Saturday, 27 June 2009

Tapei Day 5 and 6

DAY 5 (SUN) Jun 21, 2009

Weather Forecast in the morning: The Typhoon Lotus will sweep past the western coast of Taiwan, thus sparing Taipei.

Tammy and I took things easy today. We woke up very late. Had a leisurely breakfast at McDonald’s.  (Tammy was craving for McDonald's bagels - don't even ask!)

The Taiwanese are very serious about their beef noodles. Every year, an International Beef Noodle Festival (台北国际牛肉面节)is held in Taipei.  Liang Pin (良品红烧牛肉面)was runner-up for the Best Roasted Beef category in the 2007.  The restaurant was very close to our hotel so of course we had no excuse not to try it. Tammy ordered their Signature Beef Noodles; I the Pork Chop Noodles. I must say they were equally good.

On the way to the MRT Taipei Station, we stopped for the well-known Fuzhou Traditional Pepper Bun in the vicinity. Every time we walk passed we found a long queue in front of the tiny stall.  Strangely enough, there wasn't a queue today. The bun turned out to be a very large “pau” with a very crisply outer skin, filled with meat and veggies.  I like it a lot.

Moving along.  The lovely Rose House has lovely Rose Tea Preserves. 

良品牛肉面 | Liang Pin Beef Noodles
中正区 开封街一段10号
No. 10 Kaifung Street Sec. 1, Zhongzheng District

福州世祖胡椒餅 | Fuzhou Traditional Pepper Bun
重庆南路一段13号 | 13 Chongqing Road Sec. 1

古典玫瑰园 | Rose House
重庆南路一段11 号 | 11 Chongqing Road Sec. 1


西門町 XIMENDING







Before I set foot on Taiwan, I already knew that it was a Japanese colony for 50 years (1895 – 1945) so I expected the Japanese influence to live on. What surprised me was that the Japanese culture is so deeply embedded into the daily lives of the Taiwanese people.  Japanese restaurant, sushi bar and confectionery shops lined the streets. The supermarkets inside the department store are well-stocked with rows and rows of Japanese groceries, snacks and confectioneries, all gift packed in Japanese style. Japanese flavour is distinct in Taipei’s fashion trends and lifestyle, especially through Ximending.

Just one stop away from MRT Taipei Station is Ximending. According to Wikipedia, the name of Ximending was derived from its position outside the west gate of Taipei City. In the beginning during Japanese rule, Ximending was an area of wilderness, through which there was a road connecting the west gate of Taipei to the town of Bangka. Later, the Japanese decided to follow the example of Asakusa in Tokyo to set up an entertainment and business area. Today’s Ximending is Taipei’s version of Shibuya mixed with Harajuku.

Tammy suggested that I try the famous 阿宗面线, soft white noodles served in broth. When we arrived at its doorstep, I noticed there was a long queue of waiting customers. People were standing outside the shop, heads bent, intently slurping the noodles out of plastic bowls. Looked downright pathetic to me. 

Tammy bought a pair of shoes in Ximending. The store owner informs us that they were imported from Japan. Back in the hotel, however, Tammy discovered the words Made in Hong Kong engraved on the soles of the shoes. More about the darn pair of shoes later.

In the evening, we went to track down a sumiyaki called Kanpai (干杯) near Zhongxiao Fuxing Station. Following explicit directions given in Tammy’s guidebook, we were led to Exit No. 15 and up VERY LONG flight of stairs.  No escalator, why? why? why?  (Thanks a lot, Tammy!)

We circled for a bit but couldn’t locate the restaurant so asked a passer-by for directions. “Ah,” he nodded knowingly, “Walk straight ahead and turn right at the second set of traffic lights. You won’t miss the restaurant. It’ll be the one with the longest queue at the entrance.”

Somehow, the words “the longest queue” didn’t quite appeal to us. The weather was very warm and we were both feeling hot, sticky, and bothered. So we headed in the opposite direction and found Jiafu Sushi House (家福寿司屋).  It proved to be a smart move.  Quality Japanese food in a cosy mom 'n pop setting. A big bowl of chirashi don (海鮮丼) for just NT$290. I love the raw squids – fresh with an almost transparent outer layer. Tammy and I pounced on the food like hungry ghosts the moment it appeared on our table and quite forgot about taking photos but do check them out on this blogger’s site.


家福寿司屋
大安区 復兴南路一段122巷6号
No. 6, Lane 122, Fuxing South Road Sec. 1, Da-an District
大安区 安东街4号之1
1130–2130(Closed on Mondays)
捷运忠孝復兴站1号出口| MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing Station Exit 1



***

DAY 6 (MON) Jun 22, 2009

We were back at McDonald's this morning, where Tammy satisfied her bagel craving.  I bought a couple of  生煎包. 
Tammy needed to buy gourmet coffee for a friend and we found ourselves once again in Shing Khong Mitsukoshi (Tower 4A).  Do you recall the pair of shoes that Tammy bought in Ximending? Well, on our way up from the basement supermarket, we chanced upon that same pair of shoes!  It is NT$500 cheaper in Mitsukoshi Xinyi Place!

We couldn’t locate the restaurant which Tammy wanted us to have lunch in. This is the second time her stupid guidebook led us on a wild goose chase.  I hope she threw it away.  :)  And so we went to the only restaurant I knew: Dosan Kanroku Sanuki Udon.




BYE BY TAMMY, HEYJEE SIEN!
In the afternoon, 飞狗 airport express came to pick Tammy up from the Hotel Flowers main entrance. After I saw her off, I went to join my co-worker, Jee Sien, at the United Hotel. (Yes, she was foolish enough to me in.) Her room was large with lots of natural lighting. The bathroom has a vintage bathtub with clawed feet.




CATCH UP WITH ALICE
This evening, I paid a visit to our Taipei office. Alice took Jee Sien and I out to Du Xiao Yue Danzi Noodles (度小月担仔面) for Taiwanese cuisine. Found myself in the Yong Kang Street vicinity once more. Du Xiao Yue was established in Tainan in 1895, which means it has over a century worth of history.  An interesting image is the noodle stand by the entrance, with the noodle master sitting on a low stool preparing noodles.  Alice ordered:

猪油拌饭 (rice mixed with lard and soy sauce)
担仔面 (Danzi noodles)
清蒸蝦仁肉圓 (Meat dumplings)
卤大腸 (braised pig intestines)
炸芙蓉豆腐 (very much like Agedashi dōfu but even crispier)
冬瓜蛤蜊湯 (clear soup with winter melon and clams)

After that we proceeded to Ice Monster for a refreshing iced treat.  Fresh mango with shaved ice was just we needed to end the warm summer evening. Alice informed us that the shop is even more popular during the winter months!

There is no MRT to Yong Kang Street. The best way is to take a cab. Tell the driver to take you to the 永康公园 (Yong Kang Park)  UPDATE Jan 2014: You can now take the MRT and alight at Dongmen Station to access Yong Kang.

永康公园 (Yong Kang Park) is the core of Yong Kang Street community. Everyone is familiar with the beef noodle stall and the Ice Monster which lie on the park’s edge. Shaved ice combined with fresh fruits – mangoes in the summer, strawberries in the winter – topped with a scoop of mango ice-cream, the Ice Monster enjoys a ceaseless flow of customers all year round.

Yong Kang Street is just the main street. The street is flanked by lanes and alleys.  To me this means only one thing: lots of exciting food just waiting to be discovered!  If only I had more time in Taipei.


Actually, the area behind the United Hotel is rather nice as well.






国联大饭店 | United Hotel
大安区 光復南路200号
No. 200 Kwang Fu South Road +886 2 27731515   
捷运站国父紀念馆站 | MRT Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall Station

度小月担仔面
永康街9-1号+886 2 33931325
1130 - 2300
东门站 5号出口 | MRT Dongmen Station Exit 5

冰馆 [已搬迁]
永康街15号

***

DAY 7 (TUE) Jun 23, 2009

WHEN WILL I SEE YOU AGAIN?

What a fantastic trip it has been! There is still much left unexplored.  I haven't taken quite enough photos!   I must see you again, Taipei!





Taipei Day 4

DAY 4 (SAT) Jun 20, 2009

Tammy cleverly mapped out the day’s itinerary. We would hit these 3 destinations in one day as they are located on the same MRT line.

On the way to the MRT station, we stopped by at a Mister Donut stall. I read somewhere that when Mister Donut opened its first shop in Taipei’s Tianmu in October 2004, one had to queue 3 hours! On the third day of business, the line winding into the store was well over 200 people. I tried one today and it was ahem, creative. The one I had was a PoDe donut which is made from glutinous rice flour so it’s chewy, sort of a cross between a mochi and a doughnut. Kinda weird, really.  Don't know what to make of it.


淡水 DANSHUI

My Singaporean co-worker, Jee Sien, happened to be in Taipei for work and I invited her to join us in 淡水老街 (Danshui Old Street) for some fun under a very hot sun.






淡水Danshui
捷运淡水捷运 | MRT Danshui Station


天母 TIANMU

Tianmu area is one of Taipei's more expensive neighbourhoods. In the past, it was a residential area for expats and foreigners.

向Hsiang The Brunch in Tianmmu serves all-day brunch. The restaurant is located just behind Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Tianmu.




How to get to Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Tianmu?[已停]
Take the MRT to 捷运芝山站 (Zhishan Station where a free shuttle bus service will take you to Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Tianmu.

向Hsiang The Brunch [已歇业]
士林区 天母东路50巷8号
No. 8, Lane 50, Tianmu East Road, Shilin District +886 2 28725851
Opening hours: 1000 - 2200, Sat and Sun from 0800

Whilst in Tianmu, we also strolled to 中山北路七段 (Zhongshan North Road Sec. 7). The road extending from here to 忠誠路 (Zhongcheng Road) is supposedly a popular shopping district for tourists. We did come across a few interesting boutiques but the humidity zapped every once of energy out of us and we had to gave up after a bit. 



士林夜市 SHILIN NIGHT MARKET
No visit to Taiwan is complete without a trip to a night market.  I ate the best deep-fried chicken I've had in ages.   I couldn't help laughing at the English translation for "腿排".  In Singapore, we would've said "Chicken Cutlet".  In Shilin, it is "The Leg Arranges".  Love!  ^=^

Jee Sien and I had the Chicken Thigh; Tammy ate some skewered grilled stuff.  I would've loved to hang out a little longer but Tammy and Jee Sien kept complaining about the heat so we had to leave.




On the Evening Broadcast: News of an impending typhoon kept Tammy and I on the edge of our beds. Weather forecast predicts that the typhoon may strike on Monday!


Friday, 26 June 2009

Taipei Day 2 and 3

DAY 2 (THU) Jun 18, 2009


复兴南路 FUXING SOUTH ROAD
Spent the early morning hunting down local breakfast places I had read about on the Internet and found them!
安东街 | Dong An Alley
0630 - 2100

姜太太包子店
台北市 大安区 复兴南路一段180号
No. 180 Fuxing South Road Sec. 1, Da-an District
0600 - 1900
捷运忠孝复兴站2号出口,步行約1分钟 | MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing Station Exit 2


九份 JIUFEN

After greedily gobbling up breakfast, I took a bus Jiufen on my own. The fare was NT$87. I boarded the Taipei-Jiufen-Jinguashi bus from the bus stop at the entrance of Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station Exit 1.

The ride took slightly more than an hour as it made several stops along the way to pick up and drop off passengers. I believe there is another bus which goes non-stop directly from Fuxing to Jiufen. I must have got on the wrong one. I was a little anxious at first.  What if I missed the Jiufen stop? The bus was an old one and didn't have LED signs to indicate which shop was next. I needn’t have worried. Not only were there many tourists alighting at the stop, the area looked very “touristy”. It was hard to miss.

Jiufen was once a prosperous gold-mining town. As you can see, it is now a tourist attraction. The quaint streets, teahouses and stunning views still live on.







The Taiwanese seem to be very fond of yam (taro). Yam cake, yam vermicelli, yam dumplings, all kinds of yam desserts can be found throughout Taipei. In Jiufen, yam balls (芋圓) and yam dessert (鮮芋仙) are available at every corner. I bought savoury yam snacks but thought they weren't great.


To return to Taipei from Jiufen, take a bus with its destination “台北”in LED sign display from the bus stop across the road from 7-11 convenience store. The bus goes downhill. The bus terminates at MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing Station Exit 1.


台北车站 TAIPEI MAIN STATION
2PM:Checked out of Déjà Vu Hotel and took a cab to Hotel Flowers, where Tammy and I would spend the next four nights. We had arranged to meet at 3PM but she was held up at the airport and arrived at around 4PM.

The hotel was well-located, surrounded by restaurants, shops, convenience stores and within walking distance to Mitsukoshi, MRT Taipei Main Station as well as Taipei Railway Station.

The room is decent enough. It has a queen bed, a single bed, clean carpeting, crisp linens, a large bathroom and even a small flat-screen TV!

The hotel has 2 branches. We stayed at the new branch.

华华大饭店(分店) Hotel Flowers (new branch)
台北市 中正区 汉口街一段36号
No. 36 Hankou Street Sec. 1, Zhongzheng District +886 2 2312 3811, 2331 7392
捷运台北车站Z2号出口 | MRT Taipei Main Station Exit Z2


永康街 YONG KANG STREET
We gave ourselves just 10 minutes to freshen up before heading out to Ding Tai Fung (Old Shop) in Yong Kang.

Almost everyone and anyone I know tells me that the Ding Tai Fung (Old Shop) in Taipei is the best in Asia because it's the original shop where it all started.  At any rate, I think the food is far better than what we have in the Singapore DTF branches.

Just a few shops away from Ding Tai Fung is I-Mei Confectionery. I did not know it at the time but I-Mei was founded in 1934 and is renowned for its Taiwanese pastries as well as western cakes. Luckily I was smart enough to buy some for our people in the Taipei office (*pat self on the back*).

Close by our hotel is Shin Kong Mitsukoshi (Taipei Station Branch). Tammy purchased a pair of shoes that was on discount. We felt it was a good deal at that time and it was only afterwards that we realise the discounts offered by Shin Kong Mitsukoshi (Xinyi Branch) are even better.

鼎泰丰(旧店) Ding Tai Fung (Old Shop)
大安区信义路二段194号(永康街口)
No. 194 Xinyi Road Sec. 2, Da-an District
捷运东门站5号出口, 步行約1分钟

仪美食品 I-Mei Confectionery
大安区信义路二段88号


科技大楼 TECHNOLOGY BUILDING
And as if we were afraid that some catastrophe might strike us during the night and we may not live to see tomorrow, we even went on to have dinner!

The area around the Technology Building MRT Station is famous for its late night eateries specializing in porridge. You can select from a huge variety of small side dishes to accompany your congee. Different styles of omelettes and vegetables are available for order as well.

This evening, I took my first MRT ride in Taipei. I was surprised to see passengers queue up in an orderly manner to wait for the train. And was even more amazed when they actually wait for alighting passengers to move out before getting in themselves!


It became evident that we Singaporeans have much to learn from our friends in Taipei. I mean, they even queue up to wait for the elevator! Geez, that’s never going to happen in Singapore!

小李子清粥小菜
大安区 复兴南路二段142号
No. 142 Fuxing South Road Sec. 2, Da-an District
1700 - 0600
捷运科技大楼站, 步行約10分钟
10 minutes walk from MRT Technology Building Station



***

DAY 3 (FRI) Jun 19, 2009


信义区购物中心 XINYI SHOPPING DISTRICT



The district is the premier shopping area in Taipei, anchored by a number of department stores and malls. It is home to 4 blocks of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store (新光三越) shopping complexes. Tammy and I only managed to cover Towers 4A and 8A. In Tower 4A, we saw the same pair of shoes which Tammy bought from Mitsukoshi (Taipei Station Branch) the evening before. It is NT$200 less here!

Other major attractions here include Taipei 101 and Eslite Bookstore (诚品书店).  It spans over 7 floors The bookstore has an expansive magazine collection (especially foreign magazines), a floor dedicated to children's books, a Japanese bookstore, art bookstore. The cookbooks section is equipped with a kitchenette for cooking demonstrations.  Adore!

信义区购物中心Xinyi Shopping District
捷运市政府站3号出口 | MRT Taipei City Hall Station Exit 3


松山区 庆城街 QINGCHENG STREET

Tammy introduced me to Heno Heno Moheno for authentic Japanese food in an unpretentious atmosphere. The restaurant has been around since 1982. Tammy and I shared cold noodles, grilled fish and tamagoyaki. I’m especially impressed by the asparagus hand roll (蘆筍手捲) - very fresh crunchy asparagus, crisp shredded lettuce and mayonnaise nestled together in a cone of crispy seaweed.

This quiet, leafy part of town is lined with cafes and Western restaurants. 长春旅館(Ever Spring Hotel) is across the street. Here you'll find Joyce West Café (No. 22). It has the best setting for an intimate wedding reception.  Also the perfect place while away a lazy afternoon.

福顏日本料理 Heno Heno Moheno
松山区 庆城街26号
No. 26 Qingcheng Street, Songshan District +886 2 27122007
捷运南京东路站  | MRT Nanjing East Road Station





Taipei Day 1

If it wasn’t for Tammy, I would never have experienced Taipei. It most definitely wasn’t on my list of places to visit. Friends tell me that Taipei is not a very nice city - the streets are filthy, its population rowdy. Even my mom (who went to Taipei about 20 years ago) warned me that drivers pay no heed to pedestrian crossings. So no, Taipei wasn’t exactly my dream city. Little did I know, I would change my mind and I was to fall desperately in love with the country, and its people. 

When Tammy was able to redeem 4 nights of free accommodation in Taipei she very generously invited me to share the room with her. I mean, she could have invited any of her sisters or her mom or one of her BFFs but she chose me. Lucky me!

I'm glad I made the trip.

DAY 1 (WED) Jun 17, 2009

Arrived in Taipei to be greeted by extremely warm weather.

When I boarded the 飞狗 (Free Go airport express bus NT$140), I was amazed that everyone wore masks. Being a true Singaporean, I was not to be outdone and wore mine too. Hahaha!

It took a little more than an hour to arrive at the Zhongxiao Fuxing Station. Somehow I was expecting the bus to stop opposite Sogo Fuxing but it didn’t! For a minute there I lost my bearings. I stopped a masked individual to ask for directions. She turned out to be a friendly Taiwanese who had just arrived home from a holiday in Tokyo. Not only did she point me the right way to the hotel, she also had very wonderful things to share about Tokyo!  


復兴南路 FUXING SOUTH ROAD




Checked into Déjà vu Hotel and immediately made a beeline for the popular Dosan Kanroku Sanuki Udon, a tiny Japanese shop “serving Taiwan’s best and cheapest udon”. The menu is simple – with a choice of about 20 variety of udon in broth.

Just what is the origin of Sanuki udon?  The story goes that Kūkai, a Buddhist monk from the province of Sanuki (now known as Kagawa Prefecture) on the Japanese island of Shikoku, traveled to China in the 9th century to study religious texts. When he returned, he didn’t just bring back religious manuscripts but also a recipe: thick noodles made of wheat flour. Today the ubiquitous local dish is called Sanuki udon.

The moment I entered the shop, a friendly waiter started chattering to me in Japanese. Even though I answered in Mandarin, he persisted and went on to take my order in Japanese. (Duh!)  Still, I was very satisfied with the first bowl of udon I had in Taipei. The vicinity is home to not one, but two Sogo department stores, alleys filled with trendy shops, and interesting eating places.

Bought dorayaki (Doraemon’s favourite snack!) from a Japanese confectionery.

乔合大饭店 | Déjà vu Hotel
台北市 大安区 复兴南路一段136号
No. 136 Fuxing South Road Sec. 1. Da-an District
捷运忠孝复兴站1号出口 | MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing Station Exit 1

土三寒六赞歧烏龙面 | Dosan Kanroku Sanuki Udon
台北市 大安区 复兴南路一段126巷6号
No. 6, Lane 126, Fuxing South Road Sec 1, Da-an District
Mon - Fri 1130 – 1430; 1700 - 2100 No credit cards.
捷运忠孝复兴站1号出口 | MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing Station Exit 1

星野铜锣烧 | Sing-ya Dorayaki
台北市 大安区 忠孝东路三段265号
No. 265 Zhongxiao South Road Sec. 3  +886 2 87723691
捷运忠孝复兴站1号出口 | MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing Station Exit 1