Pigging out in Taipei

Posted on July 26, 2005 by Aun

For months, a chef friend of S’s and mine, who moved to Taipei last year, has been raving to us about the amazing produce–seafood, meat, veggies, fruits, etc–available in Taiwan. Not only is it better than what we get in Singapore, he would tell us, but it is also much cheaper. We simply had to come up and taste all the wonderful foods, he would say. Given that this friend is (arguably) the best French chef that The Little Red Dot (that being Singapore’s latest nickname) has ever produced, I should have simply accepted what he told us as fact and visited him a long time ago. But stubborn idiot that I am–and because I had never really had the urge to see Taipei–we kept procrastinating our trip.

This past weekend, we finally got around to visiting Taipei and spending the weekend with chef Justin Quek, known to most Singaporeans (and many foodies worldwide) from his ten years as head chef of Les Amis. Justin now owns and operates his own place, La Petite Cuisine, a tiny but intimate Modern French restaurant that has within a year become recognized as Taipei’s top and perhaps most expensive European restaurant.

We flew in Friday evening, arriving a little after 5pm, and after quickly freshening up at our hotel, made our way to La Petite Cuisine for what turned out to be an extraordinary feast. Our menu, if my poor memory and lack of notes (I was too busy eating) is correct, consisted of a prawn tartare in a deep-fried pastry shell (“pie tie”); uni jelly with cauliflower cream; a summer salad topped with summer truffles (pictured); tuna belly carpaccio topped with summer truffles; squid carpaccio topped with Russian caviar; roasted pork belly with caramelized white peach; roasted quail with foiegras and figs; tagliatelle with more summer truffles; a lychee foam; and a confit of lychees on a pineapple carpaccio. The summer salad–which is one of only 2 dishes I shot a quick snap of with my tiny Contax–was a real stand out! One of the main ingredients was young bamboo shoot, something which I never expected to enjoy in a salad and which Justin explained to us was a popular summer ingredient in Taipei.

The next morning, Justin took us to the local markets. And I have to say, the produce did amaze me. The seafood was super fresh. The pork and other meats were beautiful, especially the lovely fatty pork that was being sold for close to nothing. The fruits and vegetables were so much better than what we get here in Singapore. And, as Justin had rightly pointed out, much cheaper. It was really quite an eye-opening experience and the longer we hung out at the markets, the more jealous I became. Later, we went to a well known restaurant, Chef Show Time, for lunch. According to Justin, Chef Huang is one of Taipei’s most well-known culinary stars (he’s the one on the right above; Justin is on the left). Chef Huang’s cuisine is fusion, sort of a Taiwanese-European. And while the dishes looked simple on the menu–descriptions were as plain as “fried pork Taiwanese style” and “fried crab”–the resulting dishes were hardly simple. They were, in fact, both complex and utterly delicious.

Here’s the “fried pork Taiwanese style”, which is perhaps one of the best dishes I have ever eaten in my life. The pork, splendidly fatty, was melt-in-your-mouth great.

The “fried crab” was Hokkaido Crab, lightly crumbed, fried with salt and pepper, and basil and garlic. The crab’s meat was amazingly sweet and tender. In addition to these two wonderful dishes, we had baked escargot with cheese, braised beef tongue, fried somei, mushrooms grilled with olive oil and bamboo shoots, and some imported jamon iberico bellota.

That night, we checked out the famous Shilin night market, which I can now say, I’ve been to and would happily never visit again (I’m not the biggest fan of huge crowds). I had heard a lot about the street food from this famous market. We tried the oyster noodles and the deep fried chicken filet. Both were only okay.

For lunch Sunday, we went to the one place that I had insisted be part of our culinary itinerary, Taipei’s most famous xiao long bao restaurant, Din Tai Fung. Xiao long bao (Shanghainese soup dumplings) are one of my top ten favourite food items. Friends who had eaten at both the Taipei branch and the Singapore one had always told me that the Singapore branch’s dumplings were nothing compared to the ones in Taipei. So, naturally, I had to see for myself. We ordered both the normal and the crabmeat versions. I’m happy to say that they were right. The skin of the xiao long bao I tasted were extremely thin, much thinner than the ones made here. Because the pork in Taiwan is of a much higher quality as well, and fattier too, the dumplings were also tastier. The biggest difference, though, was with the crabmeat dumplings. These tasted better simply because the crabmeat was better, fresher and with a cleaner taste than those cooked here. I could have easily eaten basket after basket if it weren’t for the fact that we were planning a second lunch at a well-known restaurant around the corner.

Slack Season Tan Tsi Noodles is a cute little restaurant that’s been built around a simple street stall from Tainan. It specializes in noodles and rice tossed with minced pork that’s been braised in an incredible master stock that’s supposedly been kept cooking for 100 years. The photo above is of the cast iron pot in which the stock is continuously stewed.

We had the noodles and the rice. Both were delicious. Happily, we also picked up a couple cans of the minced pork sauce, which I can’t wait to open and use. For dinner that night, we went to a lovely seafood restaurant, amusingly named Really Good Seafood.

Our last meal in Taipei was lunch the next day (Monday). Justin took us, plus two new friends, to an amazing Taiwanese restaurant called Ming Fu. It’s the kind of place you would never normally never walk into, the kind of non-descript neighborhood restaurant you’d just walk by, never realizing it was one of the best restaurants in town. When we entered, S, much more observant than I, noticed that there was a photo on the wall depicting the restaurant’s owner and movie director Ang Lee. Ming Fu, we soon realized, was obviously one of those cult secrets that Taiwanese-in-the-know (and no one else) dined at. We had, as I am sure you have already guessed, a fantastic meal. We had bamboo clams, grilled “tofu shark”, some wonderfully fresh green leafy vegetable fried with black beans and anchovies, deep fried black fish gizzards, and crab fried rice. All of it was fantastic. I especially enjoyed the gizzards, something I had never eaten before, and the fried rice, which was so good, we ordered some to take with us on our flight that afternoon.

All in all, it was an amazing few days of pigging out. I’ll definitely go back to Taipei now that I’ve had a taste.

La Petite Cuisine; tel: +886 2 2597 3838
Chef Show Time; tel: 2702 5277
Slack Season Tan Tsi Noodles; tel: 2772 1244
Ming Fu; tel: 2562 9287

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. Cindy Fredericka July 27, 2005 at 11:05 am

    Hi, I’ve been lurking around yr blog for a while now. But haf not commented.*Shrug* There’s always a 1st time.:) Gee I’m so impress wif your food haunt at Taipei. Most imptly, it’s great that U left de contact details of de respective restaurants U’ve mentioned.
    Thank U so much!! I’m gonna try it when I next visit Taipei. N am gonna recommend to my frens too! Yr pics look so gd I feel like sinking my teeth in it.Heh!

  2. J July 27, 2005 at 5:55 pm

    hiya, that looks like the xiaolongbao of my dreams…thank you very much for the cod roe and jinghwa ham…busy plotting how to make the best of them…

  3. cour marly July 27, 2005 at 10:45 pm

    The produce in Taiwan is definitely droolsome. Whilst most people loved to trawl the shops, I went to wet and specialty markets and hauled back suitcases of delectable fruits and vegetables.

  4. Fanny July 28, 2005 at 1:32 am

    Wow you must have spent a good week end. How lucky you are, im jealous.
    Beautiful photos anyway. Could you tell me what camera you use beacuse the colors are so bright.
    Love
    Fanny

  5. princess July 28, 2005 at 10:52 am

    wow chubbyhubby your blog is impressive, chanced upon it and now i’m a fan! your photos are amazing, how come my pictures don’t turn out looking like that??? Mind letting on what camera you’re using? Thanks a lot ;)

  6. HK Foodie July 28, 2005 at 11:23 am

    This is my first comment on your blogsite (and definitely won’t be my last!). LOVE everything about your site…Hubby, you’re my idol!

    Am heading to Taipei this weekend, and although we THOUGHT we had done a lot of restaurant research already, your blog entry introduced us to some new ones!

  7. Chubby Hubby July 28, 2005 at 11:50 am

    cindy: I hate it when people tell me about a great place and then don’t tell me how to get there or how to book a table.

    j: Loking forward to seeing how you use the cod roe.

    cour marly: Yah, my only regret was not filling a suitcase with produce. But Justin has promised me to bring me some pork (vacuum packed I hope) on his next visit home.

    fanny and princess:Thanks. I use both a Contax i4R for quick snaps and a Nikon D70, which I adore. I also usually pair the Nikon with a 50mm,f1.4 lens.

    HK Foodie: glad to help. If you go to La Petite Cuisine, tell Justin that you found his restaurant via my site. :-)

  8. S July 28, 2005 at 4:34 pm

    Hiya J & CH

    Just wanted to clarify that it’s mullet roe, not cod ;)

  9. keiko July 28, 2005 at 6:49 pm

    Amazing dishes, look at the Hokkaido crab!

  10. eatzycath July 28, 2005 at 7:55 pm

    A couple of my colleagues and I have been thinking of hitting Taipei over a weekend just for food and NOW you have shown us how incredibly ‘satiating’ an experience it will be – I have marked all your eating places to visit…

  11. melissa July 29, 2005 at 3:04 am

    Absolutely *stunning* descriptions and photographs. I can’t tell you how envious I am! Did you bring anything home? :)

  12. Chubby Hubby July 29, 2005 at 9:26 am

    Keiko: The crab was amazing. It’s incredible how much fresh seafood and other foods from Japan are imported into Taipei.

    Cath: You should definitely go. Well worth the trip.

    Melissa: We only brought back some tea (grown in Taiwan), some jinghwa ham, and some Taiwanese “Bottarga” (mullet roe).

  13. serene luo July 29, 2005 at 10:56 pm

    i agree! everybody says to visit shilin but i found it a pain, because of the nasty crowds! u seemed like u went there purely to eat… did you even visit the hot springs? or the famous taiwan palace museum?
    we must swop taiwan pix sometime!

  14. Chubby Hubby July 30, 2005 at 10:58 am

    hi serene, nope. all we did was eat. tough to try and squeeze in cultural stops when a top chef and a food-driven wife are planning the itinerary. :-)

  15. mel August 1, 2005 at 2:45 am

    Found you through dessertcomesfirst.blogspot.com (and I’ve been enjoying myself browsing through all the food blogs!) — I love Din Tai Fung’s xiaolongbao! Were you able to try their sweet bean dumplings?

    Your photos are wonderful. Are you a professional photographer/food stylist? Or just extremely talented? (I clicked on your flickr link, all I can say is… W O W)

    Thank you for sharing so much with us.

  16. Chubby Hubby August 1, 2005 at 2:36 pm

    Hi Mel,

    Thanks for the comments. Yah, we tried the sweet bean ones. Beautiful to look at, but I prefer the savory ones.

    I’m a ex-journo who picked up shooting during travel assignments. I shoot mostly for fun but once and a while take on a professional gig.

  17. HK Foodie August 2, 2005 at 11:41 pm

    Made it to Ming Fu over the weekend…fantastic recommendation!

    Just one comment: Ming Fu is not owned, in any part, by Ang Lee (but he does visit often). When we asked this question, the owner (and chef) himself came out to personally meet us =)

  18. Chubby Hubby August 3, 2005 at 9:18 am

    HK Foodie,

    Glad you enjoyed it. Um… yah, the photo is of Ang Lee with Ming Fu’s owner, i.e. two people. Cheers!

  19. Jenny August 5, 2005 at 1:28 pm

    I agree on Ding Tai Fung’s xiao long bun. I’m from Taipei and had the chance to try that place two years ago. The skin is just delicious :) Glad you got a chance to taste Taipei ! Great pictures!

  20. Drew February 11, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    First, thanks for the great blog and for making my Taipei stay truly memorable. Slack Season’s number isn’t working (anymore?) but man, am I glad I got to Chef Show Time.

    I started with a fine octopus sashimi with a mix of capers, caviar, green olives and a sweet relish, coated in an oil and vinegar dressing. Excellent knife work produced some angelhair radish strands to balance the texture. I also had the smoked salmon salad – probably the only assortment of mixed raw greens I’ll get in my trip here. Both starters were wonderful on their own, but paled in comparison to the entree.

    Americans have pigs’ feet. Or we have them in cuisine, anyway. But they’re not the stuff of dreams for most people, I gather. After eating Show Time’s “Braised Pork Legs” I will endeavor to have them wherever I can. They were served in a sizzling cast iron pot with the most incredible aroma – for the first minute I just sat and inhaled, my little pork mini-sauna. About half the pot was the pigs’ feet, and the other half was stunningly green basil. Thin ginger slices and slivers of chili pepper rounded out the herb punch. Of course the meat was fall-apart tender, and all I left behind were sparkling clean bones. Chestnuts or other traditional element could be added for texture, but the crunchy kanpyou atop the sidecar rice bowl was enough.

    Sadly, wine is not to be had by the glass, so I washed it all down with Asahi, which was great against the stewy pork broth. In retrospect I should have just sprung for the bottle, but then I wouldn’t have made the walk up Dun Hua Lu to the Shannon for my dessert (Guinness).

    24 food-free hours later my stomach has returned to normal size, so I’m ready for Ming Fu. Can’t wait!

  21. Peter October 9, 2006 at 12:40 am

    Hi,

    My wife and I was in Taipei on vacation and we tried out two of your recommendations from your blog. :La Petit Cuisine and Chef Show Time.

    La Petit Cuisine:
    We did not see any of the menu items you described in your posting which leads me to believe that either Justin Quek cooked special dishes for you during your visit or they have changed the menu since your visit. Overall, the lunch and service we had was very good (we had the 3 course meal for TWD$750 each) with an overall rating of excellent with good value for money.

    Chef Show Time:
    The meal we had was disappointing. We also did not see any of the dishes on the menu you described in your posting and the meal we had was average at best with a rating of slightly expensive for the value of food we received. Service was below average with a feeling of being rushed out of the restaurant considering how fast they delivered the food to our table. Examples of some issues we had during the meal: Salmon sashimi salad I had was quite fishy tasting and not “sashimi” quality, pumpkin soup they describe tasted like mushroom soup, salad plate we had looked as if they had mass prepared plates of salad and put them in the fridge and pulled it out when ordered (the plate was cold and water was condensing on the plate when it came to our table).

    The highlight of our trip in our food tasting adventures was La Petit Cuisine and Ding Tai Fung’s siew long bao.

    We regularly read your blog and do enjoy your writing and recommendations.

  22. joanh December 21, 2006 at 2:00 am

    i always love your pictures..

    i am very excited to try le petit cuisine sometime in the near future!! should we really say chubbyhubby sent us? :)

  23. mei March 23, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    I have to say that there’s more to Taipei xiao long baos than Ding Tai Feng’s. My favorite would be Golden Chicken Garden (金雞園). One of the two branches in Taipei is actually in Yongkang Street, close to the former restaurant’s flagship location.

    I’m not a fan of the crowds at Shilin night market as well. BUT i endure the crowds for two things. And they are neither of the things you mentioned. I go for the Indian roti wraps next to that famous fried chicken filet stand and also the shaved condensed milk ice at Xin Fa Ting (辛發亭) in the alley right by the theaters.

  24. Chubby Hubby March 23, 2007 at 5:12 pm

    Mei, thanks for the heads-up. I’ll check out your xiao long bao recommendation on my next trip. I am also kicking myself that I didn’t know about those two delicious-sounding night market treats. I will definitely try them next time. Thanks!

  25. mei March 28, 2007 at 1:07 am

    Chubby Hubby, I actually just wrote up a post about some of my fave Taipei treats. Check it out :>

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