Monday, March 31, 2014

Taiwan Food Diary: Fishballs and Braised Tofu at New Bamboo

Whenever I am traveling, I like to find and experience the local eateries or the places where the locals go (as long as they are not too run down or does not compromise on the hygiene; that's a given) to blend in with the culture of the place, or at the very least, see for myself the way they live on a daily basis. I am sure that is also what most avid travelers do; especially those who do their self-tours (like me).
While wandering on the streets towards the Bo Pi Liao Historic Street, presumably still within the Wanhua district of Taipei, I stumbled upon a little eatery named Xin Zhu (translated as New Bamboo)   along a row of shophouses.

It looked pretty decent and homey, that we popped into the little shop for a quick bite before continuing on our journey.

Small tables and chairs filled the tiny space of the shop; just like how I would imagine a local Chinese eatery from the vivid images depicted in the movies and tv series I have watched over the years. Locals sat comfortably, chattering away with each other, drowning the nostalgic tunes of old songs being played from a radio in the background; filling the air ventilated by a table fan fixed to low ceiling.
Oh yes, that was the environment, and you can clearly see from the picture above.
Definitely a retro moment, and I am glad I found a place like this!

One drawback for international tourists would be that in places like these, the local language is a preference when communicating with the owners.
Of course, they could get away with picture pointing and sign languages, but it is when you speak to them in their local language that you get the recommendations and it makes the whole ordering process easier.

Still, the menu here was pretty simple and straightforward and as we could also speak Mandarin, it was not really an issue.

Braised beancurd/tofu

One thing I have noticed about the Taiwanese, is their love for soy and dairy products. They love braised stuffs too; especially braised curd.
Not that I am complaining, as these are really good!

We ordered a bowl of Fried Fish paste (TWD$45), which came in a sticky broth made of corn starch and drops of sesame seed oil. Slices of ginger were added to add to the flavors of the soup and to keep the fishy smell to a minimum level (though the frying did that job already).
It was in all, a very warm bowl; filled with heat (yang) elements to warm one up during the cold winter weather.

A Mixed Bowl (TWD$60), where there is a little of everything.
From fried fish paste, to their famous meat balls, to cuttlefish, this was a bowl of mixed ingredients served in the same broth.

A very light, and enlightening meal, and I have enjoyed the simple and homey tastes from this little kitchen.
The warm soup did good to warm us against the cold wind blowing in our faces, and we left as happy and satisfied customers :-)

Taiwan Food Diary: Rolled pancake (Ban Cheng Kueh)

I was prepared to be greeted with the varieties of food on the streets of Taipei; and I was not disappointed as I have mentioned again and again in all of my posts about all the stalls spotted (though some illegally) everywhere.

While in Ximending, I have also spotted this particular stall operated by a young girl; probably in her teens or early twenties, selling pancakes.

These are uncommon in my country; in fact it was one of the favorite street food too popularly found in the morning or night markets back at home.
They are known as Pancakes, or Ban Cheng Kueh (in Hokkien); just as it is known in Taiwan too and they are made of an egg and flour batter, where they are then baked on little pans before sugar, chunks of butter, grounded nuts and a dollop of canned sweet corn are added on top of it.
Nowadays, the people behind this pancake is getting creative; introducing new flavors such as red bean, chocolate, strawberry if you are not into the original flavor as described above.

This stall caught my eye not because it was serving something which I can find in my own country; but rather, they were quite creative to make rolls of pancakes; as in, they just roll the dough and make them into Pancake rolls, like these:-

It was not too expensive, and I got myself one; and since I am a fan of red bean, there is no prize for guessing which flavor I went for.
(The triangular shaped pancakes are cut from the whole round pancake just like slices of pizza; and they are always best in the original flavor of grounded nuts with corn).

My Rolled Pancake oozing with the generous amount of red bean paste; at only TWD$200

Yup, eat it just like that, right on the street....(I don't usually do this, LOL), but again, everything seems fun when you are traveling, so just trying how it is like, that people just eat right on the streets!~

Friday, March 28, 2014

Homecooked Food Diary: Steamed Prawns

Taking a break away from the Taiwan food diary, I simply had to post on this wonderful dish served for dinner at home last night.
Recently we are taking to more home cooked food, since I happened to be around (at home), and for various other reasons; such as the unbelievably bad traffic due to the school holidays and cars from other states are all crowding on the streets for their favorite local fixes from the hawkers, and those famous merchandise products from the shops. Also, did I mention that the costs of dining outside has shot up exponentially, with the increase in taxes and the prices of the raw goods?
Furthermore, for health reasons, it is not a bad idea to have more home cooked food, which can be healthy sans the preservatives, MSG, and the unnecessary additives that can be sometimes found out there, not to mention, going light on the purses too.

Besides, who can resist gorgeous dishes which are just so simple that it can throw you off your chair?
Steamed, or rather, boiled prawns was the simple dish we had last night; following a stroke of good luck when the prawns were in stock at the morning market, and they were fresh!
Prices were reasonable too, hence the purchase of the prawns on impulse.

Steamed/Boiled Prawns

Since they were so fresh, there was really no need for any additional sauce or anything, but to just simply put them in a wok/pot with some water, and leave it on to boil!

Prawns are relatively easy to cook, as I was told, as they cook really fast (remember our steamboat during those festive seasons where you just throw in a bunch of prawns, and they are cooked in a few seconds!)

It has been a really long time since I have had really good steamed/boiled prawns like these, and it felt like we were dining outside in a seafood restaurant which serves fresh prawns (especially if you go to those fishing villages), but I bet even they do not have such home cooked taste or prices like this!

When seafood, especially prawns or crabs, or fish...well, generally, all seafood are fresh, I think the best and most just way to have them is through the simple method of boiling or just plain steaming them to enjoy that natural sweetness from the freshness of the catch. Any other method would simply do the flavor an injustice, but then again, that is my take and may not be your personal preference.

Though it was almost end of the week (not the weekend yet), who says we can't spoil ourselves with a treat like this?
After all, at home is where you rule.

This is seriously, good, and fresh is the key here!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Taiwan Food Diary: Brown Sugar Cake

There are plenty to look out for while in Taipei, from the local eateries to the street food, there is no end to the varieties staring and beckoning to you from every corner and alley while in the city. It is almost synonymous to that of my own country, where the food never seems to take a break or go to sleep at all; perhaps even more so back in my country where you could wake up in the middle of the night feeling hungry and you are still able to dispel that quickly by popping to those late night to early morning eateries everywhere (that's Malaysia for you).

In my food diary, the trails of the food and the types of food will be shared along the way; hand in hand with the updates from my travel blog which shares on all the places visited, with a quick note of my personal perspectives during the journey to each and every site.

The morning where we visited Longshan Temple, and then wound up checking out the streets nearby; which had a bustling morning market in action, beckoning to the early birds' crowd.

It is interesting that while I don't frequent the markets (morning or night) back in my hometown, I ended up doing the exact opposite when I am in a foreign country; but in my defense, this was supposed to be something that the locals do around here, and hey, somehow everything seems fun when you are traveling? (I doubt I will have that same enthusiasm to do the same thing back here, but I might try, once in a while).
I was interested to capture and watch the typical or usual scenes which take place in the neighborhood, and all these seems like what the locals enjoyed on a regular basis.
Besides, their morning market was not exactly similar as it seemed more like a street filled with eateries on one side of the street while the other are laid with canvas mats with second hand goods for sale.

I spotted this particular stall selling cakes, buns, and baked goods, which caught my eye, as there were many items which were really fascinatingly unique and they were mostly meant for deities worship (remember the Longshan temple was nearby?)

The way to tell the goods were meant for worship is to look out for red patterns or red wordings or dot; yeah, the key word here being something red on the buns, or cakes. Red is considered an auspicious color and the Chinese dwell on this; and it is practiced by all of them in every corner of the world (yes, wherever you go).

There are inscriptions of well-wishes or meaningful words on the buns usually; such as prosperity, wealth, luck, longevity and such in red that makes them unmistakably the items for the deity worship.
Most of these can be consumed; although it would help to check with the seller if you are unsure.
The lady running the stall was quite friendly; though not with that beaming smile but she was quite soft-spoken and kind enough to answer some of our questions. She even recommended some cakes for us to try; and I ended up picking this.

It costs about TWD$20-30 per packet; which contained 4 pieces.
The description says that this is a Brown sugar cake; made without eggs or any dairy products.
The main ingredients are rice flour, brown sugar, water, and rising sugar.

Brown sugar is typically associated with dispelling heat/toxins from the body; as compared to the usual white sugar, or so as believed by some of the elders. Another reason it is also favored in baking is due to the light fragrant scent from the brown sugar itself, which added a little bit more flavor to the baking.

The cake, was surprisingly quite dense and it tasted like an entire block of brown sugar with rice flour. Taste wise, I wouldn't say it was too bad, if you are a fan of cakes and non-dairy stuffs, this would be quite an interesting try, though not so much for the non-gluten folks.

The cake was also topped with a fair scattering of sesame seeds, to add to the taste.
There were also no preservative included in the cake; nor is there any artificial coloring, and we were told that the cake should be consumed within the very same day (recommended). If not, it should be refrigerated immediately, and even then, it's best to consume it within a day or two.

Not a bad try, though I think we may be able to find this back home, maybe not in the same texture or taste. It should not be hard for baker enthusiasts to be able to simulate or even innovate this simple recipe?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Taiwan Food Diary: Dinner at Mr Onion

Traveling is always everyone's favorite hobby; getting out there to see the other parts of the world and enjoying a taste of the local culture (and their cuisines too!). While time, and of course money are always the two biggest factors making up the equation in the consideration, it is still a wonderful experience and have we not heard enough from all the people out there who have been there and done that, telling us that there is no excuse and that we should just go for it and get ourselves out there.
It is truly a deal which returns more than the giving, and changes our lives in many different ways that we could ever imagine.

I am an avid traveler; for both business and leisure, and it does not matter where the destination could be, it is always, to me, an eye-opening experience. Okay, I am not exactly the rough-it-out kind of girl and perhaps more inclined towards the comfort-type of traveler, I still did enjoy most part of my travels :-)

My recent trip to Taiwan; mainly Taipei quickly filled my travel and food diary to the brim; bursting with their stories and flavors to be shared and I really can't wait to just get it all out here in the blog to be shared with all of you.
While Taiwan is one of the most common destination for many (I mean, I think half of you guys out there have been to Taiwan?) and is also known for the variety of food, particularly in the street department, I have also come to notice the myriad of international cuisines available in the country.
It is no different from our own country either, and I am not surprised that most of the locals can be found mostly in those international fare-based restaurants compared to their local Taiwanese restaurants; such as Japanese (mostly in Ximending), Korean, Italian, American, and the list goes on.
It really does bring back to mind the truth in the saying of "The grass is always greener on the other side"

I find it compelling(and a little frustrating too) that I have to admit that it was harder to search for a localized version of a Taiwanese restaurant, serving authentic local flavors compared to a international cuisine restaurant. I could only think of two reasons like, either I was searching in the wrong place, or the locals are not too keen on their everyday flavors from home to want to pay their way for the same food again?

Whichever it is, that was how I ended up in a Western franchise restaurant on my first night of arrival for a late dinner. Of course, there was also a reason for the simple celebration and it helped that there was this restaurant so close to our hotel, that we just decided to dine in.

Mr Onion can be considered a local Western restaurant, started by the locals back in the 1991 and have been winning awards for their cuisines for a couple of years.
They serve a rather modest variety of main courses; salads, appetizers, soups, desserts and even beverages. There are also combination of sets where a main course comes with a soup, salad, appetizer, a dessert and even a drink, all priced at the price of the main course selected ( I think, probably with only a couple of dollars more). It was a pretty good bargain for a meal.

The restaurant was decorated with a rather charming style of interjecting the rustic charms of an English cottage with a light touch of classic sophistication. It was just simple; nothing too fancy, yet it brings out that vintage feel in the ambiance that makes one feel relaxed and at the same time, comfortable (of course). It is no wonder there were groups of friends and youngsters spotted at most of tables in the restaurant. I would say Mr Onion had more of a diner-style in the presentation which makes it approachable and reasonable to the casual dining preferred by most of the younger generation.

Perhaps it had something to do with the lighting, and maybe their choice of fabric in their tablecloths? I am not sure about you, I sure am a fan of checkered patterns; especially when they are in classic colors~ ^_^

The Chef's Salad (TWD$110)
A combination of a slice honeydew melon, watermelon, cherry tomato, lettuce and shreds of cabbage served with a French vinaigrette dressing.

Appetizer was this Smoked Salmon (TWD$80)
I don't need to repeat, I am a fan of smoked salmon, wherever I go! (provided, they need to be really good and fresh, and not in a pile of gooey mess).
This is approved, really good, though a rather meagre slice in the serving, but for the price, it was still good :-)

Garlic Bread (TWD$20)

Seafood Tomato Broth (TWD$110)
I cannot begin to say how much I enjoyed this; with the light sourish taste of the broth to the generous amounts of seafood (fresh prawns, squid rings, clams) in it.
It was really a good and honestly portioned bowl of broth considering that it was part of the set, yet there was no compromise on the portion and the quality. I am impressed, and may I say, good job on the customer satisfaction.

Grilled herb crusted salmon (Price N/A)
Portion was not too big; and right for a modest eater, though may not be sufficient for the regular diner. However, taste wise, I have no complaint, as though I may be a big fan of salmon, I take my grilled salmon very seriously and especially when it comes to herb crusts.
I would say it wasn't exceptionally outstanding, but they didn't fail in succeeding this dish.
(Gosh, now this photo is stirring that craving for salmon all over again, and I just got over it two days ago!)

The raw/steamed vegetables served on the side.

Grilled Chicken with Mushroom Gravy (TWD$450)
This was just as good as it looked/sounded, but they could do with a little more of the mushroom gravy for the portion of the chicken served.

The dessert selected was Tiramisu; not that we are big fans but because most of the other choices had ran out. Bummer, but still, the Tiramisu was not too bad to its reputation either.

A little touch of art on the side of the tiramisu.

Did I also not mention the set comes with a drink from the menu selection?
Our Calpis and Cranberry Mix
(I am sorry, I am just not a fan of this, somehow it just tasted wrong to me and reminded me of some cough mixture, but that's probably just me?)

Overall, I must say I was rather pleased with my first dinner in Taipei, and Mr Onion did well in welcoming us with the reasonably priced and proportioned servings in their diner restaurant.
I enjoyed my dinner and it helped that their service was quite good; I appreciate the patience shown by the servers who took time to explain to us newbies on the ordering and the menu when we first sat down and we did not have to resort to chimpanzee techniques half the time to get their attention as they were always on the alert.
That, is more than what pleases a customer, don't you think?

Taiwan Food Diary: Hello!~

I will be starting on my food diary based on my Taiwan travelogue soon; to share on the things we tried and tested during my trip last month.
Do check out my Travel Blog on the stories and places visited in Taiwan.

Little Doraemon says hi to the beginning of the Taiwanese Food Diary!~
Stay tune for the updates :-)

Homecooked Food Diary: Blackened Snapper Fillet with thick plum sauce

This is as good as it sounds; and fish is always my personal favorite dish to look forward to, at any meal. I am blessed to be surrounded by good cooks (as I am definitely not a talent in the kitchen), and those who take note of my special preferences in food as I am often presented with all the good food made with all the love and thoughts from these wonderful people around me.

Blackened fish was a creation from my mother-in-law's kitchen where she experiments with different styles of cooking and sauces; depending on her haul from the morning market each day. She is one lady who really enjoys cooking, and making simple dishes at home, nothing complicated as she just likes taking it easy, as she says.

Plum sauce and the right amount of pan frying was all it took to whip up this dish; with the snapper fillet (the catch, or the buy of the day, from the market) being marinated and then lightly pan fried to create a little grazed on the cheeks of the fillets, before being served with the thick plum sauce concoction poured over the fish and of course, the accompanying fish balls and cakes atop the romaine lettuce leaves.

Well, that's basically how it tasted like to me, and I am no recipe girl as this is just a simple dish which I enjoyed and would like to share, or, perhaps to tempt your appetites?

Really, nothing beats home cooked food....and especially fish...which can be just so costly to order from the restaurants out there these days, with the ever increasing trend of the prices of commodity items and food.
So, guess we will be spotting more home cooking from food blogs? *winks*

Monday, March 03, 2014

A Homecooked feast (and I heard there's noodles!)

Just before my brother-in-law and his family flew back for work after spending the Chinese New Year holidays here, we had a feast prepared at home by my mother-in-law which served as some sort of a family gathering to have everyone just stay at home. It was on the 8th day of the CNY.
My mother-in-law loves to cook, which is just a good thing and I just feel so blessed to have someone pampering us (yes, I am spoilt) with good food all the time, and she just enjoys doing it so much that she never finds it troublesome. Sometimes we would tell her not to cook but she will just tell us in turn about the disadvantages of dining out and then persuade us to stay at home instead where she will just whip up something simple.
When she says simple, she really means simple, but yet appetizing to our tastes.

I will let the pictures do the's just a really simple post, no fancy stories, and just the photos to just relate to our family feast :-)

A Seafood tom yam pot (tom yam was made with a paste we bought from the supermarket, but she threw in the coriander leaves, lemongrass and tamarind to make it more flavorful)
Prawns, squid balls, fish balls, onions, Fish Sui Kow (another version of dumplings in Chinese)

Charcoal grilled BBQ Pork (known as Char Siew in Chinese) - apparently everyone in the family loves this dish which was bought from the market

A plateful of Fish balls and Fish Mai (some sort of fish dumplings in the usual Siew Mai style)

Stir-fried Spinach leaves with garlic 
Popeye's favorite vegetable, and mine too!

Steamed fish with Chinese wine, lime and soy sauce then garnished with ginger, garlic and spring onions.

Another dish of Stir-fried vegetables; just plain stir fry version of the vegetables.
It is good to always increase the intake of vegetables, anytime.

I heard there were noodles, and oh yes, we decided to just ditch the usual rice for a little adventure with noodles for our feast that night.
Of course, the kids could still have rice if they wanted to (the kids just loved their rice!)

A simple family affair, rather than a feast she says...what say you?
I'd say it was a simple feast then! :-)