When I think of Taiwan I think of beef noodles, so much so that I bought a book about beef noodles (from a selection of about 20 other beef noodle books) from my favorite Eslite Bookstore. The book talks about the origins of the beef noodle, the Beef Noodle Competition (which selects the best beef noodle restaurants in Taipei), a guide on the winners of the best noodle competition and recipes on how to make your own beef noodle. Such is the severity with which the people in Taiwan love this exotic food.
Given this almost holy status of the Taiwanese beef noodle, does it beat Mrs. Chan’s famous home cooked beef noodles? This was a mission my mother set out to find on our first day back to Hsinchu. From the airport we drove straight to Hsinchu via Beipu (北埔), where we experimented the joy of making grind tea (擂茶), a thick green tea crushed with nuts and sugar and so named for the grinding activity you can see in the picture. In Hsinchu we revisited Jie Jia Beef Noodle樹林頭揭家, a shack that had been on all our minds since we left the city 17 years ago. For starters, the fact that this little hole in the wall still exists was enough cause for celebration. However its standards had far deteriorated and my mom gave it a sad 6 out of 10 stars, and I gave it a 5 out of 10 for having no preserved vegetables (榨菜) to go with it, the heart and soul of Taiwanese beef noodles for me.
Our next stop was Lu Gang (鹿港), a quaint little place famous for its traditional back alleys. One such place was the Feel Tits Alley (摸乳巷), literally named for its narrowness and hence ease with which uncanny men could ‘feel up’ a passing woman’s breasts.
After Lu Gang we spent two days at Taiwan’s famous Sun Moon Lake. We stayed at the breathtaking Lalu (in terms of its location and architecture only - I cannot say the same about its interiors) which used to be Chiang Kai Shek’s holiday home and a favourite weekend retreat amongst Taiwanese who live abroad. Waking up in the morning at the Lalu was truly sensational – you walk out into a covered wooden balcony overlooking an infinity pool which in turn brings your focus onto Sun Moon Lake covered in an ethereal morning mist. The air is so mystical you can almost see Chiang Kai Shek rowing his boat out with Soong Mei Ling.
Back in Taipei, our attention once again moved on to food. The following are my top three choices this time round:
1. East One Pork Ribs Rice 東一排骨飯
The family debated over whether the pork ribs at East One was better than Jun Yue 君悅, and the general consensus was that though Jun Yue’s pork ribs were better tasting, the side dishes at East One were better. Well, they both taste equally great to me, and the funky, out of place décor where nothing seemed to go with one another certainly added to the fun.
2. World Soy Bean Milk King 世界豆漿大王
If not for Chow Yun Fat, I would have forgotten completely about this Soy Been Milk shop that is perhaps slightly off the grid from Taipei’s main attractions. However, Chow Yun Fat has not been back in Taiwan for six years and the first place he paid a visit to was世界豆漿大王 in Yong He. This information alone was enough to make me delay my trip by a day. Perhaps due to this newly generated buzz or perhaps due to sheer hunger, this soy bean milk shop tasted much better than the last time I was here. The shao bing you tiao 燒餅油條was good, the soy bean milk was great and the egg pancake was even better. Mark this one. It is going to stay on my top restaurant list for a long time.
3. Zuan Wang Beef Noodles 攢王牛肉面
My mother insisted that her beef noodles are better than Zuan Wang’s. Well, her beef noodles are yummy and amongst the best beef noodle places in Taipei Zuan Wang would probably not top the chart. However, Zuan Wang is certainly one of the better ones and with its preserved vegetables and great braised foods (滷味), it cured my seven month longing for good beef noodles.
My last activity in Taiwan was to attend my cousin Wawa’s moksha yoga class at Space in Tien-mu. My cousin’s demanding teaching methods pretty much disabled the use of my limbs for the next 2 days, but boy, was she good. Space is also the nicest yoga studio I have been to in Hong Kong and London. Occupying a stand alone two- storey in the up market residential area of Tien-mu, Space has a small tropical garden outside and clean, modern interiors that reminded me of someone’s home in Bali. Once you have been here, you will never want to go to Pure anymore.