December 2, 2013

Taipei 2011, Day 2: Shaved Ice Two Ways, 7-Eleven, Shilin Night Market, Etc.

I took a trip to Taipei from October 3 to 9...2011. Um. Yeah. Why am I writing about it two years late? Because better late than never? Not because I've been wasting away on a diet of Netflix and Candy Crush? Sure, let's go with that. Read my introduction here and a recap of the first day here.

What makes Blow Pops the most coveted of the lollipop family? (At least, if you were elementary school-aged me in the early '90s.) The bubblegum center.* Without the gum, it's just a fat, boring lollipop. Chewing on bubblegum not encased in a hard candy shell just isn't the same. It doesn't leave you with the heady sense of accomplishment**, of victory, that only comes from licking and crunching your way through a thick layer of candy to uncover more candy.

* If you're curious, as I was, here is the patent for "Method for making candy with gum inside."

** My list of childhood accomplishments is very, very short.

How does this relate to shaved ice? Barely. But pretend I came up with a better comparison than what I'm about to tell you. (And pretend with each passing second you're not inching closer to your death. And pretend there is a box of corgi puppies outside your door waiting to let loose in your home and trample you with more cute fluffy butt action than you could ever dream of OH GOD IT'S AMAZINGGUUHHH.)

Bad shaved ice is sort of the opposite of a Blow Pop. The outermost layer is where the party is—a party of syrup-soaked, toppings-laden bites—while digging deeper into the ice mound reveals a center of...ice. Crunchy bits of unadorned ice due to meager and/or ill-distributed toppings.

This is how you do it right:

Red bean and mung bean
Bluuurrrph. That's the sound it makes. In my head.

Thanks to Tai Yi Milk King (臺一牛奶大王)—a famous old-school shaved ice shop that's been serving Taipei since 1956—I now know one sign that I'm about to dig into a good bowl of shaved ice: when it looks like a toppings bar puked on it. Vigorously. In this case, the toppings bar hacked out a hefty mound of homemade glutinous rice balls, sweet red beans, and sweet mung beans dripping with thick condensed milk. Crunchy, soft-n-chewy, starchy, milky-n-gooey—this pile has it all, with hardly any naked ice ruining the party. The way nature intended.

Mango and strawberries
Mango and strawberries.

Looking like vomit isn't a requirement, of course. Here's another bowl of shaved ice more thoughtfully heaped with ripe mango chunks, probably less ripe slices of strawberries, and condensed milk.

Good wontons, too!
Wontons! Now it's a balanced meal.

And because it was lunch time, we supplemented our shaved ice piles with wonton soup. Because the shaved ice shop makes wontons.

Two bowls, aw yeah
It's here!
All done
Nope it's gone.

Thankfully, Joan of A Hungry Girls' Guide to Taipei, aka one of the best people you could eat with in Taipei, helped Lee Anne and me plow through these bowls of shaved ice. Joan loves Tai Yi, Nick loves Tai Yi, and you should too, lest you break the chain of love, and why would you do that?

Ok, you might do that if you are adverse to grossly excessive toppings, or don't love the ice. And I must admit, I don't love the ice, but I do love the toppings. To me, Tai Yi is sort of like the Taiwanese shaved ice version of Eddie's Sweet Shop, an old school ice cream shop in Queens and one of my most favorite ice cream shops in the world. You don't go to Eddie's for the ice cream (ice cream that's totally fine, just nothing you'd go out of your way for); you go for the no-holds-barred smothering of traditional toppings. I feel the same about Tai Yi.

Street! With stuff.
Street!

After we waddled out of Tai Yi, Joan guided us around some charming backstreets:

Taco 2 Go
A taco stand.
Belly-wash
A bar called Belly-wash. I thought it was an Engrish-y name, but after Googling found out it's a real term.
Pizza shop
A pizzeria called So Free, advertising wood-fired pizza and cheese.
Instant noodle restaurant
An instant noodle joint.
Waffle in a cup
Waffle salad in a cup?
A cart with noodles and things
A cart with noodles, fish cakes, fish calls, tofu, veggies, eggs, and other things you'd add to a bowl of noodles.
Dr. PASTA
Dr. Pasta. Where the only prescription is pasta.
In a bakery somewhere
Sandwiches in a random bakery.
Rabbit Rabbit III
Rabbit Rabbit III, purveyor of Western favorites such as "burger, brunch, omelette, egg benedict, sandwich, pasta fajita."
Mister Donut
Mister Donut, we meet again.

Oh no, it's Mister Donut, that means we have to go inside and buy doughnuts.

Doughnuts!
Doughnuts!

And the wonderfully chewy Pon de Ring was mine.

I LOVE YOU, PON DE RING LION Rewards
BLANKET IS MINE.

Mister Donut (well, Japan in general) understands the value of having an adorable mascot. An adorable mascot that spreads joy and happiness to people the world over, luring in devotees with its round, innocent face...then used to sell limited edition goods only obtainable by buying a lot of doughnuts. By the end of my trip, I had accrued enough Mister Donut points to buy the plush blanket. I am not ashamed. I did it...for friendship. (I gave it to Nick as a gift. I hope he still has it. If not, he should definitely lie to me and tell me he still has it.)

Ximending
Ximending.

We hopped the metro to Ximending, a major shopping and entertainment district, where Joan gave us a taste of her Ximending eating tour.

Ay-Chung noodles
Ay-Chung
Saucing it up
DIY saucing.
Ay-Chung noodles
Bowl of noodles.

Ay Chung Noodles is famous for their vermicelli with pig intestine, a variation of the popular Taiwanese dish oyster vermicelli. That's all they make. You can get it large (NT$60) or small (NT$45), and season it to your liking at their toppings bar with tubs of chili, garlic, and vinegar. Seating consists of stools scattered in front of the store.

I'm ashamed to admit I barely remember anything about the dish besides that the noodles are very soft—not mushy-soft, just soft—and the soup is thick. I didn't dislike it, but I prefer noodles with some chew to them. I wish I remembered more about the broth. Various reviews I came across say it's flavored with bonito flakes and bamboo shoots, besides the intestines.

I know I'm not selling this well at all, but you should try Ay Chung if you're in Ximending. I'll have to try it again on my next visit. Maybe I'll even end up with a description that isn't totally useless.

Menu KFC's egg tarts KFC's egg tarts KFC's egg tarts KFC's egg tarts KFC's egg tarts

For dessert we went to...KFC! For Portuguese egg custard tarts! Because they sell those. And they're not bad. They come in Original, Custard, and "Brown Sugar Mochi Q, and they're served warm, my favorite temperature for flaky-crusted, creamy custard-filled tarts. The crust isn't the delicately flaky crust I'm used to—the kind that instantly plops a mess of feathery flakes when you bite into it—but a sturdier puff pastry-like crust. I'm guessing there are better Portuguese egg custard tarts in Taipei, but if you're an egg custard tart fan these are worth a try.

7-11
7-Eleven.

Next up, a visit to 7-Eleven. 7-Eleven? Yup. If you're into food, visiting a convenience store should be on your to-do list, as ordinary as it may seem. FOR ORDINARY, IT IS NOT (at least, if you've only ever been to 7-Eleven in the US), because it's full of Taiwanese/Japanese/etc. goods instead of American goods. It's a fact that East Asian convenience foods are better than American convenience foods, right? Yes.

OPEN! SNACK
OPEN!

And if that isn't enough for you, 7-Eleven has harnessed the power of a cute mascot named OPEN-Chan, a rainbow-headed space dog whose birthday is on July 11 and is from a planet located an 11-day rocket journey away from Earth in the 7-o-clock direction, duh. (You need to click that link. The mascot's profile is really...something. I can't read without imagining Catbug fervently shouting it at me. Please tell me I'm not the only one.)

And you'll have plenty of chances considering Taiwan is one of the most densely 7-Elevened areas in the world.

I took quite a lot of photos before an employee waved their hands at me to stop. Here are the fruits of my labors:

* When I lived in Taipei in the mid-'90s, I shopped at Family Mart waaay more than 7-Eleven due to proximity to my apartment, but I failed to visit a Family Mart on my trip, so I can't tell you much about it. This forum thread at Forumosa.com compares the two chains.

Fish cakes n things Fish cakes n things
Fish cakes and things!
Hot dogs
Various log meats, a staple of 7-Eleven.
Baked goods
Sweet buns and other baked goods.
Snacks
Potato chips, cookies, Japanese snacks, etc.
7-11 snacks
Potato chips and Doritos with flavors like seaweed, garlic steak, spicy chicken, Swiss cheese, and "golden cheese."
Snacks
More chips and crackers, including sweet potato chips, taro chips, maltose sandwich cookies (I kind of wish I had tried these; never seen 'em before), and butter crackers.
Boiled tea eggs
Boiled tea eggs.
Bao
A variety of steamed bao. Looks like a bunch of meat and veggie buns plus a red bean paste bun. When I lived in Taipei one of my favorite snacks was getting a steamed bao from Family Mart before or after school.
Frozen treats
Frozen treats.
Drinks
Drinks!
Drinks
More drinks!
Drinks and pudding
Custard cups and yogurt drinks.
Drinks and noodles
More yogurt drinks, and some readymade noodle bowls.
Readymade food
More readymade food: dumplings, soup dumplings, pasta dishes, noodle bowls, something that might be mapo tofu.
Onigiri
Various sandwiches on sliced white bread, and ONIGIRI!!!, one of the world's best convenience foods. At least, if you're as obsessed with rice as I am. Aside from steamed buns, onigiri was one of my favorite convenience stores snacks when I lived in Taipei.
Dad and grandpa
Dad and Grandpa.

For dinner, my dad brought my grandpa and me to Water Drop Teahouse (滴水書坊), a Taiwanese vegetarian chain with an outpost near my grandparents' place in Beitou. The restaurant is next to An-Kuo Temple, a local branch of Buddhist organization Fo Guang Shan. This article says the restaurant chain is run under the Fo Guang Shan system.

Soup
Some sort of soup.
Noodles
Some sort of noodle soup.
Seaweed and tofu
Seaweed and tofu.
Noodles n stuff
Another noodle soup dish.
Lasagna
And...lasagna!

As usual, I fail you in the "describing food" department, as my most vibrant memory of this meal was getting attacked by mosquitos. Either I wasn't very hungry or I was distracted by my increasingly itchy, swelling legs. Overall, I liked the food enough—it tasted light and simple—but I may have liked the cozy wooden hut-like setting even more.

For a more helpful review plus lots of photos, check out AJ's Veggie Adventure.

Serene
A peek in the temple.

You may as well take a peek inside the temple while you're there.

Shilin Night Market Street
A small bit of Shilin night market.

After dinner, I met up with Lee Anne at Shilin Night Market, Taipei's most famous night market and one of the city's largest, if not the largest. How large? ...It's...big. (Ok, I tried to get a more specific measurement of the largeness. This article says the market is 5,710 square meters. If you're like me, that doesn't mean anything to you. So I looked up the area of an American football field: about 5,349 square meters. That makes Shilin Night Market the size of about 1.07 football fields. Unless I fail at math.) And super crowded. How do you navigate it? Just step into the sea of people and flow through the the maze of sign-lit streets lined with open-air shops and stalls selling clothes, handbags, shoes, accessories, and, most importantly food, all for cheap. Food's really what you want. So that was our plan: walk around and eat food.

Crowd
The food court in February 2013 on a Friday night. A nightmare for claustrophobes.

For some reason, we didn't check out the food court, which for nearly a decade until the end of 2011 was housed in a semi-temporary building down the street from the main drag of the night market. I'm guessing we didn't go because we weren't that hungry; otherwise it looks like I failed at life. When I visited Taipei early this year I did check out the food court's new digs, a renovated basement space that felt like a fire hazard. But that's a post for another day. As for what happened to the temporary location, it was torn down to make way for the new Taipei Performing Arts Center, set to open in 2015.

Hot Star fried chicken Hot Star fried chicken
Hot-Star fried chicken stall.

First order of food biz: large fried chicken "steak" from Hot-Star (Hao Da Da Ji Pai, 豪大大雞排), a Taiwanese chain that also has outposts in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Shanghai, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Australia. Their specialty, called jipai, is like a thicker, crisper, juicier, spiced version of schnitznel. But you don't need a plate or utensils; you just eat it out of a paper bag. So...it's awesome. This was my first time eating it and I was immediately hooked for life. Yes, I'm confident that I'll love this chicken until I am dead.

Hot Star fried chicken Hot Star fried chicken
Feel the crispy. Feel the juicy. Feel the chicken.

I couldn't find a definitive description of how Hot-Star makes their fried chicken steak/cutlet/meat plank, so here's an educated guess based on information from Taiwan Food Culture, LauHound, Never Too Sweet, and Mickey's Favorite Taiwanese Recipes. Thinly pounded chicken breast is marinated, coated in potato starch and cornstarch mixed with five spice powder and white pepper, deep fried, and sprinkled with chili powder.

Hot Star fried chicken
Lee Anne, destroyer of meats.

It's best eaten with two hands. Because it's huge. And it'll only set you back 55NT, about $1.90. Sigh.

Hot Star has at least two locations in Shilin Night Market. Besides the stall we went to, there's one in the basement food court.

Totoro goods
Totoro things!

We poked around some random stationery-and-cute-things stores for a while because stationery and cute things are two of our top interests. I remember seeing a lot Angry Birds accessories and alpaca plush toys, in case you're wondering what was popular...two years ago. Perhaps not anymore. I'm guessing these Totoro products will never go out of style.

Notebooks galore Little notepads and things
Omg stationery.

We probably spent too much time in JSF ogling stationery, often colorful and riddled with cute animals and poetic Engrish making profound statements about friendship and happiness. On one hand, I can understand how some people may not be enamored by Asian stationery. On the other hand, OH GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, HAVE YOU SEEN ALL THESE CUTE NOTEBOOKS and NOTEPADS and NOTECARDS and TINY KEYRING NOTEBOOKS and LETTERSETS and STICKERS and THE LATEST IN PEN AND PENCIL TECHNOLOGY?! HOW DOES IT NOT BLOW YOUR MIND?

...Yeah, I know I'm the weird one.

Sheng jian bao stand Sheng jian bao stand Sheng jian bao standSheng jian bao stand.

Let's get back on the food train! Chuga-chuga-chuga-chugaflump. That's the sound of the train hitting a pile of sad. I recalled Nick telling me to check out a sheng jian bao stand in the market, but I didn't write down which one. (It's this one, by the way.) The buns from this stand weren't very good. I don't remember why exactly, but I'd guess they were inadequately crisp on the bottom and juicy on the inside. Two mehs up from Lee Anne and me.

Aaand back off the food train.

Crane games Closer
Plush Rilakkuma slipper keychains?
Crane games
Seal figurines.
Crane games
Rainbow of alpacas!

You'll find lots of crane game machines in the night market filled with neatly stacked piles of whatever's cute and/or popular. During my visit earlier this year that meant craploads of Adventure Time things. Back in 2011 there was none o' that.

Toy machines
Capsule toys. Lots of 'em.
I can haz
WEEEEEE.

Japanese capsule toys remind me of when I was a kid and easily enticed by those quarter toy machines filled with sticky goo-hands, flimsy plastic jewelry, poorly molded figurines, and more of the worst quality trinkets ever peddled to children. Of course, now that I'm an adult I look at those machines and think, "Gosh [clutches chest while squinting at machines], all of these so called 'toys' are atrocious, simply atrocious. [shakes head, monocle bounces off face] What a foolish child I must've been." And as an adult with a disposable income, when I'm presented with walls of Japanese capsule toys I go, "OOOOH, OOH, OMG, IT'S A KEYCHAIN WITH A CUTE FAT KITTY ON IT, I MUST BUY THREE OF THEM!!!"

Xin Fa Ting (S.F.T.)
Xin Fa Ting
menu
Menu that I can't read.

Okay, food train again. Last stop: Xin Fa Ting (SFT), a famous shaved ice shop.

Mango shaved ice Spoonful of iceMango shaved ice.

SFT's shaved ice is a different style compared to Tai Yi's shaved ice: fluffy, superfine shavings that melt in your mouth (appropriately also called snow ice), as opposed to Tai Yi's coarser, crunchier ice. You can read a thorough comparison of the two (with much better descriptions than I can come up with) at From Pearls to Stinky Tofu. I can't say one is better than the other; both are great in different ways and worth trying if you visit Taipei, but my ideal ice texture would be somewhere between the superfine and the sightly crunchy, like in Hawaiian shave ice.

No smoking
NO SMOKING. They really mean it.

Lastly, continuing the theme of unique "No Smoking" signs from my first post, here are two different signs in SFT featuring a merciless fork that'll break your cigarette in half...and a cute lil' bird-thing wearing blue pants and a tiny blue cap who will put out your cigarette with a tiny red hose awwww.

Related

Taipei 2011, Day 1: Fried Crullers, Bear Head Doughnuts, Scallion Pancakes, Etc.
Belated Intro to Taipei, or "What's That Smell?"

Addresses

Tai Yi Milk King
No. 82號, Section 3, Xīnshēng South Road, Daan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 (map)
+886 2 2363 4341

Ay Chung Noodles
No. 8之1號, Éméi St, Wanhua District, Taipei City, Taiwan 108 (map)
+886 2 2388 8808

Water Drop Teahouse
No. 10, Lane 101, Fùxīngsān Rd, Beitou District,Taipei City, Taiwan 112 (map)
02-2891-4019; closed Mondays

Shilin Night Market
MRT stop Jiantan Station; (map)
Specific directions
We did some non-food activities for a bit.

Xin Fa Ting (辛發亭冰品店)
No. 1號, Ānpíng St, Shilin District Taipei City, Taiwan 111 (map)
+886 2 2882 0206

Posted by roboppy at 1:02 AM

Tags: taipei, taiwan

Comments

Wow, 7-11 in Taiwan has tea eggs, huh?! I wish Japanese conbini had those...! I guess I'm happy enough with the hard-boiled eggs at the conbini though (they make them like the ones you get in ramen bowels... for less than 80 yen, the perfect cheap snack!).

And ohmygawwwwd those colorful alpaca dolls mustgetmustgetmustget...

Posted by: Emily at December 3, 2013 12:38 AM [#]

Emily: Oo, ramen-esque hard boiled eggs (I guess that's like...soft boiled eggs?) sound good!

A few years ago I gave myself the rule to not buy plush toys because of my dust allergies...otherwise those alpaca plushies would've been tempting. Sigh.

Posted by: roboppy at December 6, 2013 10:54 PM [#]

I think you've given me hope for all the unblogged posts from my travels. Nah... who am I kidding. lol. But I really want a chicken fried steak right now. Make that two.

Posted by: Helen (Grab Your Fork) at December 8, 2013 8:10 AM [#]

I seriously always thought that Mister Donut was an American brand! I was so surprised to not find any Mister Donut in the US when we landed here a few months ago :( They have the most fragrant coffee ever! Or the smell just brings me back to my childhood of morning walks followed by morning coffee and doughnuts

Posted by: Didid at December 11, 2013 2:39 PM [#]

Hey Roboppy! Thanks for the post; I enjoy the photos greatly! I really admire the fact that you're so diligent with continuing the stories even though you're 2 years behind!!! I think most people would give up, so good for you!

Posted by: Katie at December 13, 2013 9:00 PM [#]

Helen: KEEP UP THAT HOPE!!!! I need some of that hope too. I have...5 more Taipei posts to go? Oh god.

I want chicken steak all the time.

Didi: It's super disappointing that Mister Donut isn't over here. It started here! Japan took it over and made it better. Wikipedia says old Mister Donut shops in the US turned into Dunkin Donut shops when the company was bought out by DD's parent company. I wouldn't mind the Japanese version coming over here someday.

Katie: Thanks for reading! I probably should give up, haha.

Posted by: roboppy at December 19, 2013 10:55 PM [#]

woo! i went to Xin Fa Ting this past summer too! although i had no idea what the name of the place was... haha

Posted by: Danny at December 27, 2013 2:05 PM [#]

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previous entries

» 03/19/14: Taipei 2011, Day 5: Mussels, Fried Oysters, and Extreme Soft Serve in Danshui

» 03/09/14: Taipei 2011, Day 4: Keelung River Bikeway, TAS, Beef "Pie," and Din Tai Fung

» 02/14/14: Behold French Fry-Stuffed Fat Sandwiches From RU Hungry in New Brunswick, NJ

» 01/27/14: Taipei 2011, Day 3: Taipei 101 Food Court and Dim Sum Dinner

» 01/15/14: Hong Kong Recap: Favorite Bites, Sweets, People, Etc.

» 12/02/13: Taipei 2011, Day 2: Shaved Ice Two Ways, 7-Eleven, Shilin Night Market, Etc.

» 11/05/13: My Favorite Places to Bring Tourists on the Lower East Side

» 10/23/13: How I Made My BMO (Adventure Time) Costume

» 10/20/13: Taipei 2011, Day 1: Fried Crullers, Bear Head Doughnuts, Scallion Pancakes, Etc.

» 08/19/13: Indessert, My New Favorite Dessert Shop Serving Tong Sui in Chinatown

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Camera Info

May '10: Canon 7D with a Sigma 18-50mm F2.8 EX DC macro lens
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links

Please don’t hate me if I haven’t included you. I tried to whittle this down to a manageable list, but there are just too many food blogs out there that I like! I shall update this list every so often.

Blogs

A Hamburger Today
A Hungry Girl's Guide to Taipei
The Amateur Gourmet
An American in Ireland
Appetite for China
Baking Bites
Beef Aficionado
The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck
Bionic Bites
Blondie and Brownie
Boots in the Oven
The Boy Who Bakes
Brave Tart
Candy Blog
Cha Xiu Bao
Chubby Hubby
Chuck Eats
Comme un Lait Fraise
Dan Delaney
David Lebovitz
Deep End Dining
Dessert Comes First
Dumneazu
Eat Drink & Be Merry
Eat to Blog
Eat Your Kimchi
The Eaten Path
Eating In Translation
Eating Asia
FastFoodr
Fifteen Pickles
Food In Mouth
French Revolution
Fries With That Shake
Grab Your Fork
Great Food Photos
Goldilocks Finds Manhattan
Hello Sandwich
I live in a Frying Pan
i nom things
The Impulsive Buy
Just Hungry
Kathy YL Chan
The Kitchen Pantry
Law and Food
Lingbo Li
Lingered Upon
LUNCH
Maps and Fragments
Me So Hungry
Michele Humes
Ms Adventures in Italy
My Camera Eats Food
My Inner Fatty
No Recipes
Noona Blog: Seoul
One Wall Kitchen
Ono Kine Grindz
The Paupered Chef
Paris Breakfasts
Real Cheap Eats
The Scent of Green Bananas
Seoul Eats
Slice
Smitten Kitchen
So Good
Street Foodie
Sui Mai
Suicide Food
Sustainable Table
Swirl and Scramble
Tamarind and Thyme
The Tasty Island
Thursday Night Smackdown
Tommy Eats
The Ulterior Epicure
umami
U.S. Food Policy
The Wandering Eater
We All Go Poopie
World to Table

Non-Blogs

Brooklyn Chowder Surfer
Edible Queens
Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down
Serious Eats
VendrTV

Recurring Eating Companions

These friends have lent me their stomach acids on numerous occasions.

Chichi
Colin
Diana
Eric
Greg
Kåre
Kathy
Melissa
Morten
Olivia
Tristan
Veronica