Monday, October 20, 2014

night market/not taipei: i still strongly recommend LUO DONG NIGHT MARKET

at Chongcheng Rd. and Xindong Rd.
Yilan, Taiwan



Kid friendliness: kids will love the shaved ice and other street snacks

Visit reviewed: 8/19/2014
Previous review: 10/2011

If you try one thing at the Luo Dong Night Market, try this dessert- tapioca pearls stuffed with red beans next to scoops of shaved ice coated in honey and condensed milk (NT$40). It's the one thing that I remembered eating in Yilan years ago and the one thing I wanted to get when I came back again. SO GOOD!

Each glistening tapioca pearl is slightly more oversized than you'd usually get in your boba milk tea, about the size of a marble, and wrapped around a red bean in the center. The name bao xing fen yuan for this type of tapioca pearl in Chinese is so fitting since the word 包 (bao) means package or bundle and 心 (xing) means heart and so each one has a red bean heart bundled inside. 

The funny thing is that I prefer the shop that I first had it from- the purple signed Wei Jie Heart Tapioca (or Wei Jie Bao Xin Fen Yuan)- but now there's a competing pink signed franchise, started by Wei Jie's founder's ex-husband. They even have shops right next to each other at the Luo Dong Night Market, as well as sit down shops throughout the streets around the night market. I must have passed by two or three on the way into the night market as well as when we walked out the other direction.

The boba/shaved ice combinations at Wei Jie are more simple, which is what I prefer, while Jing Yuan Ji (晶圆极) has different colored tofu pudding, flavors and combinations that seemed almost too much compared to the simpler combination of the creamy shaved ice, honey, condensed milk and chewy bao xin tapioca pearls.

If this looks delicious to you, the great thing is that you don't have to trek all the way to Luo Dong to try it. There are Wei Jie Bao Xin Fen Yuan dessert shops in Taipei, including at the Tonghua/LinJiang night market. There's no English on the menu, but there is a menu with photos of each of the different combinations and I just pick the one with two scoops of shaved ice and boba on the side.

Another great dessert pick at Luo Dong is the peanut ice cream wrap (burrito!)(NT$35) near the front of the night market. You could totally miss it, but my radar for it zoomed in on the block of peanut brittle.

Deliciousness for only NT$35!!! If you've missed my previous posts about this, they basically take fresh shavings of the mega block of peanut candy and layer that with three scoops of ice cream (taro and pineapple in this case) and the optional cilantro. I totally recommend getting it with the cilantro, but you can choose to leave it out if you are not adventurous. It's wrapped up like a burrito and it's ready to eat on the go.

The last thing I tried that day for was stinky tofu french fries (for the first time!) It's pretty brilliant since stinky tofu isn't the easiest thing to eat and walk at the same time, with the juices dripping out. This way it's finger food and easier to share. The weird thing about this stall though is that you have to choose a flavor, as if stinky tofu wasn't a strong enough flavor on its own. I think some of the flavors included cheese or plum powder or thai sweet and sour sauce, which is what I think I ended up getting if something didn't get lost in translation.

I haven't seen stinky tofu fries in Taipei yet, but I'm sure it's somewhere or will make its way here eventually. 

Luo Dong Night Market is about an hour away from Taipei, and really huge, sprawling over different streets.  And as you can see from the photos, it's also open during the day- we ate up a storm after lunch. It's a good alternative to those who've already tried the more famous Keelung Night Market which is only one long walkway. Luo Dong is an awesome night market for those wanting to explore outside of the city- you can make it a day trip by visiting the Lanyang Museum in Yilan or making a reservation for Cherry Valley duck at Silks Place.

Monday, October 13, 2014

indian: i strongly recommend BALLE BALLE INDIAN

No. 12 Guangfu N. Rd 光復北路12號
(02) 2570-7265

MRT: SYS Memorial Hall (10-15 minute walk away)

website: Balle Balle's FB page 

hours: 11:30AM - 2:30PM; 5:30PM - 10PM

$$ (average NT$400-700/person)

Kid friendliness: no high chairs spotted, but kid friendly breads, rice, chicken dishes

Visit reviewed: 8/21/2014 & 9/1/2014

I was having scones and tea a few weeks ago with a girlfriend who was visiting from NY, and she was telling me how useful my blog was, but also how it felt a little out of date. It's true I haven't been posting as often as I used to, and I have been selfish, keeping my favorite places to myself for as long as I can so that they don't get crowded and I can walk in last minute without a reservation. But sometimes, you can't keep a good thing all to yourself, so I wanted to write about Balle Balle Indian Restaurant.

My mouth started to water when I was uploading the pictures for this post... butter chicken, naan, spinach. So much so that I had to order some food from there to-go for dinner! I was quite happy to find a new Indian place to devour and Balle Balle continued the streak of good Indian food that seems to be hitting Taipei. The past few years has seen the opening of Balle Balle (2013), Khana Khazana (2012), Fusion Asia Indian Restaurant and Bar (2012), Mayur Indian Kitchen (2011) and Sree Indian Palace (2011).  Even though there have always been a handful of Indian restaurants in Taipei, or at the mall food courts, I'd sometimes find repeat visits a disappointment when the food wasn't consistently good as the first time (Invariably, they have to keep costs down, but it's still a bummer). I love Saffron (and its next door neighbor Spice Shop is great too), but the drive to Tianmu and its pricier menu makes it a destination, not a regular visit for me.

So when my friend raved about her new find, Balle Balle, we made our way there for lunch and grabbed the last table for two at lunch. It was fairly crowded both times we went, so I'd recommend making a reservation. I took this picture after the lunch crowd had cleared out.

Balle Balle's menu features Punjabi Indian fare and the second time I went, I went with a large group that could EAT, so I was able to try a lot of different dishes. Everything was delicious and the portions are good for the price. The manager speaks English and Chinese, and can recommend dishes if you aren't sure what to order. There's a great range of appetizers, tandoori, chicken, seafood, lamb, vegetarian and breads to choose from.

On my first visit, my friend who introduced me to the restaurant chose her favorite dishes from her previous visits- the murg malai kebab (NT$380), naan (NT$65), cucumber raita (NT$90) and the manager recommended the murg saag wala (NT$380) which had chicken chunks cooked in spinach puree, when we asked for a curry to add. The murg saag wala is a good dish to order if you are eating alone because you get the meat and the veggies without having to order two things- since Balle Balle doesn't have the lunch set menus here.

The murg malai kebab (NT$380) is marinated in Indian spices, cashew nut paste and homemade indian cream, so it's flavorful without being spicy and is really succulent. This is something I'd probably order for my dad to try, as he is someone who doesn't like curry or Indian food. Also a great alternative for those who love chicken tandoori, but want something boneless so you don't have to get your hands dirty.

The cucumber raita (NT$90) is refreshing and cooling, not too runny or sweet.

I liked Balle Balle so much that I chose for dinner when meeting up with some cousins. The guys said they were hungry and loved Indian food, so we ordered up a storm.

Refreshing mango lassi- not overly sweet and great yogurt/mango taste.

Samosas (NT$80 for 2 ) to start off the night. 

Fish tikka masala (NT$380) and Dilwala Tandoori murg chicken (NT$550 for full portion) very tender and aromatic. Super yum.

Chicken Murg Tikka Masala  (NT$340)- boneless chicken cooked in the clay oven, simmered with tomatoes, onions, coriander and Indian spices. 

The Murg Makhani Masala (NT$380) was one of the favorites of the night. Otherwise known as  Butter Chicken, the creamy butter cream and tomato curry is on the sweet side and everyone scooped the last of the curry with their naan even after there was no more chicken.

I liked the vegetarian dishes a lot- we didn't spot okra on the menu, but after asking, they said they had it.

Palak paneer- spinach

Scoop a little bit of everything to the plate to go with your rice and naan and pass the curry along. 

The manager chose an assortment of naans and parathas for us to try. I ended up really loving the golden brown amitsari aloo kulcha (NT$120), which tasted like a wheat-y flatbread stuffed with mashed potato. Google says that kulchas are leavened Punjabi breads made from wheat flour, and made with baking soda instead of yeast. Next time I'd try the kulcha or paratha stuffed with cauliflower or the poori, a puffed up deep fried bread, which I spotted when another table ordered it.

Balle Balle, the name of the restaurant, is said to be an "expression of joy" or used to describe a feeling of happiness especially in songs. Cue Pharrell, because I'm happy to have found my new favorite restaurant for Indian food in Taipei.

Friday, October 03, 2014

ramen/japanese: SANTOUKA

No. 300, Zhongxiao E. Rd, Sec. 3, B2
(02) 2731-7533

MRT: ZhongXiao/FuXing


hours: 11AM to 9:30PM


Kid friendliness: no high chairs spotted, but kids should like ramen, pork cutlet and fried dumplings

Visit reviewed: 6/6/2014

Be prepared to wait. I wasn't prepared for the 20 minute or so wait for Santouka, since I assumed the hype had died down, but there they were, 10 or so people standing in line in front of me for a late weekday lunch at 1PM. If you expect a wait, and there isn't one, then it's a happy surprise. So by the time I sat down, I was ready to order, ready to eat. 

The first time I tried Santouka was in Los Angeles, at Mitsuwa, a chain of Japanese supermarkets in the US. Yelp and word of mouth already made it a place for legit ramen on the westside, so there were lots of people in line at this random supermarket food court. So there I expected a wait. I struck up a conversation with the tall, blonde guy in front of me and he said, "You must order the spicy miso ramen." So I did. The spiciness and saltiness of the broth was great, even though the deep red color was intimidating. So it was with high expectations I tried Santouka in Taipei, which supposedly had four hour waits when it first opened in 2012.

The Santouka Taipei menu is quite similar with shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso, hot miso ramen, tsukemen, or cold ramens, or order a la carte or combos with fried pork tonkatsu, fried chicken, gyoza or a small salmon sashimi rice bowl chirashi. Prices range from NT$200-NT$320 for noodles, and you can choose regular, small or large sized bowls. The menu has some English and photos, but is mostly in Chinese and Japanese. And if you really love meat, then try the toroniku ramen, which comes with a plate of simmered pork cheek slices. 

That day I opted for a cold ramen (NT$300) which is comes with julienned cucumbers, ham, cold pork and a shrimp on a bed of cold ramen with a vinegary sauce. After my first few bites, I regretted ordering it because I'm not a fan of cold char siu pork and this was basically the main element of Santouka's cold ramen (unlike some cold ramens that also have egg, carrots, tomato or chicken). WHY DID I NOT ORDER THE SPICY MISO RAMEN? DOH! The toppings and sauce were kind of skimpy for the price, and in proportion to the ramen, and the meat was kind of dry. But I didn't look at the menu carefully and the details of the dish were in Chinese, so it was my bad.

Luckily, my dad got a miso ramen combo (NT$370) which came with a small sized ramen and a fried tonkatsu. It was mostly good except the egg was a dry yolked hard boiled egg, not the gooey soft boiled egg we are used to seeing in ramen egg-porn. WHY DID I NOT ORDER THE SPICY MISO RAMEN?!! With pork bone broth boiled for over 20 hours??

I also have to note that service was incredibly slow. We probably waited nearly 15 minutes after sitting down, even after preordering while waiting in line for over 10 minutes, and got our food after the people next to us, who sat down after we did. So I was a bit hungry and annoyed throughout this lunch, which is never a fun experience. But luckily my dad is the best and he shared some of his soupy ramen with me. Thanks Dad!


1F, NO.1, Sec.1,Chengde Rd.

Tianmu Sogo
8F., No.77, Sec. 6, Zhongshan N. Rd., Shilin Dist.,
(02) 2837-1211


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