Taiwanese Street Food – Part Two

Unfortunately for Conan, he got sick for a day and had to spend it at the hotel while I ventured out to taste Taiwan.

Fortunately for me, I wasn’t alone and spent time with some hardcore foodies. And let me tell you, they were foodies. They ate and ate and ate, and then ate some more! I could not keep up – it was insane city! Although I had the day to myself, I was quite uninspired to take pictures of everything I ate because I was worried about Conan and it just wasn’t the same without him :(

BUT I DID TAKE PICTURES AT SHILIN NIGHT MARKET!!!

The Shinlin night market is probably the most famous night market in Taipei. I was talking to a friend, Barry, and I was complaining about how disappointed I was (long story) and he told me that I had to go to the Shilin night market, and so there I was.

This place was different than the other night markets I had gone to so far. This place had GAMES! It was the Asian version of the midway. I’m serious! They had water shooting games, dart games etc and you could won prizes of all sorts! I didn’t partake in any of them because I wasn’t feeling it and because I hate winning stuffed animal prizes! ;) I really didn’t have room in my luggage to carry those things back to Hong Kong! And of course, this place was packed with food vendors…PACKED.

You would never see something like this in North America – it’d be too “unhygienic”, it wouldn’t meet “codes” and all that jazz; but again, you’d never eat such great street food in North America either.

They had this one fried chicken place that sold fried boneless chicken, so you could hold it in a bag and eat a chicken while walking and enjoying other sights. It was crazy! I had a bite…it was good! I’d dare say, better than Popeye’s…and I love Popeye’s! And like I said, there were lots of food vendors and some of them would have their special ingredients lined up to be cooked. In the picture below you can see they had things like shrimp, crab and even pigs liver out for all to gander at before ordering and eating.

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A trip to Taiwan is not complete without having some bonafide pearl milk bubble tea. So my friend Michael’s uncle got one for each of us. YUM! Except it wasn’t the best. Apparently there was a place that had better bubble tea near our hotel.  Too bad :( For those who are not familiar with the bubble tea, the traditional bubble tea is similar to the Hong Kong milk tea, which is just black tea with milk and of course, tapioca. There are different kinds and flavours, but we were in it for the pearl milk bubble tea.

The other picture is just a random picture of one of the dishes we ate that night. Just some fried rice noodles. Umm…they weren’t that great actually, but it was the last picture I took before I started to kinda chow down on dinner (I was really full!).

Ok these were also pretty cool – but I wasn’t a big fan of them. It’s a whole potato, in a continuous slice that was fried and then seasoned – so a really big potato chip! I think it was more of a novelty than something you thought tasted amazing! It was cool, but difficult to eat.

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I suppose that this night market would’ve been pretty good on a normal day, but by this time I had eaten so much food in Taiwan, that I simply just didn’t want to eat anymore! Which meant I didn’t really enjoy my time there as much as I probably would’ve. This is also coupled by the fact that they only had squatting toilets there, so I was trying really hard not to eat or drink too much :P

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Taiwan Street Food – Part Un

Taiwan is famous for many things and what I hear most about Taiwan when my friends and family go there is its street food and night market. Many go there just to eat and I definitely saw why that was!

九份 (Jioufen)

Our first stop in Taiwan was in this small, sleepy mountain town called 九份 (Jioufen). Now it’s a huge toursity place, but still charming!

So while I was chowing down on some stinky tofu that Conan didn’t seem to enjoy, he bought himself some fried shrimp balls on a stick for $50NT – which IMO was a bit pricy since I got my tofu for $30NT! :P Regardless, he thought they were pretty good, “crunchy on the outside and shrimpy on the inside.” I thought they were pretty tasty too! Reminded me of takoyaki @ Guu.

Taiwan is also known for their variety of produce. One of my all time favourite fruits is Guava!!! SOOO GOOD! We bought a bag of pre-cut Guava with salt. Although I don’t think Guava needs salt, apparently the Taiwanese love eating Guava this way and it’s quite common to put the salt on. I think it mutes the taste of the Guava a bit!

Tofu was basically everywhere. Just a picture of the different kinds of tofu they were selling!

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There’s another fruit they had there. I’ve had it in Canada as well, but I don’t remember what it was called. It’s red (as you can see) and it’s crunchy and extremely juicy! It was sooo good and refreshing to have! It sorta has a texture similar to star fruit…it’s not like anything you’d get in North America.

Then that night we went to a night market in Taiwan and everyone was excited to try these “famous noodles” – Ah Chung (which is just a very informal nickname of, I’m assuming, the owner). There’s a nice success story behind this “Ah Chung’s noodle” place. It’s not uncommon to see food carts along streets in Asia, and “Ah Chung” started as a lowly street cart vendor. They gained fame and popularity through their street noodle. The noodles are, apparently, quite unique. They are thin noodles, kind of like Angel hair pasta but flat, in thick soup base made from a variety of things, but most prominently, pieces of pig intestine. You can see some pieces in the picture. On top of that, like a North American hot dog, you can add your own condiments to it – chilli sauce, soy sauce, fried onions, green onions, minced garlic, vinegar etc. Anyway, it became so famous and popular, they moved it to it’s current store front location. It’s still old school-eat-on-street place, long line-ups and quick service.

Since everyone was talking about the noodles and the line was long, Conan and I decided to go try it. I mean why not? We tried it. I wasn’t a big fan of it. Actually I didn’t think it was that good at all. Conan felt the same. We actually didn’t even finish our small bowl! Although the taste experience was a bit disappointing, I do have to commend the Taiwanese for being so conservative! This is at the end of the day, a street vendor, a fast food joint, but EVERYONE used washable bowls, chopsticks and spoons. You get your bowl of noodles with a spoon and chopsticks, you eat, then you put your dirty dishes in a bin and someone washes them. No waste. It was a fresh change to the way things are done here in North America!

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MISTER DONUT!!!

After our very unsatisfactory run-in with Ah B, Conan and I wandered around the night market frantically searching for something that we wanted to eat. There were LOTS, but nothing really appealed to us. Then out of desperation and lure of cuteness, I wandered into Mister Donut.

Mister Donut was originally an American chain and Dunkin’s top competitor – until Dunkin’s bought up the Mister Donut chains and changed all the names to Dunkin’ – save a very few that still exist in the US. Years later, some other company bought the rights and started to franchise across Japan and Asia – where we ended up. So of course, we tried it!

I picked the double green tea donut. AND LET ME TELL YOU – IT WAS GOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!!!!! It wasn’t nasty like the donuts you get in North America. Not nasty as in super sugary on top of sugar fried sugar. This was not too sweet and you could actually taste the green tea!!! It was very satisfying!!!!!! YUMMM!!!

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Perhaps for some a donut would be enough for dinner, but it wasn’t for Conan and I! And I was DETERMINED to have some authentic Taiwanese beef noodle! Luckily for us, I secured the directions to  a street not far from where we were that were lined with these sketchy looking noodle places that served only beef noodle. Needless to say, we got there quick and picked a random noodle joint that appeared to be popular.

Why did I go out of my way to have Taiwanese beef noodle? Or more specifically, why do I love Taiwanese beef noodle? Several reasons(!):

  • The Noodle: it’s thick and chewy, think fresh. Sometimes the noodles are thinner, but thick is good!
  • The Soup Base: it’s not just beef soup base, it’s more than that! I think my favourite part of it is the sweet star anise that comes out ever so slightly amongst the dark thick soy and beef flavours – *drools just thinking about it
  • The Beef: Shank, it’s like fall off the bone, melt in your mouth meat. Except there aren’t any bones. If there were bones, I probably wouldn’t like this dish as much as I do. Anyone who knows me knows I hate eating meat off of bones – too much work.

Now you all know why and you can’t ever pass up the chance to have the beef noodle where it’s so famously named after!

Conan and I sat down at this table. This place looked and felt ghetto. It was a cold night and this place was steaming. There were gigantic open bowls of chilli oil sauce and other unidentifiable orange stuff (not sure what it was). Little plastic stools under fold-up tables. Our bowl of noodles came and we inhaled it.

It was AMAZING!!!! Soo good that the memory of it’s awesomeness makes me hungry despite the fact I’m sooo full right now =9

BUT IT DOESN’T STOP THERE! Conan and I went back to the night market and had ourselves Taiwan’s famous SHAVED ICE!!!!!!!!

Some might say “Dude, isn’t this just an ice cone in a bowl?” HELLS NO IT AIN’T!!!!!! IT’S SOOOO MUCH MORE SUPERIOR!!!!

It’s iced coconut milk, shaved finely and topped with unbelievably awesome fruits and sauces. One of my favourite toppings – condensed milk. MMMMMMMMM!!! Also a very well-known fact among my family members, I love STRAWBERRIES and MANGOES – so this was the perfect dessert – shaved ice with strawberries, mango and condensed milk!!!! HEAVEN!!! We also inhaled this quickly. So.G-D.Delicous.

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Taiwan has good food.

Next time – When Conan gets sick and I brave Taipei on my own! Well, almost alone…:P


Taiwan Street Food – Stinky Tofu

If I haven’t said it yet, I will say it again – I feel like never eating again! This trip to Asia has been brutal on my body! I had soo much food!! All so very delicious – well I suppose save some – like this bowl of street noodles I had, wasn’t sure what the hype was all about.

I was in Hong Kong for a while (post to come soon…I hope. There is a lot in HK!) and then I went to Taiwan for a few days. Everyone always talks about Taiwan and how the food is awesome there – so how could I not?

It all starts with the island of Taiwan aka Formosa (learned that in TW)…it looks like a potato!

But seriously. It had some good street food and FRUITS!

Let’s start with my main food item I wanted to eat – STINKY TOFU!!! Here’s the wiki link for all those who don’t know what it is.

In Toronto stinky tofu is hard to find. It’s not served everywhere and the only time when it’s somewhat more accessible is once a year when there is a Taiwanese Night Market up in Markham. That’s where I had my first taste of stinky tofu. The name pretty much sums it up, it’s stinky and it’s tofu – but sooo good! I’d describe it like Durian – it’s acquired and you either love it or hate it, no inbetween.

One of our stops in Taiwan was to this really touristy place called 九份 (Jioufen). It’s located in the mountains, the air is fresh and it’s always raining! I heard it rains about 200+ days in a year…that must suck! Anyway, it’s very quiet and nice town otherwise…also really cold since I went there in the winter and it’s up in the mountains.

They have a little market there, where the streets are narrow and crowded and lined with shops, food stalls and whatnot. It winds and turns, goes up and down. It’s covered with various awnings to shelter the masses from never ending rain.

The aroma of food is a bit overwhelming as you approach the street. Different smells and I could pick out the smell of stinky tofu!! WOOHOO!! I was super excited!

I had sampled some stinky tofu in Hong Kong. I met up with my cousin one day after work – she works in 灣仔 (Wan Chai) and she took me to try some! It was my first time having HK-styled stinky tofu because even in Toronto, I always have Taiwanese-styled stinky tofu. The difference between HK and TW is in TW they serve it with sauce and pickled vegetables and in HK they just serve it straight up and you add some hoisin sauce and/or chilli sauce to it.


HK-Style Stinky Tofu

Alright, so the first stinky tofu food stall – bought stinky tofu for 30NT (which is $1 CAD – so cheap~!! at least $3-5 here!) OMG THE SMELL!! SO POTENT!! SO STOKED TO TRY IT!!!

This one was fried then grilled with sauce. I didn’t get it with chilli sauce because I can’t eat spicy foods :P But I did get it with the pickled vegetables – which are my FAV! Pickled cabbage and carrots!

Here you can see more clearly the sauce and the tofu – they were big!

This stuff was SOO STINKY = VERY DELICIOUS!!! The ones in Toronto and HK aren’t nearly as stinky as this was. This was absolutely fabulous! I ate this pretty quickly…Conan had some and said that it was too stinky for him and that he didn’t like it. He also doesn’t like Durian – so go figure. MORE FOR ME!

Once you bite into the tofu, it’s juicy, flavourful and the texture of the tofu was perfect. If you haven’t noticed, this stuff is the firm tofu – much better for eating like this than soft tofu (which should be reserved for desserts :P) After I finished this, I didn’t need any more stinky tofu – it was enough for the rest of my trip. That’s how stinky it was! And the best part, I didn’t even get sick!!!

(I was so afraid that I would after my Toronto Starbucks latte and HK milk tea incident – another story, NOT lactose intolerant because I have diary with no problems otherwise!)

Taiwan – the BEST STINKY TOFU~~!!!!!


Culinary Adventures!

This all started after quickly – almost without thought – decided to go to Hong Kong for the holidays. The plane tickets were priced at the most expensive of the year, but I had time (not necessarily the money, but whatever). At first I deterred Conan from coming with me since I’ll be hanging with my family the whole time and the language barrier issue, he came anyway! So I went to Vancouver for a couple of days to chill out with my cousin and to visit one of my most favourite cities in Canada. Then off on a 15 hour plane ride across the pacific to the south China sea! (I like saying the south China sea because it reminds me of James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies – Love James Bond!)

During my extremely long flight overseas, I had plenty of time to do nothing and to finally do some reading. I love watching Anthony Bourdain – No Reservations, if there is one job I’d want, it’d be his job. Who wouldn’t want to travel the world and eat through it? I had picked up his second novel, Medium Raw, some time ago but I never really got to it until now. It’s a great book! It’s definitely written in a style that I like, which is a first person narrative – ok I just like reading blogs and this was like a blog in a novel.

Anyway, when I was little my relatives from Hong Kong would visit my family and I would ask them loads of questions. More specifically, I had always wondered how this place in the world was different (or the same), as my own. I’d ask “Does Hong Kong have Pizza Hut?”, “Does Hong Kong have spaghetti?” etc..you get the idea and the short and simple answer was always “If it exists, Hong Kong has it.” WELL!!! That peeved me off a bit when I was little because it meant I didn’t live in a superior country after all! Now I was about to find out how spectacular Hong Kong really is…

Now I won’t bore everyone with minute details of my trip but I will say this – Hong Kong is a very impressive city, so impressive that I think it’d be hard to find something more impressive.

Things that really impressed me:

  • MTR – began serving in 1979. It’s an awesome system and the Octopus card is genius. And it’s privatized!!! I think the TTC needs to learn a lot from the MTR. The trains don’t squeak and squeal like the TTC and it’s efficient with minimal delays…AND CHEAP!!! WTF?! *shakes fist at TTC…let’s privatize that shit!
  • Bridges/infrastructure – very impressive…the tunnels, the bridges, the highways, the roads…wow.
  • High density living – loads of it everywhere
  • Convenience – the only place NOT convenient in Hong Kong is if you lived on a deserted mountain.
  • Food – prices are low and the food is awesome!
  • Stores – there are tons of them and they’re all busy! Toronto needs better food!
  • Cleanliness – I never thought that Hong Kong would be so clean…the MTR, the washrooms (well there are some that are nasty)…WOW!

In short – Hong Kong is great! The only major downside – the air quality…I felt like I was suffocating at times =\


Original Guu Vancouver vs. Guu Toronto

The first time I ate at Guu was in 2009 when I visited my cousin in Vancouver. Wendy and Yvonne took me to the Richmond location since my other cousin worked in the mall. Needless to say, it was a memorable and delicious meal. So when I heard Guu was coming to Toronto I was quite excited to try it, as was the rest of Toronto. There were (and still are) long queues to get in. I think it’s safe to say that the wait is usually 1 to 2 hours. The hype was big, so I decided to try it.

Luckily for me, the first time I went to Guu Toronto I already had friends that got in and all I had to do was show up – no waiting for me! They had ordered a whole slew of random Japanese tapas along with pitchers of Sapporo – it is a izakaya after all. In short, my initial impression of Guu Toronto was pretty mediocre compared to my experience in Vancouver and because of this, although slightly snobby of me, I don’t like Guu Toronto that much. That said, their website indicates a new Toronto location opening in February – Bloor West!

When Wendy moved to Toronto from Vancouver we decided that we should do a Vancouver/Toronto comparison. As it just so happened, Wendy was going back to Vancouver for the holidays and I was heading to Hong Kong, so we decided to eat at Guu Toronto before she left and we’d meet up 2 days later in Vancouver to eat at the original Guu Vancouver location – Guu with Garlic on Robson.

Controls

Can’t conduct a reliable experiment without controls! So for both seatings we:

  1. Ate at the bar to ensure that all our dishes are served to us as quickly as possible (freshness)
  2. Eliminated service bias – the service itself wouldn’t be an issue (the chefs/cooks pass you the dish right when it’s finished – no delays)
  3. Ate at approximately the same time in the evening (10pm)

Atmosphere

Like I stated earlier, my impression of Guu Toronto is not that great. The atmosphere in Toronto is very exaggerated and they act it up like it’s Broadway show. Although part of the Guu experience is centred on exclaiming arrival and departure of guests, shouting of orders and order confirmation – it just felt almost fake in Toronto. You really have to be there and live it, then go to Vancouver and live it. There’s a difference and Vancouver does it better. Guu in Toronto is on steroids and at times, a bit annoying?

I also recommend sitting at the bar rather than the table. I just felt like it was a cooler experience that way! Try it!

Dish vs. Dish

Just looking at the picture reminds me how gooey and warm the takoyaki was. Both these dishes tasted about the same – then again, it’s hard to mess up something deep fried! In terms of presentation, I think the Guu with Garlic takes it.

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Again very much like the Takoyaki, both versions tasted similar. However, Guu Vancouver had more veggies and thus colour. Also, their noodles were warmer/hotter. Guu with Garlic is again superior.

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There is definitely a clear winner to this dish. I love it because it has a strong almond flavour and also creamy. Guu Toronto almond tofu is both more tastey and creamy, Guu with Garlic doesn’t measure up. Guu Toronto!

Similar Dishes

Hotate-Carpaccio (Guu Toronto)

This dish was to die for! Those who have never ventured away from the regular fish, ebi, shrimp and surf clam sashimi have to try this. IMO, it’s a good baby step to getting into sashimi as well. The scallops were sweet and the dressing fresh. Wendy and I basically cleared this dish in about 30 seconds.

Hotate-butter (Guu with Garlic)

Also a great dish! The Hotate-butter, lightly grilled with seasoning was very mouth-watering! But at the same price point,  both Wendy and I preferred the Hotate-Carpaccio instead. I think it was a texture thing, we both liked the freshness and sweetness of the Hotate-Carpaccio.

Octopus Sashimi (Guu Toronto)

Could you tell we were on a sashimi binge? I know many people don’t like octopus sashimi because they don’t like the texture. It’s hard to chew and slightly rubbery, but I think that’s why Wendy and I like it so much! I like the taste of the sweet ocean and this reminded me of the sweet ocean…yummm!!

Ika-Maruyaki (Guu with Garlic)

Fried calamari is probably the worst thing someone can do to a squid. I’m talking about those nasty calamari rings listed in the appetizer section of the menu at bars and restaurants. It tastes like crap. Admit it, there is nothing worse you can do to a squid than to fry it up in nasty yellow thick batter that doesn’t even adhere to the squid half the time and cover it with salt. If you’re at a more pretentious place, they  might supply some nasty mayo, seasoned soy sauce or cover it with red chillies. Grilled squid with lemon. Do it if you haven’t yet, you’ll never go back…well perhaps if you come across some squid legs deep fried at a dim sum restaurant or something :P

The Verdict

Hands down Guu in Vancouver wins this one. Maybe because they know they started it all and like the cool kids at school, they don’t need to try to be cool, they just are. Toronto can scream and yell as much as they want, but they’ll never live up to the laid-back west-coasters.


RE: Longo’s Customer Service?

Alright it’s been awhile, but that’s because I’ve been enjoying (probably too much) some much needed vacation time!

Vacations are amazing and fun – but there comes a time when you just think to yourself, “I want to sleep in my own bed and just do nothing at home.” So I’m glad to be home after a long vacation. This also meant my mailbox was stuffed with mail. After sifting through countless spam mail I finally arrived at a letter from Longos!

Just a quick re-cap for those who don’t feel like scrolling down 2 clicks:

Bought a pizza from Longo’s and it was decent. Bought another pizza from Longo’s and it didn’t have sauce, but thought it was just a fluke. Bought a third pizza from Longo’s – it also had no sauce and definitely not a fluke. They are cheaping out on TOMATO SAUCE! COME ON!!!

They sent me a $10 gift certificate. Ok, that’s somewhat sweet – except it doesn’t even cover the price of the sauceless pizzas I’ve bought from them  – not even one!

I would re-try the pizza this week, but I think I’m off of food for a while :P  FOOD OVERLOAD!


Hong Kong

There is so much food here that I never want to eat again…