Update 2017: So I ate some more Taiwanese food and made some changes to this post.
Japanese fashion & lifestyle group Urban Research recently did a guide on Taipei – which, not surprisingly, was a better guide to the city than anything that Taiwanese guide-book industry (so ugly, so badly designed, so rambling) has ever produced. It’s a concise guide covering the best places to eat, shop, spa and browse; interspersed with “diaries” from fashionable locals.
I was particularly interested in the food section, as it’s not secret that Taipei (partly due to close ties to Japanese culture from 50+ years of occupation by Imperial Japan) has some of the best and most affordable Japanese outside of the country itself. (Addiction Aquatic Development is my favorite, but there are many others to discover). Many guides written by non-Taiwanese media have a 50 / 50 split between Japanese and Taiwanese (“local”) restaurants. Obviously, the Urban Research guide wasn’t going to list Japanese eateries – so I was curious what spots they’d select. Here were their choices as the best spots to sample Taiwanese cuisine.
I’ve since added some of my personal favorites that weren’t listed in the guide.
• Okay, RAW doesn’t serve Taiwanese food per se, but both RAW, MUME (which just landed a spot on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants) and my persona favorite Gen Creative utilise local produce and ingredients to creative inventive dishes. RAW: was selcted as the fine dining option in the guidebook – definitely no surprise.
• TUA Culture: I absolutely agree with the guidebook on this particular choice; and so glad they included it. What an underrated gem, this place. I fucking love this place: the “nouveau Taiwanese concept”, topped off by French desserts made in-house. Gorgeous interior as well – dark walls, dark wooden tables, vintage furniture, a homey kitchen
RETRO TAIWANESE 台菜
• James Kitchen: Another solid choice: I’ve been taking visitors here for years – they always go nuts for the retro-atmosphere, the quirky owner that comes around to peer at each table from time to time, and the hearty food, which focuses on home-spun fare: radish egg omelettes, fried 油條 with clams, pork lard rice. I used to take people to 阿才的店 but I honestly don’t know if its still open. Seems so?
• My favorite hot-pot place in the city is 肉大人 Mr. Meat 肉舖火鍋. It’s so damn good the New York Times wrote about it. From the article: “Diners choose from a selection of broths made with seasonal ferments (cabbage in fall, garlic in winter, kimchi in spring, tomato in summer). The individually sized hot pots come preassembled, ready to cook at personal burners…Mr. Chen imports some red meats from Europe, the United States and Australia. But there’s also gamy cherry duck (a Taiwanese breed), gui ding chicken (tastier than your average bird) and Taiwanese black pork.” I’ve tried it in every season and the sour cabbage and kimchi hotpots are my favorite; and the meats are high-quality.
• (The guidebook recommends a place called 元鍋. Never been).
• Orange Shabu Shabu is another perennial favorite of mine, I used to take a lot of visitors there before I became loyal to Mr. Meat.
• Qimin Organic Hotpot 民有機火鍋: The outlets in Shanghai are much better, but this is my parents’ favorite; it’s cheap and healthy, making for a good weeknight family dinner.
image of Black Samurai c/o Black-Buddha
DUMPLINGS & BRAISED DISHES 餃子, 滷味/
• From the guidebook: 龍門客棧餃子館: Had absolutely no idea about this famed dumpling spot until some friends from Hong Kong rolled through and demanded that we go partake of huge platters of dumplings and 滷味 (braised dishes, a Taiwanese street food classic). Not being particularly hyped on 滷味 or 餃子 (I prefer the fried versions), I liked the atmosphere more than anything: a rickety wooden shack, with the owners bustling and yelling up front.
TAIWANESE QUICK-FRY 熱炒
• From the guidebook: 先進海產店: Their pick for Taiwanese stir-fry 熱炒 – typically paired with beer. This one is quite famous and centrally located. I do think that the food at this one is amazing (especially the clams) – but honestly most around the city are decent if you know what to order.
I picked up my copy of the Urban Research Taipei Guide at an Eslite bookstore.
Feature image c/o Black-Buddha