Wednesday, June 21, 2017

vegan/salads: i strongly recommend OOH CHA CHA

No. 207, Nanchang Road, Sec. 2
Zhongzheng District, Taipei 

MRT: Guting


hours: 10AM - 9PM

$$ (about NT$300/person+)

kid friendliness: depends on how healthy your kids are. saigon bowl with tofu and potato wedges might be a good place to start. 

visits reviewed: 6/19/2017 & 5/12/2016

must orders: Saigon Bowl, Wild Mushroom Bowl, vegan Bacon Cheeseburger, garlic kimchi

IT'S BEEN AWHILE SINCE I've been to Ooh Cha Cha, a vegan cafe in the alleys near Guting MRT stop. But I've just come back from Seoul, where I've eaten a week's worth of bbq meats, kimchi, crab, octopus, and my body is calling out for some veggies. Even at 1PM, Ooh Cha Cha is busy with diners multitasking on their laptops and I've managed to grab the last table before I have a chance to glance at the menu and order at the counter. 

Opened four years ago, Ooh Cha Cha offers vegan bowls, salads, toasts, burgers and desserts. Last year I dipped my toes into the vegan scene in Taipei and was amazed with the range of restaurants I found once I fell into the rabbithole.  It's always exciting to discover more choices and options for food. Even better when you can eat clean and healthy. 

In the sunlit cafe, tables seat about 10 people and there's a small corner where solo diners can grab a seat along the wall when there's no tables left. Ooh Cha Cha also can pack orders to go and I've spotted it on Ubereats, so that's also an option. Two people walk in while I'm waiting for my food and get told that "there's no more seats." But if it were me, I would still place an order while I'm waiting for the table to clear up because tables become available pretty soon after the people walk out the door and the food takes just as long to be prepared. 

Ooh Cha Cha dubs itself a "plant based cafe" and promises no refined sugar, along with the typical no animal products, no dairy (eggs, milk, cheese) that a vegan cafe would avoid. The menu includes a good assortment of toasts, salads, burgers, bowls as well as smoothies and desserts. Diners can also add on things like tempeh, kimchi, baked potato wedges or eggplant bacon to customize their dishes. From the last time I visited, Ooh Cha Cha has smartly changed their sandwich rolls to toasts, which are (a) more on trend and photogenic and (b) more tasty as you focus on the toast topping rather than just taste the bread.

Get a closer look at their menu on Ooh Cha Cha's website. 

I upgrade my meal to a "set" by adding NT$100 and getting a drink. I opt for the Fruity Punch, which has strawberry, organic apple, mango, seasonal greens and orange juice. It doesn't have the pop in color or taste as my last drink, which had beets and apple, so I think I will stick to that next time. But because they don't add additional or refined sugar, I know I'm not drinking empty calories. 

I get a bit hangry as I wait almost 30 minutes for my food, and I remember the last time I also waited quite awhile. I can see that my plates are almost ready and I walk over the counter hoping that it's ready, and the server mentions that the tofu is grilled to order, so I ask for my plate of side dishes first. 

The beet hummus resembles a raspberry sorbet, especially with its bright pink hue, creamy texture and scoops topped with nuts, so it's an odd sight next to the sliced balsamic mushrooms and golden garlic kimchi. If you've been craving LA's Lemonade, where you can order different deli counter-like veggies to put together as a meal, I think I might have just found a vegan surrogate. 

My dish arrives to the table shortly after I've given the counter my "I'm so hungry I will pass out" look. I always forget the name of this dish, but I just remember that my favorite is the one with the tofu, and then I see that it falls under "bowls" on the menu, even though it's more of a plate. 

The Saigon bowl has non-GMO lemongrass tofu, organic quinoa with pesticide-free brown rice, pickled daikon and carrots with cucumber, a small salad with local organic greens and spicy almond butter sauce. It's so satisfying as I mix it together and add the mushrooms and kimchi and start inhaling my food. I notice everyone who leaves has eaten their plates clean also. I end up wishing I had some thin slices of toast or something to eat with my hummus, so I end up packing most of it to take home. 

You can see Ooh Cha Cha's menu from my first visit, over a year ago, and there's only been slight changes with the rolls being taken off, replaced with toasts and with double the number of burgers from three to six options. Most of the smoothies are still the same.  All of Ooh Cha Cha's sauces, spread and patties are all made in house from fresh vegetables, nuts, dried beans and seeds. 

Saigon Bowl and a side of garlic hummus and beet balls. 

Bacon cheese burger with spicy "nacho cheese" made from cashews. (NT$280) The patty is made with mushroom and beans, while the bacon is made from eggplant. I enjoyed this burger and was pleasantly surprised by the extra kick that the cheese gave the burger.

Raw cheesecake. There's also vegan beer available and an assortment of hot tea, coffee and even fair trade hot cocoa.

Sometimes people mistake eating clean or eating healthy for needing to eat bland, but I think vegan restaurants in Taipei like Ooh Cha Cha, Miss Green, Green Room and Plants challenge and dispute that. The founders are passionate about educating customers that vegan food can be both nutritious and tasty, and worth paying a little extra for.  Check out my interview with Ooh Cha Cha's co-founder Mai Bach here. 

Something like a tofu salad could come out flavorless, but by creating different layers of flavors and textures with the pickled veggies, the lemongrass, the spicy almond butter, the meal is more than just throwing a bunch of veggies on a plate. It ends up being something I crave and know that the ingredients are sourced mindfully and cooked with care.Who else has been looking for something like this in Taipei? 

Monday, June 12, 2017

dessert/coffee: i strongly recommend COFFEE DPT

@Huashan 1914 
No. 1 BaDe Road, 7B
八德路一段1號 中七B館
(02) 2341-6520

hours: 12PM- 8PM

MRT: ZhongXiao/ XinSheng

visit reviewed: 4/25/2017

[TAIPEI] Anyone who has lived in Taiwan for awhile knows that finding a good chocolate chip cookie here is actually not easy. Most tastebuds here like crispy not chewy cookies, and they are thin wafers or crunchy. 

This is not. 

This is a massive, cheat day worthy soft baked cookie rivaling what I had from @levainbakery in NYC. Completed the guilty pleasure with farm fresh milky vanilla and valrhona swirled soft serve. 

To find this tiny shop, you first have to head towards the middle of Huashan, near the parking lot. I spotted a DPT in the distance and entered the store. 

It was filled with clothes and no cookies in sight. I stepped back out and around the corner, I finally saw the small shop, basically a window to order and a few tables and seats, also outdoors. 

The menu is very simple, and perfect for an afternoon snack after browsing an exhibition at Huashan, or shopping for gadgets at Syntrend across the street. There's espresso, americana, latte, cappuccino, cold brew coffee or tea for drinks, and there's cookie, sandwich, ice cream for food. 

I cannot tell you how long I have been waiting for a cookie like THIS in Taipei.  🍪❤️️🍪😍 The dairy fresh soft serve and cold brew coffee also really good. And I usually dislike black coffee.  Thank you @coffeedpt and @tiffleezzz for the treats and for baking up these cookies in Taipei. I enjoyed every bite!

Yes, at NT$120 it might be one of the most expensive cookies you've ever tried. But it should be also one of the biggest. And in Taipei, a good chocolate chip cookie is a rarity. So it's a small fortune to pay if the craving hits. Out of all the past cookie shops I've tried over the years in Taipei (Anyone remember i-baked or We Love Cookies), this is one of the most satisfying with the chewy, soft baked center and plenty of chocolate chips.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

desserts/american: i strongly recommend THE PIE GUY

(No storefront yet, order through order forms on Facebook or Rakuten)

visit reviewed: 2/17/2017

When a friend of a friend emails and says, "I have a friend that makes pies, can I introduce you?" the answer should always be YES. My ranting about the lack of American style pies in Taipei is nothing new and my search for them over the years has led me to try Mom's Pies, Rose Pie, My Sweetie Pie, Drip Cafe (their lemon meringue and banana cream pies were my favorite for awhile), McDonald's (they've kept the fried apple pie all these years), WXY, and now the The Pie Guy. 

Founded this past year, Pie Guy aims to bring traditional American pies with natural ingredients and crusts made with butter, but in mini sizes. He grew up loving and making desserts with his family, playing with the scientific side of baking and his idea for Pie Guy came with taking recipes that had used over the years but adjusting them for mini form. 

There's over a dozen flavors to choose from and I was lucky enough to get a special sampler back to try his top 9 so that I could try them for you guys. Each pie is packaged in a sturdy plastic case and bubble lid and then in a pizza sized cardboard box. (I received this for free, but the opinions expressed are my own.)

OOOOOOOOHHHH. Where do we start? 

The pies from top to bottom: lemon meringue, apple, blueberry, coconut cream, key lime style, chocolate cream, banana cream, chicken and chili. 

The lemon meringue was one of my favorites, with a sweet and tart filling and torched meringue atop.  You can actually find a lot of lemon tarts in Taipei, but it's so much better with pie crust and meringue atop.

Apple pie was another favorite, made with Granny Smith apples, since this is also one of those "lots of tarts but no pie" situations in Taipei. I still remember when I went to BING last year and they had the most amazing apple pie but a few months later when I went back, it had turned into a tart. Now I don't have to look because now I know where I can get my apple pie fix. 

Blueberry is made with Maine blueberries and the filling swirled through the top of the crust so you can see what flavor it is. 

Key lime style has a different crust, with homemade graham crackers that he also premakes. The fresh limes are from Taiwan, so that's why it isn't called key lime and he didn't want to use bottled juice. I am a sucker for pies with a bit of sourness to go with the sweet. Loved this one too. 

Chocolate custard was the right amount of sweetness and comes with bits of bittersweet chocolate atop the whipped cream, which all goes well with the buttery crust.

I brought these to a potluck and they all got devoured after my photos so I didn't get inside photos of all of them. The chicken and chili ones are, of course, best heated up and Pie Guy felt like the mini sizes made them easier for reheating in Taipei kitchens. You can eat them cold, room temperature or ten minutes at 180 degrees in the oven. 

So since Pie Guy doesn't have a store (yet!), he's made it easy to order with forms in English and Chinese on Facebook. Pies come in sets of three (NT$499) and multiples of three, with prices slightly cheaper as you order more, six mini pies are NT$799 or nine mini pies are NT$1069. There are also  weekly popups in Nangang or Neihu so you can see the pies in person, with the schedule also on Pie Guy's Facebook page. 

Usually the pies come is sets of three with the same flavor, but I'm excited to announce that I've convinced Pie Guy to do a special HUNGRY IN TAIPEI x PIE GUY sampler pack, with apple, blueberry and key lime style mini pies! 

You can try THREE different flavors in one 3-pack (which you would usually need to order 9 pies to try three flavors). The flavors available for this set are apple, blueberry and key lime style for a promotional price of NT$449 for a limited time (only until 6/10/2017) which will include FREE shipping, which takes 3-4 days. 

This sampler pack is available only through these order forms: 

I've also partnered up with the Pie Guy to do giveaways on my Instagram and Facebook pages this week, so try your luck with winning some mini pies there. Yay!!! Who doesn't love pies?

Thursday, May 04, 2017


photo credit:

OVER THE YEARS, I've probably gotten hundreds of emails and messages from readers, not to mention comments on social media like my Facebook page, Instagram and twitter. I read all of the messages and try to respond if I can and if I have the time. 

I've received many great restaurant recommendations from you guys.  Some messages are touching, a note of thanks or details of how they used my blog while they were in Taipei and appreciate my hard work. I've loved hearing from restaurant owners telling me that my posts helped them get new customers or that they feel a noticeable impact.

I've led journalists and tv crews on the hunt for the best eats in Taipei, and as far as Keelung, Shenkeng, Tainan and Kaohsiung, arranging the right restaurants to feature and shoot. 

Most of the time, people ask for restaurant recommendations, or a list of must eats, but sometimes questions get very specific. I've even gotten asked to recommend places to propose to someone. (What a huge responsibility, right??!)

Once in awhile, I get dumb questions that can be answered by Google or Google Maps. It can be frustrating, but I've reminded myself over the last year that I don't have to answer EVERY single question or plan people's entire itinerary for them.

I thought it would be interesting to post some of these questions and answers over the years, since some of these answers might be something you've been wondering about too, OR maybe something you guys can help me answer!

This one was cool to research because, hey, Taiwan came in SECOND PLACE at the Baker's World Cup! Who's tried these bakeries?

JANUARY 15, 2017 

Subject: Tracking Down Taiwanese Bakeries

Hi Joan -
My partner and I are traveling to Taiwan later this month and I am trying to track down some bakeries. You might know that this past year, Taiwan did quite well at the Baker's World Cup, second place!

The winners are three gentlemen, whose names can be found here:

I've managed to track down one of their bakeries:

But I am wondering if you know anything about the other two men or their bakery locations. I'm a professional baker myself and enjoy nothing more than "bakery tourism" when I travel. I love your blog and we will be using it as a resource for our trip. My partner Alexandra caught wind of you all the way over here in Boston.

- Dan S


JANUARY 15, 2017

Hey Dan,

Thanks for your email. Your question piqued my interest since I actually hadn't heard about this win. 
I'm guessing you got the CTC bakery from city543. According to 40 minutes of research and Google translating, it doesn't seem to be one of the bakeries. 

Check out this Chinese article

The three bakeries are 

Shakespeare Boulangerie 

Un Jour A Paris 

Wu Pao Chun

One is in Kaohsiung and the other two you can find in Taipei. You can check out their Facebook pages. 

The only one I've been to is Wu Pao Chun, who is the baker who won in 2010 and led this team. 
Their shop is in Songyen Eslite. 

Enjoy browsing the bakeries! 



JANUARY 15, 2017

Thanks Joan. I can't express how much I appreciate your great detective work! IS this blogging a business for you? You are very passionate about it. We're actually staying in Kaohsiung for most of the trip with family and a few days in Taipei in February. I would be happy to take you out for a pastry as a token of gratitude. 

- Dan

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

pizza/fusion: i recommend MILANO PIZZERIA

No. 55 SiPing St, 2F

MRT: Songjiang/Nanjing (2 minute walk) 

hours: 11:30-2:30PM; 5:30PM- 10PM. Closed Tuesdays

$$$ (about NT$700/person+)

kid friendliness: hawaiian and cheese pizzas available, and lots of dessert pizzas. 2nd floor restaurant.

visit reviewed: 4/24/2017

must orders: burrata pizza, fig pizza

FOR MONTHS, my friend and her husband had been telling me about this hidden pizza place they've been wanting me to try. "It's never crowded and I want you to post about it because I don't want it to go out of business," he said. "E loves it so much, he once ate there for five days in a row," she said. And today was the day, I finally got my mouth on this fig and mascarpone cheese pizza I had seen on her instagram weeks earlier. 

First thing you should know is that this is the entrance, next to a noodle shop in a lane that sits in front of the SiPing traditional market. No hipster neon lettering signage declaring "Keep Calm and Eat Pizza" in bright pink, no giant pizza logo. I had to double check the address on google maps twice before remembering that it was on the second floor. Walking a little closer, I spotted a red sign above the doorway.

Once upstairs, opening the door reveals a open kitchen decked with a wooden long bar, bookended by two pizza ovens. There's lots of window light, but muddled by sheer curtains and drapes, while the tables are decked with white tablecloths and emerald green runners. 

The menu was a bit overwhelming as a first timer, with over 18 pages to flip through. The beginning of menu were suggested set menus, then side orders, salads, appetizers, then meat pizzas, seafood pizza, calzones, vegetarian pizzas, meat dishes, and finally dessert pizzas. Even their salad options came with all sorts of topping choices- Europe Fresh Salad (NT$380) or with options blue cheese, duck confit, anchovies, italian cold cuts, smoked salmon or parma ham and fig. I couldn't even distract myself with their main dishes, I was here for pizza.

There are almost 50 pizzas to choose from, in 6 inch or 10 inch sizes. I knew I wanted the fig pizza for dessert, but there were SO many choices for the regular pizza. Duck breast and foie gras? Pig Knuckle? Crab and ikura? Scallop? Zucchini?  I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into.

Milano Pizzeria's dessert pizzas alone on the menu has over a dozen options, including mango, strawberry, mulberry, fig, dried lychee, peach, tiramisu, adzuki bean with matcha and nuts with raspberry jam.

I wanted to see what my friends' favorites were so I just ordered the caesar salad to start. (NT$380) It was lightly dressed, and came with a generous dusting of cheese over mixed greens, as well as some oven roasted tomatoes and olives. It was big enough to share between 2-3 people.

When my friends finally arrived, I let her do the ordering. She said she usually ordered the margherita with burrata (NT$740) and her hubby's favorite pizza was the fish and ikura- listed on the menu as flatfish pizza (NT$500). And we had to get the fig pizza (NT$480). Since there were only three of us, we got 6 inch pizzas instead of 10 inch, to share.

As soon as the first pizza arrived to the table with huge chunks of burrata cheese atop each slice, I knew this would make me happy.  I mean, who doesn't love burrata, the extra creamy cousin to buffalo mozzarella? The crust was pliable and not too thin and one person could probably finish a six inch by themselves. I LOVE BURRATAAAAA! 

The flatfish pizza was dotted with a few small orange pearls of ikura (fish roe) hidden under the cheese, and olives. I'm not a huge fan of engawa (the fatty part of the flatfish near the fin) even as sushi, since it's a bit too oily for me and has a specific chewy texture, though I have a lot of friends who love it. I tried one slice and didn't want another. (Sorry E!)

I could see the appeal of the pizza though-- I mean there's smoked salmon or clams on pizza, why not other types of seafood that work when baked or charred? Or have I lived in Taiwan too long that this type of menu no longer shocks me? There's also squid, cuttlefish, crab and roe or shrimp pizzas available here, for the more adventurous eaters. 

Last but not least, was the fig pizza. With a thick smear of sweetened mascarpone cheese, almost like a frosting, big slices of fresh figs and berries atop made this almost like a tart. But it was still a pizza, as there was mozzarella cheese atop the crust, though this pizza was served room temperature to cool, which made the crust not as tasty. But as I wondered aloud about where they got their figs, my friend said that Milano Pizzeria imported most of their ingredients, and that's why their prices were higher.  If the prices were a little lower, I would strongly recommend this place, but for now, it's a solid recommend. 

A thing of beauty.

Milano Pizzeria has been open for four years, but there was only another table or two eating while we were there during prime lunch time. Was its signless location near the SiPing traditional market too hidden, or was their menu too creative and pricey for most people? The average prices of the pizzas in the NT$400-800 range for 6 inches was definitely on the high side, but I could definitely see myself coming back for burrata and parma ham and the fig pizza when the craving hit. Would hard core pizza traditionalists say that these kinds of toppings aren't "real" pizzas? In the age of rainbow grilled cheese sandwiches and mac and cheese pizzas, I think it's hard to make that argument. 

WHAT's nearby Milano Pizzeria that I also recommend: Kura Sushi, Baba Kevin's Barbecue, My Zhao, Regent Taipei, Fika Fika Cafe, Joseph's Bistro (a little reminder to myself of places to blog!) 


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