Shilin Night Market - Food Pictures!

>>  Thursday, April 30, 2009

Duck Tongue
Shilin Night Market - Duck Tongue

Insects? Snails? Barnacles?
Shlin Night Market - insects?

"Frog Eggs"
Shilin Night Market "Frog Eggs"

Fresh Fruit
Shilin Night Market Fruit

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Celestial Restaurant - Peking Duck

>>  Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Best Pecking Duck I've ever had in my life" - Bryan Che

Seriously, the Peking duck at Celestial Restaurant was phenomenal. It's located upstairs of the Royal Inn Taipei on the second floor. The prices are quite reasonable (we paid around $40 for a 3-course duck meal and we did not even come close to finishing the food).

After bringing out the whole duck for show, they take it back into the kitchen, slice it up, and then bring out the golden, crispy skins. The freshly made pancakes were amazing. They were warm, chewy, and just the right thickness. We made little Peking duck "roll-ups" with duck skin, scallions, and hoisin sauce.

Next, the rest of the duck meat came out. Wow, the rolls made with duck skin plus duck meat was even tastier, in my opinion. The flavors of the fresh scallions, hoisin sauce, tender meat, and crispy skin came together in a perfect harmony of flavors.

Wow.

Bryan ate eight rolls (!)

As part of the three course meal, we also got a light stir fry consisting of bean sprouts and small pieces of duck meat. It was good, refreshing, and solid, but nothing extraordinary.

Finally, at the end of the meal, we got a big bowl of glass noodle soup made with the duck bones. The soup was flavorful and warm. We were so full at that point, however, we probably did not enjoy it as much as we would have enjoyed it had we had it first.

All in all, an excellent meal and a great value. According to my guide book , it's the "best value Beijing duck in Taipei" ((The Rough Guide to Taiwan page 126).

Oh - I forgot to mention that we ordered a small appetizer that's pretty well known there: blanched celery in a sweet mustard sauce. It's surprising good. The pungent kick of wasabi is tempered by the sweetness of the sauce. It's quite an interesting mix, and combined with the crunch of the celery, actually works pretty well.

Celestial Restaurant
3/F, 1 Nanjing West Road
Taipei, Taiwan

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Ding Tai Fung (Taipei)

I love Ding Tai Fung. It's one of my favorite restaurants, period.

Pictured above is my favorite dumpling: the meat and vegetable dumpling. As you can see, it's mostly vegetable, which I love! It's not greasy at all. It's moist and flavorful on the inside and it's got that AWESOME skin on the outside . . . sooo good (can you tell that I love this restaurant???)

We ate at this restaurant three times during our four day stay in Taiwan since I love this restaurant so much. Perfectly kneaded skin; small, delicate xiao-long baos (soup dumplings) whose skins miraculously don't break even though they are filled with hot, juicy soup.

Heavenly eating experience. I would eat there every day if I could.

Prices are quite reasonable too. Dinner cost about $20 for three people - and we were really stuffed!

We went to several different locations. It's worth trying out the original one just because the ambiance seems more authentic. There is a newer one in the basement of Sogo, but it's just a bit more upscale, and thus you lose a little bit of the character.

In both places, you can watch the guys make the dumplings:

Even their other non-dumpling dishes are very good. We tried their hong-yo chao shou (hot oil wontons), Fried rice, Wonton soup, and Hot & Sour soup [yes, I know these sound like American style Chinese dishes, but honestly, we ordered them based on recommendations from our Taiwanese relatives!]. Although these other dishes were pretty good, I probably wouldn't order them again when I could just order more dumplings instead!

Be prepared to wait almost anytime you go. Our wait times varied between 10 minutes to 50 minutes depending on the time of day. I think it's virtually impossible to show up and not have to wait.

Bryan thought that he couldn't tell the difference between the one in Taipei and the one in California (Arcadia). I'm not sure I'm convinced of that, but I will say that the one in Taiwan is AWESOME!

Original restaurant:
194 Xin Yi Road, Section 2
Taipei 106 Taiwan

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Maisen (Tonkatsu)

Maisen is one of the most famous tonkatsu restaurants in Tokyo. Tonkatsu is breaded portk cutlet, typically eaten with shredded cabbage and a sweet, dark tangy sauce. Maisen has interesting architecture because the building used to be a bath house pre-WWII.

The restaurant is famous for its black pork, which supposedly comes from China and has a sweet, intense flavor. Interestingly enough, the waiter did not recommend that we order the black pork (it was more expensive), and instead just suggested that we get the normal pork set menu.

That still set us back $30 a person!

Our pork cutlets were delicious. tender, and juicy. These were perfectly fried and paired perfectly with the tangy dipping sauce. A high pile of perfectly shredded cabbage on the side completed the meal. Yum. Typically I don't finish an entire chunk of meat, but I couldn't stop eating this one, and I ate the whole thing.

This restaurant is definitely worth checking out. It is a bit hard to find (we wandered a bit), but it's not too far from Harajuku. It's actually off of a side street near Ometesando Hills, and the closest subway stop is the Ometesando Hills stop.

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Kyubey (Kyubei)

No doubt the most incredible sushi I have ever had in my entire life.

Kyubei is a sushi restaurant in between Ginza and Shimbashi. A Wall Street Journal article in January of 2008 named it as one of the ten best restaurants in Asia. They have a rule that a sushi chef can serve no more than 6 people. The restaurant consists of multiple floors. Each floor contains just one sushi bar with ~ 12 seats and 2 sushi chefs. So, even though the restaurant is actually large, the ambiance is very intimate.

We ordered the omakase, which basically means the chef makes for you whatever he wants. Be prepared to spend around $200 per person. If you don't want to spend that much, they do have a menu. However, even the cheapest meal, which is 15 pieces of nigiri, will still run you around $120.

He started us out with some light, white fish (I think he said it was related to halibut, but I actually can't remember). He gave us a ponzu dipping sauce.

We told our sushi chef that we liked toro (fatty tuna). He proceeded to prepare for us piece after piece of perfectly formed sushi. The fish was extraordinarily fresh (Tsujiki fish market is less than a 10 minute walk away); the sushi was cut with exceptional skill; and each nigiri was perfectly formed.
(He's cutting toro here - mmmmmm . . )

Putting wasabi in your soy sauce is a no-no. Instead, for nigiri, you are supposed to just rely on the wasabi inside the nigiri because the sushi chef has already put in the perfect amount of wasabi. The only time you use the wasabi that they give you is when you eat sashimi. You are supposed to put a dab of wasabi on the fish slice, fold the slice in half with the wasabi on the inside, dip the folded sashimi in the clear soy sauce, and then eat.

My favorite piece was a lightly seared toro nigiri sushi shown below. It seemed to melt in my mouth with the most decadent flavors. Yummmmm . . . I love good toro.

I'd never had uni (sea urchin) sushi before. The closest I came to having it was trying a bit of a friend's uni in Boston. I thought it was stinky that time, and decided that I did not like uni.

This uni was sweet, fresh, and had absolutely no off flavors. It was actually quite good. Creamy, sweet, and light. According to another Wall Street Journal article about this restaurant, Kyubei actually invented this particular type of uni sushi (putting uni on top of rice rolled in seaweed).

We also had these unagi (eel) rolls, which were tasty.

A mackerel-like fish.

The weirdest part of the evening was when he pulled out two live shrimp, beheaded them, and then took their tails to make the ebi (sweet shrimp) nigiri that you see below.

The grossest part was that the flesh was still quivering a bit while on the rice. It really grossed me out, and I chewed mine really fast to make sure it did not quiver in my mouth. The taste was sweet, and not a bit fishy at all. However, I was so distracted about the meat thumping in my mouth that I don't think I really enjoyed this piece that much.

Over all, we had an incredible meal here. The ambiance is intimate. You get almost personal service from a very experienced sushi chef (they all have to train 12 years before they can come out and make sushi for customers!) The food is unbelievable.

I won't forget this meal soon, and if I ever go back to Japan, I will visit another one of these amazing sushi places (there are still so many to try!)

More articles about Kyubei can be found here and here

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Mushroom Soup

Mushroom Soup
Here is a simple recipe for a surprisingly flavorful, healthy and light soup. Bryan's parents were in Taiwan last year. While they traveled across the eastern side of Taiwan during a tour, they stopped at a small local restaurant. At the end of the meal, the waitress brought out a pot to the table and essentially cooked a whole variety of wild mushrooms in water with some tomatoes, scallions, salt and pepper.

Bryan's parents thought the soup was surprisingly flavorful, light, and delicious. His mom decided to try it out at home with random mushrooms from the supermarket, and the results were great!

After seeing her over Christmas break (and watching them make the soup once), I decided to try it myself as well. I went to a local Korean market and picked up about 7 types of mushrooms. I'm not sure I can even name all of them, but some examples would be shitake, enoki, portabella, hen-of-the-woods, oyster, white button mushroom.
Mushroom Soup Ingredients
I chopped up the tomatoes, scallions and mushrooms. I then put them into a pot of water, brought the water to a boil, and then let it simmer for about 30 minutes. I'm not sure how long you need to cook it - it's possible that less or more is fine too. I would just taste it periodically.
Mushroom Soup
Finally, add salt and pepper to taste. There's no chicken broth or any animal products in this meal. The mushrooms add a surprising amount of umami flavor, and the soup is flavorful, light, healthy, and satisfying at the same time.

It's a great summer soup, especially with the farmer's markets now starting!

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Suzuran (すずらん)

I just came back from an incredible trip to Asia (Japan and Taiwan), and I have lots of great food posts I plan on writing over the next few weeks.

One of the first places we visited was Suzuran, a popular ramen place in Shibuya.

Apparently this place is really popular because their broths are deeply flavorful and they make their own noodles. Unlike many other ramen places, you have the option of choosing the fat, pappardelle-like chewy noodles. Suzuran sells tsukumen, which is dipping ramen. Instead of serving everything in one bowl, the noodles are served separately (see picture above) from the soup. You then dip the noodles into the soup and eat it, not unlike soba.
The ambiance here is great. The small bar only holds around 13 people. You sit around the bar and order your noodles. Right when you enter, all the cooks yell out a loud greeting, "Irrashaimase!" When a customer finished her bowl of noodles, she yelled "gotirasama deshita!" and all the cooks yelled back something I couldn't quite understand. It was quite entertaining.

The place feels very authentic. The menu is only in Japanese, and the cooks don't really speak English. I used my broken Japanese to ask the cook to translate the menu. In the end, all he could tell me was that I could choose between soy sauce based broth or miso, and that the toppings were items such as char siu and wontons (I kind of wonder whether he thought we were Chinese and just picked the Chinese sounding toppings for us).

Bryan ordered soy based broth with wontons. I basically told the cook to make me his most famous dish. I received a miso-based broth with these stewed pork slices on top of the noodles. It was not until afterwards, which doing additional research, that I found out that I had eaten Kagoshima style pork belly (buta kakuni).

The noodles were fresh, chewy and delicious. The soup was very flavorful, although I found it a bit salty for my tastes. I typically don't eat much ramen, so it's hard for me to give it a fair review. Honestly, I have no idea how it compares to other ramen across Japan. I can tell you that the freshly made noodles were really good and the soup was satisfying to the soul.

If you like ramen, you should definitely check out this place. If nothing else, the experience of sitting at the bar watching the chefs make noodles and watching all the interactions between the customers and the cooks is worth it.

One note - it was a bit confusing to find this place. It probably did not help that we went on a dark, rainy evening; we didn't have a map; all we had were some directions written by someone on chowhound. It's not too far from the Shibuya JR station. See here for the directions that we used. Supposedly this place often has a long line outside of it. I guess we were lucky since it was a dark rainy weeknight.

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