Wanderlust Taiwan- 玉欣珍’s Ba Wan 員林肉圓, A Mega-Dumpling for a Buck 50!

This meal took place on a lazy Saturday afternoon after swimming with a friend. Between my friend and I, we have three multiethnic children. As we walked through the streets of Taipei, we naturally got looks with the girls speaking loudly in English. My friend picked this restaurant 玉欣珍 because there is usually a long line during lunch hour and they are famous for their giant size meat dumpling that is called Ba Wan, 肉圓. See CNN’s “40 Taiwanese Food We Can’t Live Without.” Ba wan is number 12.

I have later come to learn that 玉欣珍 serves traditional Taiwanese gourmet dishes. Ba Wan is just one of them. This little place is presumably named after the owner, 玉欣珍. Only women wearing pink shirts work here in this tiny kitchen/store front.Ba Wan 肉圓: here is what CNN had to say “Ba wan is a Taiwanese mega-dumpling. Made with a dough of rice flour, corn starch and sweet potato starch, it looks almost translucent after cooking. Pork, veggies and sometimes eggs are stuffed inside and gravy poured on top.” Ba Wan served in a bowl, with a stewed-in-soy-sauce egg. The texture of the dumpling is more elastic than the gnocchi, chewy but bouncy. When you break into the dumpling, all the gooey umami-infused juice come flowing out and mixed with the egg. This is heaven in a bowl for $1.5 USD or $45TWD.This bowl of noodles was excellent. Regular egg noodles with wontons, in clear broth, garnished by fresh bean sprouts and green onions. Without the wontons. Plain noodles. Parboiled bean sprout leaves with meat sauce.

This meal of traditional Taiwanese gourmet food for 2 adults and 3 children cost about $12 USD. It was fulfilling and delicious but with no ambience. Five of us huddled around a tiny table but we loved it. The girls were happy with their friends and the food. What more could I ask for?

This experience took place at

玉欣珍傳統美食坊
地 址:台北市大安區大安路一段51巷11號1樓
電 話:02-2740-3218
營業時間:週一到週日24小時

Wanderlust Taiwan- Fish Ball Rules! Cheap and Yummy Noodle Soup vs. NY Pizza and Bagel 佳興魚丸店的魚丸冬粉

This is typical of a “small eats” place in Taiwan. The store is petite with less than 10 tables. The owner and his family work the restaurant. They control all aspect of the operations, from buying and making the goods to serving and cleaning. They are friendly and welcome you with big smiles. The menu is simple: only fish related items – fish balls and fish skin in different kind of noodle soups.The prices range from $35 TWD or just slightly more than $1 USD for dry noodles to $65 TWD or a little more than $2 USD for fish & fish skin with noodle soup.
The dark vinegar, Sha Cha sauce, chili and white pepper. You may create the perfect taste yourself with these condiments.Fish balls with meat in the middle, fish and vermicelli noodles in fish broth 
Tofu steamed in sauce.

Less than $3 USD gets me a warm, yummy and fulfilling noodle soup plus steamed tofu that are brought to my table. In the NYC area, $3 gets me maybe a slice of cheese pizza or a bagel with cream cheese while I wait in line to order. How I miss the taste of Asia and the easy and cheap access to food.

Happy Thursday, Hardworking and Slaving New Yorkers!

This experience took place at

佳興魚丸店
台北市和平東路二段
Taipei City, Taiwan

Wanderlust Taiwan- Outer Space Cake 雞蛋糕: 雞老闆太空棒

This is a popular cake, made fresh and warm in a street cart, for all to snack on. In my case, I eat it for dinner and breakfast. You can find street carts like this in different locations in the cities of Taiwan. This style is called the outer space cake and this vendor is called the chicken boss. Here is his Facebook page, 雞老闆太空棒.  Here is a casual conversation with the chicken boss.  He works two jobs but loves this job because he controls his own schedule.

This takes place on the street of Taipei.

Wanderlust Taiwan- RaoHe Street Night Market Visit 饒河街觀光夜市

This is my only visit to the night market this year. RaoHe Street Night Market, 饒河街觀光夜市, is famous for its food and as-seen-on-TV products. Click here to watch a Magic Comb demonstration from a night market vendor. Click here to read about my prior visit to Linjiang Street Night Market last year.

For those who have never been to an Asian night market, it’s hard to imagine the crowds, noises, smells, lights and the sights. The only thing that came close to the Asian night market is the Plaza Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech, Morocco. It’s an overwhelming experience of the senses.  The temple next to the entrance  A sign demonstrating the proper way of queuing for the stand. 
The queue was long and this was what everyone was waiting for, a Japanese snack from Osaka that looks like a cake and has layers of cabbage, bacon, eggs, and shrimps. Grilled on both side and topped with mayo, Bonita flakes and wasabi.Charcoal grilled abalones and escargots
Fried squid with a multitude of seasonings to choose from Plum candies Pig feet  Eggs cooked by tea leavesBlack sugar cubes. Drinks made from winter melons with black sugar. Waffles with some special flavors: caramel green tea, Yu-Ching mango 
This entire stand is based on the chicken pieces that this man pulled and shredded by hand A variety of handmade dried tofu: sha cha, original and spicy 
This is luxurious night market eating because these people got seats. Most of us eat out of a paper box or a plastic bag while walking and browsing.

Do you think you would enjoy something like this?

Wanderlust Taiwan- Fragrant Stinky Tofu, 臭豆腐, Makes My Life Complete. I Believe in Fate.

Stinky tofu is fermented tofu.  For those of us who love it, stinky tofu smells fragrant and delicious.  For those of us who don’t have the nose for it, stinky tofu smells like sewage. Luckily, I have got the nose!  I return to Taiwan every summer for the stinky tofu; this is one of the items that is on my  last meal list. I am always in search of some great stinky tofu and I found it today in the Daan District in Taipei.Ain’t it beautiful?  Fried fermented tofu, served up with pickled cabbage, chili, mashed garlic and a blend of soy sauce and vinegar. 
Here is the whole stinky tofu operation. The truck where the stinky tofu operation takes place.  Just parked on the street.

I asked the owner of the truck when he will return to this location, in the first clip. He said he doesn’t know.  I asked how I could find him again.  He said, “Fate. Fate.” Because I love stinky tofu, I now must believe in fate. Gotta throw my existential beliefs out the window.  My life is more now complete today than yesterday.

To read about my prior post on stinky tofu, click here.

This experience took place on a side street of Daan District in Taipei, across from the National Taipei University of Education.

Wanderlust Taiwan- Brother Hotel, 兄弟大飯店, for Authentic Taiwanese Cusine

There are usually confusions about Taiwan: whether Taiwan is a part of China and whether Taiwan has its own cuisine.  The answer is no and yes, respectively. Taiwan is its own country and has a distinct culture and personality. Most importantly, it’s democratic with no censorship. Food wise, the Taiwanese cuisine certainly has its uniqueness. Here are examples from the Orchid Restaurant, 蘭花廳, in Brother Hotel in Taipei.Boiled Bamboo Shoots to be eaten with mayo. Sweet Potato Congee. 地瓜稀飯。The sweetness of the potato was infused into the congee. Baby Yam Leaves stirred-fried with garlic. Taiwanese cuisine is famous for using fresh ingredients and minimal cooking.  This is a perfect example. Boiled Shrimps with shells. 燙溫仔蝦。Nothing beats fresh seafood, especially the ones that were just caught in the morning. Omelette with pickled vegetables 
Fried Milkfish, 煎虱目魚肚- This is a popular fish in South East Asia.  The fish belly which is what we had is extremely tender, soft and smooth.Stewed Chicken with three cups of rice wine. 三杯雞Red bean soup for dessert. 紅豆湯。Bean soup for dessert?  You would have never thought it could be so tasty and healthy.

Simple cooking.  Fresh ingredients. Minimal processing. Food for healthy living and longevity. These are the principles behind most of Taiwanese dishes.

This experience took place at

Brother Hotel’s Orchid Restaurant
兄弟大飯店的蘭花廳
台北市南京東路三段255號
TEL:02-27123456(總機)    FAX:02-27173334    E-mail:service@brotherhotel.com.tw

Wanderlust Taiwan- To Be or Not To Be? Walking the Fine Line of Pastry Where East Meets West

The pastry shops in Asia are no boulangeries. They have an identity that is a clear fusion of the East and West.  I know I maybe biased for having been in a French family for decades but I strongly believe that excellent pastry should be like the ones you get from a French boulangerie. As a contrast, below is from a fancy pastry shop in the Brother Hotel off Nanjing Fuxing MRT station in Taipei.
The purple burrito like bread, 山之燒竽泥, is supposedly Japanese and has mochi and mashed taro filling.  The green burrito-shaped bread, 山之燒山藥, is filled with Chinese yam.
Now the fun part… Once you bite into it, you see the outer skin or the burrito-like wrapper starting to come off of what one would normally consider as the bread. Between the burrito wrapping and the bread, mochi (the white substance near the top of the photo) acts as the adhesive. Then the mashed taro filling is encase by the bread.  

This feels more like an arts & crafts project than eating a pastry. I don’t even know how to properly evaluate this piece of bread.  I don’t think of bread this way. I don’t even know if I like it. Nevertheless, the experience is out of the box.  Weird, too. 
This is the Taiwanese version of  the “peanut butter sandwich.” It is peanut powder plus butter. Did you notice that every piece of pastry has its own plastic bag?  The entire store is filled with pastry in bags on trays which are placed on shelves.

This only happens in Asia where a Western invention like the bread is brought in and fused with the Asian tastes (burrito wraps), ingredients (taro, yam, and mochi), interpretations (peanut powder and butter) and cultural needs (the individual plastic bags). This is unfamiliar for the French American in me but I’m sure by the time I’m back in New York, I will be missing my burrito-shaped-taro-mochi bread. 🙂

This experience took place at

Brother Hotel Bakery 兄弟大飯店

No. 255, Section 3, Nanjing E Rd
Songshan District, Taipei City, 105
+886 02 2712 3456