Saturday, November 26, 2011

Spicy Food in Taipei

Beef slices in spicy sauce at Tian Fu (天府川菜)

It's really hard to get good spicy food in Taipei if you don't know where to look - the local cuisine is based on light, clear flavors (think seafood, mushroom, tofu, vinegar) and, as much as they pretend that 大辣 (super spicy) is a real thing here, let's face it, not many of them have the tolerance for true fire.

Here's my short list of good places to go for prolonged burn!

Tian Fu Sichuanese Restaurant
#5 Ren'ai Road, Yonghe (MRT Dingxi)

A long-standing favorite of mine - seriously, if you haven't gone there, go! - this place serves up food so hot that at least one person we brought there had to go out and buy yoghurt to calm her mouth down. They don't skimp on the 花椒 (flower pepper - the kind that makes your mouth tingle), either. Try the 水煮牛 (also available in fish, which is tasty), and the other Sichuan staples are good too.

Aladdin Indian and Pakistani Cuisine
Raohe Night Market, near the end where you pick up the 306 and 518 buses (not the end with the temple and Songshan Station)

With most Indian food in Taipei - even the good stuff - you have to be very circumspect about asking for it to be cooked "spicy" or "really Indian style" - otherwise you'll get milder dishes more suited to Taiwanese tastes. Aladdin (or Alla-Din) is one of the few places that don't skimp on the spice, and if you ask for it spicy, you'll get it spicy.  Try the mutton curry and the raitha, although honestly, everything is good.

The Noodle House

1st floor #103 Xinyi Road Section 3, Taipei

Come here for the signature 紅油抄手 for a good dose of heat. Other dishes are spicy but this dish is what I always get when I need a little fire in my belly.

#1 Recommended: Han Chi Tiger Noodle
203 Jinhua St, Taipei City (台北市金華街203號)

The super hot lamb soup with rice puff squares at Tiger Noodle - Yum! Fire in Mah Belly!

This place does a fiery Sichuan-style noodle soup, and does it well. I like the rice puff squares and lamb with no blood, but you can get it with noodles, different meat, and with blood. The best thing on the menu is this signature noodle dish, which is at the top of the menu and comes with all sorts of things to check off. If you order the 大辣, beware: the broth will be so laced with different kinds of spice that it will practically glow red, and there will be a coat of slick red chili oil on top. I like Tiger Noodle because, as Brendan said, "this is spicy food prepared by someone who knows how to make spicy food" - they don't just lace the dish with boring chili sauce or oil. They layer the spice: black pepper, dried chili, chili oil, flower pepper. The spiciness is complex and deep. It'll warm you up on a cold day.

Best of all, you can buy their signature chili, either regular or with pickled turnip.

Little Thailand
#219 Dingzhou Street Sec 3, Taipei
While I'm going to have to take back my recommendation of Dako in the linked post (they stopped doing fantastic Japanese small eats and started doing boring ol' fried pork, which you can get anywhere), Little Thailand still stands out as the place to go for fiery Thai food. Hotter than its neighbors - and this neighborhood has a lot of Thai restaurants, most of them passable but not memorable - this is run by Thai people for Thai people. There's a little market for Thai foodstuffs on the first floor, and the whole thing just reeks of the real deal (literally - the predominant smells are coconut, citrus, seafood and fish/squid oil).

Honorable Mentions:

Places where you can find spicy food, but perhaps not quite as complex and satisfyingly spicy as the options above.

Buffalo Wings at China White
Anhe Road, Dunnan Tower 2nd floor, entrance from the side of Dunnan Tower (fronted on Dunhua South Road), same corner as Carnegie's and The Diner.

China White itself is a passably posh bar that I like when I don't want to go downmarket but don't want to cram into a bar full of boorish people. I also like it for being locally popular: on one visit we were the only foreigners there. The drinks are good but expensive, you can usually get a table if you don't show up too late, and the food is mostly mediocre as you'd expect. The buffalo wings stand out for being pretty good, and pretty spicy.

The downside? No bleu cheese sauce.

Macho Tacos
Yanji St, Lane 126, #3 and other locations

My predominant memories from eating here are not of the "wow this is spicy!" variety, more of the "I like this - I like this more than Yuma. This is the Mexican food I generally go for, and Yuma is more "Tex-Mex" or "Southwestern". They'll definitely load you up with jalapenos, and you can get your food goin' good and hot here, though. Much hotter than my experiences at Yuma - which I still like, but for different reasons.

NT$11 "Stuff on Sticks" at Jingmei Night Market
Jingmei Night Market, entrance across the street from Cafe 85 (MRT Jingmei Exit #1), across the lane from the famous "上海水簡包" place. 

Ask for "大辣" here and you'll get it - your stuff on sticks will be practically crusted over with fiery chili powder.

That said, it didn't make the main list because it's just chili powder - no depth, no complexity, no skill in preparation. It's just hot. That's still an improvement over other places, where "super spicy" means two unenthusiastic taps of the chili shaker.

Kunming Islamic Food

#26 Lane 81 Fuxing N. Road Taipei Taiwan
MRT Nanjing E. Road (捷運南京東路站)

Spicy chicken curry, a hearty lingering spicy feeling from the samosas - this place can hit that chili sweet spot. The only reason it's not on the main list is because Alla-Din is even spicier. You can find things here that friends who don't want to burn their tongues off can enjoy, so it's a good place for a spice-lover to arrange a group dinner or meal with friends. Also, the owner is a super friendly Burmese guy.

Anyone else? Know a good, hot spot for good, hot food and want to share? I can't possibly know every place and am always open to hearing about more places to try!


blobOfNeurons said...

Long ago, I thought that I could handle the fire.

I was wrong.

But thanks to this post, if I ever need to remind myself of the fact, I'll know where to go.

Anonymous said...

You left out Indonesian places. I've never had great thai food or vietnamese food in Taipei that is as good as I can get in San Francisco, but the Indonesian food I've had here seems both authentic and spicy as hell to me, probably because Indonesian doesn't have the same cachet, and there are a large amount of (I'm assuming) lowly-paid Indonesian laborers here, (especially by where I live, wanfang hospital, taking care of all the old folks), which I think these places are primarily for (in one near my house which I routinely go to and has excellent curries and fantastically nice people, I see me and Indonesians in the restaurant more often than I see Taiwanese).

The hottest food I've ever had in Taipei was probably at an Indonesian place by Shida, total hole in the wall, kind of oily, but seriously powerful flavors--I have a VERY high spice tolerance, but this one was a little too much for me. The Indonesian waitress was laughing at me. Here is the address:

Toko Indo Wangi
No. 51 Pucheng st.

Jenna Cody said...

I'll have to try it!

I didn't include Indonesian because with the Indonesian places where I've eaten, I just didn't think they were that spicy. Milano (also on Pucheng, now closed) was good but not memorably spicy. Borneo (also now closed) was also good but not that spicy (really nice kare ayam and rendang though). The places in Taipei City Mall (under Civic Blvd) were good, seasoned well, but not that spicy.

Then again I spent 12 days in Sumatra and felt the food was absolutely fantastic but well within my spice tolerance. Only the sambal - which I LOVE - was truly tongue-enflaming.

But I will try Toko Indo Wangi!

Brendan said...

FYI, don't know if they're the same management but there's another Milano Indonesian Cuisine in Tianmu, near Cheng Hsin Hospital and a short walk from Veterans General Hospital. It's on Zhengxing St / Cheng Hsin St, forget this Romanization game, 振興街.

So 'look for Indonesian restaurants near major hospitals' may be a good rule of thumb in Taiwan!