Wednesday, October 18, 2017

hungryinTAINAN: HOW TO EAT YOUR WAY THROUGH TAINAN IN ONE DAY



If you're like me, you've often thought about taking a day trip to another city in Taiwan, but end up putting it off. Where would I go? What would I eat? How much trouble would it be? So when I was invited by a representative for the Tainan City Government to explore some of their English Friendly restaurants, I took it as a challenge to pack as much as I could in one day. It helped that I had a ready made short list to check out. All I had to do was map it out and figure out what made sense according to their location and opening hours. 

Tainan has often been touted as the Taiwan's oldest city and an equally delicious and historic city to visit as Taipei, with plenty of temples, street eats and museums to visit. The past few years Tainan City Government has created an initiative for businesses to be more English Friendly, creating menus and resources for people who don't read Chinese to be able to discover and patronize these places. All the places I visited did have English menus, and most of them were able to explain menu options or answer questions in English. 

If you had asked me where to eat and go in Tainan a year ago, I would have had no idea. Last year was the first time I went to Tainan despite living in Taiwan for over a dozen years. This last visit was only my third. And even though I feel like there's a lot more for me to explore, I know if you followed my itinerary for this visit, you would be a pretty happy and full visitor. 


9AM BUYING TICKETS TO THE HIGH SPEED RAIL IS EASY




I enter the West Gate of the Taipei Main Station and look for the vending machines along the right side, not too far from the entrance. There's several machines that take cash or credit card and it's easy to choose "English" as a language options and buy a ticket, even last minute. There are unreserved and reserved seats, as well a business class option for a premium. For weekends, it's best to get your tickets in advance. I've checked the schedule ahead of time at the website, so I quickly click through the screens. Travelers can also get tickets from the high speed rail (HSR) app or at a ticket counter. I prefer to get it from the vending machine so I can see all the departure time options and usually there isn't a line. 

With my ticket in hand, I look at the signs for the train. It's a weekday morning, so the train station isn't too crowded yet. It's similar to the train stations I've been to in Italy and Japan, except that buying tickets is very English friendly with the vending machines. The trains leave very promptly so I head to the train level for my 9:21AM train with plenty of time to spare. 

The HSR trains have restrooms, vending machines and sometimes the vendors have snacks and bento boxes during meal times.  I end up getting assigned Car #1 and the Economy reserved is not full. I spy a phone charger outlet on the map in car #4 so I head over there wondering if I can get an empty seat, but it turns out the charger is in a phone booth like space, not at each seat. I decide it's not worth it to stand half my trip to charge my phone. The AC is very strong though, and even though I'm wearing a jacket I'm cold. I make mental notes to pack a scarf next time. 

11AM TAINAN, HERE I COME

Two hours have sped by especially with a book and returning messages on my phone. When I arrive at the Tainan stop, the lush greenery opposite the train station is a welcome contrast to the metropolis in Taipei. I eye the lunch boxes for sale at the exit, but I know I have a full day of eating and I can't get distracted. For those that want to eat at the Tainan HSR station, there's a Mos burger, Starbucks, Mango cha cha and 7-11 to fit all your basic needs. There's a line of taxis waiting at exit 3 and I give the taxi driver the address to the first restaurant, which is about 20 minutes away from the HSR station. My iPhone battery at 52 percent already and the taxi driver is peppering me with questions in Taiwanese. We pass by the Chimei Museum, which you can't miss because it's inspired by Versailles, and I wonder if I should have made a stop there before going into town. Next visit! 

11:30AM COMFORT FOODS AT A FARM TO TABLE CAFE



The first stop is Birches Pastoral, a cozy two story cafe opened just a few months ago by a farmer and his family to introduce some of their farms' organic products to customers, like red quinoa which they mix with their rice dishes like braised pork rice, Japanese chicken curry and onigiri. The Chinese name is a combination of his and his wife's Chinese name, while the English name is inspired by the idea that birch trees are friendly for the environment. Mr. Yu-Chung Cheng interacts with customers while his wife cooks up homestyle Taiwanese, Western and Japanese dishes like curry and udon, favorites from the time she studied in Japan. Besides featuring the farm's products on the menu, which include quinoa, mango, sesame and radishes, some are also available for purchase to cook at home or made into jams or sesame oil.  Even though the cafe has been open only for a month, the first floor of this cafe was filled with customers, mostly from word of mouth. The owners made friendly conversations while the food tasted like home cooking. As Mr. Cheng shows me his farm's website (http://suidohomeland.com/), I spy links to TED Talks titled "what's wrong with our food system" and I can tell that Mr. Cheng has a lot of ideas and Birches is just the start of one of them. 





So many dishes from the menu looked tempting, but I knew this was only the beginning of the day. I ended up trying some of their most popular dishes, the Japanese style Curry Rice Set (NT$249) which came with large pieces of deep fried chicken, and the Taiwanese Braised Pork Rice (NT$65) which is also a generously sized portion. Birches Pastoral opens early, so a tuna sandwich or egg salad sandwich would make a fitting breakfast if I were in the neighborhood. 



The mango juice (NT$120) was thick and sweet,  a refreshing drink while I was waiting for my meal. 


Birches Pastoral's menu focuses on comfort foods- braised pork rice, onigiri and curry with fried chicken. The owner said they drained the oil from the lu rou fan to make it healthier, so this would be good for those who love this dish, but want a healthier option. My favorite was the Japanese curry + crispy kaarage- the chicken was so juicy and crispy and I couldn't stop eating it. The curry was a little spicy, but was the perfect pairing for the rice dotted with red quinoa and the fried chicken.  I can't believe how much I've eaten 😂 and this was just the first stop.










1PM MILK TEA AND ICY DESSERT NEAR CONFUCIUS PARK 




Phoenix Flower was the first to use the traditional "hollow cake" or peng bing, as an edible cup for soft serve. The idea came to owner Mr. Alan Lu three years ago when he thought about taking the hollow cake and reinventing it with a modern twist. Traditionally, they were filled with sesame oil and egg, flattened before serving, as a sweet and savory snack to women after they had given birth in one month confinement. Mr. Lu was friends with the owner of a popular pork bun shop that made the hollow cakes and they opened Phoenix Flower next door. Three years later, the dessert is featured in Japanese guidebooks and magazines. They usually have two flavors for soft serve, brown sugar or sesame,  but over 10 flavors for the hollow cake including the original brown sugar, mango, strawberry and pizza. (I know! 🍕??). 

One of the difficulties with finding information about local foods is figuring out what to name it or research it in English, if there is no English menu or common name. While I don't think "hollow cake" is the right name, it's better than previous names for this pastry- which include hollow cookie, protruding cake,Tainan Brown Sugar Bun Cake, or Round-top Pastry. The Chinese name is a slightly better description, macaron hollow cake, which describes its flaky type texture. 

The lemon yogurt was a bit too sour/bitter for me, and he was sold out of the more popular flavor sesame, but it was neat to see this shop's modern take on a traditional pastry. Less of a cake and more of a cookie. (NT$70) The fairy milk black tea was good though and uses a popular Formosa black tea brand. Phoenix Flower is near the landmark Tainan Confucius Temple, so it's easy to check out both at the same time. 




A post shared by Joan (@hungryintaipei) on





2PM THE OLDEST DEPARTMENT STORE IN TAINAN

Hayashi Department Store is a cool stop on the way to my next destination, with snacks, handcrafted goods and souvenirs from Taiwanese makers. The roof is also a popular spot for photos and to check out an aerial view of Tainan. 




3PM LEARNING ABOUT TAIWANESE ORGANIC TEAS WITH A TEA CEREMONY 



Loved the tea ceremony tasting at One 2 Teahouse which specializes in Taiwanese organic oolong teas. The owner Ms. Jenny Chen-Ni Chen was very knowledgeable and passionate about teas and able to answer a lot of my questions (in fluent English!). Being clueless about teas, I learned a lot in that short hour. Ms. Chen explained that, "different seasons will have different flavors. (Teas from) spring and winter are the best because the weather is very cold in Taiwan and the taste is more delicate because the tea leaves grows slowly. If it grows quickly, you have to harvest it in a short time." She and co-owner Ms. Ssu Ting Liu had fond memories of their grandfathers and fathers brewing and drinking tea everyday and wanted to introduce tea to their friends and share what they've learned. 




Highly recommend making a reservation if you are curious or shopping for Taiwanese teas. The tea ceremony includes a tasting for three different types of teas, taking a journey from lighter to deeper flavors, and is complimentary if you purchase a tea. She warms the tea pot and cups with hot water first, to let the scent and taste come out and steeps the teas several times so that I can taste the difference. 








The first tea I try is Lishan Oolong tea from Taichung, which has light fermentation and is grown in high altitudes. The notes say it's "full bodied with oriental pear notes and sweet aftertaste."  The non roasted tea is very bright and lighter in flavor than the teas she chooses for me later. My favorite was the Dong Ding Oolong Tea from Kushan, Nantou, which is very aromatic from medium roasting. The last tea I try is the Sun Moon Lake Black Tea, which is completely fermented but not roasted. 








They put so much thought into everything, from the detailed packaging where each tea has its own unique colors and pattern (which won a Red Dot Design Award) to going to the farms each season to inspect the quality of the tea leaves. Ms. Chen was super friendly and even gave me a recommendation for the bus back to the HSR (H31)! One2Teahouse's teas are also available to purchase online and shipping within Taiwan. 

The space is very modern and I wouldn't expect that there's a tea ceremony option by walking by, so this was one of the more unique things I've experienced. It was very quiet and the space upstairs would be perfect as a quiet working or studying space and there's also tea flavored ice cream and waffles if you're looking for afternoon tea snacks. 









5PM THE BOWL OF SLACK SEASON NOODLES WITH A 120 YEAR OLD HISTORY 






Du Hsiao Yueh is a familiar spot to noodle lovers, as I had tried their signature slack season noodles in Taipei long before my visit to Tainan. In the front of each restaurant, there is an old school noodle station to pay homage to the founder who made the noodles when fishing season was slow, and carried the buckets on a stick on his back. The danzai noodles 擔仔麵 are first topped with minced pork braised in a master stock, then shrimp head broth, touches of vinegar and garlic, and the single shrimp atop. (NT$50) Customers can opt for regular noodles or thin vermicelli noodles. 

Every dish has a story, every restaurant has a history. I love that Du Hsiao Yueh has documented its family's restaurant 120+ year history so beautifully and tells its story at the front of the menu. The restaurants are run by fifth generation family members in Tainan and Taipei, and counting. 

While I didn't have time (or stomach space) for it today, their menu is full of family friendly Taiwanese dishes. Some of my favorites are the fried oysters and the deep fried shrimp rolls. 










530PM SOUL WARMING SOUPS IN A CHINESE MEDICINE SHOP 



Po Jen Store is a 60 year old chinese medicine shop, but last year Mr. Eric Chou and his wife Ms. Ting Su decided to also serve up herbal soups to customers from grandpa's recipes. The soups have different levels of herbal flavors (and health benefits), from clear broths to murky dark ones, which I suggested that they could add to the English menu for herbal soup newbies like me, or even rank them in order of intensity of Chinese medicine taste since he's not really able to explain the details in English. I asked for a "new to herbal soups" level and was happy with the clear broth chicken soup with four types of herbs with side of thin sesame oil rice noodles. (NT$120) 


I'm the only one here because it's blistering hot and humid outside, but at the end of a long day the chicken soup is still healing. Taiwanese version of chicken noodle soup- somewhere you would definitely end up if you were feeling under the weather. The soup is scalding hot and the flavor is light, so don't be afraid of "herbal soup." They had a lot of customers who wanted to drink the herbal soups but didn't want to prepare it at home as soups are simmering for at least four hours, so many of their customers come after work. If I lived in Tainan, I'd definitely come back to try the pork rib with flowery knotweed or the bak ku teh, which is a popular pork rib soup in Singapore and Malaysia. There's also dessert soups, like the white woodear, which I've never been a huge fan of, but it's supposed to good for your respiratory system. 



The family run shop is so unique- the long tables are black with gold engravings, which Mr. Chou said were repurposed from the walls when they decided to add tables and soups to their shop at night. The alley that it's located in is quiet and there aren't really other restaurants around it, but it's worth seeking out. 











630PM EATING DUMPLINGS AND NOODLES WITH THE LOCALS 




I didn't think I could eat one more bite after basically eating ALL DAY, but spicy chili wontons! The vinegar in the sauce was the perfect touch (NT$50).

The most popular menu options at Fuzhou Noodle Shop are listed in photos above the counter, but they also have a English menu upon request. I ended up getting sesame paste noodles and wontons in chili oil, as well as some veggies. Fuzhou Noodle shop has been opened for 12 years and the three aunties are busy cooking, plating and dishing up orders after two large groups of kids fill up the tables outside. The space is semi-outside and a bit old school, but you can't beat having noodles AND wontons or fishball soup for NT$50-55 (or under US$2). There's also a counter full of fish cakes, tofu, braised snacks and instant noodles to add to your order. Service is quick and efficient and don't forget to find the condiment area if you want to add some spicy chili oil to your noodles. 









7:30PM A TAXI AND TRAIN RIDE HOME

While I didn't have the energy to figure out and wait for the free bus was to go back to the HSR station as I had been walking all day to and from all my destinations, there is a free bus to station from certain hotels and bus stops. My taxi was NT$460 and about 30 minutes and my HSR ticket was NT$1350 each way. I get in the taxi at 7:30PM, get to the Tainan station at 8pm, with plenty of time to walk to the departure area for my 8:13PM train. I get back to Taipei by 10PM, and plot my next day trip adventures. 

I hope this post will help some of you with an itinerary for Tainan if you ever want to make a day trip. If you're ever visiting Taipei, I would strongly recommend taking a day to visit Tainan, even if it's just for the day. I will have to write up my eats from my other visits because there really is so much to explore there. Thanks again to Tainan City Government for the invitation to check out these restaurants, and thank you to the owners for the hospitality of all the restaurants I visited. 


WHERE TO EAT 

110 Qingzhong Street, Tainan
中西區慶中街110號
(06) 215-8806
8AM–2PM, 4PM - 8PM

No.83 Nanmen Road, Tainan
704中西區南門路83號
10AM- 7PM 

No. 118, Zhongzheng Road, West Central District, Tainan 
中西區中正路118號
(06) 223-3319
1:30–9PM

DU HSIAO YUEH 度小月
No. 16 Zhongzheng Road, Tainan
中西區中正路16號
(06) 223-1744
11:00AM- 9:30PM

No. 27, Alley 300, Ximen Road, Sec. 2
西門路二段300巷27號
06) 222-6473 
4PM –10PM

FUZHOU NOODLE HOUSE  福洲麵館

No. 299 HaiAn Road, Sec. 2
海安路2段299號
(06) 226-8677
5PM - 11PM 




This blog post is sponsored by Bureau of Economic Development, Tainan City Government (臺南市政府經濟發展局廣告).
For more information about the English Friendly program in Tainan, check out: Tainan EZ Go! or Facebook Page.






3 comments:

Janice Liao Shiao said...

Thank you for posting this! Headed back to Taiwan after 3 years. Can't wait to get my fill. Could you do one of these one day features for other cities? Kaohsiung? Etc.etc.?

Gemma said...

Great recommendations! I will keep them in mind for my next visit to Tainan :)

Gemma
The Style Collector

Anonymous said...

Hi, Joan,

Greetings from Maryland!

There are actually two Du Hsiao Yuehs (度小月) on the same road, just 330m (1100ft) apart. The one you went to (pictured, 中正路101號) is different from the one you listed (中正路16號).

Born and raised in Tainan and used to live within walking distance to the restaurants, I really enjoyed Danzai Noodles (擔仔麵).

Love your blog and keep up the good work.

K.


LinkWithin

Blog Widget by LinkWithin