Wednesday, March 26, 2008

To Taipei and Back: Top 5

So I'm starting this post on my last evening in Taipei - my mom brought her laptop so we've been connected, and I am so incredibly stuffed that I don't want to get up.

SOOO a lot of my friends have gone to Taiwan regularly throughout their lives because of family and such, but this was my first time. My mom was born and raised there, and immigrated to the US for grad school. Since immigrating, she's gone back 3 times, the third being 25 years ago, or when she was pregnant with me! So times have been a changin' since her last visit. Anyway, since all my friends go here quite often, I heard many things about the food - mainly that it is amazing. I came with high expectations. I don't know if that was to my detriment, because as I'm nearing the end of my trip, I am excited to go back to Bay Area food.

But before I dive into my food experiences, here is my TOP 5 foods of Taipei:

1. Shaved Ice @ Ice Monster
2. Beef noodle soup @ that one place.... (see below)
3. the fake zwa bing
4. Lemon jelly drink
5. Large fried chicken

What am I talking about?? Sorry Alice, Jason, Kevin, Jess et al... but Taiwan's food AIN'T ALL THAT! At least not what I had. I talked it over with my mom, and I think it's just cause the Bay Area has such great food already... that it's pretty comparable... so I was expecting better and it wasn't necessarily. Granted, most of the food I had was Northern Chinese cuisine and I didn't have that much actual Taiwanese food... but I don't think that matters. My mom and I have come to the conclusion that... the food there is good, no doubt. But we're lucky to live somewhere in the US where the same food is just as good, or even better.

Sooo what did I have is the million dollar question. I obviously couldn't try everything, but I tried to at least cover what was hyped:

- peking duck at the Howard Hotel: this was pretty good. Not particularly special, but I did like it more than Great China. Because they left some of the fat on (not all of it was scraped off), it was more flavorful

- unique chinese banquet food: I've been to more than a fair share of banquets, and this was the first time I (and my mom) saw some of the dishes there, like a honey glazed pork with fried tofu skin wrapped in a wrappy thing

- Hello Kitty sweets: I didn't eat here, but this was right across the street from my hotel (my landmark for remembering where we were staying). This picture is really for Alice, since she LOVES all things Hello Kitty <3

- lots of guava, dragon fruit and starfuit: nothing new here, except that I had actually never seen actual dragon fruit opened (I had previously only had dragon fruit flavored things like in vitamin water, or seen the fruit unopened at grocery stores)

- all kinds of bing (bing!): hm I'm not really sure how to translate these phonetically... but we had many variations - tsong yo bing LOL... uhh that's supposed to be the green onion pancake. a leek one I don't know the Chinese name for... a beef one I also don't know the name for... and ... zwa bing? So, the "zwa bing" we had really wasn't zwa bing. I don't know if I've ever had the real thing, but although this one was very good (off the street), it was really just a tsong yo bing fluffed up, whereas real zwa bing is supposed to puff up naturally when it cooks (according to my mom)

- shaved ice @ Ice Monster: this was definitely good, and you can't get it in the US really. Well, Yogurt Harmony in Berkeley has some, but it's not nearly as good. At the same time... how hard is it to make shaved ice? My mom used to make it at home - all you need is... ice... condensed milk, some tea-syrup, and fruit. Ta da! But I wouldn't definitely not go out of my way to crank out that ice.

- Mochi thing off the street: best when eaten hot. Not good lukewarm

You can see the soup weighing down the skin on the left

- Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) @ the wildly popular Din Tai Fung: I didn't like it, sorry. I think Joe's Shanghai or even Shanghai Dumpling King in my hood are better!

- these peanut and black sesame filled rice cakes: made by a deaf man, which threw me off because my interactions with him weren't far off from me communicating with a Chinese person who wasn't deaf

- beef noodle soup: this was another highlight - there are two noodle shops right next to each other that are well-known, and the one on the right (while facing the store fronts) is the good one. The beef is the key, and it was really soft and sooo good. The rest was whatever - noodles eh, and soup was good. This is going to sound blasphemous, but my mom and I both really like Panda Express' beef noodle soup, at least at the location near my parent's house in Fremont. Their beef isn't good, but they have good soup, and it was kind of like that but spicier. I have probably lost all credibility now. Ha!

- ro zou fan, kind of: so that's supposed to mean like this pan-fried ground beef/pork? in a certain sauce... there's this place in Fremont called Little Taipei that my mom always gets this at, and it's one of my favorites. But, people make things differently, and this was actually neur ro fan, not ro zou fan. Wow, I'm even butchering Chinese in writing, not just orally. At this same place, their pan fried ground meat was actually soupy and with noodles... before we knew what it was my mom asked if we could have it with rice and they absolutely refused. I guess it's no different than American chefs wanting to have their dishes eaten a certain way and not customizable

I tried to catch the sausage stuffed in the sausage (middle), but it's not a good picture

- lemon jelly drink: by the time I got to the Shilin night market, I was so full from my lunch that day that I just couldn't eat anything. I did manage to down two of these though. It's just lemonade with Chinese jelly in it, but it was just what I needed

- fat on a stick @ Shilin: there was this sausage stand where everything just looked amazing (or amazingly dripping with fat) that I had to force myself to eat something. I watched almost everyone in line get this big sausage cut in half, doused in sauce, ginger, and other condiments, then stuffed with another smaller sausage! Although I was curious, I knew I would pass out if I got that so I just got a small sausage which I took two bites out of then threw away

*** EDIT ***
So Jason said that the "bigger sausage" is actually rice in sausage casing. That definitely makes more sense! Less of a heart-attack-waiting-to-happen

- "large fried chicken" @ Shilin: this was another highlight. It was like eating popcorn chicken (Chinese style) times 10000!

So that wasn't bad, right? I thought I had a good share of what Taipei had to offer. There were definitely some things I liked, some things I wish I had tried... but overall, I'm not sad I'm leaving because I know I can get food just as good back home.


Your Pal, Al said...

I agree, growing up in the Bay Area we are spoiled with the aws. Chinese food. Did you take into account prices? B/c everything is dirt cheap AND delicious...that's a selling point. Regardless, no wonder our parents refuse to live anywhere else in the US, it's feels like home to them. Go in the summer next time, the fruit is wonderful.

kathy said...

Yeah, you're right. I wasn't really thinking about price since I was too lazy to convert everything in my head. I remember Din Tai Fung being comparable to US, but everything else was pretty cheap!

And yeah, there wasn't much fruit going on. Mango wasn't even in season yet!

Margaret said...

Gotta love the bing.

JustGigi said...

I miss Taipei! There are definitely alot of stuff that I still haven't tried given I was sick 1/3 of my time there because I ate too much the first night hahah! I agree with Alice the prices are dirt cheap. A good example is the drinks. The lemon jelly drink that u have is less than US$1 :).