Monday, June 29, 2015

#exploretaipei: hungryintaipei's guide to YONG KANG STREET


YONG KANG ST  永康街
(between XinYi Road, Sec. 2 and Jinhua St.)



The first time I ever heard of Yong Kang Street was during one of my first trips back to Taipei after being away for over 12 years. I was back for just one month and had no clue where anything was. After lunch at Zhu Ji, my aunt told us that we had to go to the mango shaved ice place on Yong Kang Street.  

"What's the name of the place?" we asked her.  

"Just tell the taxi driver that you want to go to the mango ice place on Yong Kang Street and they will know," she responded. 

And it was true. Even ten years later after my first (blurry) post ever for hungryintaipei about it, and even though that spot is no longer Ice Monster after several changes in owners and shop revisions, it's still crowded with people getting their shaved ice on.

But Yong Kang Street is more than its famous bookends of the original Din Tai Fung at the front and mango shaved ice near the touristy end. Yong Kang Street, or aka Yong Kang Jie, is full of Taiwanese restaurants, dumplings, noodles, street eats, boba milk tea and even cute dessert cafes and amazing sushi bars if you know where to wander off to find them. You could even put your name down at Din Tai Fung and explore and snack for half an hour to come back in time for your number to come up for xiao long bao. 

If you want to eat like a tourist, then you'll just go to Din Tai Fung and mango shaved ice. But if you want to eat like a local, then you'll have to dig a little deeper into this street of good eats.  CNN readers just voted Taipei as their number one food destination as having the best food. I totally believe that's true! If you only had one day to eat in Taipei, Yong Kang Street wouldn't be a bad place to spend it.



7 THINGS TO EAT AT YONG KANG ST

(1) XIAO LONG BAO or DUMPLINGS
Whether you try it at Din Tai Fung, or its competing neighbor Kao Chi, get some dumplings in your belly! If you're willing to explore, further down on Yong Kang St are some hole in the wall dumpling places for a lot less.

DIN TAI FUNG 鼎泰豊the original DTF always has a line out front. Even though this location takes up four floors now in the building, it's one of the more cramped locations because it's too popular for the small building's size. Grab a number, ask for estimated wait times and take a quick stroll down Yong Kang St for your next stop.


KAO CHI is right around the corner from DTF and some say the xiao long baos are equally good and slightly cheaper. I've had good as well as mediocre visits there and I think DTF's xiao long bao skins are more delicate, but you could consider a visit if you are too impatient to wait in line. What Kao Chi's specialty is though are the sheng jian baos, with a thicker skin and steamed and pan fried at the same time so that they have crisped bottoms.



(2) SPRING ONION PANCAKE 

Oddly housed under a sign for Thanh Ky's Pho, the spring onion pancake vendor is worth waiting in line for. You can opt for plain (which I prefer), with egg, cheese, ham or the works (NT$25-50). English menu available to point at. Order one to share and eat while you keep exploring. Crispy, flaky on the outside, doughy on the inside, the cong you bing is hot and quite filling if you eat the whole thing.





Totally prepared with individually wrapped dough to press and flatten with a machine and throw onto the hot griddle. 


(3) BEEF NOODLE SOUP 

Only have time to hang out near Yong Kang Street, but craving some beef noodle soup? Most people will wander over to the famous Yong Kang Beef Noodle Soup



Or you could give this knife cut noodle shop a try, Yi Ping Shanxi Dao Xiao Mian, with a bowl of tomato based beef noodle broth, chunks of beef and slivers of knife cut noodles. CNN liked it enough to include it on their best beef noodle soups list after I took them there when my other fave knife cut noodle shop was closed (and we had already hit up Lin Dong Fang and W Hotel's beef noodle soups). There's also another knife cut noodle shop in the alley around the corner, but I always seem to pass by when it's already closed. Of course, if you have more time in Taipei, my personal favorite beef noodle soups are elsewhere, but this is a decent bowl for your walking tour of Yong Kang St.





(4) MANGO SHAVED ICE 

Sit downstairs for the feeling of having your shaved ice in the original shack, or sit upstairs in an air conditioned room, which was added during a recent expansion when Smoothie House 思慕昔 took over the reins for this spot from Ice Monster/Yong Kang 15 a few years ago. One bowl is big enough to share and the menu has tourist friendly photos and English to browse, though if you choose to sit upstairs there is a minimum fee per person.



(5) FRESH FRUIT, FRUIT JUICE OR BOBA MILK TEA

You can also get some fresh fruit or fruit juice... somehow the fruits are incomparably sweet in Taipei. Give wax apple or custard apple or watermelon juice a try if you've never had it. There's several shops along Yong Kang Street serving fresh squeezed juices to quench your thirst or pre-sliced fruits packed for easy eating on the go.


custard apples

Currently there are three popular boba drink shops along the short stretch of Yong Kang St. My personal fave is 50 Lan- I like to get fresh milk w/ mini bobas, no sugar, less ice, sometimes with extra pudding. There's also lots of ice teas, green tea, fruit teas, milk teas and fruit juices to choose from. You'll be asked how sweet and how icy you want your drink, and you can ask for an English menu if you don't spot one.



 

(6) TAIWANESE EATS 

If you're up for trying something local, there's also a lot of shops specializing in dishes from other Taiwan cities, like Tainan or Yilan. I love the fried gaozha and lu rou fan from Lu Sang and sometimes will stop in to get just that as a snack on my Yong Kang St food crawl, but you could do a whole family style meal at these restaurants too. See what other dishes are family favorites on my past review here.


gao zha- deep fried chicken broth!!
TU HSIAO YUEH/ DU HSIAO YUEH / 度小月 or SLACK SEASON NOODLES is near the front of Yong Kang St, near DTF and Kao Chi. Famous for their Tainan dan tsai noodles. Good if you have a large group and want to try Taiwanese food in a modern setting. Check out this past review for some pictures. 


FU CHEN TAINAN EATS




(7) DESSERT 

8% ICE has a two story shop and a lot of unique flavors like french peach with rosewater or hojicha with honey to try (though no samples given at this location! Boo!). If you can find it, I also love the macarons and desserts from Patisserie La Doceur or red velvet cupcakes from Les Bebes Cupcakes, which both have other outlets elsewhere in Taipei, but you could do just a dessert crawl if you have the stomach space (I'd do red bean paste xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung, mango shaved ice, ice cream from 8% ice, soufflé from C'est La Vie then macarons and cupcakes! haha!)





Of course, there's many more restaurants in the offshoots of Yong Kang St to try, but just the restaurants on Yong Kang Street will keep you busy for an extended lunch and afternoon of snacking.   Did I miss your favorite eats on Yong Kang Street? Share in the comments!


Note for travelers, you can also grab a local SIM card at one of these telecom shops Far EasTone or Chunghwa Telecom since you can't just get them at 7-11 anymore. I recently helped a journalist get one here (have your passport ready) before our walking tour of Yong Kang St. Yong Kang Street also conveniently has both a 7-11 and Watsons, perfect for picking up some bottles of water, makeup or toiletries. 


Right off of Dongmen MRT (Exit Number 5!)

hungryintaipei's guide to Yong Kang Street

DIN TAI FUNG 鼎泰豐
No. 194, Section 2, Xinyi Road
(02) 2321-8928

KAO CHI 高記
5 Yongkang Street 
(02) 2341-9984

SPRING ONION PANCAKE VENDOR
No. 1, Lane 6, Yongkang Street

YI PIN SHANXI KNIFE CUT NOODLES 一品山西刀削 
10-6 Yongkang Street
(02) 2321-1562

YONG KANG BEEF NOODLES 永康牛肉麵 
No. 17, Lane 31, Section 2, Jinshan S. Road
(02)2351-1051 

SMOOTHIE HOUSE
15 Yongkang Street

DU HSIAO YUEH 度小月 
9-1 Yongkang Street
(02) 3393-1325

LU SANG YILAN RESTAURANT  呂桑食堂
12-5 Yongkang Street
(02) 2351-3323

8% ICE
6, Lane 13, Yongkang Street
(02) 2395-6583

PATISSERIE LA DOUCEUR
No. 223, Jinhua Street
(02) 3322-2833

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hungryintaipei turns TEN! #blogiversary!



I started my blog #hungryintaipei ten years ago today, when I couldn't find much information about in English about Taipei food and restaurants online (and I was desperate to find decent Mexican food in Taipei). 

This was in 2005, before iPhones, Yelp, Google maps, Instagram and my sense of direction in Taipei. Taipei has changed tremendously in the past ten years, every year surpasses the last. 

CNN, Buzzfeed (x2), Bourdain and Zimmern have shared the secret that we've known for years-- you can feast on street eats and noodle shops like there's no tomorrow for less than US$20 a day, or you can indulge in the fanciest of steakhouses, sushi bars or sweets that rival bites I've had anywhere else. I'm grateful for being able to discover so many awesome places to eat in the number one food destination in the world!  I'm constantly amazed by what new restaurant opens or cuisine I'm able to find here, or by local Taiwanese dishes that have been mastered over generations. 

I don't know if I can keep blogging for 10 more years, but thanks to everyone for following along my adventures and sharing yours with me. I learn something new everyday and have learned so much about food. I love hearing from you guys and having friends who love food as much as I do! 

Dearest Taipei, I feel like we've grown so much together, I can't wait to see what happens during the next decade. 

❤️ Joan aka Hungry Girl in Taipei 

Monday, June 22, 2015

new in town/dessert: i recommend VOODOO DOUGHNUT TAIWAN's maple bacon bar



VOODOO DOUGHNUT 
No. 28, Lane 553, ZhongXiao S. Rd, Sec. 4
忠孝東路四段553巷28號
(02) 2763-5593

MRT: SYS Memorial Hall or Taipei City Hall 

hours: 9:30AM - 10PM, closed Monday and Tuesday

website: Voodoo Doughnut Taiwan's FB page

$-$$ (Cash only)

Kid friendliness: lots of room for seating and strollers and kids likely to want their own donuts! 

Visit reviewed: 6/18/2015


Look what's popped into Taipei?! This past week saw the openings of Dominique Ansel Bakery in Tokyo and now we have Voodoo Doughnut from Portland, Oregon  in Taipei (and our own cronuts at @dripcafe). Is Taipei ready for "weird" American style sugary donuts (now that their Krispy Kreme #sugarhigh has faded?) 

Thanks to instagram, I found out about Voodoo Doughnut's arrival last Thursday night and I was obsessing all afternoon and night long about being able to eat a maple bacon doughnut the next day. 

So bright and early on Friday, I headed over to the little alley near Songshan Cultural Park and Songyan Eslite. Early meaning 11AM since in Taipei, people don't eat donuts for breakfast and many restaurants open at noon. I wasn't even sure if they would be open, but luckily they were. Their FB page updated and states they open at 9:30AM, but are closed Mondays and Tuesdays.



It's easy to spot, with a bright pink neon sign and its voodoo doll character.



Once inside, behind the counter there was a wall of pink donut boxes over racks of doughnuts ready to go, a familiar sight to those who grew up in the US. The colorful chalkboard menu listed over 35 doughnuts in English and Chinese, organizing them into cake doughnuts and raised doughnuts. Doughnuts twirled around on tiered glass displays on each side of the counter, giving a glimpse of what to order. There's also considerable room for sitting and snacking and enjoying a cup of coffee with your doughnut.






Since I had never been to Portland and wasn't that familiar with Voodoo's doughnuts (being mostly in Taipei for the last 11 years), I had to quiz the server what some of the specialties were, such as Old Dirty Bastard, No Name, Portland Cream, Triple Chocolate Penetration and Tex-Ass. (I wonder how these are translated into Chinese?! Haha) Mainly, I looked at the doughnuts in the display and asked what the ones I didn't know were and glanced back and forth from the menu and display. 

Cake doughnuts and Old Fashioned cake doughnuts are the cheapest (NT35-50), while the Devil's Food cake chocolate doughnuts and crullers are NT$45-70. The raised doughnuts are the yeasted donuts- raised bars, rings and filled doughnuts are NT$30-95 and the fritters and specialty doughnuts are bigger and most expensive from NT$115-175. There are plain, powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, vanilla with sprinkles, maple, glazed and doughnuts topped with coconut, cereal and bacon. They also made a special Taipei Cream donut that's available only in Taipei.


Even though I am familiar with doughnuts and know what I generally like (old fashioned, fritters, maple bacon doughnuts), I asked a ton of questions because the doughnuts in the display aren't labeled and the names on the chalkboard didn't have descriptions. I guess in the future, they could print a few photo menus to have on the counter with mini descriptions to help first timers get familiar with what they want to order and prevent a bottleneck at the counter. Luckily Voodoo Doughnuts had just been open for a few days and was still in their soft opening so I had the store to myself to figure out what I wanted. I think also they should figure out some sampler pack of their bestsellers so that people can just choose a Voodoo dozen, which they had written on the chalkboard but was not available yet. 



So I made my own sampler box! I thought they would have smaller sized boxes, but the boxes are large enough to fit two layers of doughnuts, in which they'll put the "dry" doughnuts on the bottom, and layer a wax paper layer of more delicate doughnuts on the top layer. I wanted to try different doughnuts with my friends and family so I was ambitious and tried to get a variety, but I think it's best not to get more than you can eat the same day since most of the doughnuts got softer and greasier the next day, especially the cereals on top of the doughnuts which should be crunchy but were soggy since they surprisingly didn't get eaten that day. Especially knowing how humid Taiwan is. I also think I've been in Taiwan too long, the cake donuts were a bit greasy and heavy to me.

I picked some cake and old fashioned on purpose knowing they were cheaper, but my order of 15 doughnuts was still NT$947. I was originally going to get a few boxes for friends, but I didn't since there wasn't a price break and I didn't want to get too many doughnuts if they weren't going to eat them. A dozen of assorted doughnuts at Krispy Kreme Taipei is NT$350 and I mostly like the glazed original doughnuts (NT$300/dozen). 

After paying the bill of almost US$30 for doughnuts (for this review but never again!), I had to wonder if will Taipei pay a premium for American donuts after the retreats of Dunkin Donuts and Mister Donut the past few years. Dunkin Donuts lasted six years after struggling after a promising opening (tried too hard to localize donuts and sometimes served stale donuts, probably because of lack of turnover) and Mister Donuts closed a number of stand alone shops after expanding too quickly. 

I asked if I could get a price break if I bought a dozen or if they were doing any soft opening promotions (like checking in on instagram and Facebook and getting a free doughnut or something along those lines) and they said no. Krispy Kreme had an intense marketing push giving away tons of free doughnuts and garnering social media word of mouth when they opened, so much that they had people waiting up to four hours in line around the block for almost three months after their launch. Despite people saying for years that Krispy Kreme was too sweet for Taiwanese people, they got people to show up out of curiosity who wanted to post photos with their box of doughnuts.  

Can Voodoo Doughnut succeed by doing a slow launch when it doesn't have the same brand recognition yet in Asia and the culture here just isn't that obsessed with doughnuts? Especially when you are competing not only with other doughnut shops, but with a multitude of bakeries, sweets, street eats and cafes on every corner in Taipei. I think it would help to do some promotions for your early customers and start the Voodoo Dozen pricing since we are the ones who are obsessed and more likely to return. 


So the first one I tried was the maple bacon donut (NT$95), since that was the one I had fallen in love with a few years earlier from DK Donuts in LA. It's like a plate of pancakes, maple syrup butter and bacon on the go. I actually love the flavor combination so much I tried to convince the guys at Drip Cafe to do a maple bacon cronut when I was taking all my friends there before it got crazy. The maple bacon was definitely my favorite out of the bunch with the thick sweet maple glaze and a layer of salty bacon. Devoured it before I got home and it's the doughnut I would go back to Voodoo for and spend my precious calories on. 


There's a good guide to doughnuts on Serious Eats, but I'll post some close ups of the doughnuts with their names so hopefully it'll be a bit faster next time to figure out what to order. I shared most of the other doughnuts with others so I didn't get to try all of them, but I liked the old fashioned and the peanut chocolate cake doughnut that I got a bite of. 

Old Fashioned - Maple (NT$50)

Voodoo Doll  (NT$90) 
Raised yeast doughnut with chocolate icing and raspberry jelly filling

Dirty Snowball (NT$70) 
Devil Food's chocolate cake donut with strawberry icing, topped with shredded coconut and peanut butter in the middle 

The Loop (NT$52) 
Raised doughnut with vanilla frosting covered in fruit loop cereal (Anyone else find it amusing that this is NT$52 instead of NT$50 or NT$55? You'd think it's easier for change to keep all the prices even since they are cash only.)


Triple Chocolate Penetration Doughnut (NT$55) 
Chocolate cake doughnut covered in chocolate frosting and chocolate puff cereal

Old Dirty Bastard (NT$75) 
Raised yeast doughnut with chocolate frosting, crushed Oreos and peanut butter

Chocolate french cruller (NT$45)

Cinnamon Sugar Cake doughnut (NT$45) 

Droolworthy? Let me know if you try Voodoo Doughnuts in Taiwan in the comments and what you thought! I'm constantly fascinated by what foreign/American eats ends up in Taipei and always hope it succeeds and translates and tastes good. I hope Voodoo can find its niche market and be affordable while not adjusting to local tastes, but offer doughnuts that taste like they did back at home. 

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