Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Ramen Kagetsu Arashi in Ximending

There are plenty of ramen shops in Taipei and I wanted to have at least one ramen experience during the trip. While wondering around Ximending I came across this shop which is part of a popular chain in Japan. Called Ramen Kagetsu Arashi - their specialty is shoyu tonkotsu ramen. That was what I ordered.

The decor of the shop looks like a modernized ramen-ya crossed with MacDonalds. All the staff wore sharp looking modern Japanese uniform and always give a shout-out whenever somebody enters or leaves the shop.

And the ramen - it is delicious ! The broth is thick and creamy as it should be - with very rich taste of pork and garlic. This is probably as close a taste of ramen as you can get outside of Japan. The pork "chasu" are melt in the mouth tender. My only gripe would be with the eggs - which were over-cooked. The egg yolk should be soft and runny instead of hard and dry.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Food Hunting in Ximending

While walking around Ximending, I was wondering why there were so few street stalls around. Later on I found out that actually street stalls are banned in Ximending. This makes it easier to walk around, but in my opinion less interesting. I guess the priority in Ximending is shopping and the authorities didn't want the clutter to spoil the shopping experience. 

Walk around in Ximending long enough and you are sure to see the cat and mouse game that the street stalls play with the men-in-uniform. They will push their carts and hide in the dark corners when there are signs of danger, and come out when the coast is clear. I am sure the enforcement was only done half-heartedly though as I never saw any stalls being booked.

Despite these restrictions, you will not go hungry in Ximending. Of course there are food shops everywhere, but the street stalls also offer plenty of varieties to sample.

This hand-pulled flat-bread is a bit like our Roti Chanai in Malaysia.

Barbecued skewers are always popular. I definitely recommend the cuttlefish which are fresh and juicy.

These thick pancakes filled with ground pork and scallion are quite delicious.

I don't know why they call these Tempura because they are completely different from their Japanese cousin. These are a very popular snack in Taiwan - made basically of fish paste - grilled and served with a sweet sauce. I am not really a fan as I find them quite sweet and lacking in other flavours.

Besides the street stalls, the number of food outlets in Ximending is endless. One which caught my eye was this shop - literally translated the name means "flattened duck meat". It turns out to serve a rice vermicelli soup with slices of duck meat. Quite simple - but tasty.

Grilled mochi seems to be very popular. Mochi is made of ground rice and is usually served with a sweet sauce. I find them quite bland.

This tiny shop sells fresh fruit juices. The most unusual was bitter gourd juice. I though it would be very bitter, but it was very refreshing - more like cucumber juice. The lady boss is quite a character.

One very popular shop sells stewed duck - not just the meat but any of the parts you want. Duck heads seemed to be the most popular item.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Huaxi Night Market

Not far from Longshan Temple is the famous Huaxi Night Market. This night market is popular with the locals and tourists alike because of one thing - snakes ! Here you can sample snake meat, snake blood and snake bile which are all thought to be strong elixirs for the body. I wouldn't touch these with a 10 foot pole though. 

Since I went in the morning, the place was pretty quiet and most of the shops were closed. I did however managed to sample the famous Taiwanese Lou Rou Fan (Rice with Stewed Fatty Pork), and a soup that was so delicious I would definitely go back for more !

This was the stall where I had the rice and soup.

The Lou Rou Fan was pretty good. You can see the meat stew is maybe 90% fat ?

The soup has just 2 main ingredients - pork strips and a small melon which was new to me. The meat I think has been deepfried in a light batter before stewing in the soup. The melon was crunchy and had a bit of tanginess to it. There was also quite a heavy pepperiness to it. It was really delicious !

The tiny melons come in a can and is a Taiwanese specialty.

If you are planning to visit Huaxi Night Market - be sure to go at night when all the action happens.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Longshan Temple

Not far from Bopiliao Old Street, also in the South-West Wanhua District is the famous Longshan Temple. This is often considered one of the most beautiful temples in Taipei. Very popular with local worshippers - it was packed with devotees when I visited. There was a big ceremony going on and it was a truely resplendent sight.

Lots of devotees taking part in the ceremony.

The temple features beautiful decorative details.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Bopiliao Old Street

Bopiliao Old Street is a street with a very long and interesting history, and it has become one of the most popular attractions in Taipei. Located towards the South-West of Ximending, it is within walking distance from there.

The name sounds quite sinister - literally translated it means "the place where you rip off the skin"! Thankfully the actually origin of the name is a lot more benign. In the old days they used to import a lot of logs from China to Taiwan, and this was where they remove the barks from the logs - hence the origin of the name !

The government has decided to preserve the area and many of the buildings which were beginning to crumble has been repaired and restored. Today there are some interesting shops cropping up in the area - such as trendy hair saloons, cafes and bookshops.

The old shophouses are quite a sight to look at and gives you a glimpse into the past of Taipei's growing years.

Bopiliao is also a popular movie location. While I was there, I saw a shoot for a popular local TV series. You would probably recognize the lead actor in the shoot.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodle

One of the street foods that consistently come up tops in food bloggers' recommendations is Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodle at Ximending. The shop only sells one item - the Flour Rice Noodle. There are no places to sit - you just order and eat standing up. Bloggers warn of long queues for the noodles, but when I went there it wasn't so bad. You order and pay at the counter, then wait to be served. When the noodle is ready, just pick it up and add all the condiments and garnish you want and enjoy !

It is basically rice vermicelli cooked in a broth made from cured pig's intestines, bonito and other secret ingredients. The taste is incredible - slightly tangy, and a huge umami hit to your taste buds ! They probably add quite a bit of MSG to the dish as well. There are small bits of pig's instestines in the noodles that have some bite - at first I thought they were cuttlefish because the taste was very similar. They were delicious and addictive. Definitely comfort food for a cold night - and cheap too. Each small bowl cost only NTD 40.

Besides the outlet at Ximending, Ay-Chung also has several branches in the city - in Shilin and Xinyi. Be sure to give it a try - you may want to go back for more !