Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Then and Now

We usually came to Taipei with no specific itinerary, and just eating and drinking and shopping our way through at our familiar spots. But this time we managed to follow a similar routine but with a few new shops just for a change to try out something different.

Beef Noodles 

Then: The ever-popular Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodles (林東芳牛肉麵) for the famous soup base rich in Chinese herbal flavor and super tender beef tenderloin, plus numerous side dishes available to choose from the open table.
Now: Liao Jia Beef Noodles (廖家牛肉麵), which operated in a much lower profile with noodles in a different style, capturing the essence of the nostalgic flavor.

This time I skipped the more popular Lin Dong Fang beef noodles shop in favor of Liao Jia which I have also visited before and liked.

There are actually 2 different shops with the same name - forgot the story why that is so, but the one at Zhongyuan Street is the one I usually go. The shop is compact and simple - open kitchen on the left, and table and chairs on the right. One just need to find a empty seat, settle and scream the order across. Three kind of noodles were available, with most going for the one in soup and chunks of beef. Complimentary condiments included pickled cabbage, regular or chili soy sauce, and raw garlic cloves were available on each table. There's also a list of side dishes available to order, from the usual ones like the tofu skin and pig's head to some of the rarer beef cuts.

The bowl of noodles were served with a clear beef broth with water spinach on top. The beef chunks were not the most tender type, but I actually like this balance of tendon and meat with a good firm bite and meaty flavor. Some people might prefer the soup with strong flavor, but I do like this simple, old-school style, something locals called "Gu Zao Wei" (which roughly translated to nostalgic taste)

Souvenir Snacks

Then: A few boxes of Pineapple cakes from Sunnyside Hills delivered to hotel
Now: Handmade cookies from Ms Gardener at their new shop

Cordon Bleu-trained chef Olivia founded the brand and this little shop in the quiet neighborhood adjacent to the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park (SCCP) a few months ago, specializing in products made using local honey. We spent an afternoon at the shop with Olivia (at her kind invitation) to sample some of the handmade cookies baked fresh daily, including the special one made with chocolate and local Sichuan peppercorns which surprisingly went well together. She was also kind enough to show us how that was made with a live demonstration and let us try some which came straight from the oven.

On weekends they also offer a small afternoon tea menu with mille-feuille drizzled with honey, and a few kinds of artisan teas. To make things more interesting, Olivia taught us how the mille-feuille was assembled then we got to make our own - so I would say that made it even more delicious! And needless to say, we picked up a few boxes of those cookies home to share with friends and family. Glad that Olivia and her Ms Gardener shop showed us there’s more than pineapple cakes in terms of tasty Taiwanese snacks.

Ms Gardener: www.msgardenertaiwan.com 

Grocery Shopping

Then: Pekoe owned by lifestyle writer Yeh Yilan, opened since 2008.
Now: Foodhood, opened less than a year ago

I am a big admirer of author Yeh Yilan (葉怡蘭) for her newspaper/magazine columns and books on travel and gastronomy and her retail project Pekoe, carrying some of her favorite food products and kitchenware (and my favorite too!). It's the place I often dropped by whenever I have a chance and picked up more than a fair share of stuff. But this time, I decided to check out FoodHood (苗林選品), with a similar concept but carry a different line of products.

The shop was a bit off the beaten track in a newly developed neighborhood and harder to get to but I like what they carry, some available exclusively here. The shop is in a residential complex with two levels – ground floor being their retail space and second floor their kitchen studio offering classes. They specializes in Japanese kitchenware, carrying an extensive line of goods from Japan’s famous Nakagawa Masashichi (中川政七) shop famous for their minimalist but practical design. On the shelves there were also a vast selection of food products imported from Japan, from artisan soy sauce to cans of ready-made food. They also had a dedicated section for local Taiwanese products. I have been looking for rice from Green-in-hand (掌生穀粒), a brand from Taichung specializing in rice, tea and honey, and here they carried a few types available in small bags. Or the line of condiments from Le Pont especially their famous goose fat products.

I also saw bottles of maqaw (馬告), or mountain pepper, on the shelf. This is the specialty spice only found in Taiwan in the wild, which looks like common black peppercorns but with a more complex flavor profile (lemongrass, nuts and even a hint of citrus) and has become hard to find these days given the low production. So I can replenish my stock at home with a new bottle (my previous bottle came from Pekoe actually)

Foodhood (Facebook page): https://www.facebook.com/foodhood.miaolinselect/

Wine Shopping

Then: Japanese sake at Kichiriki (吉力酒藏)
Now: Taiwanese sake at Hofatown (禾發堂)

Last year we managed to make a stop at Kichiriki - one of the first Japanese sake specialist shops in Taiwan - for a brief tasting at their bar plus a few bottles of fine Japanese sakes to bring home to, but this time we spent time at Hofatown instead which is a distributor of Taiwanese-made sake.

We literally just walked by the store by chance and saw the Taiwanese sake on display at the window. So obviously I was curious (since I don't even know there's such a thing as Taiwanese-made sake) and decided to go in and have a look. Soon enough we were sitting down at their counter with a few glasses in hand to sample a few of the productions by Wufeng Farmers’ Association Winery (霧峰農會酒莊) based in Taichung. They combined local Yichuan rice (益全香米) and local water, with skills and techniques from Japanese traditional sake-making (and their starter yeast) to create the series from the simple ginjo to the junmai daiginjo (and shochu too for the more rustic style). I must admit they were of very decent quality and definitely worth a try. The rice was said to have a subtle taro flavor and you got a slight hint of the sweet flavor in the sake too. They also carried the special honey-lychee liquor which I love as well – best served cold and neat (Thanks to Bernard the sommelier at Lung King Heen who introduced the wine to us previously). Could these be the best Taiwanese alcohol other than their already famous whiskies?

Hofatown: http://hofatown.business.site/

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