Monday, September 25, 2017

chinese/dessert: i recommend HONOLULU CAFE

at Xinyi Mitsukoshi A11, B1

MRT: Taipei City Hall

Price: $$

Kid Friendliness: 

Visits reviewed: 

THE SATISFYING FLAKINESS OF 192 LAYERS of pastry and a jiggly, custard-like center. This is the egg tart that has lured me and all the other people to Honolulu Cafe's first Taipei shop. 

If you hadn't heard of Honolulu Cafe, the famed cha chaan teng from Hong Kong yet, then the trays of freshly baked egg tarts from the entrance's window and the line of people wrapped around the corner outside the building might pique your curiosity to wait in line too. The store introduces itself with well placed signage "Honolulu Cafe | Since 1940" at the entrance, and hand drawn posters diagramming its egg tarts features for newbies. 

Even though I had been a fan of Honolulu Cafe's egg tarts for years, even bringing boxes back to Taipei from Hong Kong, I didn't know there were 192 layers until I saw it on the poster. I just knew that the flaky crust was one of the best egg tarts I had eaten. So I was extremely excited to hear about the opening at Xinyi Mitsukoshi A11. 

Honolulu Cafe's menu is a dizzying array of choices, especially without English translations, but luckily the waiter drops off an iPad menu of glossy photos to browse and order. 

As we swipe through the menu, everyone excitedly agreed that each person will get their own egg tart, and everything else we can share family style, including a few pineapple buns with thick slabs of butter inside, another classic Hong Kong treat.

The pineapple bun is spongy and sweet with a crumbly crust. Those who love this dish devour it with the butter, those of us who can't just eat straight butter nibble around it. I would choose the egg tart over the pineapple bun, which is not as moist as the Taiwanese bolo pineapple bun or the cha siu version of it at Tim Ho Wan. 

And let's not forget, the drinks. Iced lemon tea, coffee brewed with sweetened milk tea, or iced coffee, something that I've never had at the original shop. 

To be honest, I've never actually eaten inside Honolulu Cafe in Hong Kong, I've only picked up takeaway of a half a dozen egg tarts from their shop's front counter outside the store every time. So stepping into their restaurant I'm surprised by the bright modern decor- there are several seating sections, all slightly different with booths, tables and outdoors. 

After we've ordered, a medley of Hong Kong classics arrived to fill our table and the ones around us- dim sum favorites like steamed shrimp chang fun, platters and noodle soups of roast bbq meat, and claypot tofu dishes. 

For a filling bite, I also enjoyed the Hong Kong style french toast, two slices sandwiching a layer of peanut butter and then drenched in maple syrup and a pat of butter. 

My favorites were the roast bbq pork, crispy pork and duck that come with four different dipping sauces, the deep fried soft shell crab, and the sausage claypot rice. And of course the egg tart. 

Try to eat the egg tarts as soon as it's served. It's best eaten hot, though of course don't burn your tongue. The crust is flaky which makes it messy to eat, and the filling is more custardy and soft than dense and sweet like bruleed Portuguese egg tarts, but that's what I love about it. If you prefer the shortbread crust and filling that doesn't wobble, this might not be the egg tart for you, but for me, I'm happy since I won't have to haul back boxes from Hong Kong anymore!!! 

Friday, September 15, 2017

dessert/taiwanese: i strongly recommend DAZHI FENG YUAN

No. 35 DaZhi Street

MRT: Wenhu (brown line) 5 minute walk

price: $ (about NT$60/person) Delivery available 

hours: 11AM- 9PM

Kid friendliness: very. at this price, they can each get their own bowl

visits reviewed: 8/18/2017 and 9/10/2017

DAZHI FENG YUAN IS A SMALL SHOP IN DAZHI, but with more than all the essentials for Taiwanese shaved ice. With over 20 different chewy, colorful toppings from taro balls to grass jelly to boba and red adzuki beans, you could make a number of combinations. Feng Yuan translates to the name for tapioca in Chinese, so that's why you see a big bowl of it on their sign, advertised for NT$30. 

A bowl of shaved ice is NT$60 with a choice of four toppings. I especially like their pearl barley, so much that I got double of it. I know Taiwanese shaved ice toppings can sound strange to people who are used to having their barley with beef soup or beans in chili, but think of how oatmeal which is usually eaten sweet for breakfast is now being used as a savory option. In Taiwan, mung beans, red beans, pearl barley, oatmeal are all sweetened and used for desserts. I've even seen creamed corn as a topping on shaved ice (which still repulses me, but hey, corn ice cream is a thing in the US now, so we can't judge).

They also have douhua, or soy pudding, but I found the flavor to taste a little on the burnt side, which I know some soy milk places are known for, but I personally prefer it without. You can add three toppings to the douhua, which are hidden underneath. 

Dazhi Feng Yuan's ice isn't super fine, but with the creamy and chewy toppings and brown sugar syrup, it all works together. 

And those who don't like the traditional toppings, they have mango shaved ice, but it's seasonal. I haven't tried it yet because I'm still trying different combos of the traditional. My go to combo is usually pearl barley, aiyu, boba and mochi balls, but on this day my friend wanted to try the big red beans and the taro balls. 

They have about 10 seats and it's fairly clean and they let you use their bathroom. Haha. I had to note that because A LOT of little shops won't let you use their bathroom, even though you know they have one. Anyways, this no frills shop has become a go to when I'm in the Dazhi area for a quick snack. Cuz global warming. The shop is near Shih Chien University and Dominican International School. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

mexican/colombian: i strongly recommend QUANTUM TACOS and MECATOCOLOMBIA at MAJI SQUARE

No.1 Yumen Street 玉門街1號

MRT: Yuanshan 

websites: Quantum Tacos Facebook
website: Mecato Colombia

Pricing: $ (NT$150/ person) 

Visit reviewed: 9/10/2017


I HAVE POSSIBLY FOUND THE BEST TACOS IN TAIPEI RIGHT NOW and you'll never guess where. Forget all you thought you knew about Mexican food in Taiwan and get yourself to the outdoor food court at Maji Square. 

Hidden in plain sight among the jumble of stalls of oyster vermicelli, burgers, poutine and Indian food are TWO food stalls you must try if you've been craving something better than the landscape of "It's good for Taiwan" Mexican food. 

If you are on my blog today for night market finds, beef noodles soups and dumplings, then scroll through my previous posts for a moment while we talk about this. 

But if you've lived in Taipei longer than a year and/or eaten your fair share of Mexican food fails,  I'm talking to you right now. 

I didn't even realize what the name of the shop was, my eyes just went from TACOS on the sign straight to "al pastor," "carnitas," and "chorizo." The photos of the tacos looked promising, the person manning the shop didn't look like a bored Taiwanese worker, and the price of NT$150 for 2 tacos or NT$200 for 3 tacos was reasonable. 

After peppering the guy at the stand with a flurry of questions, I decided to get a plate of 3. Regrettably the carnitas wasn't ready yet, but I could get al pastor chicken and al pastor pork. He said it would take 5-10 minutes, so I would wait in anticipation by making another circle around the food court. A small price to pay for the promise of legit street tacos. 

I made my way back to Mecato Colombia which had drawn my attention with their bright and festive sign, flanked by the yellow, blue and red stripes from the Colombian flag, and more importantly photos of their empanadas. Because I figured I would kill two birds with one stone and try them both out and empanadas with tacos sounded pretty good. 

 I asked which ones were best and settled on the Traditional Chicken and the chicken and mushroom, which the owner said also had cheese. Sounded good to me. There's also pork, salami and Hawaiian empanada on the menu at Mecato (Is Hawaiian a real thing for empanadas? Or is that just for Taiwan????), as well as arepas, drinks and obless, which looked like Colombian tortas and cookies.

I think I made the owners a little bit nervous with all my questions and by concentratedly eyeing them getting the fryer ready for the handmade empanadas, so went back to look for my tacos. 

I have seen (and eaten) A LOT of tacos in Taipei (and around the world!) and the way the tacos look  dictate a lot about how they are going to taste. And these tacos al pastor from four month old Quantum Tacos were definitely in the right direction. 

First, they had corn tortillas. Second, they were sprinkled with diced onions and cilantro, and ONLY onions and cilantro. Third, there was a proper meat to tortilla ratio, enough meat that when you rolled up the taco that you could see the meat coming out of the edges. (And the fact that the corn tortilla was thin and pliable enough to roll up, you couldn't imagine what a rarity that even is in Taiwan!) 

And the taste? HEAVENLY.

I did not realize how much I wanted to eat a taco until my mouth was chewing the tender bits of spit -roasted pork and fat mixed with the punch of the bits of onion and cilantro,  and I forgot that I was even in Taipei. That I didn't even have to think, this is good for Taipei. I thought this is good PERIOD.

The al pastor had enough flavor from the tomato (which gives it its reddish color) * and spices to not need any extra hot sauce. But if you like it with a bigger kick, they did have a bottle of Cholula and housemade hot sauce on hand. All these details because the food was being made by someone who knows what it's supposed to taste like.

Sam, who was from Mexico, said that when he started, he didn't know how to cook these recipes, which are from the owner who is Taiwanese but had lived in Mexico for over 20 years. But after learning, he could adjust to taste when he was cooking it day to day because (let's say it again) he knows what it's supposed to taste like. And that makes a difference.

Also, I noticed when I picked up my food that there were two business cards on the counter and realized the owner of Quantum Tacos was ALSO the owner of Teotihuacan Restaurant, which I had just found on the internets a few days before when I was researching to revamp my list of Mexican restaurants. I had never heard of it before then and now it all clicked IRL.

When I realized my empanadas were ready so I had to put down my taco (you can see the bite I took above) to pick them up. They were golden, fist sized puffs with braided edges and I knew that I was probably the only person in the food court filled with Taiwanese families, eating both tacos and empanadas right then. And they were MISSING OUT.

The chicken and mushroom empanada (NT$55) was deliriously cheesy, so much that they should put the word "cheese" in the description so people can know they are basically getting a fried cheese and chicken savory doughnut. The crust was flaky and the center cheesy, I didn't even mind that I didn't taste any mushroom. I seriously could not believe my luck, that the taco and empanada universe finally expanded to include Taipei. 

The chicken and potato empanada (NT$50) was also delicious, and reminded me of a croquette since it had the diced potato, but with the bonus of the fried crust around it. I am typing this up right now and thinking about if I should go back tomorrow for more. 

If you're looking for somewhere air conditioned to dine, you can also try the Argentinian Gaucho at the end of Maji Square, but while their grilled meats are good, their empanadas are no where near as good as the ones from Mecato Colombia. And their menu overall is definitely more expensive.

But seriously, who would have ever thought a food hall in Taipei would have Mexican, Colombian AND Argentinian food in one place? Is this the first you've heard about these spots? Do these photos make you excited? Where else have I been missing out on?? Leave a comment and some love, so I know you're reading! :)

PS sorry, let me also know the photos are turning up blurry? Blogger is having some issues for me, but I didn't want to wait to share.. so I will try to replace the photos later, but my eyes sometimes are also seeing blurry because i'm on my phone wayyy too much.

*per feedback in the comments, please note that traditional al pastor DOES NOT have tomatoes but chilis and spices, but the chef behind quantum tacos made that personal adjustment.