Thursday, March 16, 2017

食在台湾 |Taiwanese eats

While quite a number of our meal choices were dictated by AB's favourites on his past trips here, this unadventurous man was actually pretty open to a number of suggestions based on my friends' recommendations. Kudos to him for that given how he is one who most often prefers to pass up the chance to try something new, in favour of what he knows for sure he will enjoy. This man must have aced his economics back in the day. Heh.

I digressed - but that was how we ended up sampling quite a number of pretty awesome meals. :)

Toasteria
This is a rather unassuming chain of eateries, and one of the outlets just happened to be in the same cluster as AB's favourite cafe. It was therefore of little wonder that we wounded up there for quite a number of brunches during our trip, post mandatory morning coffee. Not that I'm complaining of course, the menu was right up my alley - breakfast-type food, which I can literally have all day as breakfast, lunch or dinner. The main specialty was their grilled cheese sandwiches which came in a variety of flavours. I gamely tried out the jalepeno version on our first visit there, which was awesomely cheesy (um, duh) and spicy, exactly what I expected. However, the egg fiend that I was meant that I just couldn't help reverting to my usual choice of the standard egg, potatoes and bacon set the next few times we were there, heehee. Yumm.

Love the poster

Grilled cheese! That cute little piece was what was cut out to add in the egg. 💖

My weakness 😍
Wu Lao Hotpot 無老鍋
The beloved colleague who is based in Hong Kong had just returned from her vacation in Taipei when I mentioned that I was going there, and she gushed on and on about this so many times I decided it had to be worth a try. Boy was she right. Not to mention that AB's parents had been meaning to try steamboat for their trip to Asia this time, and I have to say it probably was the best choice. Just as well that it was raining cats and dogs the entire evening that we decided to try it. 

Frankly though, there isn't really much to say about this famous hotpot, other than that it was really good: soup was flavourful while not chock-full of MSG, nor too overwhelming nor salty/oily, ingredients were awesome with plenty of greens and fresh food which was much more welcome than the processed cheese tofu or sausages, so it made for a really happy me. AB decided to go crazy and ordered a big bottle of Chinese rice wine to share, and thankfully it's not as scary as I'd feared, and the table did manage to finish the bottle amongst the four of us - we all managed to walk out sober and in a straight line, hurhurhur. 
Bubble bubble
My tiny Hello Kitty (also my MRT pass!) wasn't amused at being challenged to drink 🙈

Go Sang Grilled Meats 吳桑烤肉
Said colleague who recommended Wu Lao also sang praises of the grilled meat in Taipei, and while we didn't end up trying any of those that she mentioned, this one came on the recommendations of one of AB's friends, and just as well was conveniently located just a 20 minute stroll away from where we stayed. 

I have to say that the chilly weather made the most conducive accompaniment for huddling round a warm grill of smokeless charcoal, and having the servers grill your orders to the perfect doneness it was meant to be devoured was pretty fantastic. Can you tell by now that I am lazy maximus most of the time when I can help it? Heehee. 

Tender meat. Mmm.

Our very hardworking friendly server

All in all, a most lovely handful of eateries sampled. Probably even more adventurous than I was during my first trip here. :D

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

逛夜市 | To (night) market

Since we were in the vicinity, it made sense to also introduce AB's parents to the ever popular Shilin Night Market after a day up in Yangmingshan.

That's actually as touristy as it gets though, hurhur. Rather than making the rounds stuffing our faces with as much variety of snacks we we could stomach, and getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of different stalls peddling their fare, AB led us in a beeline for his favourite "must eat stall" - Zhong's Original Shanghai Pan-fried Dumplings (鐘記原上海生煎包). Ever since he tried it years ago on a friend's recommendation, he makes it a point to come by each time he visits the market. There was a meandering queue despite the back-alley location of the stall, but it moves pretty quickly - we got our orders within 15 minutes, credit to a very organised and swift production line for kneading and filling the dumplings with either a pork or cabbage filling, then steaming them gently before pan frying them such that the bottom of the dumplings are a satisfying crispy brown. AB had declared that everyone should have three dumplings to maximise the enjoyment, but I had my sights on MY favourite and insisted on just having the one pork dumpling. Was I glad I stuck to my guns - although I was pretty famished by the time we got the orders, the smaller-than-palm-sized dumpling definitely packed a punch in taking up tummy real estate, and no wonder. It's the denser dough, not your usual fluffy chinese bun texture, but not cloying and done just right with a touch of chewiness that I guess the Taiwanese would call 彈牙, while the meat had no porky taste but was just perfectly seasoned. It was pretty tasty, and that one dumpling hit the spot in warming the tummy too. Yum.

Then to the amazement of AB and his parents, I queued and ordered a humongous fried chicken cutlet - the original Hot Star stall which started the fried chicken craze in Singapore too. Massively tickled that the name is a play on their infamous signature 豪大大雞排. Heeheehee. I remembered this being the one item I wanted to try on my first trip to Taipei years ago, and was glad that I wasn't disappointed this time either. It's still that gigantic piece of glorious crispy, spicy, artery-clogging yumminess. I chomped on that massive piece nearly all by myself (disclaimer: I was very happy to share! But none of the party were fans of fried chicken, although AB was curious and stole quite a few bites). Hurhurhur. I was stuffed by the time I was done, but no regrets! :D

While we didn't linger too long, we did take a short stroll through some of the alleys, and tried some other snacks, sipping on fresh lime and lemon juice that was perfect after the meats and oil we ingested. Didn't make it to the collection of stalls that were supposedly mostly clustered in basement foodcourt of sorts, but it still made a nice adventure for AB's parents, heh.

Left: Big Star Fried Chicken. Right: Zhong's Shanghai pan fried dumplings.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

台北 | 品茶:: Tea appreciation

As a frequent tea drinker, AB's mum was curious about the Chinese tea which Taiwan is famous for. For this visit, she was keen to check out some of tea shops for tasting and to purchase some back as gifts as well as her own consumption.

Thanks to recommendations from the trusty galfriend who was well acquainted with the scene, we navigated to the quietly charming CANS tea and books house (罐子茶书馆). Located in the corner of a smaller street in the Da'an district (大安區), also renowned for the location of the original Din Tai Fung restaurant and a multitude of tea shops, it was one of the most discreet spaces in the area, tucked away from the more bustling streets. We felt like we had chanced upon a well kept secret.

This tea and book store/gallery is one of three outlets, located in Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei. Other than the space on level 1 which houses the tea shop that offers free tea tasting sessions, the basement was a gallery space, and the higher levels included a book store that specialises in rare, out of print books (quite a large number commissioned by the National Palace Museum). Another floor was dedicated to display of tea utensils and equipment, while the highest floor on level 7 held a large expansive area for tea workshops. The furniture used were mostly made of wood, with soft indoor lighting as well as diffused daylight from the surroundings, which gave this space a tranquil, comforting ambience.

We didn't have time to explore the other levels but were fortunate enough to get to sit in on a tea tasting session. The shop space was quite small and could only host four people comfortable along the bar for tea tasting, and a group was just departing when we arrived. Over the course of some 1.5 hours, we were first given a quick introduction of the various teas that Taiwan is famous for - namely the Oolong (乌龙) and Mountain teas (山茶), as well as some quick facts about the different varieties of tea, their oxidation levels as well as taste profiles. I had forgotten until now that green tea, being the least processed of the teas, actually contains more caffeine than Oolong or Tie Guan Yin (铁观音), which have been roasted and smoked for the longest.

We tasted four teas in total, two mountain teas and two Oolong. Chinese tea is quite a different animal from the western teas, especially Oolong, often in that unique smoky dryness that evolves into a sweet aftertaste. Tea drinking, like coffee, wine and whisky, is a very personal experience. I'd imagine that no two persons will have the exact same sentiments towards the same tea that they taste, although they might or might not share the same likes or dislikes towards the general taste profile. I like my tea much like I like my beer and whisky, either light and citrusy/floral, or deep, robust and complex. Anything in between, I just struggle to form an opinion about it, hurhur. AB's mum like the delicate florals which are smooth and rounded, while AB's dad likes the stronger stuff, else he thinks it's a waste of time, hahaha. And thus, it was with such feedback that they made some conservative orders of two of the tea they tasted. I hope they will savour them and over time, appreciate even more of these products that are so different from what they usually go to.

So there it was, a tranquil comforting afternoon immersed in the world of tea. Definitely a unique experience of Taiwan I would probably not have placed high on my travel itinerary, but one which I enjoyed immensely in the end.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Note from the future

Only because I'm doing my usual stunt of back-dating this post. Ha. The actual date I am writing this is.. shamefully, 4 June 2017. Eeps.

I am so behind that it's not even remotely funny. UGH.

Contemplating the amount I need to catch up on (erm well, only 2.5 months and counting..!), the heart sank a little, but at the same time, I accept that I am the only person who can be responsible for hitting or missing these self-imposed goals. Sure, I allowed life to get in the way, and I definitely have the easy option of just binning the original plan to have daily posts, and resume from wherever I presently am right now. But I am still unwilling to do that, yet. Simply because when I dig deep into the depths of my procrastinating heart, I know that I have not tried my best yet.

So there. This is my Xth attempt at catching back up on my daily posts. I might succeed this time, I might not, but at the very least I know I'm gonna make a better effort at achieving it. It's all about time management - the one key skill I am determined to get better, much much better at doing this year.

Wish me luck, and hopefully one day in the not too distant future, you will see a post published on the date that it was meant for. :p

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunny day in Yangmingshan | 艳阳天,游阳明山

It was nice to see that Murphy (or the weather god) wasn't completely heartless and blessed us with a full day of sunshine. So off to Yangmingshan we bounded. It was a gloriously sunny day, so bright I had to edit my pictures as they all turned out overexposed, and so hot that I was sweating and walking around unglamly with my leather jacket over my head as shelter from the sun. Oof.

Still, it was a good, good day. : )

Pretty blooms.

Dainty blossoms against that blue sky.

A stolen moment. Sweet love.

Blinding sun

A happy dog

Smokey and pungent

Perspective