A Taipei banquet fit for a queen

Taipei in Taiwan is a place that has and always will hold a special place in my heart. Not only was my mum born there, but my grandparents, uncle and cousins all still reside there. As a child I spent my Australian summer holidays in Taipei, exploring the streets with my mum and developing what can only be explained as an over appreciation of food. 

At the end of March this year my mum returned to her native home, meeting up with her sister (who lives in Illinois) and her daughter and grandson. With so much of my small family making their way to Taipei, it seemed an obvious choice for Jeremy and I to come too. My grandparents are in their eighties now and it had been over a decade since I last returned. Needless to say I knew it was going to be an emotional couple of weeks!

Arriving during the day it took Jeremy and I a few hours to shake off the red eye stiffness before heading out to greet the city. If you haven’t been to Taiwan, it’s a country that has roots from both China and Japan, with residents that are polite, respectful of their elders and extremely limited in their english speaking. Since my mandarin is the equivalent of a three year old’s, we knew my mum would be a source of great help for us while we were there.

Taipei is busy. Bustling constantly, with traffic some kind of organised chaos dance that somehow works against all odds. There’s always building and upgrading going on, but there’s also a great deal of buildings which are ageing fast. And more than anything, there’s food. It’s the city that never stops eating. Which to me, is just plain perfect!

Our first dinner in Taipei was at my “Uncle”s restaurant. I say “Uncle” because he’s actually my mother’s best friend from high school and I’ve grown up knowing him my whole life. I might have changed a lot since my last return to this city, but he looked the same – something providing great comfort to me.

His restaurant in downtown Taipei is extremely popular. During the lunch shift you’ll often find people lining up outside, patiently waiting for what is traditional home cooking style dishes at a very reasonable price. It might not have the fine dining wow, but I’ll pick this kind of food anyway. Every bite is a memory. At nighttime, you need to have a booking to get in – which he kindly had organised for my family knowing Jeremy and I were coming to visit.

Normal diners can choose their dishes but my Susu (mandarin for Uncle) likes to choose for us. Predictably, there was way too much to get through so I ate and ate and ate… until I felt a little bit sick! With all things tasting amazing, we ended up returning for lunch later in the trip. Here’s a rundown of some of the delicious eats we were treated to.

The poached chicken at my Susu’s restaurant is legendary. While I’m not the biggest chicken fan (unless fried because who can’t resist!), this is a whole other ball game in the poultry world. He’s sourced one particular local farmer who raises a very specific type of chicken, based on a strict diet and freedom to explore the land. The result is an extremely juicy, tender meat that has the thinnest layer of fat beneath the moorish skin.

Pork ribs? Sold! Again and again and again. One particularly great thing about dining in Taiwan – there is a high appreciation and selection of pork. It’s a country that suits me to a tee!

These pork ribs were sticky and sweet, with a caramelised coating and crunchy light batter that led to delicious meat. I could have easily demolished this whole plate by myself, but there were so many other great dishes to eat. Sadly I didn’t get to try everything on the table!

When I think of my childhood in Taipei, mayonnaise prawns very much are at the forefront of my mind. I’ve had my mum’s version, and tried them in multiple restaurants including Din Tai Fung. While they’ve all been good, nothing compare’s to my Susu’s version.

Golden battered prawns that have custard powder in the batter to give sweetness and flavour. They’re lightly coated in a mayonnaise sauce and served with fresh chunks of pineapple. It’s everything to me in a plate – crunchy, sweet, savoury and all round addictive. I’ve tried to explain it to Jeremy who has also tried other versions, but I could see once he had his first bite (of many), he understood my love of this.

One of the first dishes my mum taught Jeremy to make is also his favourite food ever. Lo ba bung – a Taiwanese stewed pork dish that is classic comfort food. It’s delicious, keeps well over time due to it’s salty contents and is relatively inexpensive to make.

When my Susu found out that my boy loves lo ba so much, he went out of his way to specially make him some. I was quick to tell him he should add this to the menu because it is damn good! Oily, fatty and full of melt in your mouth strips of pork belly.

Spooned over rice, the mince and pork belly are deliciously moorish, having soaked in the local soy sauce (this is key) and rock sugar. The result is a combination of fat, salt, sweet and richness that makes it highly addictive. This staple dish is something I always adore, particularly when boiled eggs are added which is how my mum cooks it. Yummy!

Tofu in Asia is nothing like the tofu in Australia. It’s so fresh and silky, with a great depth of flavour and velvety texture that makes it a must have at every meal. Stir fried with spring onions and chilli, it’s utterly memorable.

When it comes to seafood, toothfish is definitely in my top five. Simmering in a simple poaching liquid, the flesh is soft and flaky while still being juicy. There’s not much more to say except I ate the majority of this – and I wasn’t sorry!

Like I said before, coming back to Taiwan was extremely emotional for me. Not only was I seeing family, but I was introducing my boy into a culture that I sadly have not had much part of in recent years. It was an amazing trip, one when we were extremely spoilt from a food perspective and also humbled by the lifestyle of my hardworking grandparents. We left definitely a few kilos heavier, and with even more love in our hearts. 
This first meal was the perfect way to start our holiday. 

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Chompchomp
    27 April 2014 at 4:01 am

    Holy moly this is a very impressive first meal. I love the sound of the mayonnaise prawns. Will have to try and create a GF option!

  • Reply
    Wen Yang Lee
    27 April 2014 at 12:45 pm

    HOLLY MOLLYYYYYY THAT IS RIGHT!

    The food looks sensational Kristy! I am waiting for more from you hehe!

  • Reply
    Donovan de Souza
    27 April 2014 at 2:57 pm

    OMG this looks incredible! I just watched a Bourdain episode in Taiwan, and after seeing this I want to go. As you said regarding my Food Truck post, sounds like YOU had an epic eating adventure!

  • Reply
    Kristy
    27 April 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Oh I hope you like them! We've had them in Malaysia too but they used wasabi mayonnaise… my god! I'm full just thinking about how much we ate when we were in Taipei haha

  • Reply
    Kristy
    27 April 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Haha I know right – we ate and ate and ate! Poor Jeremy I think he was going to explode, everyone kept feeding him πŸ˜›

  • Reply
    Kristy
    27 April 2014 at 4:10 pm

    I've seen that Bourdain episode! It definitely showed how great Taiwan is. I've come back feeling ALOT heavier but already missing the food πŸ™

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