Friday, June 28, 2013

snapshot/japanese: SANJI RAMEN's tsukemen

I'm the type of person that tends to order the same exact thing every time I return to a restaurant, especially if I really liked it the first time around. But who wants to eat a hot bowl of ramen when it's humid and a hundred degrees outside? So I decided to give the tsukemen at Sanji Ramen a try during a lunch with an out of town friend.

Tsukemen is the style where you dip the noodles in a reduced broth rather than have the noodles and soup together. The vegetables, egg and meat are usually room temperature as well. The noodles are very al dente chewy and a filling portion (though it only fills half the bowl. There's a wooden rack beneath the noodles)

There are three choices for the dipping broth at Sanji- pork shoyu, black sesame or spicy miso. I chose the pork shoyu. Sanji gives also a small pot of plain broth if you want to water down the dipping sauce to drink. Personally, I thought the warm dipping broth was on the salty side (as was warned by the waiter), but not rich enough to coat the noodles as I had first experienced at LA's popular tsukemen joint Tsujita. 

I probably would stick to the trademark Kagoshima style shoyu pork bone broth ramen on return visits, as many people in the crowded restaurant (and people waiting in line at 1pm outside) didn't mind slurping even with the summer heat outside. I also would give the tsukemen at Ippudo a try, which is a seasonal item on their menu.

No. 12, Song Shou Road, 5FL 
台北市信義區松壽路 12號 5樓
(02) 7737-5188

MRT: Taipei City Hall


$ (about NT$200/person)

Kid friendliness: lots of kids spotted, lots kid friendly menu options

Previous visit reviewed: 2/3/2012

Thursday, June 20, 2013

night market/taiwanese: i still strongly recommend TONGHUA/LINJIANG NIGHT MARKET

Linjiang Street between Tong Hua Street and Keelung Road

MRT: Liuzhangli (about 10-15 minute walk) or SYS Memorial Hall (about 20 minute walk)

hours: evening to 2AM


Visit reviewed: 5/24/2013

I've had an unusual number of visitors from the states this year. The good thing about it, besides catching up with friends, is that I've had a chance to revisit a bunch of night markets to compare and update my impressions. I get to take them around, point out the good eats and watch their faces as they happen upon the smell of stinkalicious stinky tofu.

While Tonghua Night Market may not be as famous or big as Shilin night market or have as fancy a sign as Raohe (which I think has gone downhill since I reviewed it last), I think it might be my new favorite. It's got great renditions of my favorite night market snacks- ice cream run bing wrap, Taiwanese sausage in sticky rice da chang bao xiao chang, and stinky tofu. Also not to be missed (though I didn't get a photo) are the candied yams that are bite sized pieces of yams with a crunchy, sugary coating and shaved ice. If you haven't eaten dinner, you can also grab a seat at the cheap teppanyaki shops that Tonghua is known for.

While most of my friends call it Tonghua night market, it's actually on Linjiang Street, so some people also refer it as Linjiang Night Market. The main night market area is marked by two entrance signs, so be sure to note which cross street (Keelung or Tong Hua) if you are meeting up with friends.

Remember to look for the block of peanut brittle sitting alone on the vendor's stand to spot the ice cream wrap. Otherwise it's really easy to miss if you can't read the signage. Once you place an order, the vendor springs into action to make fresh peanut brittle shavings to go with the ice cream and cilantro (yes! cilantro!)

The ice cream at this vendor was sorbet-like with pineapple, red bean and taro flavors and was not too sweet or watered down (I had a bad one at Sanxia last month) and the wrapper was paper thin. I recommend you try it with the cilantro, it really works with the flavor and texture of the peanut shavings. FAVORITE!

This was one of the first times I've seen so many savory options for the red bean cake. Not necessarily enticing to me, but unique.

This is what I'm talking about. Sweet grilled Taiwanese sausages shoved into a grilled sticky rice sausage, cut in half to be the bun. In Chinese, this Taiwanese "hot dog" is called Da Chang Bao Xiao Chang or Big Sausage wrapping the Little Sausage. Love it. LOVE IT! Not the most healthiest snack, but hey, I only night market it once in awhile.

You can get it with different toppings and sauces, but I prefer the original flavor with some pickled vegetables- not too much other craziness.

So if you're visiting Taipei this summer and making the night market rounds, be sure to include Tonghua on your list (I gotta go back and explore it some more too). Especially if you're staying near 101, as this is the closest night market to it. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

indian: i strongly recommend THE SPICE SHOP

No. 6, Alley 10, Lane 50, Tienmu East Rd, Taipei
(02) 2873-7775

MRT: Mingde or Shipai (closest MRTs but would probably still need a taxi to the restaurant, or 30 minute walk. Near/behind Tianmu Shin Kong Mitsukoshi mall)

website: Spice Shop's FB page

hours: 11:30AM - 2PM; 5:30PM - 10PM

$$ (about NT$500-600/person)

Kid friendliness: I always think Indian is a more difficult kid friendly cuisine unless your kid can tolerate spiciness- some non spicy options- naan and tandoori chicken.

Visit reviewed: 5/29/2013

I'd often passed by Spice Shop on my way to its next door neighbor Saffron, also an Indian restaurant. I  was curious and heard good things about Spice Shop, but didn't want to give up a sure thing for a delicious lunch for a new unknown, especially when I had made the trek to Tianmu. 

So luckily someone asked to meet me there for lunch so I had no more excuses to not try it, and I'm glad I did. It's equally delicious as Saffron, with a more casual vibe and slightly more affordable prices. It seems they've remodeled since the last time I passed it by, making the decor more modern and upscale from the brighter, eclectic decor they had before. It's not too crowded for a weekday late lunch, though it's probably best to make reservations for the weekend.

The menu is expansive, with lots of vegetarian options to choose from. Since my friend was vegetarian (and chose the restaurant), we ended up with two vegetarian dishes and one meat. Dishes range from NT$260-NT$560, so if you want variety, it's better to come with more people to share. That's definitely one thing I miss from the states- the weekday lunch buffet and get stuffed with a plate full of different curries and chicken tandoori for US$10. Does anyone do a weekday brunch here? I only know of Ali Baba and Tandoor on the weekends. Oh and Aaleja (I almost blocked it out, it was so traumatizing).

Complimentary papadam

The food came out fairly quickly, in small deep bowls. I loved the flavors and mild spiciness of all the dishes and even though I only got to try three, it was enough for me to want to come back again. If you like it spicy, you should let them know what level of heat you want when you order.

The baigan bharta (eggplant curry) (NT$270) had a sweetness from the additional cooked tomatoes and onions.

Aloo gobi had a lot of cauliflower and large chunks of potato.

Butter chicken (NT$360) has become a new favorite of mine, with its creamy, sweet curry, being a less spicy cousin to my previous favorite, chicken tikka masala. I usually sop up the curry with plain naan (NT$80) or basmati rice (NT$30). So good!

For those of you Hungry in Hsinchu, there's a Spice Shop there as well! 

No.19 Xinguang Road, Hsinchu, Taiwan
(03) 5710687

Monday, June 10, 2013

japanese/food court: i recommend MARUKAME UDON at A8

at Shin Kong Mitsukoshi A8
No. 12, Song Gao Rd, B2

MRT: Taipei City Hall

website: Marukame's corporate site or Marukame's Taiwan FB site

hours: 11 AM- 9:30PM

$-$$ (about NT$150-300/person)

Kid friendliness: lots to choose from including rice triangles and fried veggies in disguise. Self serve food court seating. A8 also has high chairs available to use, usually in an area near Mcdonald's

Visit reviewed: 5/20/2013

The last time I saw lines this long at a food court was for Taipei's new tsukemen spot at the Hankyu Mall... but despite my disappointing experience the last time, I wanted to give the new sanuki udon spot at Xinyi Mituskoshi's A8 foodcourt a try. I saw the crazy lines on a Sunday and thought it would be less busy on a weekday, but I was wrong. Monday lunchtime was still about a 20-30 minute wait. I'd advise showing up early when the mall opens around 11AM if you want less of a wait. I saw lines even at 3-4PM in the afternoon.

After the ramen craze last year, with the openings of Ippudo and Santouka to lines of up to two hour wait times (or so I heard), everyone is looking for the new thing. I'm a bit surprised it's udon, with the relatively quick closures of previous tasty sanuki udon favorites in the area- Tenpura Sanuki Udon and Jika Udon- which both were busy at first, but eventually flustered at Vieshow.

While waiting in line and deciding what to order, you can spy the busy chefs making the sanuki udon  and frying the tempura vegetables and shrimp to keep up with the orders. It's cafeteria style, grab a tray and plates, order what kind of udon you'd like, grab it, pick out your tempura and then pay at the cashier at the end.

I end up ordering the Ontama Bukkake (NT$119 for large/NT$89 for medium bowl) because it's one of the few cold udon options.. Most of them are hot, including the plain soup udon in a wooden bucket. The Ontama Bukkake comes with a soy sauce and dashi broth and a soft boiled egg atop (which I asked to be on the side). There's about 12 udons to choose from- I was also tempted by the pork tonkatsu broth, spicy pork tonkatsu broth or the curry udon.

It takes a a minute or two for them to cook, scoop and assemble your bowl, but there are still people in front of you in line deciding on their fried options and paying, so just wait and watch the chefs.

Next up is the self serve tempura bar, perfect for those that have wished for more shrimp and less eggplant in their tempura set orders. Grab a plate (or two if you are getting food for your friend who is saving seats for you), and you can pick up however many pieces and whatever you want, paying by piece (NT$25-35 each). This concept works especially well when it's busy- since the turnover is high and the pieces are coming hot out of the oil. There's nothing worse than cold, soggy tempura.

I saw some people who just grabbed 2 pieces, or you could pile on a plateful (like I did) and end up paying about the same price that I would for a sit down ten zaru set.

There's even onigiri rice triangles (with mentaiko, tuna or beef) and inari sushi pieces at the end if you are especially hungry.

Of course, there's a DIY condiments bar, including toppings like chopped spring onions or tempura batter crumbs (aka tanuki) to finish off your bowl. At the very least be sure to grab some chopsticks and spoons.

Finally get to sit down and eat!

Two pieces of shrimp tempura, a vegetable tempura kakiage, pumpkin and green bell pepper (about NT$150). Hot and crispy, perfectly battered- not too thick or overfried.

And the udon is awesomely chewy, in long ribbons to use your teeth to bite into sections, though the noodles get saltier the longer they sit in the sauce. Next time, I'd definitely ask it for it on the side to dip, or get the pork broth, though I usually find the cold udon more refreshing during the summer.

Besides Japan and Taipei, Marukame (or Marugame) Udon's website lists its other branches in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea, Thailand, Russia(?!) and Hawaii.

So udon vs ramen? What's your pick? Would you wait half an hour for food court udon and tempura, or just go to the less busy stand around the corner?