You know when you’d tried a certain dish at a new joint, and after that tell yourself that the “gastrorgasmic” experience you’d gone through had just breached the boundaries of what you’d think was the best rendition that could possibly exist out there for that particular dish, hitting all the right spots, making you nod your head periodically, albeit uncontrollably as you close your eyes in attempt to shut off the other senses so as to concentrate on extracting every ounce of gastronomic pleasure from each bite, smiling to yourself without even knowing you are smiling, only to be overwhelmed by that oddly tingling sense of sadness that creeps in as you partake that last mouthful or slurp, savouring every bit of lingering morsel in the mouth, or waft of aroma in the air, bittersweet as you can’t help but let out a sigh of contentment and gratitude for the experience, interspersed with hopeful yearning for the next episode. Sounding both phenomenal and incredible at the same time while wondering how could that be even mortally possible. Well you could be if you live a life to eat. We’d experienced that before, on several occasions in fact, most notably with Mutekiya Ramen when we first visited a couple of years back and also my first personal encounter with Sugino’s mousse creations, and most recently, 金子半之助天丼 Kaneko Hannosuke Tendon.
Whenever we visit Taiwan, apart from going back to some of favorite eating places to relive the gastronomic experience, we also love to try out new joints which we’d not been to before. Truth be told, it’s not our first visit to 珠寶盒法式點心坊 Patisserie Boîte de Bijou. As one of the pastry shops with better quality creations around, Bijou has been constantly “upgrading” themselves, not only with their breads and cakes, but also their shop front to give folks that sense of novelty and “freshness” whenever they pay Bijou a visit.
To experience truly Taiwanese food and pop culture, one must surely pay a visit to their local night markets. Some even say that going to Taiwan without a firsthand experience of their local night markets is like not having been to Taiwan at all. I definitely agree with that. To many Taiwanese, night markets are where they take care of their daily needs. This is especially so for the those who work from dawn till dusk, and have to settle their meals mostly outside. This is analogous to our hawker centres and more currently “food courts” here in Singapore, but it is not just the tummies that are taken care of here, as Taiwanese can buy practically everything they need at home here from stationery to toiletries. As such, there are night markets everywhere in Taipei, but we only visit a selectively few and 南機場夜市 Nanjichang Night Market is one of them.
Houtong is a small town nested near the northeastern coast of Taiwan. Named so for the populous colonies of macques that once made this place home, along the cliffs. Numbers have since dwindled but you can still see them around. But folks ain’t here for the monkeys. The main attraction here now are the cats! And I can’t believe that this is our first time here despite having been to Taiwan more than a dozen times!
Yongkang Street 永康街 lies within the Da’an district 大安区 in Taipei, a semi-residential and business area. It is one of my favorite places in this bustling city as it is dotted with a variety of unique shops, restaurants, cafes and tea salons where one could simply hang out leisurely for a few hours amidst all the sight-seeing and shopping. It is symbolic of the kind of lifestyle which many younger Taiwanese now very much look forward to or are striving for, where one could afford the time to smell the flowers, admire changes of the seasons, rest the mind and tame the soul. Unfortunately over the last few years, no thanks to the opening up of tourism regulations for visitors from across the straits to visit Taiwan, Yongkang street is slowly being overrun by the Mainlanders, epitomised by the long queues outside 鼎泰豐 Ding Tai Fung and 永康牛肉麺館 Yong Kang Beef Noodles, not to mention the noise and rowdiness they bring along with them. However, as the Taiwanese locals strives to live out their own lives the way they’d wanted, it is still possible for find quaint spots of serenity in the vicinity of Yongkang Street where 慢活 “leisure life pacing” is still the abiding philosophy.
I began noticing master boulanger 吳寶春 Wu Pao Chun when he first appeared in one of my favorite Taiwanese forum talk shows 新闻哇哇挖 upon returning to Taiwan, after winning the prestigious Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie aka Bakery World Cup in Paris five years ago. Since then, he has been hailed as a 台湾之光 “Glory of Taiwan” alongside acclaimed director, Lee Ang, an honour accredited by the local Taiwanese press to their fellow countrymen who had achieved worldwide recognition and acclaim of sorts. This does not come easily for anyone from Taiwan, a country which has yet to be formally acknowledged by UN, and whose existence is constantly under pressure and threat across the straits from Mainland China. Since returning to Taiwan, Wu set up his first artisan bread bakery in Kaohsiung before opening another in Taipei the next year. Our previous trips to Taiwan had always been filled with pastries and cakes more than anything else, so for our most recent trip, we finally decided to make our way to Wu’s bakery located at Eslite Spectrum Song Yan Store.
Grass Jelly is a dessert which many of us enjoyed since our childhood days. The Cantonese folks call it 凉粉 “leung fun“, while it is 草粿 “cao kueh” for the Teochews and 草粄 “cao ban” for the Hakkas. Its popularity spreads throughout Taiwan, as well as the rest of Southeast Asia where it can be easily cultivated as well, to Vietnam, Thailand and of course Malaysia and Singapore. It is usually eaten as a cold drink or dessert, especially welcoming when the weather is hot and humid but in Taiwan, it is also enjoyed during the winter months, where a hot version would be available and is no less gratifying. And the way 燒仙草 Hot Grass Jelly is eaten seem to be uniquely Taiwan indeed!