Monday, June 30, 2008

Unique Taiwan Food

Taiwan is famous for its creative food from their dumplings or yu tiao to newer type of food like the popular bubble tea.

And in fact, apart from the usual delicacies, there are many other unique food from Taiwan which I've tried over my trip in Taiwan. Over in Pingtung & Tainan, our friend & her family members & friends hosted us to a string of lunches & dinners, giving us a glimpse of the local food which may seem ordinary to them, but unique to us.

Here is a compilation of some of the unique food along the way.

1. Pork Knuckles
Yes we have these back home as well, served in a lil sweet dark sauce.

This is actually the specialty of this area somewhere a lil off Pingtung. The whole streets' restaurants serve this, even displaying it in front of their restaurant.

2. More Unique Crabs
In Tainan, we visited a rather crowded restaurant which serves very unique dishes. Just like the previous restaurant, this too serve some food which are close to home.

But there are also some rather unique methods of cooking - like these crabs.

There is also the buns filled with a kind of cream. It's so well cut & placed back, that I didn't know it had some fillings at first!

3. Cream filled buns

What makes this restaurant special is also because they seem to be like a restaurant setting, with proper tables & chairs.

But beside the entrance of the restaurant is actually a take-away counter, similar to that of fast foods. It's quite a contrast seeing the 2 together.

Just look at the queue - apparently this is the best restaurant in this town

We definitely ate at a popular restaurant & can't go wrong.. even Taiwan's famed supermodel Chin Ling dines here!

Now I can say we dined at the same restaurant haha

I'm not going to bore with many other similar local dishes that we have back home. So despite having eaten a lot & tried so many types of dishes, but one last unique food in Taiwan which I must share is non other than this one.

4. Herbal Soup With Balls
We've heard about puppies, but this? Our Taiwanese friends were all so easy on the soup & they said that it can help the complexion!

Would you try this?

Guess that's enough of food for now, and next up other things that make Taiwan special (oh, I just so love the island!) :)

Traditional Taiwan Breakfast

Although the hotel has breakfast, but we had wanted to try some traditional local Taiwan breakfast. So our friend brought us to a traditional shop serving delicious Taiwan food... and delicious it was (& traditional too).

taiwan traditional breakfast - coffee shop
The coffee-shop like setting

The setting may seem ordinary, but it is this such setting that one feels so at home & welcomed.

Actually, the setting is not the only one that is traditional.

taiwan traditional breakfast - basket
It even has a traditional like basket to keep its change - right here in Taipei

Traditionatal Food Preparation
First, see how they are done. Similar to back home, the yu tiao is done on a big white board.

taiwan traditional breakfast - yu tiao board

However, the way it is dried is a lil different. This is a good method as it allows the oil to drip making the yu tiao less oily. However, the end or the tip can get rather oily.

taiwan traditional breakfast - fry yu tiao & dumpling
There are also the dumplings Taiwan is famous for throughout

taiwan traditional breakfast - traditional Taiwan pancake
And this shop also serves the traditional pancakes - the utensils just seem so familiar rite? :)

Here Comes The Traditional Dishes
The food is then ready to be served to a group of breakfast hungry (or more so eager to try, who btw, have already seated comfortably in this open air food outlet.

The traditional food of tasty soya bean, yu tiao, dumplings & bun

The soya bean is like the other star dish here, and is best eaten with the delicious yu tiao. Yes, one can dip it in, just like how we dip the yu tiao in coffees to soften it.

Also served the Taiwan traditional pancakes

While having our breakfast, we noticed the table beside enjoying (& slurping) to a hearty bowl of noodles. We then decided of ordering it as well, but alas, it was already sold out... though it was only 9am (the time we saw the person eating it).

*This shop owner proves on a friendly Taiwan. At first some of her yu tiao were rather oily, and we mentioned it to the lady restaurant boss. She immediately mentioned not to worry. And before we know it, she replaced a new set of yu tiao on the table!

All the while, she did this willingly - it's her wanting to make the customers happy that made us come back another day... and of course, the delicious traditional breakfast is part of the reason. And 2nd time around, we at the traditional noodles alrite by coming even much earlier!

We had many more traditional food all - not just in Taipei. And that interesting array of food is coming up next in the final food segment for Taiwan (for now that is!) :)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Din Tai Fung Taiwan

I first tried this restaurant famous for its dumplings (xiao long bao) in the Din Tai Fung Singapore. It was my first time having tried this restaurant & I instantly fell in love with the dumplings.

For those who don't know, the xiao long bao is mini little dumplings, with pork filled (sometimes with prawn/ crab, etc) and has the 'juice' in it. You got to carefully eat them with your chopsticks as to not burst them before they get into your mouth. And once bitten, the 'juice' explodes.

Good xiao long baos are the ones where the meat inside is also soft & tender.

Anyway, as we were in Taiwan, our friend suggested we try the Din Tai Fung Taipei. I was stunned as I thought it was a Singapore restaurant. But no, actually, Din Tai Fung started off in the late 80s in Taipei, Taiwan. And yes, they have now expanded to quite a fair bit of countries. Wow :)

Without hesitating, I said, Sure!

She first warned us that we may have to wait for a while as the queue can be very long. It's not that unexpected as even here in Singapore, the queue can get long - to the extend of having to take a queue number - this I usually avoid, or I'll shop first if I can wait.

din tai fung taiwan queue
There was the queue

We were rather fortunate to have gotten seats rather fast - my friend mentioned that this was quite unusual. Though yes, there was a queue, but we waited less than 10 minutes.

Their Signature
First it's the glass panel where one can see the kitchen. And I thought this was Bread Talk's idea (Bread Talk is a bakery in Singapore and is connected to Din Tai Fung).

Anyway, I'm not sure if it is or not, but my friend mentioned that actually Din Tai Fung restaurant was the one with this glass panel allowing customers to see through the kitchen.

din tai fung taiwan - kitchen

This is actually a good way as customers now become supervisors to the staffs - and at the same time can see how the food is being prepared.

Signature Dish
And up come next, the must try, must order signature dish of Din Tai Fung! Yes, the yummy & delicious dumplings.

din tai fung taiwan - xiao long pao, dumpling

My Taiwanese friend mentions that the Taiwanese outlet dumplings meat is very soft & tender & that is why she always eat them when she comes back to Taiwan. She says it is a lil different compared to the ones in Singapore. Quite true in a way.

The Other Dishes
The other dishes from the Din Tai Fun menu are not too bad either.

din tai fung taiwan - cold chicken
The chicken served cold - some may raise eyebrows, which I did the first time I tried a while back. Now, I'm accustomed to it, though not my favourite food.

din tai fung taiwan - soup & vegetables
We also had some soups & vegetables.

din tai fung taiwan - dessert, steam cakes
Another popular dish is this dessert - the steam cakes.

The cakes are eaten plain (no butter or any other toppings) and is served hot. Must be careful not to 'burn the fingers'. It melts in the mouth and we had a 2nd helping!

Eating at the Din Tai Fung in Taiwan was great - especially with the very friendly staff, just like the many Taiwanese I've encountered. And I know going back to the Singapore outlets will not be exactly the same, but well, it's the closest to Taiwanese dumplings! :)

*This is at the Zhongxiao branch. They have 3 branches in Taiwan & even at USA, China, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, Korea & Malaysia! In a way, I'm proud to know an Asian restaurant & food that can go global & international.

I've had a fair share of other Taiwanese cuisine & some other interesting ones. Those & more coming up next!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Taiwan Seafood

As we first arrived in Taipei, Taiwan, we headed straight to have dinner in one rather small unassuming restaurant (from the outside).

And apparently, we are lucky on that day, as it was raining, hence, we got a table despite a last minute walk-in. Usually the restaurant only accepts reservations.

Seafood Display
Entering this restaurant, we are greeted with a row of aquariums, all displaying the many seafood. It was quite a sight of different seafood. I know we have this back home too, but these aquariums always amuse me in some small way :)

taiwan food, seafood, aquarium

Go close enough, and it seems like I'm diving in the sea of aquarium.

taiwan food, seafood, crab
The crabs - all tied up from escaping!

<br />taiwan food, seafood, lobster
The lobsters - free & easy in their aquarium

We get to choose the seafood we want to order, and then they will weigh it immediately.

taiwan food, seafood, weigh crab
Let The Food Begin
We were first served with this appetiser which were clams & spicy sauce accompanying it.

taiwan food, seafood, clam
We were then treated to all the lovely & delicious fresh main course seafood. Those we saw from the aquarium start being served to our table...

<br />taiwan food, seafood, fresh lobsters
The fresh lobster - this was lovely!

<br />taiwan food, seafood, crabs
The crab cooked with duck egg - tasty! Actually the egg was like the highlight here

taiwan food, seafood, fried oyster
Fried oysters - similar to that back home, but less starch (still prefer the ones back home, though these were fresh!) :)

taiwan food, seafood, bee-hoon seafood soup
We also had a try of this lovely bee-hoon soup which apparently is a popular Taiwan dish

Beyond Seafood
Apart from seafood, this Taiwan seafood restaurant also serves the other poultries like beef.

taiwan food, beef
The beef was grilled & served with raw garlic & pepper. Love garlics - yummy!

<br />taiwan food, seafood, vegetable
We also had the chance to eat this kind of 'watermelon' vegetable, which is in season now (we ate a lot of this throughout this trip). This is also one of Taiwan's favourite dishes.

This restaurant is actually the start of our Taiwan food gourmet, introducing us to the Taiwan Chinese food. And it was a good start.

As we were hosted so much, we also did taste many other Taiwanese food in the other Chinese restaurants. However, this restaurant will remain memorable for its tasty & fresh seafood, and it being our first.

Also, it has a name one will not forget - Fei Zhang Hao Chi! :)

More unique Taiwanese food coming up next!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Smelly Tofu

We were all seated in the restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan. There were quite a number of us, and one of our new friends who introduced us the restaurant ordered the food.

At first she asked us what had we wanted. Not knowing much of Taiwan food, we just said that anything is fine.

The food came and we were all eating - the food were quite delicious. Then, somehow, the conversation steered to smelly tofu.

"Do they serve smelly tofu?" my friend asks?
"You want? I didn't dare order..." our new friend mentions.
"Yes, yes, had it last time - very good!"
"Oh, wow... wow, you know how to eat smelly tofu? Ok, ok, I'll order" (big smile).

So, off did she ordered for us the smelly tofu.

I didn't know what to expect. I've never tried it before and though I might have seen it before, but not upclose - and definitely I didn't remember the smell!

Really So Smelly!
So, it came... yes, the smelly tofu was served! It was steam smelly tofu and from afar (it was a big round table), I could get the smell/ odor of it.

smelly tofu - steamed
Steamed smelly tofu - wish can let you smell it :)

No offence to any Taiwanese, but it smelled like from the drain. It really smelled stinky!

Anyway, adventurous as I am, I gave it a try - and managed to swallow a small spoon of it. Afterall, our Taiwanese friends mentioned that it tastes very different from the smell - and showing me the thumbs up!

I really couldn't take it. But I managed to gulped that down. And my friend who ordered it gave it a pass though did try to eat it!

Our Taiwanese friends were laughing all the way. For us, we didn't dare want to turn the smelly tofu back to us (it was a round table). Our friends kept saying what a waste that we didn't know how to savour such a delicious dish... and they ate the plate clean!

Not So Smelly Version
Then, a few days later, I encountered the street stall selling - what else, smelly tofu. This time round, the tofu was cooked differently - it was fried. Our friend mentioned that this could be better as the smell is less strong.

smelly tofu - deep-fried

Again, being adventurous, I went to purchase a packet of them. My reasoning - I'm here in Taiwan, and must try their 'national food'. And if the fried ones are just as smelly, I could always pass them to my Taiwanese friends who would be ready to finish them.

smelly tofu - deep fried, stall

This set of deep fried smelly tofu came rather different as they are served with pickles. That helps reduce the smell. Also, it being deep fried, it wasn't that smelly. I could stand so close to the cart without running away! haha.

And I managed to eat a few of them. Actually, I could eat all the fried smelly tofu, but I know that my Taiwanese friends love it and shared it with them. Though I still don't know the craze behind these fermented tofu.

Popular Dish
Btw, smelly tofu is really one of Taiwan's famous dish. It is so apparent everywhere from high end restaurants and can be seen as a street food in many push carts or vendors - selling both in the day & night. And they are usually crowded! There definitely is some special tofu recipes in them to draw such crowds!

smelly tofu - deep fried stall
Another vendor selling smelly tofu

My suggestion if you are in Taiwan: try the deep fried ones first before going for the steamed ones. But who knows, you may fall in love with them - it really is an acquired taste just like the other 'smelly' food that we all love! :)

Food & more food coming up next!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Taiwan National Palace Museum

I'm not much a museum fan honestly. Hardly go to them on my own, and I remember the forced times in school when we had to go for those expedition trips. I could walk in-and-out of a museum in no time!

But again, like any tourist to Taiwan, one of the must-see places is the National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院) in Taipei. I've heard a bit about the museum prior - that this Taiwan museum is supposedly one of the top 10 museums in the world... and apparently has a very good Chinese artifacts, even better than the ones in China.

So, I decided to give this museum a try.

The location of the Taiwan National Museum is on a hill which makes it quite grand. A good nice journey passing the trees lead to a very quiet and unassuming building.
national palace museum, taipei, taiwan
Looks quiet from the outside

But don't be mis-fooled, as the crowds are mainly inside. And they keep coming in, many of them Japanese.

We could rent the audio earphones in English which guided some parts of the tour, explaining the story behind the exhibits. This came in handy with good description, though a lil limited as not many exhibits were mentioned.

Anyway, this museum rotates its exhibits every 3 months as there are really a lot of artifacts in the museum (said to take 12 years to complete the cycle). Wow!

But some of them are permanent displays. And I was lucky to see 2 of its more prominent displays:

1. A cabbage carved from jade which looks rather real, and has a samll grasshopper on its leaves. This is interesting for how the colours of the jade is used from white to dark green.

2. The pork shaped stone which is used from different minerals to form it. Looks real to be eaten lol.

We also had the opportunity to view the video which was shown at the next theatre building. This was a semi cartoon/animation like video filmed in the museum with narration of the exhibits & artifacts in the museum. The story is about a museum artifact (a boy) who were finding for the grasshopper from the jade cabbage. Along the way, he meets & stumbles upon the other interesting artifacts in the museum (each of them can talk as well).

I must say that this was very well done & gave a good insight of the museum, and especially for people like me who prefer to see a video lol.

Museum Architecture
Btw, the main museum building from this building seems pretty grand.

national palace museum, taipei, taiwan, main building

Another interesting thing which I could take photo is this glass panel with Chinese characters facing the sky taken at the lobby of the museum.

national palace museum, taipei, taiwan, glass panel

Museum Restaurants
The museum has some cafes & restaurants for the public. The one we went was quite modern & served good food as well. Seems weird, but yes, this museum (restaurant in the national museum) can also be known for its good food apart from its exhibits!

national palace museum, taipei, taiwan restaurant
The modern interior of the restaurant

national palace museum, taipei, taiwan restaurant soup
One of the better soups I've tasted

national palace museum, taipei, taiwan restaurant food
Delicious preserved dates which Taiwan is famous for

If you are into arts or history & ancient works, then this is definitely a place for you. However, even if like me where museums are just ok and not in top list, but still don't miss out on visiting this acclaimed Taipei museum - the Taiwan National Palace Museum. Afterall, you can claim, you've been to one of the world's greatest right here in Taiwan, Asia! :)

*As you can see, I like food, and that's coming up next!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Taipei Grand Hotel

Can a hotel be a tourist destination? Well, in Taipei, Taiwan, yes, it can.

This seem rather weird to me at first - we passed by this huge building along the way from the airport to the city. It didn't really get my attention apart from being rather huge & grand even from afar.

But anyway, like many other tourists to Taiwan, we too made our stop to this grand hotel in Taipei! The name of the hotel already sounds big (& grand) already - yes, it's named The Grand Hotel!

A Grand Welcome
This grand hotel entrance exudes a strong welcome - its huge arches & big garden before the hotel building itself.

taipei grand hotel, taiwan - entrance

Usually, one can ride all the way up to the building, or alternatively take a walk up the stairs to the main building of the grand hotel.

taipei grand hotel, taiwan - grand steps
From the building of the hotel overlooking the entrance

Dragon Palace
Apparently, the facade of the hotel is covered with dragons - up to 200000 of them! Wow! Even the roof top ends have golden dragons... and that is why this grand hotel is sometimes referred to as the Dragon Palace.

taipei grand hotel, taiwan - building

taipei grand hotel, taiwan - building exterior with dragon

Inside The Hotel
Just before the lobby is the intricate ceilings.
taipei grand hotel, taiwan - ceiling
Similar to the old China monuments ceilings

Next, walking into the hotel comes the lobby with its high ceiling & still intricate walls. It does really seems a lil too ehem... grand!
taipei grand hotel, taiwan - grand lobby

And there is also the big grand (yes, grand again) stairs going to Level 2. This is suitable for grand dinners (emphasis on the grand) with red carpets & all. It should glitter quite a lot at night, especially as this hotel is used a lot by the Taipei government for dinner functions.

taipei grand hotel, taiwan - grand stairs

Also at the lobby, are some art displays for sale.
taipei grand hotel, taiwan - art

The Stories
Actually what makes this grand & majestic hotel a landmark icon of Taipei is the many stories behind the things in the hotel.

Amongst them, the phoenix-dragon plum flower plafond which is for good luck. This is located at the ceiling of the lobby. It is eye catching and one can take time to admire the huge and intricate details of the 5 dragons + 16 phoenixes.
taipei grand hotel, taiwan - plum flower plafond
5 dragons surrounding 1 dragon ball

Further inside is a golden dragon. This is actually a significant structure at the Dragon Temple Hall - being over 100 years old. Apparently, the dragon is the remain from the Japanese god temple which was built before the hotel.

taipei grand hotel, taiwan - golden dragon

And one more interesting thing at this hotel is that it is supposed to have many poisonous snakes at the back of the hotel, many of these being left behind by the Japanese after their defeat during the WW2.

However, today, it just seems such a beautiful place to see Taipei's city view.

taipei grand hotel, taiwan - taipei view

Btw, we didn't see any snakes, but a praying mantis instead.

taipei grand hotel, taiwan - praying mantis

There are many other interesting facts about this landmark icon of Taipei & no wonder it becomes a tourist landmark like the 2 secret underground passageway. Really this hotel is amusing & amazing!

*Surprisingly, this grand hotel, built in 1952 is a non-profit organisation. However, one is to pay normal hotel rates or in fact rather grand rates here. If one do not stay here, I still suggest a visit to to see this majestic icon specially built for Taiwan! :)

Coming up next: Another grand icon of Taipei!