FOOD TALK

As mar­vel­lous as beef noo­dles and braised pork rice taste in Taipei, Jes­sica Chan is ea­ger to dis­cover a more gas­tro­nomic side of the city. And she plans to take her non-foodie friends along for the jour­ney for their up­com­ing va­ca­tion.

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

An un­ex­pected feast

It’s worth jump­ing through hoops for a taste of the finest fare in life. Epi­cure read­ers will need no con­vinc­ing. My non­foodie pals, how­ever, will need a lit­tle coax­ing. Thank­fully, we’re tak­ing a week-long hol­i­day in May and will be head­ing to the per­fect gas­tro­nomic city – Taipei. This newly-minted Miche­lin town is an ex­cit­ing desti­na­tion to be in. 20 restau­rants with Miche­lin stars and 36 Bib Gour­mands in 2018. (Not that Taipei needs these ac­co­lades; it’s al­ready a gourmet desti­na­tion in its own right.) For me, there isn’t a more sat­is­fy­ing way to ex­pe­ri­ence a coun­try's melt­ing pot of in­flu­ences bet­ter than through its food, pre­sented by the best chefs who live and breathe cooking. I’ve got our itinerary all planned out by the hour. It’s to be an en­tire week of street eats at night mar­kets as well as fine din­ing of­fer­ings.

Here’s the chal­lenge. I will have two non-food­ies and a tra­di­tional foodie trav­el­ling with me. There’s S who gives a non­cha­lant shrug at the men­tion of An­dré Chiang or Lan­shu Chen. Then there's B who sees food as serv­ing a func­tional pur­pose and whose junk diet con­sists of Cheez Whiz or but­ter-flavoured mar­garine. And, fi­nally there is V who thinks the most au­then­tic meal can only come from the dingi­est al­ley­way; bonus points if it’s a ob­scure spot that even Google Maps can’t pin­point. Granted, while V is a lot closer to a foodie than my other two pals, her staunch no­tion of what’s “au­then­tic” might de­rail my restau­rant reser­va­tion plans. Taipei is more than its sta­ples of lu rou fan (braised pork rice) or mian xian – and it falls on my shoul­ders to show them.

My strat­egy? Morn­ings will be re­served for sip­ping high moun­tain oo­long tea at Her­mit’s Hut, where its fra­grant flo­ral notes will make mil­len­ni­als for­get about bub­ble tea. I’ll have them hoof down a hefty fan tuan (rice roll) of pick­led greens, eggs and pork floss at Liu Mama, an iconic break­fast spot in the Da'an dis­trict. I’ll point out the larger boul­ders on their grounds and say, “The own­ers are of Hakka de­scent, and con­tinue to press down

their pick­led greens with these stones ev­ery day.”

We will set aside time for Ad­dic­tion Aquatic Devel­op­ment, Taipei’s an­swer to Tsuk­iji Mar­ket, where the fresh­est seafood is served as sashimi, sushi or grilled over binchō­tan. I’ll have them en­joy slices of mul­let roe as well as sake, tachi­nomiya-style, and let them take in the im­pact of Ja­pan’s 50-year-long rule on Taipei's food scene. A bunch of Ky­oho grapes from the nearby fruit mar­ket will com­plete the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Then, there is Taipei’s bur­geon­ing café scene. Spe­cialty cof­fee beans, in­clud­ing those grown in Taitung or Gukeng Town­ship, of­ten take pride of place, thanks to the Dutch East In­dia Com­pany, who cul­ti­vated Ara­bica beans in Gukeng in the 1600s. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing these cup­pas will be gor­geous desserts that’ll make Pierre Hermé proud. They are, how­ever, made of taro, a root vegetable that has fed the abo­rig­i­nal tribes for cen­turies.

Two nights will be set aside for Chiang’s RAW and Richie Lin’s MUME, where they com­bine the best Tai­wanese pro­duce, such as ping po (Chi­nese chest­nut) and maqaw (moun­tain pep­per) with French culi­nary tech­niques. Other nights will see us bar-hop­ping from R&D Cock­tail Lab to Ounce for a taste of gao­liang (a lo­cal sorghum wine) in in­no­va­tive cocktails. For a more ca­sual set­ting, we will set­tle into a re chao (hot stir-fry) spot. It’s where young Tai­wanese can of­ten be seen chat­ting away at ta­bles groan­ing un­der the weight of plates of gong­bao chicken, sautéed beef or fried rice, with ice-cold beers on the side.

Even af­ter com­plet­ing this jam-packed itinerary, we would have barely scratched the sur­face of what Taipei has to of­fer. Its com­pli­cated his­tory has given rise to a din­ing ta­ble of myr­iad flavours that con­tinue to evolve. Per­haps, my role as an un­of­fi­cial tour guide is to help my friends en­joy a Taipei that in­cludes a full spec­trum of ca­sual eater­ies, drink­ing dens and fine din­ing restau­rants. Even­tu­ally (and hope­fully), they will be plan­ning the itinerary for our next gourmet ad­ven­ture. Tokyo here we come!

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