Tai­wan’s Top 12 Taste Treats: From the Sublime to the Ridicu­lous

From the Sublime to the Ridicu­lous

Luxe Beat Magazine - - Contents - By Jan­ice Nieder Cui­sine

Tai­wan still re­mains largely undis­cov­ered, par­tic­u­larly by Western trav­el­ers, but this se­ri­ously un­der­rated, eco­nom­i­cally suc­cess­ful (it has be­come one or the world’s rich­est coun­tries in less than fifty years) demo­cratic lit­tle is­land is poised to nab the ti­tle of “Best Hid­den Travel Gem of 2015.”

Visi­tors will be blown away by the coun­try’s eight pris­tine na­tional parks, ma­jes­tic Bud­dhist tem­ples, line-up of spec­tac­u­lar fes­ti­vals, which range from the tra­di­tional Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val to the Fat Pig Fes­ti­val, plethora of mod­ern de­signer shop­ping malls, the 150 nat­u­ral hot springs (and many lux­u­ri­ous spa re­sorts) and the over­whelm­ing friend­li­ness of the peo­ple.

But I was there first and fore­most for the food, since truly knowl­edge­able food­ies con­sider Tai­wan the ul­ti­mate food des­ti­na­tion for Asian cui­sine. The is­land is a fab­u­lous culi­nary mash-up due in part to the fact that the Por­tuguese, Dutch, Span­ish and Ja­panese have all set­tled here at one time, lay­ered with a fu­sion of dis­tinc­tive re­gional Chi­nese styles of cook­ing from the Fu­jian, Can­tonese, Szech­wan and Hakka com­mu­ni­ties.

Here are a dozen of foodie fa­vorites From the sublime: coun­try­side, Zen version of The French Laun­dry

If you’re in a hurry you might want to by­pass Shi-yang Cul­ture Restau­rant, which re­quires a min­i­mum of two to three hours to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the in­no­va­tive prix-fixe 10-course meal. Af­ter a 45-minute drive from bustling Taipei you’ll ar­rive at the lush Yang­ming­shan Na­tional Park where Mr. Lin Bin-hui, pre­vi­ously an ac­claimed ar­chi­tect/de­signer, re­al­ized his vi­sion of cre­at­ing a culi­nary moun­tain­side re­treat.

The or­ganic Zen-like restau­rant was in­spired by his ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the Song Dy­nasty, 10th cen­tury China. His cre­ative cui­sine fo­cuses on rein­ter­pret­ing tra­di­tional foods with an eye to re­fined beauty and a nod to a more health-con­scious diet by fo­cus­ing on the high­est qual­ity sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents.

A seafood still life of sashimi, sea urchin, shrimp, squid, and rice pa­per-wrapped rolls topped with salmon roe was so beau­ti­fully pre­sented that we hes­i­tated (for at least a full ten sec­onds) be­fore dig­ging in. How­ever, the pièce de ré­sis­tance ap­peared to be just a

sim­ple black caul­dron of chicken soup un­til the waiter gen­tly placed a large lo­tus blos­som on top which dra­mat­i­cally un­folded over the next sev­eral min­utes due to the hot steam.

Af­ter lunch a short stroll through the tran­quil for­est sur­round­ings, brings you to Shi-yang’s tea­houses, where a tea cer­e­mony can be pre-ar­ranged.

In­side tip: To avoid dis­ap­point­ment, reser­va­tion should be made months in ad­vance. To the ridicu­lous-but oh so fun!

The Mod­ern Toi­let restau­rant chain is the epit­ome of taste­less­ness but if you thought the movie, There’s Some­thing About Mary, was funny, than you’ll love it here.

Each restau­rant is slightly dif­fer­ent but most have bath­tub ta­bles, show­er­heads or plungers hang­ing from the ceil­ings, fe­ces-shaped pil­lows; toi­let pa­per dis­pensers dis­pense nap­kins. In­stead of chairs you’ll be sit­ting on artsy toi­lets, eat­ing out of mini-toi­let bowls, uri­nals or bed­pans.

Menu of­fer­ings in­clude swirled piles of chocolate Poo Poo Ice cream (the pink berry fla­vor is He­m­or­rhoid!) or you might want to choose one of the meal spe­cials such as Meal B: Drink + soup + shit ice cream most ex­pen­sive restau­rant to a makeshift al­ley cart, ev­ery­one wants to be known for serv­ing the best beef noo­dle soup. Noo­dle Cui­sine (Tel: (02) 2741-6299) is cer­tainly a strong con­tender.

Owner Wu Zan­hao was orig­i­nally a dec­o­ra­tor, which is ev­i­dent in his styled-out restau­rant laden with Swarovski crys­tal chan­de­liers. In 2011, he par­tic­i­pated in the Taipei In­ter­na­tional Beef Noo­dle Fes­ti­val, plac­ing 8th in the Cre­ative cat­e­gory. The sig­na­ture dish here, World-class Selections Beef Noo­dles Soup, has three cuts of beef: ten­don, shank and tail, Wu likes to pair this with a most unique bev­er­age: a bot­tle of Onion Red Wine.

Best place to cool off

The Ice Mon­ster of­fers the quin­tes­sen­tial Tai­wanese-style shaved ice dessert con­sist­ing of a hu­mon­gous pile finely shaved ice (think pow­dered snow) topped with a va­ri­ety of sweets, beans, ta­pi­oca bub­bles, jel­lies, and fresh fruit. They have a spe­cial ma­chine that shaves the ice in a quick cir­cu­lar mo­tion, pro­duc­ing a pile of fluffy pow­dered snow. The hands down fave is their refreshing mango “avalanche,” con­sist­ing of mango fla­vored shaved ice piled high with fresh mango cubes, pud­ding, sweet­ened con­densed milk, mango jelly, with a mango ice cream snow­ball perched on top.

Brag­ging rights: there’s noth­ing like a snake din­ner to sep­a­rate the boys from the men.

To try a full range of snake (as in cobra) del­i­ca­cies, head to Snake Al­ley, for­mally known as Huaxi Street Night Mar­ket. The snake meat can be “en­joyed” in a va­ri­ety of dishes. We manned up with a full ser­pent feast con­sist­ing of snake soup, snake sautéed with wa­ter spinach and fried snake skin paired with our choice of snake bile, venom or blood wine.

Worst first date din­ner

When the stench of burn­ing rub­ber mixed with rot­ting garbage and a lit­tle sewage first as­sails your nos­trils, you’ll know you are in the right place to buy some Stinky Tofu. This Tai­wanese sta­ple be­gins life in­nocu­ously enough as fresh white tofu, which is then fer­mented in vats of brine (of­ten made from fer­mented milk, veg­eta­bles, and meat) un­til it reaches just the right stench of ripeness. Street ven­dors will then deep fry it un­til crispy and serve it with some equally smelly sour pick­led veg­gies. Non-food­ies will give it a wide birth, but I have to tell you, I really liked the stuff — but I’m also a fan of Lim­burger cheese. Once you make peace with the smell

the yin/yang of the crunchy ex­te­rior and silken in­side and sweet and sour fla­vor pro­file can be highly ad­dic­tive. Stinky tofu can be found at most any night mar­ket stand or you can try over 20 dif­fer­ent ve­gan va­ri­eties at Ji­aziyuan Restau­rant in New Taipei City.

In­sider tip: There’s al­most noth­ing worse than stinky tofu breath. One help­ful breath fresh­ener, “Wa­ter­ing Kiss­mint” chew­ing gum, can be bought at any of Tai­wan’s 5,000+, 7-Eleven stores. Th­ese con­ve­nience stores sell ev­ery­thing

from hot din­ner and con­cert tick­ets, to a bot­tle of Johnny Walker, and they’ll even mail your pack­ages. Best work of art veg­gie al­ter­na­tive

Veg­e­tar­i­ans will have an easy time in Tai­wan with its 6,000 veg­e­tar­i­an­friendly restau­rants. But even the most ar­dent meat eater will be tempted to turn veg-head af­ter try­ing the vege­tar­ian Kaiseki haute cui­sine at the el­e­gant Yu Shan Ge. No mat­ter which set menu you or­der you are in for a cre­ative culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence that is sel­dom seen in vege­tar­ian din­ing. The ar­tis­ti­cally pre­sented meaty hedge­hog mush­room was as sat­is­fy­ing as any Wagyu steak, and the styl­ized plat­ter of cold ap­pe­tiz­ers had some sort of pink agar that I would have sworn was cured salmon. Plates were ar­tis­ti­cally gar­nished with liv­ing plants, mini-rock gar­dens or can­dles nes­tled in­side cutout or­anges.

Worst kept se­cret: Xiao­long­bao

Din Tai Fung’s renown culi­nary em­pire (two of its Hong Kong stores have been awarded a Miche­lin Star) got off to a slow start as a cook­ing oil shop in Tai­wan in 1958. When sales be­gan to dwin­dle owner Yang Bingy and his wife started sell­ing Xiao­long­bao, steamed soup dumplings on the side and the rest is history. Now no trip to Taipei is com­plete with­out slurp­ing down their suc­cu­lent soup dumplings ac­com­pa­nied by as­sorted veg­gies, pot stick­ers, sal­ads and eight­fla­vored sticky rice. At the pop­u­lar Taipei 101 base­ment lo­ca­tion you can watch the cooks mas­ter­fully fold­ing whis­per-thin wrap­pers around the juicy pork meat­balls to cre­ate th­ese qual­ity Xiao­long­bao, which ex­plains the one to two hour wait.

In­side tip: Put your name in, get your num­ber, and then cross the hall to the fried chicken stand for some ap­pe­tiz­ers. Their fla­vor­ful fried pop­corn chicken niblets, lib­er­ally sprin­kled with salt, pep­per and basil, kick Colonel San­ders butt!

Best oa­sis of calm

Wis­taria Tea House is a tra­di­tional wooden tea house that was orig­i­nally a Ja­panese naval dor­mi­tory built in 1920. It was des­ig­nated a his­toric mon­u­ment by the Taipei gov­ern­ment in 1997. Opt for one of the serene tatami rooms to ex­pe­ri­ence the ul­ti­mate Tai­wanese tea cer­e­mony. Wis­taria uses wa­ter (the most im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent in making tea) from the Wu Lai Moun­tain Spring, which is poured into a glass pot and heated on a kerosene boiler. They of­fer a wide va­ri­ety qual­ity teas (try their spe­cial Pu’ehr tea from Yun­nan, China) with won­der­fully po­etic names, ac­com­pa­nied by sweet and sa­vory snacks.

Fresh­est seafood meal that lives up to its name

Ad­dic­tion Aquatic De­vel­op­ment is made up of a clus­ter of seafood eater­ies lo­cated next to the Taipei Fish Mar­ket serv­ing pick-your-own­from-the-hap­pily-swim­ming-in-thetank-fresh fish, scal­lops, geo­ducks, prawns, abalone and king crab, etc. Pay for your se­lec­tion and then they will ei­ther run it over to one of the restau­rants where they will cook it to your spec­i­fi­ca­tions or you can bring it home to cook your­self. Visi­tors can join the crowds at the su­per­mar­ket area which is stocked with shelves of pre-pack­aged, fresh sushi, sashimi, sal­ads and side dishes, as well as a nice se­lec­tion of wine and beer. Then scurry out­side to nab your­self a spot at one of the stand­ing only ta­bles.

For the ul­ti­mate hunter/gath­erer types you can head to Shillin Night Mar­ket, where you can rent baby fish­ing poles to catch your own shrimp, not as easy as you would think! Af­ter­wards, they will grill your catch on a tiny hibachi at the back of the stand.

Wenwu Tem­ple

Artis­tic creations at Yu Shan Ge

Ice Mon­ster’s refreshing mango dessert

Beef Noo­dle Soup at Noo­dle Cui­sine

Shi-yang Cul­ture Lo­tus blos­som soup Poo-poo ice-cream at Mod­ern Toi­let

Tea snacks at Wis­taria Tea House Din Tai Fung’s Xiao­long­bao

Shilin Night Mar­ket The best oys­ter omelet maker

Pick your own fresh seafood at Ad­dic­tion Aquatic De­vel­op­ment

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