For better or worse, the 3 years lost to Covid meant that we could only make a trip together 5 years after our previous one, but this time, instead of 3, 4 out of 5 of us could make it (for most of the trip anyway)!
Even though we do not live in the same country, with most of our correspondences limited to an active WhatsApp chatgroup, our friendship and mutual understanding just got stronger over the years. I loved how we used "Oh-Peh-Som" (#iykyk) to decide our roommates for the trip, confirming how we loved each other equally and would enjoy any companion without preferences.
It's also interesting how we chose to reminisce in Taiwan again, albeit adding Tainan as a new destination to freshen things up, and had little to no comments to whatever we decided to do on the day, as long as we were together. We ended up walking 15-20km per day in between countless meals, trying to burn the calories we consumed, even though we consciously reduced the portions we ordered throughout the trip.
I guess I will keep this simple and let these precious pictures tell the rest of the story.
The 3 of us shot to Tainan straight after arrival, still wide-eyed and excited over our late night supper.
It was street food mania, left-right-centre in Tainan. We ate and ate.
Not forgetting to explore the little alleys of Tainan.
Of course the big ones too.
During some rare down-time where we couldn't eat anymore, we visited the Confucius Temple.
Till we hobbled back to Taipei to complete the Fearsome 4some aka F4.
And things started to get a bit more interesting. Photo credit: Jeek's Foodmaze
Through our last 2 trips in Taiwan, aside of us, there was 1 other constant, Jeek, whose showed us true Taiwanese spirit and hospitality by bringing us to the best places in Taipei, taking the best pictures of us in the process, leaving us with the best memories. Thank you Jeek, it was tough on you, we promise to come bother you again in the future.
The last word, as usual, has to go to our better halves, who held the fort at home with the little ones while the 4 musketeers had the time of our lives. It would not have been possible without your generous blessings.
So thank you, Li Li, Grace, Zhimin and Regine. Now that you know we are such good boys, when can we do it again?
PS. To complete the archives of our travel series, look here.
Many things have changed after Covid, but Taipei's food scene remains bustling with life. I visited many great restaurants and eateries in my latest trip, so here's another update! Of course, most of my old recommendations remain relevant, however, I might not have visited them for years, so check up on their more recent reviews and make an informed decision before taking the punt.
I just returned from Taipei following another food-centric trip and feel that it's only fair for you guys that I keep this piece updated. So here are 3 more additions to my Ultimate Taipei Eating Guide, complete with my detailed captions on my IG posts (all with multiple pictures), and a one-line summary of the place:
1. Din Tai Fung Original Shop
If you frequently queue at various Din Tai Fung outlets, you might as well queue here.
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Original post April 2018:
I had a love-hate relationship with Taiwanese food.
I grew up watching Taiwanese variety shows in Singapore. The "ooohs" and "aaahs" that followed before the hosts even started chewing their food brainwashed me to believe that Taiwan is a gourmet destination made in the heavens.
When I finally went to Taiwan when I was 23, bad food and the rain washed all those fantasies away. I could only tell myself that I either went to all the wrong places, or the food really didn't suit my taste. The only things I enjoyed were the sweets and world-class seasonal fruit. I went again for a couple of short trips in the next few years, but nothing convinced me to change my belief that the variety shows were just a blatant exaggeration.
Come 2018, information accessiblity is no longer limited to TV. Taipei was the chosen destination for my first ever brothers trip. Armed with research from the internet, blessings from friends in the food industry and personal recommendations from some of the best food bloggers I know, I set off, eager to prove myself wrong about Taipei food.
We walked for 4 days and 4 nights, from morning, till we couldn't walk anymore, often until 2-3am the next day, eating non-stop. So, did my impression of Taiwanese food change? Yes, but more on that later.
First, my ultimate Taipei eating guide, solely based on my 4 days and 4 nights:
If you are into fine-dining, the names Alain Huang, Zor Tan and especially Andre Chiang (from the recently-closed 2-Michelin star Restaurant Andre in Singapore) will not be unfamiliar to you. My experience at RAW convinced me that it has to be THE must-try restaurant in Taiwan, and the exact kind of restaurant that Bangkok is sorely lacking, one that combines loud (but classy) interior decoration (including the toilets), an understanding of the top seasonal local produce, meticulate execution, personal service, plus a casual vibe and a palatable price point.
Food was not perfect, because it never is, in fact, a dish or two were a bit baffling, but it is what it is, and we have to appreciate the chefs for serving us what they feel is necessary for the experience.
In any case, your challenge is now to get a seat. If you have a trip to Taipei coming up, you have to start planning for RAW now.
When it comes to street food, the Taiwanese braised pork rice has to be one of the most basic staple of all. A shop/stall could be selling anything, but if you need rice to go with the dishes, braised pork rice will usually be one of most readily-available and popular choices.
Pork heaven, washed down with the tastiest of radish soups.
Of the places we ate at in our 4 days and 4 nights, this was the only one we found a reason to patronize at on separate days, despite its slightly-challenging location. My companions even packed another serving to enjoy on the plane back to Singapore!
I tried 2 other versions of braised pork rice during the trip, and didn't finish both as I couldn't help but compare them with the offerings here. I love it that their rice was cooked to perfection, almost omakase-like. A must-try in Taipei.
This pepper bun stoked a lot of curiosity in me because I am Foochow by heritage, but I have never eaten this before in my native Sarawak. Furthermore, this pepper bun was awarded a Bib Gourmand by Michelin just 2 weeks before my visit.
In terms of accessibility, it cannot be better. It's virtually the first store after entering Raohe Night Market and the snaking queue means you will not miss it.
Fresh out of the tandoor into your hand.
I appreciate their machine-like efficiency, ensuring the queue was constantly moving, and pepper buns come out scorching hot from the tandoor right into your hand. The bun is huge, and filled to the brim with pork and leek, so I recommend sharing it, even if it will be a a pain to give any of it away, so that you actually have the stomach to eat more further into the night market. You don't want to be stuffed right after entering!
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4. Muachee Bao Bao in Raohe Night Market 麻糬宝宝
You need to open your eyes really wide so that you don't miss this tiny stall.
It's actually just a friendly masked uncle selling the same thing in a small pushcart for more than a decade, but it actually got mentioned by the Michelin Guide, and it was not by chance. Muachee is not something I am not familiar with, but I have never eaten any that prompted me to go back for seconds immediately, until Muachee Baobao.
This might not feel interesting to you, but it means everything to me. Free-range chicken (with a lean but meaty body and shiny black feet) smoked in a wood-fire urn at high heat, then low heat, to achieve a crispy skin without losing the original flavours of a good quality bird.
We took taxi from Tamshui Old Street to the shop with nothing else around it just for this chicken, and were not disappointed.
Each urn only cooks 2 birds at a time.
6. Peanut Soup with Dough Fritters 油条花生汤
Ah-Balling lovers look here, especially those who go there for the peanut soup, not the rice dumplings. I can't tell you where exactly to buy the peanut soup, but just go for it when you see any, because the sweet peanut soup here is doubly rich and delicious, perfect when dipped with crunchy dough fritters.
This was not a cafe-hopping trip, we didn't visit any cafes on purpose. We stumbled upon Shelter when we needed a rest in the midst of our food hunt, and were glad to have spent an hour in this gem of a place.
Short features being played on the screen continuously.
Vinyl records, hipster movie posters enhancing the feel of the place.
Our handsome model enjoying his caffeine fix.
We made our drink choices after thoughtful explanation of virtually the entire menu by the friendly staff and all our drinks impressed. They were pricey (in the vicinity of 200TWD per cup), but we could feel the care that went into the products. Also, they have an interesting array of drink choices from specialty coffee/tea to cocktails and local craft beers, all in the same price range. You could say there is something for everyone.
Note: Shelter is within walking distance from Huang Ji Lu Rou Fan (number 2 on this list).
Special Mention: Pork Leg Soup at Keelung Miaokou Night Market 纪爱四路猪脚原汁专家 This would easily be number 2 if it was in Taipei. Unfortunately it can only be here due to its location in Keelung. For 200TWD per smallest bowl, it could be the most expensive street food we had all trip, but it proved to be most unforgettable. Just walk right to the end of the night market and you will not miss it. It's the only shop selling this dish.
Still, you have to remember that I equipped myself with a lot of ammo for this trip. I believe the situation will not be the same if I went to Taiwan uninformed and walked into any random shop to have my meals.
So, I have a few tips for you as you plan your foodie trip to Taiwan:
Be prepared. Do your research, trust reliable sources (like this one lol). It will be worth it.
Go with your best pals, ones whom you will enjoy eating with. There are too many things in Taiwan that I cannot imagine myself enjoying if I was eating alone or with the wrong crowd.
Understand that Taiwanese food might not totally suit your palate. For me, Taiwan food is generally bland, especially when it comes to soups and broths, which are usually quite tasteless regardless of how heavy they look or how spicy their names sounded. There are exceptions of course (a few in my list above), but if this is what the locals are used to and prefer, who are we to say it's not good enough?
When it comes to night markets, and this is quoting a Taiwanese friend who gave me a lot of good advice prior to the trip, order what you like. Simple, but true, if you don't like oysters in the first place, it's not likely the oyster at the night market will change your opinion, so order what you like to maximize the experience!
Verdict: My unhealthy love-hate relationship with Taiwan food has become a slightly-lopsided LOVE-hate relationship, and I am very very much looking forward to my next visit already!