Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Auntie Xie's

Auntie Xie's - Taipei City, Zhongzheng District, Bo-ai Road #122 B-1

"I think it's down wait, maybe we passed it by," my friend said as we stared down the brightly lit lanes south and west of Taipei Main Station.

"It looks like we've overshot it - is this Wuchang Street?"

"I think it's down there." (It wasn't down there.)

After about a half hour of searching in this way, we finally located Auntie Xie's (Xie A-yi) on a quiet stretch of Bo'ai Road between Taipei Main and Ximen. My friend had been there once before, taken there by a local who knew just where to go for good food. This time, he was bringing us along for a real treat.

The restaurant is below street level, down a long flight of red linoleum stairs, marked by a small backlit sign (Chinese only) that's easy to pass by. Inside is some of the best food I've had in Taipei in a long time. (If you can't read Chinese easily, look up the "xie" in "xiexie" before you go - it's the same one).

Night markets have long been considered bastions of Taiwanese food, and in a way they are - oyster omelets, mba wan (rou yuan), chicken feet, stinky tofu, shaved ice and other treats that are hard to find outside of Taiwan abound there. (An exception being the shaved ice - the Philippines has a similar dessert called halo-halo that's heavier on the gooey colorful stuff and lighter on the ice).

The food at Auntie Xie's is not like that at all - it's the food you'd be served if invited to the home of a local friend for dinner; it's the food a Taiwanese housewife might whip up for a special guest. It's Chinese, no doubt, but didn't quite taste like any food I've tried in China.

We arrived late - 8:20pm for an 8:30 closing. The staff seemed surprised and pleased that four foreigners showed up and were happy to feed us regardless. Instead of providing a menu, they brought out dishes of spicy tofu with peanuts, fried, eggy silken tofu, taro congee, noodle soup with cabbage and pork, savory beef laden with streaks of fat and flavorful sauce, cold chicken and dipping sauce (similar to a Hakka dish I've had) and the piece de resistance, a huge orange-red fish with an odd face, splayed and steamed in a tasty broth.

My friend is pretty sure that the place is a buffet rather than a menu restaurant during it's regular hours, hence their comfort with just plopping food down at our table.

And it was delicious. All of it. Amazing stuff.

In the background a combination of Hollywood (a B-grade movie network), National Geographic and Taiwanese soap operas played on a flat-screen TV, and the lao ban niang watched all of it raptly...and yet still managed to provide impeccable service. The decor is homey, with a small mounted shrine, checked tablecloths and a visible kitchen area.

All in all, a great place to go if you want delicious local food but don't care for the usual market fare.

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