11.10.17

YongChun Market Thousand Layer Scallion Pancake, Taipei

Our virgin trip to Taipei is forever marked by a life-changing appreciation for scallion pancake. This revelation was most surprising, most of all to myself, as anyone who's read this blog will know that I absolutely detest the trio of herbs: coriander leaves/cilantro, parsley and spring onions. I don't know how the Taiwanese do it, but the liberal lacing of spring onions in their scallion pancake, or cong1 you2 bing3, didn't bother me one bit. I thought I'd take at least one bite for posterity's sake, and then offload the rest to the Hubs, but it was so damn good I ended up finishing the whole thing on my own.

One of the very best renditions of this Taiwanese street food can be found at the morning market of Yong3 Chun1 Market, where its exquisite millefeuille-like folds have given it the moniker of 'Thousand Layer Scallion Pancake". This was remarkable, toasted till crisp and golden on the crust and delightfully chewy within. The spring onions, chopped finely and flecked throughout, was oily but just so, without leaving that film on the tongue. Absolutely delicious, and an absolute must-try.

The stall front for reference. She sells out her wares by like 10am so go early early.


Yong Chun Market
294 Songshan Road, Xinyi District, Taipei, Taiwan 110
(Next to Yongchun Station along the MRT blue line)
Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 7am to 8pm (it transforms into a flea market of sorts in the afternoon-evening transition)

10.10.17

Dolce Vita

Mandarin Oriental Hotel is my favourite hotel for its in-house restaurant options. There's the best-in-class Japanese Teppan-Ya, illustrious grand dame of Chinese fine-dining Cherry Garden, renowned steakhouse Morton's, the immensely popular buffets at Melt....and then there's Dolce Vita, the long-timer Italian trattoria.

Perched on the 5th floor overlooking the bay, the glass enclosure of a restaurant flanks the hotel pool, so you get glistening bodies oiled up and soaking up the sun's rays in the foreground, against the azure expanse of the Marina Bay in the background.

I like the ambience Dolce Vita affords, it's breezy, casual, and tranquil. Being on the fringes of the madding CBD and bustling Orchard Road shopping belt is evidently conducive for a relaxed vibe. Which is why a bunch of us from work drove out of the city for a languid Friday lunch. And also, because TGIF!!

Also, the Set Lunch ($36 for 2-courses, $42 for 3-courses, and $52 for 4-courses) was quite the attractive draw. While Dolce Vita isn't my favourite Italian restaurant by any measure, I would admit that the set lunch was one of the most value-for-money around.

The highlight of the appetizer courses, the Vellutata di Funghi, was the house's signature wild mushroom veloute, earthy, thick and creamy with lashings of parmesan crumble. Wonderfully comforting and a must-try.


The Orecchiette alla Norcina was our pick of the pasta courses for its delicate flavours. An Umbria-style pork sausage ragout, this was dotted with summer black truffle and topped with pecorino shavings.

I'm a big big sucker for risotto, but I wasn't a fan of the Pumpkin Risotto, And while I liked the sauteed prawn dice freckled through, I thought the addition of ginger oil a step too far, which heat was a jarringly stark contrast to the subtle sweetness of the pumpkin and shrimp.

We had one of every protein in the meat course; the Filetto di Salmone (supplement $10) was a poached salmon fillet crisped up on the skin for a textural juxtaposition, and sided by broccoli, vanilla parsnip coulis, and a blood orange vinaigrette. A well-balanced dish with delightfully light, fruity notes.

The Pollo, was well-executed. Organic chicken breast was seasoned with mustard seed for a mellow bite, and served alongside juicy mushroomsm, smooth mash and a rich shallot jus

The Controfiletto di Manzo (supplement $10) was a perfectly medium grass-fed sirloin, heady with a smoky char, and topped with capperata, green leaves and rubra sauce.

We also ordered a few items off the ala carte menu, for sharing, and the Prosciutto di Parma ($26) with homemade grissini and piadina emiliana flatbread was a reliable failsafe.

We also shared a cheese plate of creamy Taleggio ($22), which soft pungent notes were picked up by the tart of homemade marmalade and fruit bread.

The Crema di Cavolfiore ($20) of cauliflower soup, creamy and smooth, was speckled with cauliflower florets and a seared Hokkaido scallop dusted with black truffle powder.

The Roasted Barramundi Fillet ($46) with scapece zucchini, homemade ricotta, and mussels sounded much better on paper than it actually turned out. It was a middling, forgettable dish. The salmon on the set lunch menu would have been a far more worthwhile option.

Freshly baked bread, crusty and toasty, paired with softened butter. EVOO and balsamic are available too, feel free to ask for that.


Dolce Vita
5 Raffles Ave
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Tel: 6885 3500
Open daily from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Website

2.10.17

Kao Chi, Taipei

Everyone knows about Din Tai Fung. The world renowned, Michelin-starred international-chain restaurant synonymous with xiao3 long2 bao1 draws the tourist horde to its ten stores throughout Taipei city. But the Taiwanese know Din Tai Fung isn't the exclusive paragon for xiao long bao. Ask any local, and they'll direct you to a Kao Chi chain restaurant instead.

Kao3 Chi1, with an even more enduring legacy than Din Tai Fung, is the less touristy, less commercial, but just as exceptional, compeer to Din Tai Fung. The restaurant may be less prominent than DTF, but the Shanghainese fare is no mousy imitation of its world-famous counterpart.

Just about every one of its four branches does a roaring business, largely sustained by the local populace. Obviously, reservations are a must. Or be prepared to wait in line for an hour or so.

The Xiao Long Bao (NT$220), or soup dumpling, was exquisitely nuanced. The skin is a smidge thicker than DTF's standard, but it was still thin enough to be toothsome. The soup and pork mince was more delicate as well, and I liked that restrain and polish.

The highlight, and must-try, was the Sheng1 Jian1 Bao1 (NT$220) or pan-fried pork buns. Thick flour buns stuffed with a delicious pork mince steamed to fluffy perfection, and given a toasty crunch on the bum with a pre-heated skillet pan.

The restaurant for reference.


Kao Chi
#B2 Eslite Spectrum Songyan
No. 88 Yanchang Road, Xinyi District
Taipei
Taiwan 110
Tel: +886 2 6639 6589
Open daily from 11am to 10pm
Website

1.10.17

Korean-Style Roasted Cauliflower

This is a Korean take on roasted cauliflower. Using a base of gochujang and lashings of sesame oil, I made this a sweet-spicy nibbler that's great for healthy snacking. But because it's coated in a thick emulsion, you'll need to roast this at a lower temperature of 190C (400F) to ensure it doesn't burn.

Chunk it up with fried tofu, or an egg, like I did here.


Ingredients (feeds 4):
3 heads cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tbsp canola oil for pre-oiling the roasting pan
sesame seeds or furikake for garnishing
optional: fried egg

Marinade:
3 tbsp guk kanjang (switch it with Chinese light soy in a pinch)
5 tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
1 tsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp Korean sesame oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp grated ginger


Directions:
1) Mix the marinade.

2) Toss the cauliflower in the marinade.

3) Spread it out in a pre-oiled roasting tin, and roast for 40 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 190C, tossing it all at 15-minute intervals. At the 35-minute mark, turn up the oven to 240C and roast it for 3-5 minutes for a slight charring.

4) Serve with a liberal sprinkling of sesame seeds or furikake like I did here.


29.9.17

Elixir Health Pot (Wu Lao Guo), Taipei

There's something about being Chinese and loving steamboat. Just look at the plethora of steamboat restaurants in Singapore.

The Taiwanese are the same. There's a hot pot (that's what the Taiwanese call steamboat) restaurant along every street, and one that's open 24/7 in every district.

Elixir Healthpot is arguably the best steamboat joint in Taipei. Also known as Wu2 Lao3 Guo1, which direct translation is "never old pot", this chain restaurant aims to keep diners in the pink glow of youthfulness with their collagen rich broths and healthful stock bases.

Prices are on the premium end, but the soups are nuanced, free from artificial flavouring, and seasoned naturally with the multitude of herbs and spices simmered into them. Folks used to and/or preferring the fiery punchiness of Hai Di Lao's steamboat might find this a tad insipid, but I like my flavours light and delicate so this was right up my alley. Ingredients are sparkling fresh as well, and for that alone, I'd gladly pay up.

Service was faultless as well. Not with the type of frills Hai Di Lao offers, but the staff were attentive but not intrusive, and winsomely gracious.

Notwithstanding that there's about 5 branches of this insanely popular restaurant scattered all over Taipei, reservations are a must. We made a reservation for us both one day in advance, and only managed to wrangle a midnight seating.

We had the Twin Pot (NT$180) with the Ginseng-Infused Creamy Tofu Soup (NT$179) and Spicy Wulao Signature Flavour (NT$159). Both were rich in depth and flush with all the good wholesome stuff that nourishes. The tofu broth was milky with a blend of pork and chicken bones, and brewed with jujubes, shell longans, white sesame, angelica root, dangshen root, wolfberries and licorice. The spicy concoction was moderately so, despite the lashings of Sichuan peppercorns. Redolent with star anise, cloves, cayenne pepper and galangal, this was heady but nuanced.

The Seafood Choice (NT$279)  was a mixed platter of tiger prawns and sliced fish, swimmingly fresh and fleshy.

We loved the Prime USDA Beef (NT$298), wonderfully marbled and sumptuously luscious.

The Assorted Meatball Platter (NT$248) with two each of the fishballs, beef balls, squid balls, and shrimp balls, all handmade, was a mixed bag. The fishballs and shrimp balls were excellent, but the beef balls were laced with coriander leaves, and the squid balls a smidge fishy.

The complimentary finisher of lime sorbet was excellent as a palate cleanser. So refreshing and tart.

The restaurant facade for reference. The Taiwanese don't seem to sleep; and they seem to be able to eat 24/7! How on earth do they stay so skinny?!?!?!?!!


Wulao Guo (Elixir Health Pot)
No. 143, Section 3, Civic Boulevard, Zhongshan District, Taipei
Taiwan 104
Tel: 02 2731 7928
Open daily from 11.30am to 2am
Website

27.9.17

Chuncheon Dak-Galbi (Korean Chuncheon-style Stir Fried Chicken)

This is another type of bokkeum, or stir-fry, styled after the Chuncheon city where the dish was born and made popular. The distinctive feature of this dish is the addition of Korean curry powder and garam masala to the gochujang-centric marinade.

And like all stir-fries, this is easy to prep and even quicker to whip up. Perfect for a week-night dinner for busy folks working full-time.


Ingredients (feeds 4):
700 gm chicken fillet, diced to 1" cubes
1 head cabbage, cut roughly (about 10 cups unpacked)
10 tteokbokki, diced to 1/2" cubes, pre-cooked in salted boiling water for 4 minutes.
2 cups sweet potatoes, diced to 1/2" cubes
4 cups white button mushrooms, sliced
1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup green onions, sliced to 1.5" lengths
6 perilla leaves, sliced to thin strips
2 tsp canola oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp sesame seeds

Marinade:
4 tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
3.5 tbsp gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)
3 tbsp guk kanjang (Korean soy sauce)
4 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp garam masala
5 dashes ground black pepper
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp maesil syrup
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp grated ginger


Directions:
1) Mix marinade.

2) Toss the marinade with the chicken, leave aside, covered, for at least 1 hour.

3) Fry onions in canola-sesame oil mix in pre-heated pan on medium-high heat, about 3 minutes until translucent.

4) Add mushrooms, and sweat them till water released is reduced by half.

5) Add sweet potatoes. Fry 1 minute.

6) Add chicken, fry 2 minutes.

7) Add cabbage, toss till wilted, about 3 minutes. Cover with lid, if needed to move the wilting process along.

8) Add tteokbokki, toss through, about 2 minutes.

9) Add spring onions and perilla leaves, toss through.

10) Garnish with sesame seeds, and serve.



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