Sunday, December 23, 2007

What Dinner Looks Like

What dinner looks like if you don't make it yourself, pictures taken at my aunt's friend's house in Taipei. They live in one of the high-rises on the side of the mountain overlooking Taipei City, where the celebrities live. I wish my computer wasn't Linux, so I can mount my old external hard drive and get the nightscape pictures of Taipei 101 that I took from the giant window of their apartment. It's about the most amazing image in the world. Sorry kids.

Considering this picture was taken indoors, I am quite proud of the photo quality of these two wine glasses and the grain of the table surface.For starters, Dong Gua Tang (winter melon soup) with oysters. For hot summers, this is a light but tasty soup that won't weigh down the rest of your meal.
Foreground: calamari pasta with shrimp. Background: anchovy and bamboo shoots with spicy red peppers
Beef with bell peppers, something we make at our house as well. The picture isn't so good because I forgot to take a picture of it until it was plated on my plate.
Tofu in red sauce. I can't remember what the red sauce was made from, but it wasn't spicy at all.
For dessert, the trend of the moment, mille-crepe with mango stuffing.
Almond nai lao (milk pudding gelatin thingy) with blueberry.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


A fun and popular daytrip destination, if you're visiting Taipei, is Dan Shui [dan shuay]. On the MRT (Taipei equivalent of subway), take the red line all the way up until you hit the seaside. The interesting thing is that the red line is above ground all the way to Dan Shui, so you can see the city passing by, from super packed urban to slightly more pastoral suburban. The ride reminds me a lot of Tokyo, actually.

Dan Shui boasts of amazing views of mountains and the sea juxtaposed against each other, peri-colonial architecture and historical sites, and most importantly, FOOD. The small town was first settled by aborigines, then inevitably invaded by a variety of Europeans, ranging from Dutch to Spanish to perhaps Portuguese. The location was very popular with the Europeans because even though the water was shallow, it was where Dan Shui river emptied into the sea, providing a key look out spot and fort location. They left a fort (Hong Mao Chen, or, fort where the red-haired people hang out) withing walking distance of the now-touristy wharf that is now a museum worth seeing. On the way to Fort Santo Domingo, I passed by a troupe of random teenagers from Minnesota, singing bad Christian pop to some passers-by, in the courtyard of one of the old churches or houses where George Mackay used to live/work. It's funny that they should choose that deserted area of Dan Shui for their ministry, because it seemed like all the foot traffic was out by the wharf, where the food is, and where pop concerts are often held (the concert du jour was the MRT's promotional 2-day new bands festival).
One of the distinctive things about Dan Shui is that the streets still have an old-timey feel to them, and stores lining each alley sell toys and treats from an era almost forgotten. Note the use of umbrellas as parasols.
Sometimes the food stands come up with innovative ways of selling normal food. The "toilet ice" is one such novelty. Basically, it is soft-serve ice cream in a pink styrofoamy-textured cone that is shaped like a toilet. Notice that it is shaped like the toilets that you stand over, not the western kind on which one sits. I guess the name, "toilet ice" would make little sense to visitors.
The beach is not very appealing, if you're used to the clear blue waters of the Bahamas or something. Dan Shui literally means "shallow water." As you can see, the water really is very shallow, making for a very wet sandbar more than ocean.
Right off of the boardwalk, fishermen sort and count the giant shrimp they just caught. The "fruits de mer" are served right in the restaurants on the other side of the boardwalk.
Steamed crab with a salty broth in the green bowl.
Giant shrimp, seasoned with just salt. Delicious and super fresh (see above photo of fishermen).
A very large scallop with a few chunks of onion. The red-orange part is the egg, I think.
Fish balls in a light broth with green onion.
The notable Dan Shui A-geh. "A-geh" is actually the Taiwanese pronounciation of it, but I don't think anybody pronounces it in normal Mandarin. It is uniquely made and served in Dan Shui, uniquely Taiwanese. The most basic Dan Shui A-geh is made up of ja yo do fu (or fried tofu), hollowed out and stuffed with mi fun (rice vermicelli). The hole where you stuff it with vermicelli is sealed with a fish paste, which solidifies into a plug very similar to the fish balls once it is steamed. The steamed unit is then served in a sweet and spicy sauce.
Here you can see the fish paste plug, the vermicelli, and the pink sweet-and-spicy plum-based soup in which it is immersed. Like any food in Taiwan, there are a million variations to it. You can have all sorts of fish paste plugs, any sort of flavors of vermicelli, any sort of soup or sauce.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Apple Bread

Hey kiddies! I apologize for the lack of posting lately, but ever since some genius decided to transform my IBM crap-pad into a Linux-running pariah, I haven't been able to get any pictures off of my camera without extensive scheming and complicated logistics. In any case, here is a photograph to keep you satisfied for the time being.
I'm not sure if I could say one thousand words to describe this picture, but I'll try. Starting from the background, this picture has all sorts of different components that make it worthy of a post. The old fortress buildings on the side of the mountain are located very close to the National Palace Museum in Taipei. The National Palace Museum houses the historically significant artisan goods and art-wares through the strong and week years of Chinese history. It has a twin museum in Mainland China that holds the artisan goods that the Commies didn't destroy during the cultural revolution and the Nationalists didn't pilfer during the Chinese Civil War.

I spent a sweaty afternoon navigating various forms of public transportation (MRT and bus) to get to the almost-suburb neighborhood of Taipei where one can visit the National Palace Museum. The trip there was nothing short of enchanted. For the longest time, the bus did not come. Various related routes stopped by outside of the MRT station multiple times, but I had to wait almost an hour for the one I needed. That was okay because I had some Tsong Zhua Bing or Shiong Zhua Bing (bear claw green onion pancake, not to be confused with the flaky pastry sold at coffee shops) from a roadside vendor. I knew about Shiong Zhua Bing because it was the specialty of the parents of a kid named Shiao Shiong (little bear) with whom I worked at a Chanel jewelery line launch. The idea of Shiong Zhua Bing is a newer manifestation of the green onion pancake at night markets in Taiwan. Rather than let the pancake become crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside in the shape of a disc, the cook repeatedly cuts the blob of dough with two sharp spatulas while it is frying on the flat surface. In doing so, the pancake turns into a mass of thin intertwined noodes (much like a nest) that are crispy yet chewy at the same time. It's called Shiong Zhua Bing because when you eat it, you're picking at it like a bear would use its paw to pick at a nest.Er, I digress. Anyhoos, I was sitting on a bench on the side of the road after walking through the museum, just minding my own business, eating my minibreads. The bench faced a bus lane (the two Chinese characters written on the street in front of me say "gong tzhe"). I watched more buses go by, contemplating how the minibreads reminded me of the Ping Guo Mian Bao (apple bread) that my little brother and I used to eat as kiddies.
WHEN ALL OF A SUDDEN, A WHITE SHORT BUS DRIVES BY! You heard it here first, Taiwan has short buses, and they drive past you when you're contemplating the most trivial of thoughts.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Lychees Like You've Never Seen

I think canned lychees are a pretty common sight these days, even in non-exclusively asian markets. Just today at Harris Teeter (local grocery store), I walked past some fresh lychee, cut individually and priced at 3.99/lb. Those people eating something being sold as "lychee nuts," canned lychees or lychee flavored sweets are absolutely missing out on the real thing though. (read: don't buy the Harris Teeter lychees)

While in Taiwan last summer (I know, I'm very behind on blogging. What can I say? Life is more fun to live than to write about), we bought a large bunch of lychees on the way back to Taipei from Taichung. If you walk around in Chinatown, or any other large gathering of asians, this is how you would buy lychees. Healthy lycheese are plump, firm to the touch, and red. The ones shown below are perfect, if ever you need a perfect representation to go by when purchasing lychees in the future. I included a thumb in there to show how big they actually are. The lychees available to Americans are usually slightly larger than the tip of my thumb.
I apologize for the lack of flash, but here you can see how meaty these lychees were. The pit is but 10% of the volume, where normally it occupies up to 50% of the inside volume.
Itty bitty pit. Shown here next to my thumb.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Wall, Taipei

This really isn't food, but I wanted to blog about it anyways. A drink is consumable!!! Music is consumable!!!

There are literally only a handful of places where you can get a dose of rock and indie music in Taipei. Your best bet is to head south from National Taiwan University on Roosevelt, cross the GIANT intersection under the overpass, and fall into the hole that is The Wall. The Wall is one part body art parlor, one part indie record store (much like School Kids or Record Exchange), one part recording/practice studio, and one part performance space. Connecting all these [literally] underground shops is a foyer of sorts, where alternative-looking people gather to talk about the latest band, trend, or just life in general. The Wall has shows from Wednesday night through the weekend, featuring local bands and foreign heavyweights alike. While I was there, Four Tet made an appearance, as well as local darlings Selfkill, Orange Grass (Trng Tsao), and Tizzy Bac.

The 300NTD cover (about 10 bucks), you get a drink and at the least, 3 bands. I'm not sure what it was I drank, but I think it had grenadine in it?
Sombody's highschool band:
Gratuitous photo of Erland Oye, Norwegian indie stud, whose side project "Whitest Boy Alive" is being heavily promoted by White Wabbit Records, token record company of all things indie in Taiwan:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Macarons, East Si-ide

I'll digress a bit from the usual restaurant and multi-course meals and fill you in on what I did all day while in Taiwan. Work days at VVG, depending on who you are, can range from 20+ hours to just a couple of hours of serving hors d'oeuvres. The mornings are a mad rush to prepare hors d'oeuvres that will be served either late afternoon or that evening. The afternoons are a mad rush of pulling various silverware, china, glasses, and utensils for each event. The platters and cups are carefully selected to coordinate with whatever canape is being served that night. The best day working would be one where you just show up to the event and pass around canapes at posh product launch parties. I had an early day at work one day, and got to leave at about 2pm after I had finished assembling the canapes. I was going to venture out in the fun and exciting East Side of Taipei to find food, as I had neglected to feed myself on the way to work.

The East Side (Not really the east side; mostly just an area of new development) of Taipei is one of the "NEW! EXCITING! TRENDY!" places that you must visit. It spans Zhong Shiao Dong(east) Road and the Shin Yi District. Within the rough bounds of this area contains anything from Taipei 101 and the mega malls to small streets lined with the same kind of shop that warrant nicknames like "tea street" or "beef noodle" street. There are whole streets with lined exclusively with Korean clothing boutiques, or tea merchants (not to be confused with stores that sell bubble tea variations). With so much to choose from, you need more than a day to fully sample what all is there to taste.

Luckily, my boss felt sorry for me not having eaten, and donated a few macarons to the "i need feed" cause. The macarons below come from Franciacorta Maison de Patisserie on Yan Ji St between Shin Yi Rd and Ren Ai Rd. (MapQuest) Christabelle has a good review of the shop, if you can read Chinese. This dude has pictures of them in their nifty boxes on his flickr page. I thought the macarons tasted just fine, perhaps a bit too sweet. My boss and the other culinary masters at VVG decided that they were nothing exceptional. I think a good macaron has to be fluffy with a hint of chewy, sweet but not too sweet. The easiest mistake to make is to make your macaron too sugary...just ask Joel Robuchon.

Indian Cuisine in Taiwan

When I went to Taichung last summer, we stayed in the Jing Chu Hotel (called The Splendor in English), across the street from the SOGO (chain of department stores recently involved in a scandal with Taiwanese President Chen Sui Bian). Also across the street is an Indian restaurant called "Shiang Liao Woo," or "The Spice Shop" in English. The restaurant is literally a hole in the wall, if said hole were orange and tasty. Recently, Indian restaurants such as the "Andrew" have popped up in Taichung, but I am wary of their authenticity (what kind of Indian restaurant is named Andrew?!).

The decor was mostly orange, with these interesting lights that reminded me of light up boobs in the Electric 6 music video for "Danger, High Voltage". (Do not watch the video if you don't like obscene things. Otherwise, it's quite entertaining.)

One of my favorite Indian foods are samosas. First of all, whoever invented eating tetrahedrons deserves a pat on the back. They are golden and crispy on the outside, with varying fillings on the inside depending on what you order. It can contain meats like chicken, but I prefer the vegetarian ones, with mainly potatoes, peas, carrots, and spices. Samosas are so portable and easy. I was in NY visiting my best friend and we bought a bag of them at Grand Central Terminal and walked around the city eating them. If you are hesitant to try new cuisines, samosas are a good, safe (meaning not too spicy, not too "weird") gateway to deliciousness.
NAAN! To think I didn't know what naan was until I got to France?!?! Naan is delicious flat bread that you eat with the various juicy dishes. It is a little bit fluffy on the inside, with a slightly crispy outside, that, when chewed, turns a bit chewy in texture. It is delicious plain, or with spices baked into it. The one shown below only has butter on it.
This picture is slightly on the dark side, but I'm going to venture a guess that this was chicken tikki masala.
The dish below is lamb.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Independence Day

For the past couple of years, I have not been in America for the 4th of July. As such, my friends made sure that I had a very patriotic day, with these ready-to-bake flag cookies. I remember in high school, people's parents would bake the slice-and-bake easter cookies with the bunnies on them, or the christmas cookies with the christmas trees on them. Today, we have totally evolved beyond that, with cookies that you can dump out of a bag, READY in cookie form, to be baked. No preparation necessary at all!


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Szechuan Cuisine

Some relatives of mine live in Chicago, and while we were there visiting my grandma, she took all of us out for a full Szechuan dinner at a friend's restaurant. My only remaining grandma is the source of my being 1/4 Szechuan, and probably the reason why I like MaPo Dofu so much. The special thing about "spicy" in Szechuan cuisine is that it's not only flaming hot, it also temporarily numbs your mouth. The peppercorns used are hua jiao, different from conventional peppercorns. The combination of runny nose, numb mouth, and burnt tongue only makes you exclaim, "hao shruang!"

The name of the restaurant is "Asian Bistro," which has nothing to do with it's Chinese name. The Chinese, found on the right hand side of the picture, is "ya shuan."
The first thing they brought out were these flaming fried shrimp, on the house, because they liked my uncle and his family. The ratio of hot Szechuan chili peppers is equal to shrimp. You can only imagine how spicy and extremely tasty these crispy bombs were.
In Chinese, this is su ji, or vegetarian chicken. It is not spicy, and consists of dofu pi (skin that forms on top of the liquid when you're making tofu) wrapped around chopped mushrooms. Very savory.
I'm not sure what this is, but it just looks like some generic stir-fry of some sort that you would find on the "american" version of the menu. The rest of the stuff we ordered were from the "chinese" version of the menu.
Fu Chi Fei Pian!!! This is my first encounter with "married couple (fu chi) slices (pian) of lung (fei). It was actually quite tasty, though I think it should have been spicier. In reality, sliced lung is sliced cow stomach and other tendon-y parts of the cow. I tasted the slices that looked like legitimate cow meat, but I'm sure tripe is good too.
Cheng du liang mien. Cheng du is the capital of Szechuan. Liang mien just means the noodles are served cold. It tastes a bit like peanuts but is not that spicy.
Steamed fish. I was surprised that this fish was fillet-ed, as Chinese people tend to eat the whole fish. The sauce is mostly soy sauce and sesame oil and garlic. The green things on top are a type of chive, I think, with ginger julienne.
Categorized as a dessert, ba bao fan (8 treasures: usually contains 8 different types of fruits and nuts) is not normally eaten after a meal. I only ever remember eating ba bao fan during special occasions like Chinese New Year, never with everyday meals. The rice is supposed to be more colored than what you see below. This specimen is not a very accomplished mound of ba bao fan.

Desserteries, continued

In a similar circumstance to Room 4 Dessert(see post below) , I went to Chikalicious, another desserterie mentioned in the NY Times article, on another date back in November. No, my life isn't as glamorous as to exclusively involve studly men taking me to dessert parlors on romantic dates all the time; I've just been meaning to go to Chikalicious since my trip to NY right before France (Summer 2003). I finally went last year around Thanksgiving (Fall 2006), after 3 years of delays. At Chikalicious, the prix-fixe menu is always $12, plus $7 if you're going for a wine pairing. The chefs pair your amuse-bouche and petit-fours for you, and you get to choose what dessert you would like. The great thing about going on a date is that you can get two desserts, and try both of them!

I have a feeling that the two ladies who run and own Chikalicious enjoy making ice creams and sorbets that are shaped with their long thin spoons, like the leaf-shape you see below. Our amuse-bouche was butternut squash ice cream with spiced apple jelly, I believe. It's only about the size of a teaspoon, but the butternut squash ice cream was so smooth and subtle, delighting even the taste buds of a squash-hater like me.
On the left is a small molten chocolate tarte, paired with red peppercorn ice cream (with bits of red peppercorn on top), and raspberry coulis. The red peppercorn ice cream was the highlight of the "meal," in my opinion. It was smooth yet spicy, calming yet tantilizing. Quite amazing. The molten chocolate tarte was good, but not as original as the peppercorn ice cream.
This is caramel panna cotta topped with cashews and some sort of sorbet. I can't remember exactly what flavor the sorbet was, but I think it may have been lemon or something. The panna cotta was devine, not too sweet, but just sweet enough to break up the smoothness.
Our petit fours were, clockwise from the top: chocolate truffles, lemon poppy seed shortbread (you can order this online off of their site), and coconut coated marshmallows.

Room 4 Dessert

An article in the New York Times today mentioned a recent trend of pastry chefs starting their own dessert-only restaurants, two of which I have had the pleasure and honor to visit (on dates!). The first is Room 4 Dessert, a delightful little "sliver" of a restaurant hidden somewhere in Nolita, that Chrissy took me to in May. It is the perfect place to go after a romantic dinner in the Lower East Side (extra brownie points for Chrissy, who took me on the perfect "date"). While walking to dessert, you shift the huge dinner in your stomach around, so that there's more space for goodies! Room 4 has just enough space for a bar, where patrons watch as the baristas and serveurs carefully construct the dessert platters. It reminds me a little of a sushi bar, but less wet and more sweet-smelling.

The head chef, Will Goldfarb, set the menu up so you can get what appeared to be sampling rafts of 4 types of desserts, and each raft had a theme and different wines (red, white, dessert, effervescent, french, german...etc) that paired well with the theme. Some of the themes were chocolate centered, some focused on light and fruity spring time combinations, while the one we got was just whimsical.
The placemats are black vinyl mesh, and the wood counter had the most amazing striated pattern. I have never seen such a refreshing and simple way to spruce up wood. Our dessert platter from left: smooth but tangy apricot preserves on modified ladyfingers; tangy cherry jello; mellow pistachio creme; plum and sugar coated bon bon (some what like a dense marshmallow with fruit sorbet in the middle)
Another view of the bonbon and the pistachio creme.
the bonbon
apricot preserves
pistachio creme
I apologize for the dim lighting...I didn't want to mess up the ambiance of the desserterie with a sudden bright flash.