Friday, 21 February 2014

Teresa's Restaurant


No. 146-2, Wufu 4th Rd, Yancheng Dist


English friendly: yes
vegetarian friendly: yes
average cost: 200-300NTD

The most interesting part of this exotic Spanish/ethnic restaurant storefront is their incredible door:

Seriously though, where did they get that? Exquisite.

This was advertised to me as a Spanish restaurant, but as you can see here they have LOTS of foreign food--Italian, American, Mexican, everything. There is definitely something for everyone, especially because their menu is gigantic. The whole last half of it is a very enticing (and cheap!) selection of cocktails and wines and things. ONE FUN EVENING IN THE MAKING.

I've forgotten the names of everything we ordered by now, so I'll just sort of describe it. This, as you can probably tell, is a squid and rice thing with black "squid ink" sauce. I feel like the majority of the options in this restaurant are Western variations on rice (and/or meat), though I do think I saw some pasta options. Anyway. I'm not a huge fan of rice, but I liked this. The squid was chewy, and sooo adorable, and the sauce was subtly seafoody and good.

And here we have brown rice with chorizo. Oh man, it was GOOD. A little plain, but the Spanish sausage flavor was excellent.

THIS, I think, is pork (??? but actually I've completely forgotten the type of meat) wrapped in bacon, topped with onions and green peppers and paired with a thin tomatoey sauce. It was perfectly fine! I'm not really into bacon though (I kno rite why am I even here), and I thought the meat in the middle could have been a lot more tender, or at least... interesting.

This is supposedly potatoes au gratin, but I was unconvinced. It was more like plain slices of potato covered in cheese and baked. The sauce was not nearly saucy enough, and the potatoes should have been sliced a lot more thinly (in my inexpert opinion). No one at the table really liked it. 

I will say, though, that the cheese did not suck. It seems hard for restaurants to find good cheese in Kaohsiung, so this is a great accomplishment.

The cheese REALLY featured in this guy, the cheese-filled empanadas off of the extensive vegetarian options page. I guess I sort of forgot what empanadas are, because I wasn't expecting this, but it was a happy surprise. EVERYONE at the table liked these.

They aren't completely filled with cheese (a good thing, I think we can agree), but there was definitely enough. The perfect amount, even. The crust was light and flaky, and the cheese was gooey and delicious. Wonderful.

So to sum up, this is a good place. It's not too expensive, though each plate is a little on the small side (we had five for three people and it was just about right), and it's lovely to have all those cheap drink options! (I'm not sure if they are good but whatever it's alcohol.) The food was definitely edible, even if it didn't exactly suit my tastes; I think it quite likely that it will suit yours!


Xinglong House


No. 186, Liuhe 2nd Rd, Qianjin Dist


English friendly: no
vegetarian friendly: yes
average cost: 25-50NTD

Taiwanese breakfast doesn't get better than this.

All you have to do is get yourself up before 10:00am in the morning, and stand in that huge line there.

You'll also have to go through the process of ordering, which can be a little stressful if there are a lot of people (there will be) and you don't speak Chinese. Luckily most of the stuff is laid out on the counter and you can just point at what looks good--everything's really cheap, so the risk is minimal.

And everything's really good, too! They've got your traditional spread of breakfast foods: egg pancakes, potstickers, sweet buns, breakfast sandwiches, radish cake, etc., plus a nice wide selection of drinks.

However, this place is MOST famous for its unique breakfast soup dumplings, pictured above. They are more like soup buns than soup dumplings, which brings them nicely over into the breakfast category. 

They even provide a helpful illustrated guide on how to eat them (take a bite and spoon "hot" sauce--it's really not that hot, don't worry--into them), which I followed to the letter with very positive results.

And here, the money shot! The filling was deliciously meaty and cabbagey. What's more, on the first bite the soup juices BURST out and all over my hands, just like a proper soup dumpling.

In a fit of inspiration I ordered the "salty soymilk", which came out in a big bowl and looked like this. (The normal soymilk also came in a bowl, oddly enough.) It had an oddly sour taste, and whatever else they put in it also caused a disconcerting curdling effect on the surface. That being said, I kind of liked it! I mean, I hated it at first, but it grew on me very quickly. Still, I would only recommend this for the more adventurous sorts.

We also got this 燒餅 (fried pancake), which came with an omelette AND a 油條 (our friend the Taiwanese churro) inside--another inventive creation you will only find here. IT. WAS. DELICIOUS. The outer pancakeish wrapping (the actual 燒餅) was the best incarnation of 燒餅 I have EVER had. The outside was crispy, and the inside was steamy soft and super flaky, with layer upon layer upon layer of goodness like a Pillsbury biscuit. The egg was good, and the 油條 was a nice crispy touch. Again, delicious.

In conclusion, definitely come here! I don't even like Taiwanese breakfast--I think I've had it in Kaohsiung a total of two or three times--and I loved this. The perfect mix of local flavor and tasty ingenuity.


Monday, 10 February 2014

Xi'an Noodle House


No. 115, Shengli Rd, Zuoying Dist


English friendly: no
vegetarian friendly: yes
average cost: 50-150NTD

You might think I have already eaten every type of noodle sold in this city. Well, you are wrong! Or at least, you were wrong until last Sunday.

The Xi'an Noodle House is hidden away beside the giant parking lot off of Lotus Pond. It is thus the perfect destination for those who would like to enjoy an exotic Chinese lunch followed by a nice stroll around the lake etc. etc. There were lots and lots of people here that afternoon, all of them probably having had that very same idea.

The menu is concise and enticing. They have two main choices for noodles: 麵疙瘩, the "goosebumps noodlestuff" I discovered (to my delight) last year, and 皮帶麵, the new form of noodlestuff you are about to discover in a second. You can get these noodles in a variety of ways, most of them mysterious to me. They also have fried rice and soup, but, like, why?

Neither of us ordered this, but they accidentally sent it to our table so I took a picture of it before we sent it back. I do believe this is 哨子麵 or "whistle noodles", so named for the chopped meat and vegetable salsa-stuff you see on top. They also accidentally gave us a plate of noodles covered (and I do mean covered!) in scrambled egg and tomato, which is why I'm saying this place is vegetarian friendly. I don't know what it was, but it looked delicious.

But of course the whole reason I came here was for this: 皮帶麵, or "belt" noodles, with beef in soup. The origin of the name should be pretty obvious...

 ...Just look at that! Magnificent. These noodles were exactly as wide as I hoped they would be--and really, I think this is the perfect width for noodles--but they were a little too thick for my tastes. As my friend remarked, it really didn't feel like eating noodles anymore. Though they were most definitely made in-house, the texture was a bit lacking. I think being flatter would have helped this. Or maybe I just wished they came fried, instead of in soup.

The soup itself was good! (It could have been saltier, but I've pretty much given up expressing this viewpoint by now...) And the beef was absolutely delicious. Really, remarkably so. Each chuck, except the random chunk of tendon that I couldn't bite through no matter how hard I tried, was completely melt-in-your-mouth bursting with soupy flavor. (The soup was a little bland, but still.)

In conclusion, this place was cool! It was nice to have a taste of that northern Chinese flavor--it is pretty exotic in these parts. I would like to go back soon and try their other dishes!


Seoul Korean Cafeteria


No. 27, Linquan St, Lingya Dist


English friendly: no
vegetarian friendly: yes
average cost: 150-250NTD

Another Korean cafeteria! At least no one can accuse me of being inconsistent.

You can tell from the menu/placemat paper that this place isn't nearly as classy as the other one. It is also a great deal cheaper. It offers pretty much the standard spread of Korean fare: BBQ, hot stuff in a bowl, noodles, etc. as well as various combinations of kimchi, pancake, and other things. Their alcohol selection is not very exciting, but they do have soju (like Korean sake, but made from sweet potatoes). Somewhat relatedly, I am no longer a fan of soju.

We had seven people in our party so we got a giant spread (9?!?) of free appetizers. I'm not sure how they calculated that. Unfortunately, I only tasted one or two of them because the people sitting across, diagonally across, and to the right of me all ordered Korean BBQ and their giant personal burners effectively walled me up in the corner, away from everybody else/the appetizers. It was such an odd problem to have. Their tables could stand to be a little larger, or their burners a little smaller...


I did get this guy dispatched to my burner fortress. Potatoes in a sweet sticky sauce. It tasted like... potatoes in a sweet sticky sauce. Why would you do that? I mean, it was fine, but... why?

I ordered one of my favorites, 炸醬麵 or "fried sauce noodles." I guess Korea has this dish too. Well, maybe that's what that means. It was definitely different than the 炸醬麵 I've had before. For one it came out looking all dark and reddish like that. Those huge chunks of jelly-like stuff turned out not to be tofu, or meat, or even congealed blood like I was suspecting...  Radishes! Who would have known?

When I mixed it all up it looked like this. Mmmmmm, right? Well, not so much. It certainly photographed nicely, but the taste was extremely 'eh'. It was slightly sweet, what with the random radishes and all, but mostly just bland. The noodles seemed handmade, but had no flavor or texture to them, so WHAT DOES IT EVEN MATTER I ask you. Sigh. An utterly forgettable dish, all the more of a disappointment because it looked so yummy.

We also got this kimchi pork thing! It was pretty good, but the kimchi was not at all on my level. Ahem. I would consider myself a great connoisseur of painfully pungent kimchi and this... It looks a LOT spicier than it tasted.

Really, it barely registered as spicy at all.

Like I said, most of my friends ended up going for beef or pork BBQ. Their giant burners were topped with a flat plate of this...

...And turned it into something like this! It seemed a bit on the small side, as a serving, but they all seemed pretty pleased with it.

In conclusion, this Korean place is cheaper--and you always get what you pay for. Honestly, I really wasn't all that impressed. But don't take MY word for it...


Monday, 3 February 2014

Harmony Korean Cafeteria


2nd floor, No. 408, Fuguo Rd, Zuoying Dist


English friendly: yes
vegetarian friendly: yes
average cost: 250-350NTD

Someone walked out of this restaurant right as I was taking this picture...

And now here he is on my blog! Hello, sir. I hope you've enjoyed your first steps into the world of internet celebrity.

This Korean restaurant is hidden away on the second floor of a row of restaurants and bubble tea shops in the super hip Kaohsiung Arena district. You have to go up this flight of stairs to get there, if you can find the stairs in the first place. I wish you luck!

Can you believe I hadn't been to a Korean restaurant in Kaohsiung until last night? There aren't many in this city, and I hear that most of them aren't very good... Luckily I made the right choice in coming here to break my fast. This place was awesome!

It's a little on the expensive side, as you can tell from the high-quality texture of their menu paper. The menu is pretty extensive, but in a good way. It has pictures in it, too (not pictured here).

Each table gets a free spread of appetizers, which you can refill as MANY times as you WANT, if you want. These guys were alright! The pickled radish and cucumber with strange ketchupy sauce in the front were not my favorites, because--despite all appearances--they had no spicy Korean kimchi punch. That is, they were Korean food for Taiwanese tastebuds. Alas. I am so long-suffering.

The bean sprouts in the upper right were crispy, crunchy and addictive though, and the stinky tofu in the upper left was innnnnn-credible. It wasn't really stinky, it just had that nice salty "pungent French cheese" flavor to it. The tofu itself was chewy, and the outside was crisp. Awesome.

These are in fact two different drinks, though they look exactly the same. The drink on the left is my alcoholic cider thing, and the drink on the right is my friend's alcoholic yogurt thing (?!?). I really liked mine: it was basically slightly milky fruity sweetness, with a touch of hard liquor, cut with a hint of carbonation. My friend's was the same except it had an extra hint of chalky yogurt taste, which is great if you're into that... He seemed to like it, anyway. Either way, it was definitely COOL to have these exotic Korean drinks available!

Aaaaaaaaaa!!! I ordered the fried 年糕 dish, which also included instant noodles, fishcakes, tofu, cabbage, and an egg, topped with a lovely thick, sweet, slightly spicy sauce and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. 年糕, for those of you who don't know, is our best friend noodlestuff in yet another new and exciting form: they're the cylinders you see in the photo above. And they were awesome! They arrived perfectly cooked, soft and slightly chewy all the way through, not hard in the middle like when I make them myself sometimes. (Surprise everybody, I am a terrible cook.)

Here's another photo, because this guy was SOOO delicious. The noodles may have been the prepackaged kind, but they were also perfectly cooked and completely delicious. Which makes sense, because Korean instant noodles are famous in Asia for somehow being... actually incredibly good. I don't know how they do it, but really; this is no Walmart instant ramen we're talking about here. These particular noodles had a really nice heft to them, and they soaked up the sauce in the most sinful way.

Everything else in this pot was also smothered in sauce and totally delicious. It was also a LOT. We ordered three dishes for two people, thinking there wouldn't be enough, but I regret that decision very much (and so does my wallet).

My friend got this chicken and 冬粉 (rice noodles) thing, which came out looking a lot more like something you'd get in southern China than Korea--but then again I've never been to Korea, so what do I know. I just assume everything they eat there is bright red and kind of sticky.

The noodles were good though! I can confirm that much.

We finished our meal with this completely unnecessary seafood kimchi pancake. I was already stuffed at this point, but I just couldn't stop myself from devouring it (handily). It was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, absolutely stuffed with savory seafood and suffused with delicious oils. Oh man. Oh man oh man.

Sooo, even though I had a little trouble moving after this meal, looking back I have only the happiest of memories. You won't regret going here, really. It's a little on the expensive side (especially if you order too much), but the atmosphere and food is all of very high quality, so you really feel like you're getting your money's worth.


Thursday, 23 January 2014

Thai House Thai Cuisine


No. 199, Zhonghua 3rd Rd, Qianjin Dist


English friendly: yes
vegetarian friendly: yes
average cost: 200-300NTD

I'd like to say a little something about this restaurant here, but all I can think of is, "It's the Thai place right by my house." 

And if I keep saying that restaurants are right by my house, eventually someone is going to figure out where I live... Let's look at the menu!

It's English friendly, and even has some pictures, but loses points for being overwhelmingly massive. Each dish is about 100NTD or so, which makes this place seem like a pretty cheap lunch option, until you realize that the dishes are so small you have to get at least two per person.

They serve you rice in fancy beaten silver pots though. The whole atmosphere is pretty classy, actually, though when we were there (lunch on a Saturday) it was filled with people (some of them screaming children) and sort of lost that feel.

We got tamarind juice to drink, and it was really interesting! Nicely sweet with a unique, nutty aftertaste. I liked it!

Here we have some sort of garlicky chicken over cabbage. The skin was well-cooked, the meat was tender, and all of it was fairly bursting with flavor. Plus it came with a flower!

This here is 山蘇, a plant used often in some Taiwanese aboriginal cuisines. It was good, certainly, but just because it was so oily and garlicky; as to whether the plant itself is actually good or not, I'm guessing not, or else they wouldn't have had to go to so much trouble to dress it up.

Here we have green papaya salad, with peanuts and a weird purple green bean thing you can't see in this picture (and flower). After I ordered this I was informed by my lunch partner that green papaya is widely known to have breast enlarging effects, and that is one of the reasons Vietnamese and Thai women have such (comparatively) large breasts, because they eat lots of green papaya when they're growing up. ...I am skeptical about all of these statements.

The salad was great though! Crisp and tangy, very refreshing. And of course I love anything with peanuts sprinkled on top of it.

And finally we have a tofu vegetable soup. It was basically exactly as pictured here, with no strong flavor besides vegetables and soft tofu. Good, but not a knockout.

I think I sort of messed up the ordering this time (I mean, we didn't even get any greasy noodles or anything...), so I'm basing my judgement on the last time I ate here too. Ahem. In conclusion, this place has pretty delicious Thai food and is not too expensive, depending on what you order. It is a solid choice for lunch or even dinner, if you're not looking to really impress someone.


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Master Flavor Ginger Duck


No. 172, Zhongxin Rd, Zuoying Dist


English friendly: no
vegetarian friendly: no
average cost: 300-400NTD

Winter is coming, or has already come, or will never come, or something, so it's a good time to get yourself some ginger duck hot pot.

This particular flavor of hot pot restaurant is ONLY available in the quote-unquote winter; in the summer they close up shop and do something else. Though you might see a lot of 薑母鴨 places around if you start looking for it, THIS particular place is the best. Or so I am told.

No matter how many people you have, you'll end up paying 280NTD for the ginger duck soup base, which comes with some ginger and some duck already in it, then however much extra for whatever else you want to put in.

I originally thought the 鴨佛 (duck Buddha) option second from the left was another, possibly vegetarian, soup option, but it turns out to mean duck testicles. Ummm. Some other things you can put in your hot pot include duck intenstines, duck heart, duck tendon, duck liver, duck blood, three varieties of mushroom, and two varieties of tofu.

We each got a plate of 麵線 as an appetizer, and boy am I glad I did! This kind of 麵線 you can ONLY get at this restaurant, or so my dinner partner informed me. To be fair, I have never had tasty 麵線 before now. They were soft and fine like extra-fine angel hair pasta, and didn't have that cheap powdery feeling that most 麵線 seem to have (though perhaps this was because they weren't in soup). The sauce was super garlicky and flavorful. Delicious.

Our soup base came to us with the tofu skin, needle mushrooms, and duck blood we'd ordered already stewing and steaming away.

The soup itself is an exquisite broth of meaty duck flavor and intensely warming ginger. It is the perfect thing for a cold quote-unquote winter evening, and I was slurping it up all night. Under the aegis of unlimited soup refills.

...Here is the congealed duck blood, since you can't see it in the first picture. I am not a great connoisseur of duck blood, so I cannot say if this incarnation was especially good or what, but there was nothing overtly objectionable about it. Even the best duck blood (or so I am told) has a weird, "congealed blood" mouthfeel, and this was no exception. The texture is sort of indescribable, though this blog calls it "unsettling yet provocative, both alien and comforting." I guess I'll go with that. Not bad!

Anyway. The key to your ginger duck dining experience is this special sauce right here. The waitress said it was made with 豆腐乳, which Wikipedia informs us can also be called "fermented bean curd, sufu, tofu cheese, or preserved tofu." Tofu cheese. It made everything delicious, especially the tofu skin from above because it soaked it up like a sponge.

Our more time sensitive ingredients came separately, so that we might cook them hot pot style, according to our own schedule. This here is the duck heart (top), liver (middle), tendon (bottom) special platter, which at three-for-the-price-of-two saves you a tidy 50NTD.

The tendon was really interesting, and quite tasty, and I was also a big fan of the heart. They both tasted basically like extra tough muscle, and the soup+sauce gave them a really nice flavor. The liver tasted pretty much like liver, which is fine. I don't think anyone really likes liver; at least none of my Taiwanese friends do. Every time I ask they give me a lecture about how Taiwan used to be really poor, so eating every part of the animal is a cultural thing as much as (or perhaps more than...) a culinary thing.

We also got cabbage. I don't know WHY I took a picture of the cabbage, or why I'm now posting it for all to see, or especially why I am going to end this restaurant review with it, but there you go.

I really, really enjoyed this meal, and I didn't even have beer. (They do have Taiwan beer available, if you're in the mood.) You may have noticed that as a general rule I sort of hate hot pot, and am not a huge fan of meat or other animal bodily parts either--all that being said, I thought this was great! Master Flavor Ginger Duck offers a special, delicious dining experience. I definitely recommend you try it while you still can. And bring some friends! The more people you have, the cheaper it is!