Having had the summer break routine massively altered by my internship, instead of spending three months travelling around Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taiwan and Japan, I spent 10 days in Hong Kong and Taipei with my parents and the rest of the time behind a desk. It was great...financially. I was ready to quit after 10 days of reading case judgments word by word then endless guides and rulings. Until they finally got me a computer...but that's another story.
Back to the trip. And more importantly, the food.
We arrived in Taipei on the Friday of their Election Weekend. Yes, it deserves to be capitalised, because it was a massive election-all levels of government from their Parliament to their local lizhang, which takes care of the local "li", which is literally a collection of streets. Their campaigns, clearly, are very different to ours. Posters, flags, people bowing and giving you freebies like biscuits and tissues with flyers on the streets. Lots of loudspeakers blasting slogans and pre-recorded messages from the candidate. If you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the candidate waving to the "crowds" from their "box". By the morning of Election Day, though, all of that had gone, and the city of Taipei plunged into a bit of an eerie, quiet state of nervous anticipation.
(And yes, Lian Shengwen was shot the night we arrived in Taipei. We actually went past the candidate's office about an hour before it happened.)
Apart from that, Taipei was still exactly the same. We've visited so many times we don't need maps to find our way around anymore. Though that could be attributed to our Taipei routine...
First stop: Yong Kang Street
Ah, the home of Din Tai Fung. It's not hard to find: just look for the street next to that famous XLB restaurant. As much as I love my XLB we gave it a miss this time, heading straight into the depths of Yong Kang Street for our other food favourites.
Entree: shallot pancakes
Yong Kang Street is a place we visit without fail on every Taipei trip. And this particular street stall gets my attention every time. But it wasn't until about a year ago when we finally tried their shallot pancakes, after about 10 years of nagging from me (goes to show how willing my Dad is when it comes to trying food he has no interest in). Fluffy, crisp, slightly chewy, and not in the slightest bit oily, they are almost roti-like in thinness of the layers but fragrant with young and finely chopped shallots.
Main: Yong Kang Beef Noodles
Taking a right turn at the shallot pancake stall, opposite the local primary school is the usual second stop where we get some awesome beef noodles. Taiwan is renowned for their beef noodles...and beef noodle obsession. Yong Kang Street has some of the best, and Yong Kang Beef Noodles is one of our favourite. Their beef noodles come in two "flavours": the clear style and the red braised style. Personally, I prefer the latter for its heartiness and richness, but the former is excellent also.
Before the noodles arrive, a trip to the side dishes trolley must be made. If the beef noodles is the moon, then the side dishes are most certainly the stars that complete the sky. The dried bean curd and bamboo shoots are definite must eats. And the eggplant... melt in your mouth, simply exquisite in texture, with a good kick of spice and heat from the chili and garlic.
The noodles come with large chunks of braised beef and tendons. The noodles are slightly chewy, with a whiff of fresh flour, flavoured with the full bodied beef soup. Both meat and tendons are awesomely tender, and completely soaked with flavour. Don't be stingy with the preserved vegetables that sits on each table: it is like that final dusting of icing sugar that just elevates the experience. It adds sweetness, tangyness and the texture of crunch. To cut the richness further, add a dash of vinegar.
Dessert: Taiwan-style "ice"
Ice Monster used to live opposite the shallot pancake stall, until the owners decided to get divorced. And man it turned messy. Now, the same address houses Yong Kang 15 (the store's address...literally) which sells basically the same menu as Ice Monster. On past occasions I have tried their strawberry ice and mango ice (much awesomeness), this time I went for the golden sweet potato and black sugar caramel jelly ice instead. The black sugar jelly was the best part: so hard it was bouncy, but just sweet enough to let the molasses taste shine through. The ice cream was a bit on the grainy side, but had an interesting texture that had chunks of real sweet potato. Not bad, but I'll stick to my strawberry and mango ice next time. If there is a next time...
Yong Kang Street, Da'an district, Taipei city 台北市大安區永康街