Sunday, October 5, 2008

台灣美食篇 (FOOD!)

The thing that people seem to forget about Taiwan (or at least don't regularly associate with Taiwan) is the amount of great food this little island has to offer. I may be biased here, but Taiwan has some of the best food in the world, at a totally affordable price (e.g. MUCH cheaper than U.S.). You have everything from street vendor goodies to great 小吃 (literally "little eats" or snack type dishes), to full on banquets and 5+ course dinners. You can get away with a delicious street vendor meal for less than 2 or 3 bucks and be completely full... even better if you go to a night market and try all the little snacks along the way. But even the full on 5 or 6 course dinners are totally affordable at about 30 bucks a person... oh and there is all sorts of all you can eat type places (not just BBQ or hotpot, but some offering traditional dishes) for like 10 bucks (all USD). Cheap and way healthier than fast food (well, I guess that is debatable)... I love Taiwan :).

I just posted some photos from a restaurant my dad took us to, Ikki, a modern fusion interpretation of 懷石料理 (Kaiseki ryouri) that incorporates traditional Japanese dishes like sashimi with more modern and sometimes western dishes like lamb and steak. There was a total of 8 dishes (fruit + drink + dessert counts as one) for a mere $1280 NT (+ 10% service charge/tip)... this is roughly $44 USD tax tip all included. The food was great, each course carefully prepared and presented. The portions was just right for me as I was plenty full towards the end. The ambiance was great, mostly dim with black table/walls and we were fortunate enough to get our own room. And of course, the service was exceptional... all the waiters/waitress were extremely patient and greeted you with a smile. Unfortunately I didn't get many good photos from there... but trust me, the food was great (especially at that price).

Then today, a friend of mine took me to 度小月 (Tu Hsiao Yueh), a great little place for traditional Taiwanese dishes.

 I really loved their minced pork noodle (擔仔麵). The noodles weren't quite as "Q" (chewy) as one might expect, but it kind of melted away in your mouth which was a nice change that I really enjoyed. The minced pork was not fatty or greasy at all, yet extremely flavorful... mixed with some bean sprouts, mashed garlic, scallions and a shrimp to top it off... the flavor just explodes in your mouth. Traditionally the noodle is served with a broth (but it was hot outside so I opted for the dry noodles... I hear their broth is really good and is something I'll have to try next time).

The portions were small enough for you to try the other dishes (they offer minced pork rice noodle as well as rice... the rice was somewhat forgettable tho) or snacks. Each bowl was only 50 NT or just over $1.50 USD. It is one of the best minced pork noodle I've ever had, no joke. Just when I thought it couldn't get better... the dessert really blew me away.
My friend and I ordered their hand-made mochi 手工嘛吉 that is freshly prepared just for you. While I don't eat mochi that often, this might be one of the best mochi I've ever had. It was baked so that the outside would offer a bit of resistance, almost crunchy while the warm inside was soft and sticky (but not so sticky that it sticks to your teeth and chewy - it was just perfect). The outside was coated in both sesame and peanut crumbs, the 2 flavors played really well together I thought... a touch of saltiness mixed with the strong peanut sweet taste (ok I like peanuts so I'm a bit biased). The great flavoring mixed with the texture of the baked mochi when you bite into it... it was really just out of this world. So good...

There is something here for everyone, with a wide price range. Sometimes the small hole in the wall place that only the locals knows about will offer the best food (for a cheap price), while some times the popular places (either due to magazine or TV coverage) turn out to be a disappointment. Either way, there is great food to be had here, no matter the budget you have.