Sunday, December 3, 2017

Xiaoqi in Taipei

I tried to load all my shopping needs in Taipei in one single afternoon on my first day before CYY arrived later at night. I called that my "Golden 6 hours" that I could be on my own and get everything I want without someone nagging over my shoulder. So I dropped by bag at the hotel, briefly said hi to my friend S who works in the hotel over a cup of tea at the lounge, and went straight to Chifeng Street a few bus stations away to a series of shops owned by the "Xiaoqi" (小器) team.

If I ever start my own retail business, I would envision having a shop just like Xiaoqi. I first learned of the shop when they operated as a consignment counter at the Eslite Bookstore - that's before their first store at their current location in 2012. I was hooked on everything they carried, basically artisan tableware imported from Japan. The name of the shop literally meant "Small Lifestyle Goods", or Utsuwa in Japanese. Since then they have expanded to a few locations in Taipei and Taichung, with several shops on Chifeng Street (赤峰街), a rejuvenated neighborhood now lined with hip design shops, cafes and hair salons. And they branched out into other offerings as well with several restaurants and specialty stores under the group.

I started with Xiaoqi Umeshu-ya (小器梅酒屋) at 17 Chifeng Street. The shop is specialized in Japanese plum wine, or umeshu, but there were other selection of fruit liqueor as well, all directly imported from Japan by themselves. Even in Japan I have never seen such a store with focus on umeshu with such wide selection. There must be over 100 different types brewed in various styles, with a few available for tasting too. This time I came away with a couple of bottles, one by the Iwate brewery Nanbubijin using freshly brewed sake (arabashiri) without added sugar and the other a kobosu liqueor with sake base infused with the kobosu, or Japanese bitter orange.

Across the street was the Xiaoqi+g gallery, which regularly hosts art exhibitions by visiting artists, mainly from Japan. At the time of my visit it's an exhibition featuring artists from Gallery Yamahon from Mie Prefecture, with a series of tableware made by wood, clay and glass by a number of artists. I particularly love a few pieces fired using Kobiki glaze (粉引), which gave an off-white, soft, almost "powdery" texture. I resisted the temptation of buying this time but it certainly gave me much inspirations.

Round the corner is their flagship Xiaoqi Park store, on No 29 Chifeng Street facing the park. Inside they have the best collection of household goods, from kitchenware to ceramics, containers, tableware, accessories and a few food items and books. Some are the more familiar brands but some are of smaller brands they carry exclusively in the area. Most of them I have seen before elsewhere (or kept at home) but outside of Japan I have never seen a store having a collection as complete as what Xiaoqi got. At any given date I could spend the whole afternoon here just browsing around, holding each items in my hand and admiring them.

By the time I got through all those shops it's dinner time, so I went next door to Xiaoqi Kitchen (小器食堂) to eat. The Chinese name of the place was taken from the same word in Japanese Shokudou meaning "cafeteria" or casual diner, so as the name suggests, they serve family-style washoku meals. The menu changes every season with a few items available as set for both lunch and dinner, and it always come with rice, soup and pickles, all prepared from the small, semi-open kitchen at the back of the restaurant.

I ordered the grilled cod in yuann-yaki style (幽庵燒), which was cooked with a citrus-soy glaze. Housemade pickles and tamago egg roll were served on the side on small dishes with rice using local grains and red miso soup, both with a free refill. And all the crockery they used are also available for sale at the shop next door. Drink and dessert can be ordered additional - I like both my cup of cold-brewed red tea using leaves from Tainan and the daily dessert of sesame panna cotta served with a drizzle of local honey. The place reminded me of dd Shokudo by D&Department in Japan with a similar concept, and I always love simple, comfort food cooked perfectly - that's what Xiaoqi Kitchen is all about, and there's no surprise that this neighborhood is my favorite in all of Taipei and my essential stop this weekend.

When? October 27 2017
Where? Xiaoqi Kitchen, 27 Chifeng Street, Datong District, Taipei
小器食堂 台北市大同區赤峰街27號
Menu Highlights? Grilled Cod Yuann-Yaki Style (鱈魚幽庵燒)

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