Friday, November 30, 2007

Good Eats in Taipei (Part 1 of 4; The Taipei Experience)

It's my first time to visit one of Asia's bustling cities, TAIPEI. Although the trip was ultimately work related, it still gave me a chance to explore some of the city's wonders. In 4 days, the city left a remarkable impression in me. It was indeed an unforgettable taste of a Taiwanese life! There are so much to share and blog about. It's an experience filled with historical discoveries, real surprises and distinctive adventures.
With that, this all about Taipei Post will be divided into 4 parts:
Part 1 - Good Eats in Taipei

Part 2 - Taiwan International Food Show

Part 3 - Going Around Taipei: The Must See

Part 4 - Shopping in Taipei


For now I'll let you have a taste of the first installment, the delightful Taiwanese Cuisine and the good eats Taipei can offer. In the entire duration of the trip, there was no meal occasion that my colleague and I did not enjoy. Every food that got into our palate deserved a pleasing nod or that popular Japanese sensory gesture, OISHI (masarap, delicious)! I've read from one Taiwanese Blog, that food courts in Taipei have great food finds as well. So off in our first day, we tried the FOOD COURT Cuisine. Opportunely, my first official food in Taipei did not fail me. It's a typical Chinese Bento Box that's affordable, filling and tasty (photo below). What a good way to welcome a Pinoy Tourist! Further I came to know that indeed Food Court Meals in Taipei are not mere so so. Some are treasures underground.

Chinese Bento - NT$135 (P180)


Dumpling Noodles - NT$110 (P146); Generally, clean, non-descript soup. This noodle soup showed us how good the texture of the noodles in Taiwan can be. Firm but enjoyably chewy.

Most Food Courts in Taipei boast of an enormous selection of baked goods. In Sogo Department Store for instance, you would feast on the inviting showcase and aroma of sumptuous cakes, pastries, cookies and a lot more. Just a mere peek from the chiller will make you salivate already. What's more interesting is the design of the cakes. Oh, I love to have a slice of this so cute Hello Kitty Cakes! But a part of me also wants to keep it whole for the sheer delight of its beauty.




Just like in Japan, LUNCH BOX is also popular here. A complete meal usually comes in attractive paper box. What's important to note, is that the food packed inside is equally appetizing as the design of the box outside. Although not visually clear from the photo, the print on this box states delicious, healthy, fresh, natural! This gained Taipei an initial thumbs up from me. How I wish, the Philippines will slowly veer away from using styro and plastics. It's but high time for us to be more eco-friendly similar to what our neighboring countries are doing.





What's a food trip in Taipei without dropping by at the famous DIN TAI FUNG?! This Dimsum Restaurant has its own share of media hype and travel raves. Thus, I must not leave Taipei without trying its food and discovering its secrets myself. Luckily, one of their branches is near our hotel (Fuxing). So we made one of our nights, a Din Tai Fung Night. To maximize this great dimsum experience, we tried some of the finests in their menu - Steamed Pork Dumplings, Steamed Vegetables and Pork Dumplings and Braised Beef Noodles. I must admit that the dinner proved the restaurant's worth on all the claims and highly rated food reviews. The steamed pork dumplings alone is second to none. I haven't tried anything like it before. There's this characteristic flavor that the soup gives together with the overall succulent bite that lingers through your palate. It's a complete dimsum experience in all its authenticity.





Steamed Pork Dumplings (a natural winner, already good as is)

Steamed Vegetables and Pork Dumplings (another must try, chunky and juicy, best when dipped in soy-vinegar)









Braised Beef Noodles (a little spicy, quite fatty but juicy, flavoursome, worthy enough to be in Din Tai Fung's Finest Cuisine list)




There are two things Taiwanese love to do: shopping and eating. With no surprise, I lost count on how many night markets and shopping malls can be found in Taipei alone. Most Taiwanese flock to the Market not only to shop but more importantly to find great foods as well. Thus, it's not difficult to replenish that much needed energy whenever you do your shopping. Among the NIGHT MARKETS, the largest and the most popular in Taipei is the Shilin Night Market. There's a separate hall in this area that is largely dedicated for foods. The alleys can be easily filled with hungry mouths to feed, be it locals or wandering tourists. Different smells migrate from one corner to another, from one food stall to the next. Simply astonishing!

Outside the hall, there are people showing placards to sell foods. Isn't that a sample of Taiwanese's hard selling technique?


Another first that I saw in Shilin Night Market, is this Fruit Cart selling grilled and sugar glazed strawberries and cherry tomatoes. The fruits' inherent sweet and pleasant aroma is enough reason already to stop by at this cart.






We were also blessed to be invited by an industry colleague to partake in a traditional Taiwanese Dinner. This occasion introduced me to the authentic TAIWANESE CUISINE. Generally, I noticed that Taiwanese Cuisine is abundant in seafoods and vegetables. In particular, seaweeds, tofu and fish. Suffice it to say, the world renowned national dish is called "stinky tofu". Although taiwanese cuisine is a product of many influences, basically it's a steaming pot of delicious flavor notes.


To add more zest to this dining experience, we did not resist trying their traditional drinks as well, the Taiwan Beer and the Plum Juice. However, since I have very limited alcohol threshold, I can hardly say how different their beer was against ours. For the Plum Juice, I gave it a score of 5 out of 5. According to the Taiwanese, this is best consumed after drinking a beer. Probably because it's refreshing and the juicy, sweet and sour characters of the plum juice wash out some bitter notes left by the alcohol. As for me, it's sufficient to replace water on that dinner occasion.

From our bountiful table, we feast on the following dishes...

Steamed Native Chicken with Chili Sauce, taste is similar to our very own native chicken. Because it's believed to be flavorful, there's not much spices or flavourings added into it. It's plain salt that I noted. Fatty, juicy and a little tough in texture.


Sesame Noodles, comparable to our local Misua only the noodle strand is slightly thicker and more firm. This is tasty! A second serving is almost necessary.

Vegetables with some Internal Parts of Chicken, sauted and saucy.

Oysters with Tofu, another flavorful dish. This is really lip-smacking!. The spicy note and the coriander gave an exciting kick to its overall acceptance.


Bamboo Shoots cooked the Bulalo (BoneMarrow) way, another winning dish in itself. The bamboo shoots is cooked just right, tender in bite and served in interesting cut size.


Steamed Fish, this is a typical chinese way of cooking a fish. Very clean in taste, soft and succulent.

Stinky Tofu (cooked in soup), this is just another way of cooking the stinky tofu. It can also be barbequed or fried (normally sold in night markets or streets). When the tofu is cooked in soup, the stinky smell is somehow lessened. This one, I can consume without closing my nose. Though the stinky smell is overpowering, you can hardly taste the off note. Without that differentiating smell, it's the same tofu dish we have in the Philippines.


Beef Hot Pot, although it's not too visible from the picture, the beef and vegetables here were blackened. The soup is warming and tastes like "sibut" (chinese herbs). Also acceptable, only the black vegetables and meat are a bit different (bizarre).



The newest and intriguing dining place in Taipei that is becoming more and more popular these days is the TOILET RESTAURANT. I saw it featured in one of the local news in the Philippines prior to my trip in Taipei. Thus, it certainly made its way to the must see list. Contrary to my initial notion that it might be "yucky" to try, it turned out to be just another out of the ordinary experience. I didn't find dining here disgusting nor nauseating. Simply, the ambiance is just DIFFERENT. The food is like any of those you find in typical restaurants. On the whole, it's the unique experience you'll come here for. If diners will be captured by the taste of the food the restaurant offers, it'll encourage a consistent following. Otherwise, those into a more adventurous feel are the ones who'll likely frequent this spot.





These are Shaved Ice flavored with Ice Cream and toppings placed in a ceramic, "bed pan" inspired serving dish. This is Taiwan's version of their Halo-Halo. But ours is still a lot better. The photo above is Strawberry Flavor, below is Chocolate. Both generously topped with sweet biscuits, raisins, cereals, red beans, chocolate bits, wafer sticks, mongo beans, marshmallows and other fruits. Did the shape of the soft served Ice Cream remind you of something?
With only limited time for such a wealthy culinary haven that is Taipei, I'm already thankful for a slice of a superb Taiwanese Cuisine.

(watch out for the other 3 installments related to this post...)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

OFF to another Fascinating ASIAN City

In the coming days, I'll be exploring another vibrant city in Asia. I'm sure it'll make a great subject for posting. I've already read a lot of good reviews of this industrialized city. Now is my time to discover it. Thus, no post will be made until I get back by end of this month.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Martabak Manis

I've mentioned in my previous post on Martabak Cafe, that I had mixed evaluations of their Choco Cheese Martabak. Incidentally, I find the Pancake base too much in carbonate taste. Just over that it already elicited an off trace. In my quest to identify where that off note is coming from, I tried to make my own Martabak Manis at home. Good thing an Indonesian colleague generously gave me a recipe to work on. However, it did not turn out as simple as I expected it to be.

Nonetheless, after some trial and error I finally made a version that suited our palate (at least something that my family and I will enjoy for breakfast :-)). When I perused the recipe, it made my hunch more clear that the off note came from too much Baking Powder. I cannot think of any other source. (Feel free to share if you consider otherwise). From my hands-on Martabak experience, the challenge really is to come up with a good pancake base. Tastewise, it should have clean, pleasant notes. Also, it should be golden brown in color. Thus, it's important to keep the heat low as much as possible to avoid overdoing it. Otherwise, you'll get some burnt note. With regards to the texture, it should be smooth, soft, a little airy and neither chewy nor tough. This is what I find very tricky to make - how to give the batter a good lift when pan fried. In my initial attempt, I got an almost pudding-like texture as a result of this not so nice batter consistency (see photo below).

Unfortunately, I mixed the batter hurriedly that's why I got a lot of unwanted lumps. The liquid portion was also not enough so I adjusted its level in my next trial. What's more, the coconut milk might have been too warm which, inactivated some of the instant yeast. With all the modifications considered, this was how my Martabak Manis recipe finally worked out:

Ingredients:
250 g soft flour / cake flour*

1/4 cup sugar

2 whole eggs (beaten)

1/4 - 1/2 tsp baking powder

400 ml coconut milk**

1 tsp instant dry yeast

1 tsp butter or margarine


Filling:
condensed milk

sliced banana

cheddar cheese (grated)

chocolate vermicellis***


Procedure:

1. Dissolve instant dry yeast in a warm coconut milk. Set aside.

2. Mix flour and sugar in a bowl. Add whole eggs and mix well.

3. Slowly add the liquid ingredients (coconut milk - yeast mixture) into the dry ingredients (flour mix) until a smooth batter consistency is achieved. Allow to rest for 15 - 20 mins.

4. Heat a non-stick pan and brush with butter or margarine. Add approximately 1 cm thick batter and cook until the upper portion shows some holes / bubbles. Flip the pancake to cook the other side.

5. Transfer to a plate and add your desired filling (fruits, nuts, sesame, chocolate, syrups, etc.). Cut the pancake into halves and fold it into sandwich.

* To substitute cake flour, mix 2 tbsps cornstarch into 1 cup of all purpose flour.
** For the coconut milk, you may use either the local brand Peter Paul or the imported Thai brand Pantai, both were good
** Use any type of chocolate other than vermicellis. In this version, I used shavings of ready to eat chocolate (Hershey's and Toblerone)


All in all, it was a challenging and exciting know how of Indonesian way of cooking. Now, we have a new favorite morning treat! This is a natural pleaser! What's even better, we need not go to MOA or any Indonesian Cafe each time we crave for martabak manis. For the moms out there, you can put any of your kids' most love fruit / food as filling. Surely, it'll break the satiation to ordinary Pinoy Pancakes!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

AUTHENTIC ENGLISH PIES

"Authentic English Pies" by Thermos Bakeshop is another recent food finds in Tagaytay. I recall it was featured by one of the leading local newspapers in its Lifestyle section. Definitely, the article stirred some curiosity in me since then. Thus, I never forget to include it in my "must grab food list". Finally, the moment to dig up this divinely delicious goodie has come. Upon reaching the store, its signage clearly stated authentic english pies with three banner flavors to choose from - Chicken Mushroom, Beef Mushroom and Apple. According to them, the best seller is the Chicken Mushroom Pie. Without further hesitation, we tried and savoured all the goodness this flavor has to offer.
Fortunately, it's another true to its claim! I find the blend of chicken and mushroom complementing. The characteristic note of the herbs used is also distinct but it did not come out too greeny. It rather fused nicely with the pie's creamy aftertaste. On the whole, it tasted similar to a good chicken a la king recipe. I think all the pies are fairly priced relative to the serving size and taste. In fact, even the small one is already too filling; good enough to be shared by two. (But of course that still depends on ones appetite and how hungry he was at the time of his purchase).
Chicken Mushroom Pie (small - P65; big - P270)
Beef Mushroom (small - P70; big - P275)
Apple (small - P49; big - P250)

Thermos, being a bakeshop did not limit itself on english pies only. There are other equally appetizing breads available. Chocolate Chip Bread - P160, Ube Ensaymada - P135 and Banana Bread - P180. But I will reserve them for next time so that there are still more to look forward to. By the way, there's also a restaurant - cafe at the back of the store with the same owner. It might also be interesting to try.


Thermos Bakeshop
213 Francisco Road, Tagaytay City
Tel. No. (046) 413-2682, 0920-3000183

ROWENA'S Cafe and its Tarts

Tagaytay boasts not only of superb ambiance and scenery. It is a wealthy pot of great food finds as well. From fresh produce to homemade delicacies along with many delightful restaurants, clearly, it's a foodie haven! And just when we thought, we've already exploited everything there is in Tagaytay, we learned of "another must-try". Rowena's Cafe happened to be in Tagaytay for a long time already but we simply pass by this store whenever we go there. We almost lose a treasure by too familiar a view. Ever since a colleague brought a sample of its Buco Tart in the office, I started to crave for more. So when we had our chance to visit Tagaytay again, we dropped by at the place. We were quite surprised that what looked like a simple "Pasalubong Store" from the outside, transpired into a home of enormous sweet and savory products. As an added bonus, there's also a Cafe inside. Incidentally, Rowena's carry a lot of different food brands other than its own. Literally, there are so many to choose from. I can hardly enumerate all that I saw. But those specific to them are Buco Tart, Apple Tart, Mango Tart, Pineapple Tart, Ube Tart, Egg Tart, Blueberry Cheese Cake, Mango Cheese Cake, Cassava Cake and Ube Espasol.
Among the tarts, it's the Buko Tart that's most saleable. As early as 2 pm, those in boxes were already sold out. There were only two pieces left in the chiller. Probably, just waiting for me huh? Although slightly disappointed at least there's something left for a little bite. Fortunately, it did not fail me. It's yummy just like the first time I tasted it. The coconut is young, velvety and soft. Very nice to the bite! The tart is not bready, it rather prides itself of a creamy overall taste. It's simply flavored with what I will call "second serving".
Next to Buko Tart, Rowena's claimed that it's the Apple Tart that's also popular. Well true enough, it's another winner in itself. With just the right sweetness and the caramelized apple bits filling, it's rightly mouthwatering! The Ube Tart is also generally good however, the ube filling is slightly firm /solid. I would prefer it to be a little gooey for a more enjoyable tang. Anyhow, they can expect me to reserve a box or more of their goodies from now on. I'm also intrigued to try the rest of their offering. I will make a separate post when I did. For now, let's all savor these delectable tarts.

Rowena's
152 Brgy. Francisco, Tagaytay City
Tel No. (046) 860-2481
Mobile No. 0920-9080318

Monday, November 12, 2007

GLOBAL FUN CARNIVAL

Global Fun Carnival is a new attraction in town that brings excitement to everyone from kids and adults alike. It was described from it's website as the first Europen-style Carnival to travel in Asia. Most of the rides here came from Germany and Italy. For those who want to be assured of the safety of all the rides and attractions, you will be pleased to know that they have passed the TUV World Safety Standards and China's Standard Safety Measures. They made sure that all visitors are well informed by this through posters at the entrance booth of each ride. The Carnival is open daily from 4:00 pm onwards, Monday - Friday and 1:00 pm onwards on weekends. The best time to go there is between 4 :00 - 5:00 pm where the sun had already shy away and the crowd has not yet grown too much. More so, the queue is still manageable thus, you can better maximize the "ride all you can" ticket. Incidentally, there's no per ride fee inside the Carnival so it's either you buy an entrance only or ride all you can ticket. The entrance fee is P100 for both kids and adults, any day of the week. Ride all you can ticket costs P250 on Mondays - Thursdays and P300 on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Holidays and the whole month of December 2007. You get a P50 off from ride all you can ticket if you have an SM advantage card. So make sure you bring your card along with a valid picture ID to avail of this privilege. By the way, kids above 2 ft are no longer free of charge.

Aside from rides, there are other attractions inside that require another P60 entrance fee. These are Mortuary, The Lost Pharoah, Carribean Pirates, Jurrasic Park and Transformer. Unfortunately, none of them looked really inviting.

There are also game booths where you can earn stuffed toy prizes. The cost per game is P50.


SOME POPULAR FAMILY AND CHILDREN RIDES:

Mini Octopus; Kids ride the boat all by themselves thus, it sure is a hit to them!


Young Pilot; This is a good family ride where Dad and Son or Mom and Daughter can bond together.

What's a Carnival without a Carousel? And because it houses familiar animal figures, kids will surely enjoy a ride here.


Bumper Car; This guarantees a thrilling, exciting and fun ride. Just be ready for the long queue. Other interesting and must see rides for the kids are the Mini Tram, Mini Helicopter, Mini Swing and Mini Pirate.

ADULT RIDES:

Ranger; a version of Anchor's Away that makes a complete 360 degree turn. Make sure both your heart and stomach are ready for this.

Giant Wheel; Just like the Carousel, a Carnival will not be complete without a Giant Wheel. This is a great ride for groups and families.


Wave Swinger; If you want to experience a real adrenalin rush and a heart pounding trip, this is your kind of ride! Scream all you want, yell all you can! You'll have a similar encounter when you also ride the Flipper.

(If you're interested to learn about the rest of the rides available at the Carnival, click here)

Other must see booths are those that house Balloon Twisting and Face Painting. Kids get their own share of twisted balloons and face paints for free! At around 6 pm, there will be a Magic Show where kids can dig up for some game prizes. Bringing in foods and drinks is not allowed however, there's not much selection of food kiosks inside except for the typical hotdog and burger stands. It's also important to note that the Carnival is heavily pebbled, so small kids should be watched for. If you will manage to maximize the ride all you can ticket and can spend more than 2 hours inside, I'd say Global Fun Carnival is worthy of a visit. Anyway, what's more important is you enjoyed spending time with your family and you all went home happy. In our case, we did so we need not say anything more.


Global Fun Carnival
In between SM Mall of Asia (MOA) and 1 Esplanade
Pasay City
From October 27, 2007 - January 15, 2008