Showing posts with label beijing_food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beijing_food. Show all posts

Monday, February 20, 2012

Beijing Duck in Taipei

Beijing Duck is one of my addictions. This delicious fowl is from Celestial Kitchen

You might have noticed that many of my restaurant and food-related posts are about Beijing Duck. There's a reason why - I absolutely love the stuff. I pretty much love duck in any form. It's like chicken but actually tasty (I hear that chicken used to taste good before it got all processed).

So here, for your pancake-wrapped gorging pleasure, is my listing of good Beijing Duck restaurants (well, one's not a restaurant) in Taipei.

duck congee at Rendezvous
#18-1, Zhongshan N. Road Sec. 1 Lane 105
(closer to enter via Linsen Road near #100 )

This is my pick of all the choices. Wonderful, juicy duck that's firm but not dry and bursting with flavor, with a complementary sauce and a bit of red chili wrapped around the onions...and while service is a bit brusque - they basically ignore you if you want anything after you order unless you insist - it's world's better than Song Chu in that regard. Make reservations, go here.

3F #1 Nanjing W. Road (near MRT Zhongshan)

Also fantastic duck, with an atmosphere that's less "kung fu movie" than Rendezvous. The duck was good, the sauce not so memorable, other dishes were also good, very friendly and prompt service. I'd definitely go back.

#14, Lane 15 Zhongxiao E. Road Sec. 5
(Almost right next to/slightly behind MRT City Hall)

Well, just read the review. Amazing duck (although really no better than Rendezvous'; the main difference is that Song Chu's sauce is luscious which amps up the duck while Rendezvous' is slightly more astringent which complements it) but the service leaves a lot to be desired. Good duck or no, I won't go back.

Too bad the service at Song Chu left me bitter, because I loved the sweet, sweet duck

02 2708 4242 
A friend really liked this place on his first visit, but when we all went together we agreed that the duck was a bit dry. It was pretty good, but not quite up to Celestial or Rendezvous (or even Song Chu, sad to say).

All over Taipei!

You won't be getting a high-end gourmet experience with duck from one of these blue food trucks, but at NT250 for half a duck (which is too much for one person but barely feeds 2) you can't go wrong on price, and with the food truck craze sweeping the US, being able to say that you got dinner off the back of a truck and it's Beijing Duck, so you can stick that in your mobile taco and suck it, well, who can resist? And the duck isn't bad. It's not going to elevate you to new heights of culinary rapture but it's just fine for an evening in. Plus the stir-fry of all the non-breast duck with chili and basil is always fantastic.

...and more. I know there's at least one place in Shi-da with carry-out duck only that's pretty decent, and I've seen a place near Taipower Building, but these are the ones I've tried. I've had the duck from Shi-da and it's pretty decent, but I can't seem to track down the address.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

龍都酒樓 ("Rendezvous Restaurant")

Rendezvous Restaurant (龍都酒樓)
#18-1, Zhongshan N. Road Sec. 1 Lane 105
(closer to enter via Linsen Road near #100 )

I know I've been writing more fluff than thoughts recently, but for whatever reason, these days, despite having a lot of things I want to write about in terms of thoughts, musings, meditations on life, whenever I try it just doesn't come out right or my brain short-circuits.

Hoping that will pass - it always does - and not beating myself up too much for writing fluff in the meantime.

Anyway, last weekend I had the chance to go to the famous 龍都酒樓 in a lane between Linsen N. Road and Zhongshan N. Road, just south of Nanjing E. Road. They're famous for Beijing Duck and dim sum style dishes.

The place caters more to groups, and yes, you should make a reservation.

I can say that the duck is truly fantastic - just as good as other heavyweights like Celestial Kitchen and my personal bugbear, Song Chu. Definitely worth the reservation and price (we had duck and lots of dim sum at two tables with about 8 each, and it cost us all approximately NT650 each).

It's juicy without being greasy, it's flavorful without being cloying, and the little green onion spears are wrapped in a bit of chili pepper to give them a bite. Song Chu's sauce is better, but Rendezvous' is not overly sweet, it's almost slightly antiseptic which is a nice match for the luscious duck.

The decor is like something out of a scene in a restaurant from a kung fu movie - back-lit Chinese medallions, crystal chandeliers, light-colored textured wallpaper, round banquet tables, a balcony and lower seating area. Not usually my style but whatever, the food is good.

I went with a newer group of friends (the one in the picture is the one I know best, his wife is the one looking away) - unfortunately, due to work commitments, my husband couldn't join us. The upside of going out occasionally with a group of locals who are also food lovers and interested in trying the city's best restaurants is that I get to try places that are not often on foreigner radar.  A few savvy long-term expats might know about them, but they rarely make it into guidebooks (guidebook restaurant listings in English make me a little sad sometimes - the world is not right when Kiki gets a nod but 天府, which is quite literally the BEST SICHUANESE FOOD IN TAIWAN HANDS DOWN, is ignored). I get to try the places that locals believe are the best, and it's opened me up to a lot of new options.

And you know, one of the great things about Taipei is that the best restaurants are not necessarily the most expensive restaurants. In fact, they rarely are. You can completely avoid hotel restaurants or places that charge $6000 a head for bird's nest soup (and they exist - I have students who regularly entertain clients at such places) and still forage through the best Taipei has to offer.

Another great thing about eating out with a group of locals is that I have to speak Chinese. I've written before about how having to socialize entirely in Chinese is good for my Chinese, and well, duh. Of course it is. My friend (above) speaks English well, but his wife does not - or she's afraid to, but he insists she really can't and she concurs - and he didn't really start inviting me out to such meals until it was clear that I would be just fine speaking Chinese the entire time. I can understand this: even if someone does speak a foreign language - at least two others at lunch can also speak English well - when out with friends and not at work or in class, the average person will prefer to converse in their native language and having one non-native speaker there, even if that person is a native speaker of a "popular" foreign language like English, can cause discomfort if it means that everyone has to then speak English when, in their free time and with friends they know, they'd perhaps prefer not to.

It happens in business, too: a group of Taiwanese people and their one foreign guest go out or have a meeting, and the presence of the one guest means that the entire language of the group changes to English, not the mother tongue of the majority of the group. I understand completely how someone might not want to repeat that dynamic at a fun Saturday lunch with friends.

I hate to say it, because it sounds suspiciously close to something annoying expat who says things like "oh I only hang out with locals, I get along with them so much better than other [*snicker*] foreigners" would spout, but it's true: not long ago I had another lunch at a restaurant that was not really good (but well-known in foreigner circles) with a group of expats. It was fun, although some things that were said bothered me, but honestly, this was more fun. Instead of conversation topics like "are Taiwanese women materialistic" (sadly, the general consensus seemed to be "yes"), I got to explain, in Chinese, why "Bear Bar" and "G2-Paradise" - two bars behind Red House Theater in Ximen - are such funny names in English. I learned a useful new bit of Chinese vocabulary, too ("G點"). I feel I owe 文昌帝君 for that one. As for the other diners - they were delighted at this tidbit of cultural knowledge. Who says that Taiwanese people are conservative and uptight? That's not been my experience!

It doesn't matter to me if I never go out with that group of expats again, but I honestly do look forward to going out with this group of Taiwanese food lovers in the future.

And I will definitely be returning to 龍都酒樓.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Review - Foreign Babes in Beijing

Foreign Babes in Beijing has been around for awhile, but I've only just gotten around to reading it. As an American living in Asia, I'm always interested in the narratives of other expat women, particularly those in Asia and super particularly those in the Chinese-speaking world. If there was a book written by a female expat in Taiwan (is there? If so, please enlighten me. I do intend to pick up Among the Headhunters of Formosa next, but that's not really the kind of expat narrative I'm talking about) I'd happily review that, too.

Foreign Babes tells the story of Rachel DeWoskin's five years in Beijing in the mid-90s. It focuses on her time filming the campy Chinese serial of the same name - 洋妞在北京- and her role as Jiexi, the foreign temptress who seduces and eventually marries the already-married Li Tianming. While she's doing this, she's also working at a PR firm despite a dearth of experience, meeting new people and settling in.

It's tightly-written with attention to clear prose and contains realistic dialogue - the kind where you hear the speakers' voices in your head rather than being thunked back to the page by a clunky, unrealistic or overly whimsical turn of phrase. She's neither positive nor negative, just pragmatic and grounded. She does touch on issues surrounding being a female expat, but that's not the main thrust of the book. Considering the difficulties facing foreign women in China (and the difficulties facing Chinese women in China, but that's a different tome), I'd like to see someone explore such issues in more depth.

I did find the first few chapters to be a bit jumpy and hard to follow despite long scrolls of clarity and insight - first she's at the PR firm, then she makes a friend, then she's at the Beiying studio, then she's not going to take the part, then she takes the part, and here's this other friend, and now some more talk about the PR office, back to the studio...huh? - although this could be partly my fault, as I covered the first half in 1/2 hour chunks on the Taiwan High Speed Rail to Hsinchu and back. I never did get a clear idea of when she and her Chinese-American boyfriend got together and when they broke up. I never was clear on whether she really was a vegetarian or whether that was a made-up issue to avoid eating fatty meat lunch boxes every day.

It settles, though, into an entertaining and incisive account of what life is (was?) like for foreigners in Beijing at that time. I moved to Guizhou not long after DeWoskin left Beijing, and I can say that my experience was 100% 180-degrees flip-me-on-my-head, what-the-hell-is-this different, but I lived in the countryside. No weird nightclubs, expat bar strips, dangerously sexy Chinese boyfriends, expats (there were three of us kind-of-normals and one perpetually drunk pervert from Los Angeles, that's it), illegal apartments (school took care of that), office towers or Chinese celebrities. We had beer by the river, one kitschy bar, ugly skinny smoking local guys who wore white athletic socks with ill-fitting black dress pants whom you'd never ever date, a pachinko parlor shaped like the Sphinx (I'm not joking) and nights drinking hawberry liquor with locally made lemon lime soda that will probably be the cause of our stomach cancer someday. We had rampant sexism, roaches and pneumonia. We had some great adventures, too.

In short, I lived in China, but I have never lived in DeWoskin's China. That doesn't mean she's wrong, it just means that Beijing is nothing like Guizhou!

Something I want to note that I really loved about this book: it managed to strike a non-political tone while discussing some deeply sensitive political issues, and while it didn't get overly opinionated about the China-Taiwan issue, she pulled no punches over describing her Taiwanese colleague as a fellow "foreigner", albeit a foreigner who doesn't look the part. She never once implies that Taiwan is anything other than a country, although she doesn't say so outright. She uses no pandering language - you won't reading piddling words such as "territory" here. I appreciate that. Rachel, if you ever read this review, as a foreigner who deeply loves Taiwan and supports Taiwanese sovereignty, I want to personally thank you for that. So many authors get all wimpy-knuckled over this issue, and you didn't. You gave your former coworker Gary and Taiwan the respect they deserve. Good job.

There are other parts that I liked - describing what it was like to be called to film at 1am, not going and calling one's parents instead. Descriptions of other foreigners and her interactions with them, and what it feels like to be a part of the expat community (not a feeling I've ever had, mind you, but interesting to read about). Weird nightclubs. Being told that reporters are afraid it will be hard to communicate with you, so they write your views themselves, attach your byline and that you should consider this a compliment.

It also struck me while reading that my life in Taipei is so different - so very, very different - from DeWoskin's life in China that it was a worthy read just to explore and consider the contrasts. It reminded me that in so many ways life here is Easy Street, and why I chose Taipei over Beijing. Beijing has this ring of exoticism and fantasy in the minds of people back home - but I can honestly say that Taipei, despite not being as internationally noted as Beijing, is a better city. I've been to Beijing. I've seen the six lane boulevards with no crosswalks and walls on each side, hacked through the pollution and dealt with the locals who either don't care about you or want to sell you something (and after they sell it to you, they don't care about you unless they think they can sell you more). DeWoskin's portrayal of Beijing is more sympathetic, and yet it still reminded me: yes, sorry, Taipei is better. 

I do strongly recommend this book for any woman moving abroad, especially to Asia and super-especially to China. It's also worthwhile for those moving to Taiwan, mostly for the expat insights which are true in almost any foreign country as well as the counterpoint to what life in Taiwan is like.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Song Chu (宋廚) - A Sad Rant About Great Duck

宋廚(Song Chu)
#14, Lane 15 Zhongxiao E. Road Sec. 5
(Almost right next to/slightly behind MRT City Hall)

I have two things to say about Song Chu:

1.) The Beijing Duck is divine. (那邊的北京烤鴨真好吃)
2.) The service is terrible. (他們的服務非常糟糕呢!)

Song Chu is famous for its Beijing duck - most of my students have eaten there at least once and while it doesn't seem to be that well-known in expat circles (certainly it's known, but doesn't seem to be that famous) it's very well regarded among Taipei residents. To eat there, you have to either a.) know someone or b.) stand in line on the first of the month in the morning (get there no later than 10am, and I'd advise earlier) to reserve a table. You can call, but they won't answer. People we know with high positions in various companies seem to eat there often, and I don't believe for a minute that they actually wait in line on the 1st day of the month - they might send their assistants to do it, but more likely they just have some guanxi and don't have to stand around like us plebes. I had to stand around on April 1st to get a reservation for this past Saturday (May 28).

We ordered some other food to go with the duck, as one does. Some sliced fish in a slightly sweet, slightly savory goopy sauce (it was good, really), sweet potato leaves, onion pancake and other things. The other food was good, but not great. If I'd been taken out to a basic Chinese banquet hall and fed it, I'd think it was just fine, but I wouldn't write home about it.

The duck is really where it's at, and also where things went terribly wrong.

When I made the reservation - an hour and a half standing in the sun dodging scooters with the other duck-seekers - I told them our party size (nine) and that we "weren't going to order too many side dishes, we want lots of duck. Basically only duck." "We can do that!" the woman taking the reservation said.

So I figured, you know, they're professionals, they should know that a party of nine who orders relatively few dishes (which weren't worth a two hour wait) and wants to mostly gorge out on duck is going to need two ducks.

Yes, I should have been more specific and said "two ducks!" - but then they also should have asked (they didn't).

So we eat the food, and eagerly await our duck, and one duck's worth of duck arrives. And it's delicious. It's amazing. It's juicy and fatty without being greasy. The plum sauce is truly memorable. Everything is fresh. It's tender. It's better than Celestial and much better than Wei Fu Lou. I ask for more duck.

There is no more duck, because "you only ordered one duck when you reserved."

Err, no, I didn't. I said I wanted enough duck for nine people who didn't plan on eating a lot of other things.

"But we called you to confirm your reservation and you didn't say two ducks."

"You didn't ask and I thought you guys were true professionals and should be able to handle this sort of thing."

"When a table makes a reservation, we always give them one duck unless they ask for more. You should know that."

"How? Nobody told me that. Nobody said 'one duck'. Nobody informed me of this policy. You certainly didn't tell me when I reserved the table."

"I'm sorry but that's how we do it, and we don't have another duck. You can always order more food."

"I don't want other food. I didn't come here to eat mid-range sweet potato leaves. I can do that anywhere without having to wait in line for two hours to reserve a table. I want to speak to the boss. I am really not satisfied. I expected better."

"The boss isn't here." (Either she was lying through her teeth - which is quite likely - or the owner of the place never actually visits and lives off the profits in some hideous granite and marble monstrosity on Ren'ai Road, which I concede is also likely.)

We didn't really get an apology - a mumbled 不好意思 doesn't count. We didn't get anything that would have made me satisfied. Call me spoiled but if I'm going to go to some effort to eat somewhere, I expect satisfaction equal to the time and money spent. I realize this doesn't always happen in Asia unless you're in Japan (and not even always there - try ordering a sandwich from a set menu but asking them to leave off mayonnaise or something), but, you know, I really was not happy.

I'd say "they've lost my business" but it doesn't matter - they're famous. They have a line that unfurls down the block every first of the month. My decision not to eat there again doesn't really affect anything (sort of like how I'm on Dingtaifung strike because as good as their dumplings are, they're shockingly overpriced).

It's a shame though. The duck is truly sublime. If they'd offered some little olive branch to keep the customer happy, this would have been a rave review. Instead it's a rant...and that sucks for everyone.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shao Shao Ke (勺勺客)

Shao Shao Ke (勺勺客)
#15 Lane 41 Ren Ai Road Sec. 2

We ate at this Shaanxi restaurant with delicious food on Saturday. I was so looking forward to it that despite my headache and tingling tongue from mouthfuls of crystallized ibuprofen, I made myself venture out anyway. I wasn't disappointed!

As I don't have any photos from the restaurant, I thought I'd share some of my pictures from Xi'an, which I visited in 2002 during my year in China. The one where I got pneumonia. Twice. And three of my teeth rotted from acidic water. The quality is not great, because the originals were scanned at a low resolution and have been transferred from computer to computer to facebook to computer several times.

I like how the poor evening light with my circa-2000 film (not digital) camera makes this photo look far older than it is.

You might know Shaanxi as the province of China that boasts Xi'an (or Chang'an), an old Chinese capital and one of the few large Chinese cities worth visiting*.

The food at Shao Shao Ke is from a range of regions, which makes sense as Xi'an was the end of the Silk Road through Western China, and as a large metropolis and capital it would have a lot of dealings with other parts of the region that is now unified China (unified against the will of many people, but unified nonetheless). Delicious spiced lamb kebabs and fried lamb and pork with cumin are a highlight - the Muslims out west may not have eaten pork, but I am all in favor of food syncretism. The non-Muslim Chinese eat a lot of pork, so taking the spice recipe from their trading partners out west and applying it to their most common meat is fine by me.

Even the terracotta warriors were cold on that snowy day.

The vinegary crunchy potato with chilis was also delicious, as was the "shao mo" - a lamb soup where you tear up two rounds of bread on your own, and they fill the bowl of it again and again with soup. Other dishes were similarly tasty - apologies for not having a clear memory, as I was dealing with a headache at the time - and the fried bread dessert was delicious. My students recommend trying the fried cheese dessert next time (I believe it's called "Fried Mozarell" on the menu). We also had northern Chinese style sesame buns with pork. Delicious, but this is one case in which I believe Do It True (都一廚) does a better job. Generally I was a bit disappointed in Do It True, but their fatty pork in sesame buns was delish. In all fairness, the food at Do It True was not bad at all; it's just that it is so over-hyped that when I got there and realized it's rather standard...well, I fell from the cliff of high expectations.

I am pretty sure you can also find this sign at the edge of the Cliff of High Expectations.

Dishes are not expensive, and sizes are small - you're not going to get a huge steaming platter of food meant to feed 20 with each one. I like this: generally, smaller plates of food means better food, cooked with more attention and care.

Don't believe the final paragraph of the review linked above: there are, in fact, dishes that you need to order in advance: the fried stuffed eggplant and fried stuffed egg, for example.

I think this is a geniunely lovely photo and the next time I am near my original film prints I'll scan a higher resolution copy.

Atmosphere was great: spacious enough to move around, but small enough to not feel like a sterile banquet hall (sorry, Celestial Restaurant, your food is great but your giant banquet table atmosphere is lacking). It's got an intentional cave-like feel, but with white walls so it doesn't feel claustrophobic. You can write on the walls, by the way. Strings of dried garlic decorate the stairway ledge. Call ahead for large groups; it's a large restaurant but by no means massive.

Whatever you do, make sure you try it. It goes on my list of "Best of Mainland Food" from this day forward**.

This, I suppose, is what little kids in Xi'an do for fun. There's nothin' more exciting than dragging broken plastic lamps around by their power cords!

*Not to totally denigrate China: when you can see past the roving clouds of smog, the Chinese countryside is lovely and the people who inhabit that countryside can be quite hospitable. Chinese cities, however, are another thing entirely. To put it mildly, I can't stand them. All the white tile and blue glass and gray skies, the rude people, spitting and exhaust fumes and acres of cement. Taipei has trees and parks. Most Chinese cities have paved esplanades and grayish stumps that cry, "I was once a tree". How sad.

Xi'an has some of this, but it's worth a visit regardless: it's the end of the Silk Road, so you'll see a lot of Central Asian influence, the city walls and bell tower, as well as a few pagodas and temples, are still intact, and of course there are the terra cotta warriors, often grouped in a tour with the bathhouse of Yang Guifeng (which is nice, but not a must-see) and the tomb of the First Emperor, which is fun to climb but also not a must-see. I climbed it in the snow.

** My "Best of Mainland Food" List:

Ningxia: Hui Guan

Beijing: Celestial (though I'm hoping to find someplace better) - see above

Shaanxi: Shao Shao Ke

Guangzhou/Hong Kong: haven't found anyplace exceptional yet

Shanghai: Shanghai Dumpling (need to make sure it's still there) - yes, it's just as good as Dintaifung. YES IT IS. And cheaper, too.

Harbin: Harbin Dumpling King (though the owner admits there's no real "Harbin" food, and he cooks classic, delicious food from across China)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving - Do It True, My Sweetie Pie

L to R: Jane, Cara, Brendan, me, Joseph, Emily, Sasha

Last year on Thanksgiving we went to Exotic Masala House for an Indian feast. A good time was had by all (me, my sister, our friends Joseph, Emily and Sasha - Brendan had work and joined us later).

Because, you know, even though Thanksigiving more or less commemorates that time the Native Americans were nice to us Europeans before we started killing them all, Americans (generally speaking) feel the need to make a big to-do about it. I think this is equally because we get two days off and are meant to go visit our families (which can be tough if you live far away, as you're more likely to go see them on Christmas just a few weeks later) and so it's a time for good food, warm houses and a huge helping of family drama... well as because it's the start of the Christmas season, which is truly The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. Not for all that religious stuff - I'm not religious beyond thinking that Daoism is cool and Christianity has a few moral codes that are quite sensible - but because of the obvious stuff: cheesy songs, Christmas lights, trees, gingerbread, hot red wine, cookies and yes, Christmas gifts! Giving just as much as receiving if not more so.

So what does an expat do on Thanksgiving? Well, we wanted something new and we wanted a bird of some sort, so we settled on Do It True - an extremely famous restaurant known for its exceptional Beijing (sorry, Beiping) traditional cuisine. We figured they'd have Beijing Duck as well as other dishes, so that'd take care of our desperate need for Thanksgiving fowl. Which is good, as duck is hands-down more delicious than turkey, at least commercially sold turkey.


Do It True was good. It was. The food was just fine - especially the spicy braised pork with oodles of lard that one stuffs into sesame buns (called "sesame bums" on the menu, tee hee) and the cedar-scented bean curd (a bean curd with some oil and green chopped vegetable with a strong whiff of woody cedar...not sure how they accomplished that).

But honestly speaking, there are plenty of Beiping-style restaurants in Taipei and while Do It True was quite a nice meal, I feel like we could have done just as well at a local joint.

And they don't serve Beijing duck. Their pine-smoked whole chicken was sold out, so our bird ended up being a plate of kung pao chicken! (Which is more or less fine - it was pretty good considering that this was not a Sichuanese restaurant).

This is not to say I give them a bad review - it really was a good meal. I just wonder why it's sooooo famous. (I did hear a story that the owner retired and left it to his children, who kind of screwed up, and quality went down. Then they redoubled their efforts and things got better, but the food is still not quite as good as it used to be. I wonder how true that is.) Is it worth trekking out to Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall to eat here? Yeah...sure. But if you're really after good Beijing food - which incidentally is hard to find in Beijing these days - a local place will suffice. And if you want truly amazing regional cuisine from China that will knock your socks off, try Hui Guan for Ningxia food or the Sichuan place with the crazy chef at #5 Renai Road in Yonghe (MRT Dingxi).

Then we taxi'd over to My Sweetie Pie* (owned by Grandma Nitti's across the street) in Shi-da for some good old-fashioned dessert, which we picked up along with Belgian beer from Cafe Bastille (I got "Satan Gold") and headed over to a friend's for pie, beer and chatting.

What the food scene in Taipei really needs is a cafe that has My Sweetie Pie quality desserts and Cafe Bastille beer. The desserts at Bastille are "meh" at best and their food is, as the article says, atrocious - and My Sweetie Pie doesn't seem to do alcohol and definitely doesn't have a wide selection of good beer.

*I'm happy this place got reviewed in Hungry Girl but I would have focused more on the amazing cakes and pies and less on the rest of the menu, as really the best reason to go there is to eat a slice of cake or pie or get a real dessert treat in the form of a whole cake for someone special. I don't mind that the slices are smaller than back home because I'm not one of those naturally thin (or unnaturally thin come to think of it) people who can eat fat slices of cake all the time, and I love raisins, including in apple pie. Also, they make a very good espresso.