Monday, February 23, 2009

night market/taiwanese: i strongly recommend HUA GUANG JIE STREET EATS

Hua Guang Road and Jhong Jheng Road intersection
Shih Lin District

Sausage Vendor
(02) 2833-1616


Kid friendliness: not a lot of seating areas, most offered are cramped and along the sidewalk.

Visit reviewed: 11/23/2008

If you are a stinky tofu lover, you'll have to try this 20-ish year old stinky tofu vendor in Shih Lin that my friend declares has the best stinky tofu in town. Sit down on the side of the sidewalk, order large or small, with or without "la jiou" or chili sauce, and take-in the fried pungent aromas. This location is not as crazy a scene as the Shih Lin night market and it's a quicker stop since all the basic offerings are clustered together in a convenient vendor hopping maze.

While I can't say that not all stinky tofu isn't stinky, I have to say that fried stinky tofu is a smell that has grown on me in the past few years. It makes my mouth water because I think of the crispy hot tofu and the strong flavors and I actually like it, especially with the pickled cabbage. I can't stand the non-fried crazily stinky variety though.

The vendor right next to the stinky tofu also has some good "ba wan" and tempura, but you'll find out that you have to change seats if you want to eat it. You can't sit at the stinky tofu seats and eat the neighboring vendor's food.

There are street vendor rules, you know. LOL

If stinky tofu isn't your thing, there's plenty other of street eats to find on this busy intersection of Hua Guang Road and Jhong Jheng Road in Shih Lin. You can't leave without trying the grilled sausage- you get a half of a large sausage, sliced up for NT$60. Chinese sausage is slightly sweet and fatty, but so good.

This stand is 10 plus years old and watching the sausages slowly rotate on the sausage ferris wheel is slightly mesmerizing, if only the glass weren't so greasy.

Also good are the "tsui jian bao" or the steamed buns with crispy bottoms for NT$10 each. They only have one filling though and that's a slightly mushy pork and cabbage filling. Personally, I prefer the "tsui jian bao" at the Shih Lin Night Market.

A bit further away, there's "do-hwa" or soy tofu desserts, "ai yu" lemon jelly and drinks, freshly roasted peanuts, fried items on a stick, pig's blood on a stick and squid vermicelli. The vendors on the far end of the corner seem a bit deserted, so I'd stick where everyone else is crowding around.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

dessert/hotel: i recommend CHEESECAKES from HOWARD PLAZA

160, Ren Ai Road, Sec 3
(02) 2700-2323



Kid friendliness: mmm cheesecake

Visit reviewed: 1/7/2009

I had lunch with family friends at the Chinese restaurant upstairs and decided to check out their cakes on the way out. In the lobby on the first floor, they sell whole cakes, but on the second floor near Champs Elysees, you can buy cakes by the slice. They have chocolate and tiramisu and other cakes, but I was drawn to the cheesecakes.

I couldn't decide between the NY style looking cheesecake and the blueberry topped cheesecake, so I decided to get both to go. I liked the firmer, more traditional NY style cheesecake (as the hostess had recommended) rather than the softer sweeter blueberry cheesecake. A lot better.

Wasn't crazy about the blueberrry's crust too, though it looked promising. My favorite cheesecake in Taipei is probably still the blueberry cheesecake at 85 Degrees C. But I have to give Howard Hotel credit for making a decent cheesecake that wasn't too light or too dense or Asia-fied like some of the more sponge cake type cheesecakes that you'd find here.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

japanese/ramen: RAMEN KAGETSU ARASHI

Ramen Kagetsu Arashi
at Xinyi Vieshow Cinemas Foodcourt
20, SongShou Rd, 2F
(02) 2729-2128

website: Taiwan site- Chinese only Japan site- Japanese only

hours: Mon-Thu 11 am-11 pm, Fri/Sat 11am/10am-1 am, Sun 10 am-11 pm


Kid friendliness: kids meal with smaller sized ramen available. no high chairs

Visit reviewed: 12/20/2008

Over the past few years, the Vieshow food court has stayed mostly the same- Burger King, Haagen Daaz, Doner Kebab, the Korean and Taiwanese places, Bellini Pasta- with some turnover in the Pho spot, Froot and a long time ago Taco Taco. In the back, you can play some arcade and basketball shooting games while waiting to see your film. And what used to be a DVD/CD shop is now a ramen restaurant.

Apparently, movie goers have been waiting for ramen. Ramen Kagetsu Arashi was packed on the day I wanted to try it and after waiting a few minutes on the list, I grabbed my seat. The menu is only in Chinese and Japanese with a lot of pictures, so I wasn't sure what made the ramen different from from the places- but apparently this is the newest Taipei branch of a popular ramen chain in Japan.

I think they offer 3-4 basic broths (garlic and pork bone broth, white pork bone broth, miso broth), and then you can order extra meat or make it spicy. They also offer different sides such as salads, tonkatsu fried pork cutlet, potato croquettes and gyoza dumplings.

The space is a natural modern, though a bit tight as the tables are on the small side and they want to get you in and out.

On every table, there's a nice little assortment of spices and seasonings to customize your ramen as you like it.

I ended up getting the bowl with the biggest picture and the shop's best seller with a "No. 1" (NT$160). But after eating it, I wasn't crazy about it- the "Ninniku Genkotsu Ramen" broth just seemed oily and not had a slightly burnt garlic flavor. The cha shu and noodles were decent, but the tastes overall weren't up my alley. Was I missing something? The white pork broth soup was better. Maybe I should have stuck to my preferred miso flavors. At that point, I had wished I had walked to Ajisen Ramen at A4 instead.

It was only after getting back home and doing some googling that I find out that Kagetsu has a lot of fans- the soup is a "shoyo tonkotsu" or soy sauce pork bone soup and supposed to be oily and rich.

And when you are done, you gotta deal with the line again at the register which seemed to take almost longer than the meal. Maybe they've improved that since I've visited, but you'd best stick with your other food court options if you are in a hurry to catch a film or plan in the extra time.

I'd love to hear from the ramen lovers out there if I should go and try it again, or maybe I'm just a miso ramen kind of girl.


Breeze at Taipei Main Station
3, BeiPing W Rd, 2F

Monday, February 16, 2009

CLOSED! pizza/american: i strongly recommend FAMOUS LARRY's NEW YORK PIZZA

a/o 2010 CLOSED

No. 2, Lane 137, Yanji St
(02) 2771-1032


hours: Mon-Sat 11am to 9:30pm; Sundays 12pm to 8pm

$-$$ Cash only

Kid friendliness: big slices and lots of choices for toppings. space is not large but not too tight for kids.

Visit reviewed: 12/3/2008 and 12/31/2008; 2/6/2008

I first heard about "the NY slice" when I saw a huge sign near Dun Hua Eslite Bookstore. Of course it piqued my interest and I found the website and even went by the new location last fall. But it turned out that it hadn't even opened shop at that point yet. And then I went to LA and forgot about it.

Then I happened to get some food from Sababa at their Heping branch, and spotted the Famous Larry's New York Pizza sign right next door. I was a bit startled seeing the naked pizzas on the counter- half baked dough with red sauce but nothing else- but thought I'd give it a try since I was there. Famous Larry's Pizza sells pizza by the slice, but not really how you might expect. It's pizza by the slice to order, rather than already made pizzas that you would grab and go. I was a bit doubtful that the way that I was familiar with wasn't the way to go, but after eating the pizza I could see why.

The pizza's dough is a crusty soft and crunchy at the same time, sort of like good bread. It's thin crust, but unlike Alleycats' super crisp, almost cracker-like crust, Famous Larry's NY Pizza is a chewy crispy.

But once the pizza cools down the crust starts getting really hard. So I could see that their crust probably wasn't prime for reheating- plus it's a cost saving method- if the turnover isn't as high as you think that day might be, then they don't have as much pizza to toss.

Anyways, something about Famous Larry's NY Pizza works for me, most of the time. It might be a touch of corn meal or something in the crust that gives it an extra texture. It might be the balance of sauce and toppings, and the toppings are hearty and aplenty. It might be the NT$69 price for the slice of the day, which is huge and could easily be the mass of a Pizza Hut or Alleycats personal pizza. (I might have to take a picture of the three side by side one day). It might be the absence of corn on any of pizzas, but instead fun combos like "Soho" (chicken, pesto and mushrooms) or the spicy "Downtown" (pepperoni, jalepenos and onions).

My favorite is the Hawaiian Vacation- the slice is covered with ham and pineapples.

The meat heavy "Brooklyn" or Vegetarian "Uptown" is second.

Can you tell I've been there a lot? The slice of the day is a good deal at NT$69, but you can still order whatever you like at NT$75-115 a slice. Nineteen inch pizzas run from NT$450-650 and you can customize pizzas to have each half have a different flavor.

My least favorite so far is the "Bronx". I thought it would be a winning combination with mushrooms and meatballs, but the mini meatballs are too soft, almost mushy. The meatballs in the meatball hero are also unfortunately soft- I miss the old meatball sandwiches from this sub shop in Carson that my mom's friend used to own. Meatball subs with provolone cheese and Orange Bang. Mmm.

Recently, they started delivery, but it still has a lot of kinks to be worked out. I placed an order at 12pm and they said that they were doing a delivery so I'd have to get my pizza after 12:30PM. I said fine. I got a call at 1pm asking if I still wanted my pizza? A bit frustrated, but hungry, I said yes. I had hoped that they could communicate somehow with their driver so that they could be already baking my pizza to be ready for the driver to pick up and bring to me rather than call me and confirm with me "did I want my pizza" and then bake the pizza. I ended up getting my pizza around 1:30pm- an hour and half after I ordered it. You'd have a much better time just having lunch at the location, although there are times you just want your pizza delivered.

If you're going to hang out, the Heping Yanji St location is better with a few seats and bar seats (it's not too far from the Zhong Xiao East Road, Lane 216 Alleycats). The Yanji St Heping location seems strictly to go. Also don't confuse NY Slice for the also relatively new NY Pizza Kitchen (near NY Bagel) on Ren Ai Road. Now if only someone would bring back California Pizza Kitchen! I think it would draw customers and lines like crazy in Taipei, don't you?

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No. 8, Alley 54, Lane 118, Heping E Road, Sec 2
(02) 2738-4747

Thursday, February 12, 2009

dessert: i strongly recommend BIG TOM ICE CREAM

No.233-2, Jhongjheng Rd., 2 FL



hours: 9:30 am- 11pm

Kid friendliness: areas to lounge. friendly free samples.

Visit reviewed: 11/16/2008

The first time I had Big Tom's ice cream was probably over 4 or 5 years ago- at the cute and cozy location near SYS Memorial hall, hidden behind trees on Ren Ai Road. Although I loved the Peanut Butter ice cream and my fuzzy memory thought their waffles for afternoon tea were quite good, somehow I didn't make it back that often.

So I was excited to see the huge Big Tom's in Danshui after visiting the Fisherman's Wharf and had to see if the Peanut Butter ice cream was good as I had remembered.

And it was! The thick chunks of peanut butter are swirled in the ice cream and melt in your mouth. The Oregon Strawberry was also great too and tasted as fresh as ice cream could taste. When you get your ice cream, you also get this little spoon with tiny bumps that makes you almost notice the ice cream more, by "bump"-ing the focus to your tastebuds and tongue.

Big Tom's ice cream has a great range of flavors and each flavor carries off the perfect balance of sweetness, creaminess and heaviness. And that's because their ice cream is stated to use "all natural ingredients." It's definitely a contrast to times after eating a few bites of certain flavors of Haagen Daaz or Coldstone's I feel overwhelmed with how sweet or dense it is and don't want to finish it, but yet don't want to waste the money that I've spent on it.

And Big Tom's service surpasses the sometimes snooty Haagen Daaz service by a long shot- they were friendly and generous in letting us try samples- and their quirky cow-themed decor makes the whole space fun (and a bit like Ben and Jerry's).

Okay- I'm going to rant for a moment here about Haagen Daaz.

My friends and I had a few negative experiences with Haagen Daaz- starting with their differentiation of "to go" and "sit down" orders. My friends ordered, paid and received two huge ice creams sundaes at the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Haagen Daaz and then tried to sit down in the lounge-y area and told they couldn't since they had gotten their orders to-go (and in the paper cups). When my friend offered to pay for the service fee (that's charged when you sit down and eat), they were adamantly refused even though the space was pretty much empty on a cold weekday afternoon. It's the kind of thing that makes me not want to give them my business because you have two customers that have just paid US$20 for ice cream and you're not going to let them sit down in your space to eat your ice cream because of bad corporate logic that says only customers that declare they want to eat "here" get to eat here? It's one thing if the place is packed and there's a line and they are taking someone else's space, but it's another if it's totally empty and they are offering to pay a service fee! Anyways- something similar happened to me before at Vieshow Haagen Daaz, not to mention another time I wanted to just get a scoop of ice cream and asked if I could pay extra for banana on top and they said no, I had to get the banana split (with 3 scoops) to get banana.

Okay- end rant.

ANYWAYS- if you haven't yet tried Big Tom, you'll have to give it a try on your next date, ice cream craving or afternoon tea with the girlfriends- or maybe take that special someone for upcoming Valentine's Day.

It doesn't have as many locations (especially in malls) but they are the only one on the 85th viewing floor of 101. And that is pretty awesome.

Maybe it was my imagination, but the scoops even seem bigger. Other de-luscious flavors include Mocha Choco, Kahlua, Vanilla Bean, Green Tea, low-fat Marionberry Cheesecake. They also have toppings and other desserts. One scoop is NT$108 and 2 scoops is NT$178, but the price also includes the waffle cone.

Their website also says they have ice cream making classes with a big hand-crank old fashioned ice cream maker, but didn't offer any information on where or when.

Other locations:

Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall shop
No.505, Sec. 4, Ren-ai Rd.

Tien Mu shop
No.1, Lane 63, Sec. 7, Jhongshan N. Rd.

Songshan Shop
No.219, Sec. 2, Chang-an E. Rd.

Taipei 101

Yijhong, Taichung
No.221, Yijhong St.

Gongyi, Taichung
No.276, Gongyi Rd.

Kending, Pingtung
No.12, Kending Rd.

Monday, February 09, 2009

hotpot/taiwanese: i recommend TRIPOD KING SPICY HOTPOT

No. 89, Guangfu N Rd
(02) 2742-2116


hours: 11 AM - 2:30AM


Kid friendliness: i think i saw high chairs. not for picky eaters. only spicy hotpot or pickled cabbage soup hotpot

Visit reviewed: 1/6/2009

If you haven't heard about "mala huo guo" or spicy hotpot, then you've been missing out on the perfect meal for a cold and rainy day in Taipei. "Mala" hotpot is a spin on the regular hotpot, but offers a ultra-spicy deep red blood colored broth to cook your meats and vegetables in.

Tripod King or Ding Wang is one of the more famous joints in town- my girlfriends were raving for weeks that we had to try it and said that every time they attempted to call to make a reservation the line was busy. Sometimes it is easier to just go there ahead of time and get a reservation in person.

I'm assuming that the name Tripod King comes from the shape of the hotpot- a huge metal bowl with three short feet.

There's a set up fee just for the all you can drink broth- NT$98 per person- and then you pay for whatever additional plates of sliced meats, fresh fishballs or vegetables you want (NT$90-290+). If you want to have a half spicy and half not spicy like we did, it's an additional flat fee of NT$150. It ended up being about NT$500 a person for our group of girlfriends- it would probably end up more for a bunch of guys.

The menu is in English and Chinese with a picture for almost everything. I did giggle at a few typos and the way they attempted to describe the more unusual parts of animals. Would you like some "rice nuddles," "selected rectum" or "selected honey cumb?"

But one thing that is pretty smart is that they have "assortment" plates for each type of thing they offer- for example, they offer 5 types of handmade dumplings, if you can't decide, you can get the sampler plate that has 2 of each. They also have sampler meatballs, sampler mushrooms, sampler

I also almost giggled after the waitresses bow after each time they come to your table. The first time was novel, but after each time (a glass of water, a refill of the soup, a new plate of vegetables) it kind of was a time waster when you were trying to flag down the waitress from another table.

After you first sit down and order, they bring the hotpot to the table and all the dishes. The "mala" side already has large chunks of tofu and duck's blood (it looks kind of like chocolate tofu, as my friend's sister used to call it when she was a kid). The non-mala side has pickled cabbage and pork that gives the broth a slightly sour flavor. You can then go to the back of the room and get your own sauces and rice.

Supposedly you're supposed to use the creamier sauce for the mala and the soy sauce for the pickled cabbage, but I used them both.

And then once you get cooking, you've got a bowl full of food. There's huge ladles for everyone to use- if you're a first time hotpotter, try to keep your personal chopsticks out of the hotpot as well as remember to use a different pair of chopsticks to cook the raw meat.

Other favorites you should make sure to order are the "youtiao" or fried breadstick that will soak up the broth with a crunch, kind of like dipping your garlic bread in soup at an Italian restaurant. Also they have freshly made fishballs that they will spoon in for you.

I wasn't so crazy about the Szechewan mini-meatballs, but mostly everything was good. The mala is too spicy for me to drink, but I enjoyed digging out some duck's blood and tofu and eating it with the rice. But I'd cook my meats and other things in the preserved cabbage side.

This trip to Tripod King was actually after going to another Ding Wang that I liked better. Tripod King's name in Chinese is Ding Wang2 (Wang meaning King, so 2nd tone), and the less famous but equally good Ding Wang4 is the 4th tone. The other Ding Wang4's non-mala broth was not a pickled cabbage broth but their own hotpot broth, and they also offered lunchtime NT$100 noodles that were so delicious (and to be reviewed!)

My friend said that once they had a reservation for 10 or 12 people and they were all squished at a table for 10... which is all fine, except that they all had to share just ONE hotpot. If you can't wait to eat, you might be better off at the all you can eat Momo Paradise which has a hotpot for every 2-4 people.

But if you can get a seat, you shouldn't turn it down. And if you can, go with a bunch of friends or family so you can enjoy chatting while you sharing good food, and can try more things when you order for more people so you don't have a huge bill for just yourself.

Friday, February 06, 2009

rant: i love comments, but please keep the mean ones to yourself

I love hearing from you guys and I love comments, but you'll have to let me know if this is mean-spirited or if I'm just taking it the wrong way... Anonymous comments from the latest post.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "tea/coffee: i recommend ORANGE TEA MANIA":
I am unfamiliar with these "San Ming", "Mingquan", "Chunghsiao" and "Jhuangjing" roads. Are they anywhere near Sanmin, Minquan, Zhongxiao, and Zhuangjing roads?

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "tea/coffee: i recommend ORANGE TEA MANIA":
To not be a dick for a moment, as much as I love your blog it makes my eyes bleed trying to figure out the names of basically everywhere you post about. Would it be too much to ask for you to, you know, use the right names for things? I mean, I can understand street names, it's not like they're not on every street sign or most maps - oh wait - and as for place names, it's not like there's no single, internationally recognized, easy-to-convert-to romanization system, which just happens to be the same one now being encouraged by the Ministry of Education and the Ma administration or anything.

I can take sarcasm, but when you're just lashing out, it takes all the fun out of it.

Now seriously, this blog started out as a fun thing just for myself- a personal black book if you will. And over the years, I know that it's grown as a resource for others, so I try my best to put accurate and thorough information out there, even if it takes me a lot of time from other things that I'd rather be doing.

But I can only do so much. I have no idea what "official" romanization rules are and I rely a lot on Google Translator and what I can find online. I don't know where every restaurant is in relation to MRT stops. And my computer doesn't type in Chinese. You want to know the Chinese info, please call the restaurant or check out their official websites. Sure the names are on the street signs, but all the information- business cards, websites, etc- are usually in Chinese, and I have to figure it out myself what it is offline and how to translate it. I'm not typing in the Chinese addresses into a magical "easy to convert" machine.

Not to be a dick back, but you can take your bleeding eyes to the food blogs written in Chinese and translate them yourself if you don't want to deal with my homegrown romanization.

Okay, end rant. Deep breath.

tea/coffee: i recommend ORANGE TEA MANIA

No. 94, Ming Shen E. Road, Sec 4
(02) 2715-1919



Kid friendliness: lots of fun drinks but be careful of the jellies and choking hazards

Visit reviewed: 12/18/2008

Shortly after I spotted the bright Orange Tea Mania sign near my grandma's house, I started seeing them everywhere. Is it a new chain that is expanding quickly around the city, or have I just been missing it until now? Offering a long list of teas and fruity drinks at ultra affordable prices (all around NT$35), Orange Mania takes its own spin it by offering a glut of jellies and even fresh passion fruit seeds. The Chinese name- "gong fang"- roughly translated could mean "factory," but google translated it as "mania" so that's what I'm going with- although both could work. Does anyone know for sure otherwise?

They make it easy for you by listing their top 10 drinks (well, in Chinese) as well as a huge picture of drink #1- the QQ fresh passion fruit tea, which has boba, coconut jelly and fresh edible passion fruit seeds in a passion fruit tea. It's a bit sweet and chewy and a great treat on a hot day if you're like me and love that you can get this sort of thing for US$1. The passionfruit seeds are sweet and tart and a bit crunchy and slimy (though you can't tell as much inside the drink), so that part may be a love it or hate it sort of thing. If you're more traditional, then you can stick to the "boba nai cha" or boba milk tea or other teas.

OTHER LOCATIONS (roughly translated from website)
No. 156, San Ming Road
(02) 2746-7979

No. 806, Bade Rd, Sec 4
at Sungshan Railway Station
(02) 2653-0033

No. 171, Mingquan E Road
(02) 2546-6768

Yanji shop
No. 169, Yanji St (Ren Ai Road, Sec 4)
(02) 2731-5500

No. 53-3, Da-an Road, Sec 1 (Chunghsiao East Road 4)
(02) 2777-1866

No. 152, Fuxing South Road, Sec 2
(02) 2703-6363

No. 3, Linjiang St. (Tonghua Night Market)
(02) 2700-6767

No. 387, Jhuangjing (near the World Trade Organization)
(02) 2345-1003

No. 55, Songlong Road
(02) 8787-0100