It was a hasty decision, this time. Traveling round Taiwan was no joke. I probably left a million footsteps behind, bringing back with me a pair of sore feet and a back ache.
It wasn’t the best of times to set foot in Taiwan either. January’s blistery cold, foggy, and worst of all, wet. Please check the weather forecast before you nosedive into any holiday! That’s tip number one for you.
The best way to go on any food pilgrimage would probably be to save on your air transport and accommodation, and spend everything else on the food. Shopping isn’t that great, at least for me. But — the food in Taiwan is spectacular. You could go there a goat and come back a cow, especially in chilly weather.
The one night market that’s immensely popular with both the locals and tourists is Shilin Night Market. After exploring many other markets, I’ve concluded that this very one is the most accessible, and definitely the biggest of all. One can easily take the train to ‘Jiantan’ station. Follow the signs in English, or just follow the crowd. You will soon be hugged by trawls of food carts and the offbeat smell of stinky tofu in no more than a heartbeat.
As I said, food is aplenty there in the Shilin night market. You could go to their basement for some oyster omelet (which I can’t appreciate) or beef noodles. I was oblivious to their “B1” sign, but I guess the food on the road level was more than enough for me.
Something very similar to Indian prata would be their “cong zua bing”. It’s a pull apart pancake with bits of spring onion in it. Make an exit from the Shilin MRT station and towards your right, you will find 2 stalls selling this. Go to the one on the left. Basil may be added in for free, and with 5 NTD more, you can have egg or cheese in it, plus more others.
A favorite dessert of mine is their ice cream burrito. While the ice cream is far from good and tremendously icy, on the whole, it is pretty amazing. Popiah skin is used to wrap around a generous serving of peanut brittle shavings, ice cream, and if you wish, cilantro (chinese parsley). Something intriguing, yet so delicious. It’s a wonder why this hasn’t been introduced to this tropical country of mine.
Why wait till summer when days are longer and your ice cream melts before you could say “yum”? I think it’s fun to challenge winter with ice cream. Head down to the Ximen area. It takes about 10 minutes from Ximen MRT to walk to the alley where Snow King Ice Cream resides. If you love something quirky and out of the world, this is the place. From your regular chocolate, to the interestingly pleasant basil, to the highly questionable sesame chicken, they pretty much have it all.
I had the basil, while my mom had yam. Nothing too daring, but still very palatable. Prices aren’t exactly cheap and the more adventurous you go, the steeper the price. Two very unlikely flavors would be curry and the chicken. While the chicken does sound revolting, it’s easier to think of it as frozen cream of chicken a la Campbell.
SNOW KING ICE CREAM or XUE WANG
No. 65, Wuchang St, Sec 1
hours: 12noon to 10pm
Closely situated to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, you may find this little restaurant brimming with people and of course, noodles, dumplings…and beer! The atmosphere is warm and earthy, and the food is incredibly affordable. Ma Shan Tang is a hundred times better than say, Din Tai Fung.
The steamed dumplings were as good as ‘xiao long baos’; they had minced meat and soup in them. I had the noodles in a spicy sesame gravy that had a thick consistency. Their noodles have the bite you really want. I hate using this, but the word is ‘springy’. And for just 60 NTD you can have a large helping of noodles? Yes way! The dumplings cost 90 NTD, and why pass the opportunity to warm yourself with alcohol? Only thing is, be prepared that only 2 choices of beer are available. I had the Orion draft that cost 120 NTD.
MA SHAN TANG
No. 24, Lane 280, Guangfu S. Rd
MRT: SYS Memorial Hall
hours: 11AM – 2:30PM; 5PM-10PM
Should you wish to travel to Danshui, make it a weekend. Besides the old street that’s usually in operation, it is the market that’s open only on weekends. As you enter the old Danshui street, keep a lookout for this elderly man (below) selling the best tempura mushrooms you could have. He uses a combination of flours, for a light crispy texture. Wheat flour is excluded as it absorbs too much oil. End result? A thick, juicy mushroom in a crispy casing, tossed in spices and pepper. Spectacular.
Did I gross you out? Wait, there’s more,
Oh, put that vomit bag away. But it’s all part of the experience, eh? I thought their market was pretty cool…
But anyway, the main reason I visited Danshui was for the pineapple shortcake, a Taiwanese specialty. There are 2 types to choose from. The regular one (and cheaper) is a tad sweeter than the other, that’s more citrus, which I much prefer. This is probably one of the nicest you can find at least in Taipei. Most others are overrated, such as the so-called famous one from Keelung.
Avoid heading there in the afternoon as there’s a high chance that they will sell out. But besides pineapple shortcake, they do have a candies made of dates and walnuts — highly recommended — and pastry with mochi and fillings of sorts.
251 Danshui Zhong Zheng Lane 97 Sec
Tel: 02-2623-3122 Fax: 02-2628-2020
On my way back home from Taipei, I stopped over at Hong Kong for a couple of nights. One place I yearned to see for myself despite many negative reviews was Tim Ho Wan, the cheapest one Michelin star restaurant in the world. To queue for a long while is agonizing, and to sit in a cramped area after that is worse. I decided to get their famous sweet pork buns to go, which were apparently what they were awarded for. And along with that, an order of custard buns.
Service is crude and brash. And if you miss your number, you queue again. Order something to go? Pay a little extra. It’s your typical businessmen. Not the friendliest Michelin restaurant to eat in. Then again, it’s the only Michelin restaurant I’ve ever been to.
The pork buns were good. They are baked, and resemble Bolo buns. You have to eat it immediately, or else the crunchy top will go soggy. However, was the wait worth it? Were they Michelin star worthy? And will I return for more? I guess the answer is no. I love roasted pork, but I’m a stickler for soft, steamed buns.
The custard buns on a lower note were bad. The custard tasted like clumpy sand. A big fat ‘F’ for these. I’m just thankful these weren’t why Tim Ho Wan’s awarded the star. I haven’t tried the rest on the menu so my judgement of this restaurant isn’t all that fair. If you really want to dig into cheap dim sum, here’s the address.
2-8 Kwong Wa Street, Flat 8, G/F Taui Yuen Mansion Phase 2
Mong Kok, Hong Kong
Lastly, no one should visit Hong Kong without having their roasted goose. By far and large, one of the best hails from Shan Tseng. Yue Kee Roasted Goose Restaurant uses geese that feed only on natural food. No artificial hormone stuff here. Also, they roast the birds over charcoal, and lubricate the skin with goose fat for that significant crisp. Many of you might have heard of Yong Kee, but I have read that Yue Kee is much better, and isn’t as harsh on your wallet as Yong Kee is.
9 Sham Hong Road, Sham Tseng, New Territories
tel: 2491 0105 fax: 2491 2546
opening hours: 11:00am – 11:30pm
That’s all folks! Till the next food pilgrimage then.
Thanks for sticking with me!