Saturday, September 09, 2006

Fong Da Coffee

My "big aunt" and I walked through this bizarre department store for young people who like to pretend they're Japanese, and ended up at this coffee shop to escape from the heat. Fong Da Coffee has been around since my "big aunt" first moved to Taipei when she was in college. I had no idea coffee, let alone coffee in Taiwan, had existed for so long. The coffee pot etched here in the metal tables of Fong Da Coffee is a Bialetti Moka Express, the original espresso maker. These three are elaborate contraptions for ice cold brewed coffee. How do you cold-brew something? you ask. The truth is, I don't know. I have never seen these contraptions EVER, but they seem to be the next big thing in Taiwan. It's even more expensive than already-overpriced espresso! In a country where $100 NTDs (around $3 USD) can buy you a feast, spending close to $200 NTDs on a beverage is a WILD concept. It was worth it though, the coffee was smooth and mild without lacking in flavor. SO GOOD. All I know about it is that there's ice cold water in the top compartment that flows into the middle compartment, and the resulting mix dribbles down throw the spiral into the round bottomed flask at the end of the set up.
Ledena kava, Taiwanese style, in the clutches of my big aunt. Coffee flavored ice cream with coffee bits, in a glass of Fong Da's excellent cold coffee.
I got this frozen concoction, which was much easier than the other cold coffee drink to make, but definitely did not taste as good.

Big Wheel Sushi

My first encounter with my mom's oldest sister (big aunt) after 11 years of not seeing her was getting a cultural tour on Taiwanese teens, in Shi Men Ding. Our first stop (after passing by countless stores peddling pink, lacy, and anime accessories to teens with disposable income) was the Giant Wheel revolving sushi bar. I'm not sure why it's called Giant (da) Wheel (treh luen); maybe it has something to do with the train that was pulling the sushi? Left: Giant asparagus spears with a sour plum sauce. Very strange feeling, eating asparagus with plum. If you disregard the internal instinct to gag when you think of plum sauce, it's actually not bad.
Right: noodles made out of a vegetable called mountain medicine (shan yao). It's more like shreds of some sort of root that comes out slimey but very subtle in taste.
Both are served cold.
Cone, I think this is salmon.
The REAL train pulling the sushi. Many revolving sushi restaurants have a conveyor belt that passes little covered dishes in front of diners. This restaurant put the effort into building a huge set of train tracks that went all the way around the dining room, from the front of the store to the back, taking great care to pass through the window display so that people outside can see too. They had to weigh down the train in certain areas because the food it was pulling was too heavy and would make the pulling engine tilt.
Giant shrimp tempura. I love tempura because the batter is so light and crispy. The key to having excellent tempura batter is to mix the powder with ice water right before dipping food in it. This makes the batter light, and non-chewy.

Om Hum Cafe

The one thing that I love about Taiwan (and Japan, and France, ok, and pretty much anywhere on earth except the US) is that they don't make a big distinction between commercial real estate and residential areas. It is completely normal to find a bakery, cafe, or restaurant next to somebody's laundry line. In Slovenia, our favorite and the most puzzling jedilnica was hidden somewhere in Vic (veech), next to some houses and the school. Things are so integrated, I can't even tell you where the grocery store was that we used to go to in Ljubljana.If you wanted me to find Cafe Oh Hum again, I probably couldn't tell you where it was. All I know is that we walked through Shih Da (National Taiwan Normal University) night market and wound up somewhere in a back alley beside an empty elementary school and a bunch of houses. The entrance was so secluded and hidden in vegetation that I was actually shocked to find the cafe almost full. Among the hip coffee bar crowd were some French people, and some people who pretended like they spoke French. I did not pretend like I spoke French, but secretly I was listening in on their conversation. It might have been about poodles...
I don't really understand why an Indian/buddhist themed cafe would have a kimono, but I'm not a professional at differentiating asian clothing, so that's ok.
My iced coffee was perhaps overkill after the huge dinner we had at flower hotpot. The iced coffee part was a little too sweet, and there was too much cream at the top.
I would have probably been better off getting the citrus tea, something light to counteract overeating.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Paper Hotpot

After 11 years of not seeing my 2 best friends (ok, my only 2 friends in Taiwan), they took me out to "paper hotpot." A hotpot can be any variety of things where a liquid is heated in a pot and you dip things into it. It may include shabu shabu, sukiyaki, and I even include fondu, because you're still doing the dipping motion. Clockwise from black spoon on the right: the black spoon is flat and wide, used to manipulate the bits of food inside of the pot so that nothing is over- or undercooked; chopsticks in a paper sleeve; bowl of rice; special sauce that is typically spicy and salty, usually made of some sort of shrimp or brine; the paper hot pot with vegetables, corn, fish balls, taro root, and tofu.

The restaurant not only specializes in using paper as a pot, but using flower teas as the broth for the hotpot. What you can't see is a teabag of flowers somewhere buried under all the food in the pot. The paper pot can last up to 6 hours as long as the liquid level does not go under the first metal ring of the holder, and as long as the flame is burning. The water inside keeps the paper from burning, and the fire keeps the paper from becoming soggy and breaking. This particular ensemble was mine, called the "body trimming" package. It included shrimp, thinly sliced chicken, and some other stuff that you could put in your boiling flower tea.
This ensemble was my childhood bestfriend's. I think it was the "beautifying" package, with a special blend of flowers in the tea that apparently "beautified."
This ensemble is my nextdoor neighbor's. I think it was "body fortifying", because she had been feeling a bit out of sorts.
I still can't believe it was paper that was cooking on top of an open flame.
The body fortifying package included little baby squids. So adorable to look at, a little creepy to eat.
Mine was normal. Thinly sliced chicken, taro root, a bit of a gourd, shrimp, and part of a daikon.
This stuff was already in the hotpot when they brought them out. Green leafy vegetables, fish balls, quail eggs, taro root, daikon, carrot, corn, and broccoli rounded out the stew.
For dessert, despite having eaten a pot full of food each, we had small pieces of cheesecake and iced jasmine milk tea.