九份 Jiu Fen (or sometimes scripted as “Jiou Fen“) is a small township perched on the hilly terrains of north-eastern Taiwan. Together with 金瓜石 Jin Gua Shi, 十分 Shi Fen, 瑞芳 Rui Fang and 金山 Jin Shan, Jiu Fen was an important gold mining area more than a century ago. But as the yield decreased over time, the mining activity dwindled and eventually came to a halt. The town quieten down and became mostly forgotten for more than a decade, until 《悲情城市》, a movie set in Jiu Fen by renowned Taiwanese director 侯孝贤 Hou Hsiao-Hsien brought to it the curious crowd from Taipei and other parts of the island state. Even then, more than 20 years has since passed and even 《悲情城市》 too has become forgotten. But the movie left behind for Jiu Fen a tourism legacy. Till today, the small town is packed with local visitors and foreign tourists every weekend. Folks flock here for the fresh mountain air, the scenie view of Keelung Fishery Port and of course, a wide selection of local delights which Jiu Fen is well known for, including草仔粿 mugwort glutinous rice cakes from 阿蘭草仔粿, 鳳梨酥 pineapple cakes from 李儀餅店 and of course the infamous 九份芋圓 Jiu Fen Taro Balls.
Strangely of all our trips to Taiwan all these years, we’d never been to 鼎泰豐 Ding Tai Fung（DTF）. This is very odd I know, given how iconic DTF is in Taiwan’s culinary scene, being featured in perpetually every single guidebook we’d read in the past. Somehow, we’d never really felt compelled to visit, often brushing it off as a tourist gimmick and most rightfully so. This is often the first place we would pass by whenever we visit 永康街 Yong Kang Street in 大安区 Da’An district. The front door is always packed with tourists from Japan, Korea and of course Mainland China, sent here by the busloads. It often got so bad that the crowd started to spill over to the shop windows of the bookstore next door. We were often put off by this sight and would briskly walk away, shaking our heads and rolling our eyes.
But we’d tried DTF back home in Singapore many times and I must say that we thoroughly enjoyed the food there. While the loud and chattery crowd outside the main shop in Taipei irked us to no ends, we often wondered if the food there is better than what we are getting in Singapore. DTF originated from Taiwan after all. Finally, curiosity got the better of us and we made our first proper visit to DTF after all these years.
We are such creatures of habit, having our own list of favorite eating joints and patisseries in the places we’d visited and would invariably drop by for a peekaboo whenever we are in town. Well, that can be a blessing and a curse. While we are most certainly assured on the quality of the food we are gonna get from these entries on the “tried and tested” list, we also stifle and restrict ourselves somewhat on other available options possible. Not too adventurous as travelling foodies eh? Finally decided to put a stop to this and “stretch our tents” further by sampling some outlets which we’d not visited in the past, in hope that a pleasant surprise would be in line for us along the way!
Our last trip to Wulai was some years back and it was a very brief one, to admire the sakuras. Alas we were a little too late then and the season was just over. We’d spent a considerably amount of time in 雲仙樂園, a local amusement park with a gondola that leads into the mountains and didn’t get much of a chance to see much of the old and rustic side of this beautiful small town 40 minutes south of Taipei City. So here we are, back again after all these years to find out more about this quaint little place which we passed through, but never got to know…
The Taiwanese know their Japanese food really well. Yes you heard me right. Apart from Tokyo or Osaka, most if not all of my best Japanese meals were in Taipei. The Taiwanese are such “nipponophiles” (if there is ever such a word) that they have achieved a certain of specialisation, be it the traditional art of mochi, sushi or oden making, to replicating the concept of Japanese bakeries and boulangeries in their entirety.
But the Taiwanese are far from being mere copycats. The island nation being subjected to Japanese colonial rule for the longest time outside Japan itself, allowed an almost complete inheritance of not merely the superficial but in-depth transposition of cultural practices. Needless to say, this bore an ingrained effect on their culinary and dietary profile as well. During our last trip to Taipei, we’d visited 肥前屋 Unadon Speciality Shop. It is a small restaurant, complete with wooden sliding doors for that authentic rustic feel, most known for their unadon, also known as unagi don, which is short for “unagi kabayaki donburi”. The best unadons we’d seen were probably in Kyoto. But the rendition served up in this little deli in the heart of Taipei is pretty wicked as well, but only for a fraction of the price.
When in Rome, do what the Romans do. I have several food places which I repeatedly visit whenever I’m in Taipei. These are often joints and stalls which the locals come for a quick breakfast with their pals after their morning exercise or grocery shopping routine, or for a takeaway during the lunch break. They serve good local food at rather affordable prices! Let’s see, I have my favorite 牛肉面 beef noodles stall in 永康街 Yong Kang Street, I have my favorite 肉粽 bak chang stall in 西门町 Ximending, I have my favorite 碗粿 wah kueh stall near 龙山寺 Long Shan Si Temple, I have my favorite 四神汤 stall near 宁夏夜市 Ning Xia Night Market, etc… and the list runs on! But today, I shall bring you all to my favorite lor bak png 鲁肉饭 stall… well, one of my favorites that is! Ironic it may sound, how can one ever settle for just one favorite right?! *chuckles*
鲁肉饭, lu rou fan or better pronounced as “lor bak png” in Taiwanese is truly food for the masses, enjoyed by folks of all ages from all walks of life, during any time in the day from breakfast all the way till supper! There are some pretty famous lor bak png joints/chain stores around but when I’m Taipei and I’m up for it, I would visit 金峰鲁肉饭 for a quick fix!
Last day in Taiwan, day to do some last minute shopping, especially for foodie goodies…
Beginning of Day 6, our last day in Taipei. We checked out of the hotel and walked to a shop in between the hotel and Ximending for some 伴手礼 aka 手信. bought 世运凤梨酥 which is award winning. On the way from the shop to ximending, we came across 北门, located at the junction of 台北车站 and 西门町.
It was another grey and rainy day in Taipei. Visiting 龍山寺 seems to have become a ritual whenever we are in Taipei. Not so much as to pray, but more to take in the atmosphere. The afternoon itinerary is for Danshui but poor weather seems to forebode futileness. So a change of plans to go to the Jade and Flower Weekend Markets located under the flyover of JianGuo and Ren’ai Roads. Evening is another gastronomic experience at Gyukaku.
Going 龍山寺has almost become ritualistic for our trips to Taipei, and stopping by 小南鄭記 for some Tainan delights, 碗粿 and 虱目鱼焿 has also become much of a routine.
After breakfast at the hotel cafe, we took the HSR from Kaohsiung back to Taipei. Choosing the appropriate timing is very important as certain trains make very few stops along the way from Kaohsiung back to Taipei, namely at Taichung and Banchiao. This shortens the travelling time considerably. Also, since the train does not call upon every stop, there are few passengers boarding and alighting making the journey less disruptive!
Breakfast at kindness hotel in kaohsiung before checking out. The menu is roughly the same for both days but still, the spread is quite decent given the price we paid!
We visited the Butterfly Garden located within Terminal 3 Transit Area and had lunch at Hard Rock Cafe at Terminal 3 before boarding our 4.5 h flight on Jetstar to Taipei!
Lunch at Hard Rock Cafe located within the Transit Area of Changi Airport Terminal 3.