Last weekend P and I went to Taipei. I’d long read the city was known for eating and shopping…and then eating some more. For a foodie like me, it sounded like heaven.
I prepped by checking out Taipei posts from Eating Asia and a handful of other blogs, along with consulting my friend B, a Taiwanese-American currently living in HK. Armed with a long list of must-eats, I left for Taiwan hoping my stomach would be big enough. Here’s the report:
As a northern Chinese girl at heart, I was delighted to hear about Yong He, a local diner going 40-years-strong that sells warm soybean milk (dou jiang) and you tiao, a long, airy fried breadstick (a very typical breakfast). It was highly recommended by both B and my guidebook. A short walk from Da’an station, this diner did not disappoint. P and I ordered two bowls of dou jiang that were massive. One sip instantly brought me back to my childhood, and I loved it. The you tiao also transported me 20-some years to small hutongs in Beijing. We also both loved the spring onion pancake (cong you bing) with egg wrapped inside.
Yonghe Soybean Milk & Porridge King
132-138 Fuxing Rd. Sec. 2
DIN TAI FUNG
I imagine there have been millions upon millions of blog posts written about Din Tai Fung, but simply can’t resist adding to the pile. Naturally, since we were in Taipei, we had to visit the original store. We could see the queue blocks away as our taxi pulled up; thankfully they have seating down to a science: get a number, grab a menu, order while you wait, and proceed upstairs when your number is called. P and I just opted for an order of xiao long bao since we had a full morning of eating, and were planning on visiting Shilin Night Market later on. After a 15-minute wait (not bad considering the crowd on hand), we went up to the fourth floor where we devoured our yummy soup dumplings. The rumors are true: the original outlet does have the best version of these puppies: the skin is the perfect consistency – thick enough so the soup is safely held inside, but thin enough to simply slide down your throat – and the meat seems more flavorful. Great when dipped into vinegar and shredded ginger.
Din Tai Fung
194 Xinyi Rd (near Yongkang Street)
Cost: ~$180 NT for 10 xiao long bao
After reading this article in the Wall Street Journal by Eating Asia’s Robyn Eckhart, I knew I had to track down some good Taiwanese Gukeng coffee. This quest was not necessarily for me, however – P is definitely the coffee aficionado between the two of us (downing three to four cups or espressos a day), and once he read the article, we were in hot pursuit of a cuppa.
Coffee Bar-Den was closest to us, as we were just off Yongkang street after Din Tai Fung. A short stroll got us there, and once inside, we were impressed by the cozy feel of the place – hardwood floors, wooden tables, bookshelves, and a large seating area down a flight of stairs that looked like a small library or literary cafe, where great minds might have had scintillating conversations. Anyways, we had two Gukeng coffees, and although they were spendier than the average brew, they tasted quite good. I’m sorry that’s the most I can say about it, but my coffee palate has not been properly trained yet! I can tell you, though, that it was definitely a stronger coffee taste than those found at the chains of HK; when I had it black, there almost seemed to be a bit of a sour aftertaste, followed by the a bit of bitterness. I liked it! And P liked it too, which probably says a lot more.
12 Yongkang St.
SHILIN NIGHT MARKET
Long before I even planned a trip to Taipei, I’d heard of the street food at Shilin Night Market. I was stoked to finally try it for myself. Basically, my tip for the night market is to eat where everyone else is eating – the Taiwanese are serious about their street food and if there’s a long line, you can bet it’s for a good reason. P and I found a great ji pai (fried chicken/chicken breast) place this way; it’s simply called “Egg batter fried chicken,” on Wenli Road, just outside Yang Ming movie theater. For $50 NT, we got a massive piece of fried chicken dusted with cumin and red chili powder. P loved it so much he gnawed the bones clean.
After feasting on chicken, we searched for the shaved ice shop recommended by B, who had said, without one hint of exaggeration, “This shaved ice will change your life.” We followed his directions, and found – as described – a shaved ice store on our right that was nearly empty and, to our left, one that was bustling with customers. That was because, as B said, “they make the good stuff.” And it wasn’t just good. It was life-changing. If you come here, you MUST order the shaved ice with fresh strawberry topping. It’s hard to make a decision with over 56 different options, but trust me: the one with fresh strawberry topping. It came to our table, a mound of white and red, looking like the most gratuitous food porn. I think there were some other fruit bits mixed in (bananas?), but mostly it was fresh strawberries with a little bit of syrup on top of slightly sweetened ice. Honestly, P and I were too much in rapture to analyze any further. We devoured it in reverent silence.
1 An Ping Street
(Follow Wenli Road to the Yang Ming movie theater. Immediately to the right of the theater is a little alley. That’s An Ping Street.)
After shaved ice, we continued down An Ping street, the alley behind the movie theatre. About three-fourths of the way down, there is a stand selling bubble tea. If you make a left, it seems like it goes into a dead-end, but it curves left again and opens into another long food street. Continue walking, past the noodle shops on the left, and you’ll find a stand selling fried bao zi (like potstickers, only buns instead of dumplings) that are not to be missed. The signs says they’re sheng jia bao; the workers have on orange t-shirts and blue aprons, and I believe the place has “Shanghai” in the name. In any case, this stand also had a long line, snaking from the street-side cart back into the preparation area before it comes out again.
Naturally, we joined the crowd. It was fun to see the bao zi in different stages: first you walk past the raw dough and a man pulling the dough into bao zi-sized wrappers. (My dad always said, only a really good dumpling or bao zi-maker can make wrappers by pulling dough, not cutting it.) Then you see the wrappers getting rolled even flatter; afterwards, two workers with stealth-speed hands fill it with pork and spring onions. That’s followed by the bao zi briefly relaxing in a shallow bath of steaming hot water; finally, the bottoms are fried until they’re crispy. The buns are sprinkled with a bit of black sesame seeds before they’re lifted from the pan. The final product was even better than I imagined: the filling tasted like that of the xiao long bao from earlier that afternoon, and the dough – fluffy on top and crunchy on the bottom – was delicious. My two bao zi were gone in a few minutes.
B told me I couldn’t leave Taipei without having beef noodles and, since his shaved ice rec paid off so well before, I took this second edict seriously. On Sunday, after our binge-eating episode the day before, P and I had one last meal in Taipei. Our destination: Yong Kang Beef Noodles. We arrived around 5:30, but already the downstairs was packed with locals. Bowl after bowl of beef noodles came out of the kitchen. Thankfully, they had an upper floor, where we were promptly escorted. P and I ordered two beef brisket noodles, medium spicy. At Yong Kang you can get big and small bowls; P and I got one of each, respectively.
While we were waiting, we helped ourselves to some appetizers, arranged on a small counter. I picked up a childhood favorite, sweet-and-sour lotus root (a lot better-tasting than it sounds in English, I assure you) and some green beans with garlic. The latter dish seemed to appeal more to Western palates. When the noodles came out, P was floored by the size of his bowl. I was perfectly happy with my small. On top were the most tender beef briskets ever; they came apart in my mouth and I could tell they’d been cooking all day. You could tell the soup was spicy, but not overwhelmingly so, and the noodles were nice and springy. They tasted hand-made. P managed to finish his bowl, no problem. All in all, a very satisfying end to our wonderful Taipei trip!
Yong Kang Niu Rou Mian
Jin Shan Nan Road, Sec. 2, Alley 31, #17 (by the Jin Shan Road parking lot, near Yongkang street)
Cost: ~ $270 NT /person (including the appetizers and a beer)