LOS ANGELES TO TAIWAN - In Daya (Taichung County) and Green Island for a month
Chowhounds, da jia hao
My Lovely Tasting Assistant™ and I are in Daya, visiting my in-laws for a month. We're here until the end of October. It's my 5th visit, so I'm looking to venture a bit further afield. We've of course been to Fengjia night market many times (the largest market closest to Daya) and a couple of much smaller local markets, but in any case am looking for specific vendor recommendations rather than general recs. Her dad took us to a wonderful beef noodle soup shop which I'll post the address of once we go back.
We have my mom-in-law's scooter to get around on. Taichung city is about a 30 minute ride from her family home.
Daya is a small village, so I'm not expecting any great revelatory insights here, but if anyone can make any suggestions I'd be most grateful.
Any Taichung and Green Island favorites would be greatly appreciated. (We'll be on Green Island for about a week for scuba diving).
This is no longer a Green Island and Taichung post.
Here's my greatly overdue update. (I'll post photos when I get a chance.)
Back in Daya, and just returned from a round-the-island trip, with 5 days on Lanyu (we went here over green island because I obviously had a desire to be horrifyingly seasick for 3 hours instead of just 45). Lanyu was not exactly a Chowhound destination, but we did have our share of flying fish, and there are some little things of note if you're there. But more on that later.
First, a quick snippet. I've been trying to find noteworthy chow around this area, Daya Township (Fengjia night market would be the most obvious haunt) but have been largely unsuccessful. This is a little village, WAY off the tourist track, and aside from a very good purple rice fan tuan for breakfast (NOT the exact location, but it's directly across from the school.. http://goo.gl/maps/VCea4 .. they close after breakfast, and the restaurant their cart is parked in front of is unrelated, so go early!) I've found very little of note. Fengjia night market has the Taiwanese sausage in a top-sliced "rice sausage" hot dog bun thing (Chinese literal translation of this is, "small intestine in large intestine"), which is quite good with raw garlic (easy to find, just look for the long line). But overall I've found not a whole lot to write home about here.
In Taipei, we did plan ahead and managed to get reservations at Song Chu for their famous and much-storied Beijing duck, for which there appears to be universal, gushing love across the internets.
First, just a point of clarification. According to the staff, there is no connection with the old Beijing duck houses. They are a totally unaffiliated operation. Second, I asked to see their oven, (to see if it was the open hearth/fruit wood type that is proper for true Beijing duck) and was told "that is impossible".
The bottom line is that my first taste of the duck was GREAT. But-- the duck was horribly uneven. Some of the meat was succulent and delicious, but a helluva a lot of it was BONE DRY. We met a local friend at the Westin Taipei for tea after, and he said "yeah, I could have told you that" (He's a Celestial duck guy). For the hoops that Song Hua makes you jump through to make reservations (and for their reputation), this was very disappointing. For the parts of the duck that were succulent, it was great (though not in the least bit smoky, which was my experience at Qianmen Quanjude, and which I missed here). The final wrapped and dressed product was richly flavored, intensely ducky. Mostly crispy skin-- some crackling, some softer. The sauce was incredibly thick and surprisingly complicated. The green onions were the tough white parts only, with the ends sliced into frilly bits for aesthetic purposes. But in practical terms, trying to tear apart a whole tough green onion white with my teeth was not a pleasant experience. We also ordered the fresh and vinegary cabbage peanut slaw (very nice), the must-order-ahead oxtails which brought a whole new meaning to my understanding of gelatin (really, the skin, meat, fat and connective tissue of the oxtails were nearly the same incredibly tender, quivering gelatinous texture), a kind of antipasta salad of sliced egg, cucumber, mushrooms, etc. tossed in a sesame(? trying to remember) sauce that was just ok, the whole yellow fish, which was basically a stewed fish in a pot (another one of the must-order-ahead dishes) which I hardly remember now (it's been 2 weeks), the pan fried vermicelli pea shoot dumplings (this is totally mind boggling that these need to be ordered ahead) which were fine, and wholly unextraordinary, the stewed intestines which were amazingly tender, only slightly offally, and the sauce they were in was richly flavored. I was amazed that intestines could taste this good. After the duck course, they hacked up the carcass into a very good rendition of 3-cup duck (we learned our lesson in other restaurants and opted against the bland soup). A few of the "only 18 days" Taiwan Beer (supposedly none are sold after 18 days of being bottled) and that's a wrap. Overall the dishes were pretty good. The succulent part of the duck were great, but still don't top the Qianmen Quanjude.
I wanted to thank Hungry Girl in Taipei for a few recs, only one of which I've tried so far. Shaanxi Dao Xiao Mian (also in Taipei) as this was a great bowl of soup (the tomato soup, first on the menu). Smoked sliced pig ear xiao cai was great too. Mala tofu xiao cai was fine. I may head back when we head up to Taipei in a few days and try the niu rou mian (or the tomato soup with beef added....)
May Snow in Taichung for snow ice... they were out of mango, so had pineapple instead. Very good-- not up to the standard of Class 302 in Rowland Heights (Los Angeles) as the snow didn't have the fluffy factor that 302's has. This was very good anyway, but it was slightly ice and the folds of shaved milk collapsed into each other very quickly. The glory of snow ice is the textural factor, and this was lacking. Still a tasty, refreshing treat on a hot day. A little pricey (for Taiwan) at about 70 NTD, but eh, what the hell. Live a little.
Found a wheelcake vendor in the electronics district of taipei (Guanghua computer area) which made the most overstuffed wheelcakes I've ever seen. They squeezed an oversized golf ball-sized mound of "butter" and various fillings into those cakes. I'll post the pics when I have a chance. They were great.
Found my way (also due to gushing internets reviews) to Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki near the city hall MRT (Taipei). French/Japanese, right? So I got a pain au chocolat and a croissant. Totally disappointed. Expensive, pretentious (in an extremely expensive, upscale shopping mall) stale (well, not fresh at least), and expensive (by Taiwan standards). I'll happily go to my local 85c over this joint any day.
Ningxia Road Night Market-- what a great place. I'd been here before (I think). Lots of very traditional Taiwanese foods. Saw some things I'd had before, others I hadn't. Went with a local friend who loved the oyster omelet at Lai's, which I read about on Chowhound. It was indeed great. Nice and crispy, which too many of Taiwanese oyster omeletes are not (they're often all soft and gluey). Texture is important. I played one of those homebrew pinball games, and won a hungry hungry hippos knockoff (but instead of eating marbles, they eat your finger). Fun times.
LOVED the Chowhound rec for the guabao place near Gonguan MRT. Basically it's a custom made guabao... instead of giving you a prefab one with a slab or pork belly, the pork is kind of shredded and separated into lean and fatty, and you can ask for the guabao to be made all lean, all fatty, or a combination of both. Great stuff. Roosevelt St 3rd section, lane 316 #3.
As for Lanyu island, the aboriginal penchant for the flying fish (harvested at a specific time of year and then dried for later consumption) was a little nutty. We had deep fried formerly dried flying fish (and usually a plate or two of vegetables, and a bowl of bland fish soup) enough times to drive us batty. After going scuba diving, we realized that the brightly colored tropical non-flying fish we were eating were very fresh-- I mean, we were essentially eating the same guys that were swimming in front of our noses. But that doesn't mean they were good-- they were small, mostly flavorless, cooked in a watery broth, with lots of needle-thin bones.
Most of the places in Lanyu require a reservation (or at least a call ahead), especially during the off season (non-summer months), so that the people's home-slash-guesthouse that you're most likely going to be eating in, know whether to have extra food ready to cook for you. Most places have these multiple "set meal" courses for 300 - 400 ntd per person (yes, Lanyu is expensive by Taiwanese standards).
With all the bland fish, I looked forward to breakfast every morning.... specifically, the super friendly laoban at Mei-Ya-Mei, a brightly colored, cheerful place in Dongqing village, where he griddled up BACON WRAPPED FRENCH TOAST topped with condensed milk and toasted sesame seeds. (He has a sweet version, a salty version, and a "combo" version). Now look, I make better french toast at home. But in this place where fat and flavor were hard to come by, this french toast was a fucking miracle. And for those traditionalists, his luo buo gao was GREAT too. Super crispy, wonderfully flavorful. There was another noodle shop in Yeyou village which we went to several times with very good qq niu rou mian (hand made) noodles, but the house special soup qiǎng guo mian was super tasty too. Basically a shredded cooked egg with noodle soup, slightly thickened.
Alright, it's 00:30 here and my father in law just cursed me out in Chinese for being up so late, so it's time to get to bed. I'll write more later. I do have pictures to accompany all of these descriptions, which I'll also (eventually) post.
Watch out for part 2... grandma's old Hakka village, Neipu, 30 minutes outside of Pingtung, for peanut tofu and mi tai mu (Taiwanese term for a super delicious special kind of Hakka rice noodles only made in that region of the country... would LOVE to have this in Los Angeles)
re: Mr Taster
if you like wheel cakes when you go back to LA, try mitsuru cafe, i wrote it up recently
all the good gua bao places ive ever been to in taipei had it like this where you can choose how fatty you want the meat etc
look forward to seeing your pics