March 26, 2016

My 12 favorite places to eat in Shida Night Market (plus 12 honorable mentions)

Note: I currently live in Norway, but I lived in Taipei from August 2014 to June 2015 and am slowly making my way through writing posts about my time there.

Click to enlarge!

UPDATE (5/12/16): A reminder about Shida Night Market and all night markets in general: YOU SHOULD VISIT NIGHT MARKETS AT NIGHT. Most night market businesses don't open until the late afternoon to night. Some are open for lunch. Very few places do business in the morning. To the best of my ability, I've included the opening hours of the businesses below so you're not met with a closed food stand or restaurant.

UPDATE (4/12/16): A few places have moved or left the night market since I was in Taiwan:

Moved: Ho Ho Mei, Hsu Ji Shen Jian Bao
Left: Yu Ban Bu Neng Salty Water Chicken
Closed: Niu Lao Da on Lane 105, Shida Rd

The map has been updated with the new locations.

END UPDATE

My retirement dream is to live by a Taiwanese night market where I can squeeze out my terminal breaths eating at cheap food stands and restaurants every day. (Quick message for my unborn children: If that dream doesn't pan out, my other retirement dream is to live near you, assuming you're cool and you like me yeah that'd be dope.) I know this is a solid retirement plan because I've already lived it, minus the part where I'm squeezing out my terminal breaths.

Shida Night Market
Shida Night Market on a Saturday night.

For ten months between 2014 and 2015, I lived down the street from Shida Night Market, or Shīdà yèshì (師大夜市). It was awesome, even if it's not particularly famous for food. Where other night markets are lined with food carts, the main drag of Shida Night Market, Longquan Street, is full of trendy clothing and accessories stores. (I've read that years ago the night market was considerably larger and had more food stands, but new rezoning laws pushed out many of the former food businesses.) If you're a tourist aiming to check off all the Taiwanese street food staples, you're better off checking out Shilin, Raohe, Tonghua, or Ningxia, among other night markets I have yet to try. Check out other recommendations here, here, and here. Shida Night Market may not be impressive compared to more famous night markets, but it has plenty of restaurants and food stalls scattered in between the non-food shops, as well as a few "blocks" dedicated to food stands. If you go to school or live near Shida, the night market is a great place to grab lunch or dinner on a regular basis.

Here are some of my favorite places to eat in Shida Night Market. Have other favorites? Leave your recommendations in the comments!

» Continue reading "My 12 favorite places to eat in Shida Night Market (plus 12 honorable mentions)"...

Posted by roboppy at 5:57 PM |

February 20, 2016

Houtong Cat Village: Of course Taiwan has a village full of cats

Note: I currently live in Norway, but I lived in Taipei from August 2014 to June 2015 and am slowly making my way through writing posts about my time there.

Taroko Gorge. Taipei 101. The National Palace Museum. Sun Moon Lake. Shilin Night Market. Jiufen These are a handful of Taiwan's most popular tourist attractions, exemplifying Taiwan's beautiful scenery, achievements in architectural engineering, preservation of historical Chinese artifacts, vibrant street food culture, and mo—

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Wuuut CAT VILLAAAAGE (and restrooms).

OMG OMG OMG!@#!^@%#! THERE'S A VILLAGE FULL OF CATS!!!!

[Violently shoves nature/museums/night markets out of the way, runs towards cats while flailing like an inflatable waving tube man and yelling like every goat combined.]

Before 2008, Houtong exemplified the decline of a once-prosperous coal mining village. Since 2008, it's exemplified how to resurrect a dying coal mining village: Just add cats. According to the Internet, in 2008 a local cat-lover organized volunteers to help take care of the village's stray cats. As photos of the cats circulated online, the village's new identity as a cat haven attracted enough tourists to turn it into an official cat-themed village with cat houses, cat sculptures, cat murals, cat-shaped food, a cat-themed walkway, and other cat things to take selfies with. All of this centered around a hundred-something real cats.

Point at the kitty
Yes, fluorescent pink child! Delight in the miracle of kitty!

Houtong Cat Village may be one of Taiwan's less significant tourist attractions for people who prefer mountains and museums and temples and food and stuff, but according to the cat version of TripAdvisor, it's the #1 significant tourist attraction in Taiwan for cat lovers.

» Continue reading "Houtong Cat Village: Of course Taiwan has a village full of cats"...

Posted by roboppy at 1:35 AM |

February 5, 2016

Favorite Taipei Things: Late night bike riding along Xindian River (plus midnight breakfast)

Note: I currently live in Norway, but I lived in Taipei from August 2014 to June 2015, and I have a million things I want to share about my time there. Why didn't I do it earlier? I'm slow.

Night bike ride
Night bike ride with Xiangtai and Charlotte.

Do you like drinking? Dancing? Karaoke? Being smushed into dark, noisy enclosed spaces with strangers? Spending money doing the aforementioned activities? Did your face contort into a series of exponentially more horrified looks after you read each of the preceding questions? If so, then [smack] HIGH FIVE [/smack], we might be on the same page when it comes to favorite forms of nightlife entertainment. A page from the book, Cosmopolitan Living: How Not To.

Thankfully, Taipei has plenty of fun things to do at night for those averse to bars, KTVs, clubs, and spending more than NT$200 (that's about US$6) in one go. You can hang out in one of many cafes (well, one that's open late). You can walk around one one of many parks. You can go on a snack crawl through one of many night markets. And if all else fails, you can always rely on one of a million 7-Elevens. It's always open. Always watching.

華中河濱公園 Huazhong Riverside Park
Park, then river, then New Taipei City.

But my favorite cheap thing to do in Taipei at night is to go bike riding with friends along Xindian River. The Greater Taipei Area has over 100 kilometers of riverside park paths reserved for bicyclists and pedestrians. (You can download maps at travel.taipei.) If you don't have a bike, it's easy and cheap to rent a YouBike for a night. I much prefer riding at night than during the day. The main problem with day is the sun. Day is when the sun comes out and melts brain cells. Because the sun is very hot. (I took an astronomy class once—I know what's up with the sun.) Night is a much better time to go out, when the air is cooler, the neighboring lights of New Taipei City dot the skyline and glimmer in the river, and there are waaaay fewer people to hear me belting out off-tune Disney songs, which is a thing you might want to do when you're bicycling maybe I dunno "WHOOOO IS THAT GIRL I SEEEEEE?".

My favorite place to enter the riverside park is from Hakka Cultural Park near the south end of Shida Road. There you'll find a YouBike station next to a bike path that takes you up over a small bridge with a scenic platform. Keep going down the ramp and it drops you into a wide open section of the park with little else besides grass, trees, and paved road. I have no problem living in cramped city quarters, but as soon as I cross the threshold between ramp and park, I feel a burst of blissful freedom that I didn't know I was missing. "Ohh, this is what nature smells like. Mmmmm. Chlorophyll. Lack of exhaust fumes."

Here are some sights along the bike path if you go west:

» Continue reading "Favorite Taipei Things: Late night bike riding along Xindian River (plus midnight breakfast)"...

Posted by roboppy at 7:35 PM |

January 24, 2016

My 15 favorite cafes near Shida (and a bit of Taida) in Taipei

Click to enlarge! This map lists the cafes I mention in this post. You may as well just skip reading this post! Haha! ...Please don't. This map has multiple layers, to be used in future posts.

UPDATE (11/20/16): Cat.jpg Cafe has moved. I've updated the map above and the information about the cafe in the post below.

UPDATE (5/19/16): Cafe Kafka has closed! :(

"Be careful. Taipei is a petri dish for addiction...to cafes."

No one warned me about this before I moved to Taipei in August 2014 to learn Chinese, but even if someone did, I wouldn't have believed them. I spent the first 29 years of my life indifferent to coffee and the places that specialize in it, and, by God, I had to keep that streak going, for some reason. Taipei's cafes couldn't change that. Not with their cozy decor. And their cool art. And their hip music. And their freshly baked desserts. And their cute menus. And their Wi-Fi. And their air conditioning. And their cats.

LatteAdorable latte art Latte artPicnic
LATTE LATTE LATTE LATTE

Less than a month after living in Taipei, I developed a near latte-a-day habit. Things escalated quickly.

Here's a flowchart that illustrates the inner workings of my decision-making process:

"Should I Go To a Cafe?" flowchart
Click to enlarge!

For me, the catalyst of my cafe addiction was taking beginner intensive classes at the Mandarin Training Center. Memorizing traditional characters every day was pounding my brain into a frothy garbage mush of frustration and despair. When I couldn't focus, I'd fall asleep. I fell asleep a lot. I needed a place that would motivate me. Perhaps...a place with cake. And beverages enhanced with sugar and milk. And a closing time before which I have to get my shit done.

I could also blame my friends for encouraging my cafe-going habit, but that would be unfair. I'm not a sheep. I have volition. Or half a volition. I CAN STOP WHENEVER I WANT TO. Because if there's anything addicts are good at, it's stopping.

Many of my friends and classmates thought I was addicted to lattes. BUT NO sort of. The lattes enabled the cafe addiction. I've spent my whole life thinking black coffee tastes like poison sewer drainage. Then, during the developmental stage of my cafe addiction, I found if you temper the poison sewer drainage with a tub of steamed milk and a scoop of sugar, it transforms into something that tastes good to my infantile palate. (I still think black coffee tastes like poison sewer drainage.) And thus lattes became my default drink. There was a week where I dabbled in only ordering non-coffee drinks because I thought drinking coffee coupled with simmering in Taipei's oppressive summer humidity was making me smell extra pungent, but no other drink could match the goodness of a latte. If lattes were making me smelly, then too bad, innocent bystanders who enjoy breathing through their noses, because I'm gonna stink it up.

Taipei is flush with indie cafes, my neighborhood especially. During my ten-month stay in Taipei, I lived in Daan near two major universities, Shida (National Taiwan Normal University) and Taida (National Taiwan University). Where there are universities, there are thousands of students who need caffeine and places to study. I had a mission to try as many cafes as possible, but after a few months I got used to my regular cafes and stopped exploring. There are surely more awesome cafes near Shida and Taida that I never tried.

Although this post is about my favorite cafes, it doesn't have much to do with coffee quality. I don't know how to rate coffee. (It's brown. And it's hot. Or it's cold. It's a brown liquid with a temperature.) I just know how to rate environment, attitude, music, non-coffee food, and opening hours on a super subjective scale. Also, cats. Cats are a factor. I figure the coffee quality at these cafes is all good or better.

Some of the information I list for each cafe might be outdated, like prices or menu items, considering I haven't been to some of these cafes in almost a year. If you want to help update anything, please let me know in the comments!

» Continue reading "My 15 favorite cafes near Shida (and a bit of Taida) in Taipei"...

Posted by roboppy at 5:15 PM |

December 11, 2015

You should make Dominique Ansel's banana bread, plus these other recipes

Dominique Ansel's banana bread

A few months ago I recommended Dominique Ansel's banana bread recipe to a friend. It's a recipe that alchemizes minimal effort into cake gold: a light and moist crumb encased in a crackly crust of caramelized hallucinogenic magic. The source of that magic is 2 cups of sugar and 14 tablespoons of butter. To some people, myself included, 2 cups of sugar and 14 tablespoons of butter translate to "I TASTE REAL GOOD, YOU CAN TRUST ME, WITH ALL YOUR SECRETS, AND YOUR FUTURE BABIES." To others, they translate to "HELL NO, I PREFER A LIFE WITH LESS BUTTER AND SUGAR FOR SOME REASON."

My friend is in the latter group. I wasn't completely surprised he balked at the ingredients, knowing his food preferences, but I was still disappointed. I mean, we're good friends. I trust this guy. ...Or do I?

He looked up another banana bread recipe online, one less buttery and sugary, which is probably every other banana bread recipe in existence. Kåre and I were at his apartment when he baked it. We tasted the banana bread together, fresh from the oven.

"It tastes kind of...healthy."

"...Yeah."

[Everyone continues chewing]

"..."

There wasn't much else to say after that. He sent Kåre and me home with a chunk of the banana bread that we may or may not have eaten. I don't think we talked about it after that. We love our friend, and the friendship is better off that way, I think.

Dominique Ansel's banana bread

Don't make my friend's mistake. Try Dominique's recipe and let me know what you think. I don't think it's too sweet, but if you're concerned about the sugar content, according to this blogger you can use 1.5 cups of sugar and still get the amazing crust.

Unfortunately, that amazing crust doesn't last forever. Ideally you'd consume the entire loaf within hours to get maximum crust action before it becomes a moist husk of its former self. But nausea would probably kick in at some point and stop you. I know from experience. Without the magical crust though, the cake is still moist and delicious and will stay that way for days.

Here are some other recipes I've made in the last few months that have made me think, "Man, this is a good recipe that I should tell other people about someday when I'm less lazy."

» Continue reading "You should make Dominique Ansel's banana bread, plus these other recipes"...

Posted by roboppy at 10:51 AM |

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previous entries

» 11/30/16: Shou Tian Pin (手天品), home of my favorite pineapple cakes in Taipei

» 08/31/16: I ate too much soft serve in Taiwan, and you can too!

» 08/09/16: Thank you for nominating me in Saveur's 2016 Blog Awards!

» 05/29/16: This Taiwanese food-themed deck of playing cards is my favorite souvenir from Taiwan (plus here's a map and list of the foods in the deck)

» 04/18/16: Over 50 places I'd want to eat, shop, and visit while on vacation in Taipei

» 03/26/16: My 12 favorite places to eat in Shida Night Market (plus 12 honorable mentions)

» 02/20/16: Houtong Cat Village: Of course Taiwan has a village full of cats

» 02/05/16: Favorite Taipei Things: Late night bike riding along Xindian River (plus midnight breakfast)

» 01/24/16: My 15 favorite cafes near Shida (and a bit of Taida) in Taipei

» 12/11/15: You should make Dominique Ansel's banana bread, plus these other recipes

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