Tuesday, March 29, 2016

indian/revisited: i still strongly recommend THE SPICE SHOP

No. 6 Alley 10, Lane 50, TianMu E. Road, Shilin District
(02) 2873-7775

 MRT: Mingde (about 30 minute walk or 10 minute drive from station)

 website: Spice Shop's FB page

 hours: 11:30AM – 2PM, 5:30PM –9:30PM

 $$ - $$$ (about NT$400-600 per person)

 Kid friendliness: high chairs available, some non spicy menu items available.

Visit reviewed: 3/15/2016
Previous visit reviewed: 5/29/2013 (LOL!! I didn't even realize I reviewed it already. So I added this and changed the header.

Have you ever seen the movie THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY? Basically, it's a movie about a one Michelin starred French restaurant run by Helen Mirren's character that begins feuding with the owners of the newly opened Indian restaurant across the street, and of course, mutual love of good food brings them together in the end. Anyways, I think about this movie because Spice Shop is right next to another Indian restaurant, Saffron, less than a hundred feet away, and you have to wonder what the relationship between the two restaurants are. Are they owned by the same people? Are they enemies? Do they just ignore each other? Do they work together? I guess the easy thing to do would be to ask, but every time I'm too busy eating my food to remember.

For whatever reason, I tried Saffron first and ate only at Saffron for years before stepping foot into Spice Shop, because Saffron was so good, even though it seemed to be the more upscale, pricier restaurant . Why give up a sure thing when you don't know if the restaurant next door is going to be bad or good especially when I was trekking all the way to Tianmu. Then a few years ago, a friend wanted to eat at Spice Shop and so we went and it ended being equally tasty as Saffron. (Note the date in the Instagram photo below-- May 2013! That was my first time to Spice Shop. What a difference three years make, so much has changed in my life since then.)

I wish I had taken more photos of the menu, but the English Chinese menu has a collection of appetizers, salads, tandoor dishes, curries and vegetarian dishes.

And even though I don't have photographic proof, Spice Shop went through several renovations awhile back and now is equally fancy looking as Saffron, even though my fuzzy memory swears that Spice Shop used to look more colorful and casual than it does with its current muted purple hues and decor. (Googling some old blogs seem to vouch for that.) Spice Shop has been opened for over 10 years, a few years before Saffron opened.

So for a recent get together, my friends and I ended up at Spice Shop and they quite liked it as well. Butter chicken, tandoori chicken, fluffy naan, raita, spinach, eggplant.

Complimentary papadum, only 1 per person. We asked for more, but they said it would cost extra.

The raita (NT$100) at Spice Shop has a lot of cucumber, onion, tomato mixed in (unlike the version at Balle Balle which has a little bit of diced cucumber but is basically a yogurt dressing, but more like the version I had at Joseph's Bistro). 

The tandoori chicken - a half order of four pieces was good enough for three of us to share. I personally thought the chicken had too much spice layered atop it, there was something that didn't agree with me, but I was the only one who thought so.

Butter Chicken (NT$380) This was a hit at the table as always.. It seemed to have more layered flavors than my current favorite spot, Balle Balle, and wasn't as sweet. 

Butter chicken with a pile of naan is a must. Plain for me, garlic for my friends! The naan at Spice Shop is fluffy and generously sized.

Spoon a little of each curry and some rice to your plate and dig in. The eggplant and spinach were really good too. It's definitely harder to have a variety if you are eating alone. That's why I always eat it with a few friends. If you can't eat spicy foods, then the waitress recommended Murgh Lababdar (NT$340) to us. The default spiciness level in Taipei is generally low spiciness, which is how I like it too, so I don't mind it. But I've heard rumbles online when people complain about Indian restaurants in Taipei not being spicy enough. So the general rule of thumb for Indian food in Taipei is that if you like it spicy, just ask. 

Friday, March 25, 2016


Hello Kitty is slowly taking over the world, or at least as many Taiwan transportation modes as she can, one at a time. First were the Hello Kitty planes and airport check in stations for Eva Air. Now the Hello Kitty-fied Taroko Express will run several times a week between Taipei and Taitung, complete with cute Hello Kitty train conductor porkchop bentos for NT$120. 

As for the 328 missing Hello Kitty head covers on the first train ride a few days ago on March 21st? Maybe the TRA should consider just building in the cost of a disposable headrest cover into the cost of each ticket so people can just take them home.. Or sewing them permanently into the seats so they won't be stolen. China Post states they might make the same design into napkins, which could become a souvenir substitute. 

What's next? Hello Kitty taxis? 

For more photos, check out 
http://edition.cnn.com/2016/03/23/travel/taiwan-hello-kitty-train/index.html http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/peoplesdaily/article-3505833/Feline-like-holiday-Hello-Kitty-train-unveiled-Taiwan-carriage-food-conductor-styled-cartoon-character.html http://m.chinapost.com.tw/taiwan/2016/03/23/461549/TRA-mulls.htm

Monday, March 21, 2016

breakfast/taiwanese: i recommend O BY LOCOFOOD

No. 492 Fujin St
(02) 2762-0538

MRT: Nanjing Sanmin 南京三民站

website: O by Locofood's FB page

hours: 7AM - 4PM

$ (Cash only)

kid friendliness: stool seating only, but lots of kid friendly options on menu

visit reviewed: 1/14/2016

Welcomed myself back to Taipei back in January, with crispy dan bing (or dubbed "crispy omelette" here at O by Locofood), a thin crepe rolled and stuffed with egg, cabbage shreds, German sausage and cheese, pan fried until the outside layer is pliable yet delivers a satisfying crunch. (NT$75) I noticed this colorful shop before my short trip to the US when my parents insisted we visit the bakery next door.

The menu is in Chinese only (except for the daily specials on the wall which have English). Even in Chinese, the names like "Paul's favorite" or "Grandma's " aren't clear what's inside- so I had to ask repeatedly about "what's in this one? what's in this one?" Luckily the server was fairly patient in answering the questions, but I'd be frustrated if there was a line of people asking repeatedly about the menu while I was waiting. Luckily, there was no wait at all, though apparently this is a branch of Locofood, which reportedly has a 30-60 minute wait at its original location. So for the crispy omelette aka dan bing, the other fillings include tuna, bacon, ham, chicken nuggets and hash browns.

Almost like a Taiwanese breakfast burrito made this way, but eaten with a fork. This is a branch of the popular Locofood, but I hate to wait and this place has yet to be discovered by the masses, so it was a quiet place to grab breakfast. As someone commented on instagram, the colorful hanging skillets, decor and serving skillets given Taiwanese breakfast a "hipster" vibe. The dan bing here are slightly more expensive than you'd find at your local Taiwanese breakfast joint, but there is more variety of ingredients to stuff your crispy omelette and one dish is quite filling.

Crispy egg #danbing served in #locofood's signature mini cast iron pan. Great w a touch of ketchup. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

korean: i recommend UNCLES TAIWAN

No. 31, Lane 260, GuangFu S. Rd
(02) 8771-8097

MRT: SYS Memorial Hall

hours: 11:30AM- 3:30PM; 4:30PM- 11PM 

$$ (about NT$300-500/person) 

kid friendliness: not a lot of non-spicy options for non-spicy eating kids

Visits reviewed: 11/19/2015 & 3/17/2016

OMG! The moment I saw this on Instagram, hot, melty, stringy cheese bookended by deep fried giant squid on a bed of spicy Korean tteokboki rice cakes, I knew I must try it. I counted down the minutes until I could go the very next day (last November). The first time I went, Uncles Taiwan had been opened for less than one week. A popular tteokbokki restaurant from Korea, Uncles Taiwan is located in the alleys across from SYS Memorial Hall. Uncle's Taiwan was brought in by TKK (Taiwan's KFC) so they know how to make deep fried goodness.

Live out your construction worker fantasies with pseudo uniforms, hard hats and wands to light up and wave down the waiters. 

On the first visit, the Chinese only menu can be a little confusing, but you basically choose the base (step 1) (spicy saucy rice cakes or a stir fried version), opt for cheese or without (YOU MUST CHOOSE CHEESE for the full experience) and what you will top it with- fried squid, pork belly or chicken wings, and the prices are added together accordingly. There only one portion size, and I would say probably best suited for 3-4 people. They don't pack up leftovers so go hungry or with friends. There's also Korean instant ramen, seafood pancake and rice balls. FYI there's a minimum per person fee of NT$300.

Spicy chicken feet with rice cake or Korean fishcake oden

Seafood Pancake (NT$290) Last fall when we tried the seafood pancake, it was quite disappointing, served a bit too thick and underdone. This time, my friend asked for it to be extra crispy. It was better than before, and there's a decent amount of shrimp, oysters and squid inside, though it's a bit pricey for the size. 

Seaweed, mentaiko rice balls (NT$80) This is the only rice option, which isn't really necessary since you're getting a pan full of starchy rice cakes, but if there's someone who doesn't eat spicy at the table or kids, then this is one of your few choices. It's not bad, it's just something you could totally do yourself at home. Depending on what server you get, they will offer to mix up the hot rice for you and form little rice balls, or leave the plastic glove and ball on the table for you to do yourself.

I've been to Uncles Taiwan three times and I still get a tiny thrill seeing the monster squid coming to the table. This is the before of the must order dish at Uncles Taiwan... Crispy whole squid atop mozzarella cheese and spicy Korean ricecake tteokbokki, fishcakes and hardboiled egg. The squid legs dangle off the pot and you wonder how you are going to eat it, but they cut the body and legs for you into pieces after they've pulled it apart into oozing melted cheese. (NT$390 cheese rice cakes + fried squid NT$250 = NT$640). On my second visit, I went with more friends so I could try more of the menu. But we still all liked the deep fried squid over cheesy Korean rice cakes the best. The low spicy/xiao la still has a kick and tinge of sweetness.

First they have to light the fire (that's when you have to get your camera ready for the MOMENT)...

Say cheese. Click here to see my instagram video of the cheesy magic.

You can opt to stir it all together, or just scoop up the parts you want to eat. Low spiciness is pretty dang spicy. 

Buried underneath is the rice cake (tteokbokki) and

thin strips of fish cake...

Some thoughts after three visits- skip the ramen- unless you want to try to add it into the tteokbokki. Make sure your squid is hot when it comes to your table, if that's important to you. On my third visit, I instinctively touched the squid when the dish didn't appear to be hot and I was right when it wasn't. So we sent it back a new one because what's the point of wasting calories when it's not hot out of the fryer. I also missed the cute, helpful waiter from our first visit-- this time the servers were all clumped together at the bar, not looking toward the customers and we often had to walk over and wave them down. Also different servers will create different experiences, and since this dish is a bit interactive, then it's even more important that the servers provide a good experience for repeat business. 

I'm sure I'll be back when another friend tells me that they want to go, there's nothing else like it in Taipei that I know of.  I know there are quite a few Korean restaurants that have the cheesy spicy Korean rice cake hotpot available, including the not-so-new Tiger Tteokbokki, but in a city where often the nachos and sandwiches and dishes need to up their game on their cheese factor, Uncles Taiwan seems to know what we want.