of the expensive Japanese steakhouses like Bennihana, where the chef plays with your food in front of you. In Taiwan, there is typically less showmanship involved in the food preparation, although sometimes you do get a bit lucky. The big plus of course with the Teppanyaki restaurants in Taiwan is that you can get a meal for as little as 100 NT (that's less than 3 USD!)

Although the menus vary from restaurant to restaurant, most have pretty standard offerings. Chicken; thinly sliced beef, lamb or pork; steaks; seafood or mushrooms are prepared in a black pepper sauce with onions, other spices, and sometimes fresh basil. To accompany the main meat dish, the chef often separately prepares bean sprouts and some kind of leafy green vegetable on the steel board. Your dishes are either served on metal dishes or aluminum foil that is placed on the edge of the board, where your food will stay hot. Most restaurants will also have self-serve rice and a simple soup that are included in the set price. So, to put it all together, you get a meat dish, two veggie sides, soup and rice for about 3 USD, 2 British quid, or 30 South African Rand.

Teppanyaki in Taiwan is pretty tasty. The black pepper sauce is peppy, but not fiery (additional chili-induced heat can be requested). The vegetables are garlicky and crisp-tender. It might not be the best meal you will have in Taiwan, but it probably will be the best taste:cost ratio around.

Here's just an example. Find a Teppanyaki restaurant near you.

福賓 牛頓  FWU BIN

Address: 台北市師大路49巷13號  No 13, Lane 49 Shi Da Road, Taipei City

Metro: Taipower Building

Phone: 02 23623132