Showing posts with label chinese_food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chinese_food. Show all posts

Saturday, March 17, 2018

In defense of Taiwanese food

Braised meat rice with shredded chicken, tender bamboo and tea egg with pickled radish. It was very good, and doesn't get more Taiwanese than this.  

Look, I know a lot is going on and I could write all about it now. Warmongering jerk and friend of Taiwan (guh) John Bolton is about to be promoted to National Security Advisor and...guh. Maybe I'll say something about it later. The Taiwan Travel Act is now law. Yay! The Daybreak Project is cool (although I have a low-key pet peeve about using the word 'project' to describe these sorts of things and I don't even know why, it's still cool and I won't hold that against it and you should check it out). I have been growing more annoyed in recent weeks with equating displaying the ROC flag with 'supporting Taiwan' and would like to say something about that.

I can and will write about some of these things, but I'm TIRED. My last paper of the term is due soon and I really need a montage. So, instead I want to write about food.

The Michelin guide for Taiwan came out

I'm not even going to bother writing much about what made it in and what didn't, because maybe I'm too Anthony Bourdainy about this but...what is considered when awarding a star - what those guys think makes food great - is not what I think goes into food that is actually great. I never intentionally eat anywhere with a star, and am more than likely to avoid starred restaurants because they'll be pricey and crowded and frankly, I think the food is probably better in some local stall or market. Sorry, but between some Fancy Thing for NT$1500 from a restaurant that's been around for maybe a decade, or A-ma who has made onion pastries or gua bao for 50 years out of the same little stall...A-ma probably does a damn good job, quite possibly a better one, for a tiny fraction of the cost.

But I will say this - some people are upset that Taiwanese food didn't get more recognition from Michelin. The top-rated restaurants seemed to be in hotels, and tended to be either Chinese (not Taiwanese), Japanese or Western/innovative (I think there was one Taiwanese restaurant on there). And I get it - loving Taiwan means maybe hoping its food gets some international fine dining recognition. Some people reading this might even be thinking "why does Taiwanese food need to be defended?"

It has certainly been said before that there's a sad history in Taiwan of elevating cuisines from China to 'gourmet' status while treating Taiwanese food as a poor, not-as-good provincial cousin.

It's also been said that despite Taiwanese loving to rhapsodize about their excellent food, that it's actually...not that great. Basically, that maybe more Taiwanese restaurants didn't get Michelin stars because they didn't deserve them.

I'm going to take a middle road here.

I think Taiwanese food is great, and I also acknowledge it lacks the complexity and rarefied quality of some other cuisines (such as certain cuisines of China, most Southeast Asian food). And I'm fine with that.

When I say that I'd rather eat A-ma's onion cake or at some random market stall or just a good bowl of braised meat rice, and I think that food is fantastic, what I mean is that to me great food doesn't always come from a delicate kitchen genie spinning rare and expensive ingredients into improbably complicated food sculptures that melt in your mouth. While it's true that some expensive ingredients require expertise to work with - don't cast your fig balsamic or fleur de sel or even workaday lemon zest before swine because a thoughtless chef will destroy what is wonderful about these things - it's also true that okay chefs can make better food with better ingredients.

What really warms me inside is everyday ingredients made into something really tasty and satisfying. That takes a great chef. That takes A-ma who's been at it for half a century. Anyone can learn to make a good quality steak taste great.

But only real talent coupled with many years of practice can take gross old pork scraps and some soy sauce and whatever and make a freaking delicious braised meat rice. That is talent I admire.

It's also not the talent that bags Michelin stars (it might bag a Bib Gourmand note, but that's not the same thing) and I am totally okay with that.

And yet, I admit that Taiwanese cuisine lacks the vivacity of other foods - it doesn't have that deep, delicious tastes that Indian gravies are known for, or the marriage of tart, sweet, spicy and salty (and creamy, from the coconut milk) found in, say, Thai food.

I'm still okay with that - to me, Taiwanese food is what it is because of Taiwanese history. This is a country that was once described as having a "history of agonies". Even if you won't sign off on that description, it's a history of cohesive identity denied or actively suppressed, a history of being treated like a backwater or second-class colonial holding, of (until recently) poverty and agriculture and immigrants and refugees trying to carve out a better life - while, it should be said - making life harder for those already here, on this "ball of mud beyond the pale of civilization".

That - and not a great history as a self-ruled kingdom with all of the trappings of king and court like Thailand or Vietnam, or following the same imperial-dynasty based cultural and political evolution of China - is what made Taiwanese food what it is. We have taro rice vermicelli and sweet potato balls and a variety of single-bowl rice and noodle dishes because that's the food of Taiwan's past. We didn't have a royal palace where great chefs could practice their craft for state banquets. We didn't have the same number of rich or noble families eating rare and expensive delicacies from fine porcelain plates. We just...didn't (or we had much less of it).

When your recorded history is entirely made up of an interplay between indigenous groups, farmers and foreign colonizers (yes, this includes China, which has absolutely been a foreign colonizer twice over) living on "the edge of civilization", what you get as a "national cuisine" is down-home farmer food, gross pig scraps and soy sauce made tasty by talented grandmas, the same onion cakes for 50 years. That is just what you get.

And that's fine. Every time I eat a good braised meat rice or something like it, I don't think "well, this tastes good but it's cheap and uses boring or mediocre-quality ingredients and is a bit blander than other cuisines". I think - if I am inclined to think rather than just stuff my face - that this is the food that speaks to the history of an island nation I care about, and you can all pipe down already because I like it quite a bit.

If it doesn't pull down Michelin stars, then the Michelin folks just don't get what makes some food great, and frankly I'm fine to have more of it to myself.

Yes, it's farmer food. But you know what? Farmer food is good. 

In fact, as a friend noted after I posted this on Facebook:

I actually think you don't go far enough... I'd say Taiwanese food may lack the complex flavors of South or Southeast Asian food, but instead emphasizes less flashy virtues like appreciating fresh ingredients' unadorned flavor. Sichuanese food is poor farmer food- you need the spiciness to cover possible rot. Taiwanese food is rich farmer's food.

And as another friend said:

Much of Taiwanese food is hearty and rustic, almost reminiscent of southern US cuisine.

Yup. I'll raise my chopsticks to that.

If Michelin doesn't think this merits stars, I'm going to offer up the opinion that the problem in terms of knowing good food is not Taiwan, but Michelin.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Black Garlic in Taipei!

I've been a bit busy to post actual longer posts these past few weeks, but I wanted to share my latest culinary find: black garlic! I had heard of it before but not had the chance to try it - it's an extremely flavorful ingredient made by...I guess by heating it on low, and perhaps steaming it then drying it (?) for a month or more. It turns the cloves shriveled and black and gives it a soft, spreadable texture and a taste that's somewhere in between soy sauce, tamarind and balsamic vinegar.

 photo photo 3.jpg

Well, there's someone in Taiwan who makes it - the store is just called 黑蒜頭 or "Black Garlic". It's made from garlic grown in Yunlin County and it is delicious.

To get some, take the MRT to Xinhai station. Exit and look almost immediately to your right (slightly away from the road, down another small dead-end road). Alternately, follow the smell of sweet roasted garlic that permeates the air for several meters in every direction. There's a small shop with a can't-miss sign (you can even see it from the MRT train if you take it past Xinhai) that says "Black Garlic" in English and Chinese and has a picture of black garlic on it for good measure.

Don't live in Taipei? You can also call them at (02)2934-0535 or visit their website. Apparently they do deliver!

This shop also has black garlic wine, vinegar and other items - I feel like black garlic wine would be a wonderful thing to cook with and I will eventually go back for some.

You can use it in a lot of different ways - it seems like it'd be really good in Italian, French or Spanish foods, and also work well in Chinese food (imagine a sauteed whole chicken rubbed down with the stuff, which also flavored the broth at the bottom of the pan, or on a fish that could handle its flavor). It seems to go especially well with vegetables, tomatoes, chicken and cheese. I think it'd be delicious as a lamb chop rub or with stuffed mushrooms.

But black garlic doesn't come cheap. One large bulb is NT100, a pack of 6 small bulbs is NT250, and a large pack is NT600. If you wanted to experiment with this ingredient or just eat it (it's delicious eaten straight), an NT100 bulb will do just fine.

Make sure you pick up a copy of their brochure for this little gem. Then stroll to victory with your black garlic!

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Little additional note: If you take that main road to the right for a few minutes' walk you'll also come to Mr. Lin, who makes old-school tatami mats that are far higher quality than the ones sold at B&Q. He is the only guy I can find left in Taipei who still does this.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Actually I just want to compare four Sichuanese restaurants I've been to recently or really just love, because Sichuanese food is kind of a passion of mine.

Tianfu 天府川菜


#5 Ren'ai Road, Yonghe (MRT Dingxi)

I know I am always referencing this place on my blog, but it deserves it. It's just SO GOOD. The boss is an old Sichuanese chef, a master really. It's a small place, easy to miss, and you wouldn't know it was so good unless someone told you (it just looks like a basic restaurant next to a fruit stand on an inconspicuous street in Yonghe).

So far, I feel that their spicy beef (水煮牛), spicy green beans, mouthwatering chicken, pork rib cooked with sweet potato and spicy tofu (麻婆豆腐) are the best in Taiwan. You really can't do better. Once - just once - the spicy tofu missed the mark. We ordered late and I think they were low on ground pork, so they just made what they could. Otherwise it's always been to a high standard of excellence.

Go early - they open at 5:30 and won't take orders after about 7:15pm (and they want you out by 8:30) - there's only one chef, and he sets the hours. If he's tired he closes up early. If he's in a good mood he might cook for you as late as 7:30! With any other restaurant I'd just not go back, but it's so damn good that I'm willing to put up with it.

Lao Sichuan 老四川


Chang'an Road between Songjiang and Jianguo (MRT Songjiang Nanjing, or the area is served by many buses) - I tried to get their address off their website but this is the best I could do (I did get lazy, though).

This is a Chongqing Hotpot restaurant, not a typical "Chengdu dishes" Sichuanese restaurant. It's "famous" in the Taiwanese sense (i.e. very well known and popular) - so famous that in Taipei it's hard to get reservations. I know people who have driven down to Zhubei to eat at the branch there! A friend of ours made the reservation, so we had the chance to go. The hotpot is spectacular, especially the spicy side. I've never been a big fan of the herbal side, at any restaurant. Definitely get their "famous" signature appetizer, which is noodles in a delicious spicy sauce. The edamame are great, too.

The hotpot here reminded me of when I had hotpot in Chongqing itself, and the hotpot I've had in Guizhou (just south of Chongqing) as well. It's the real deal.

I can't "compare" it to the two other restaurants because what they do is different, but it's definitely worth braving their tough reservation competition to go.

Some photos:



Spicy and herbal divided hot pot. You can ask for it with no blood. Look at those fresh sesame seeds!

Fuhua Sichuan 福華川菜


Xizang Road#228, Wanhua (a longish walk from MRT Longshan Temple, a few buses pass nearby including 307, or just take a cab)

This is a place my student recommended in Wanhua. She said "it's cheaper and better than Tianfu". I found it to be roughly the same price - a little cheaper - but not necessarily better.

The spicy beef - above - was very good, with tons of chili, fresh cilantro (Tianfu doesn't give you fresh cilantro) and very high quality tender meat, a bit fatty (a sign of quality in Chinese cooking). It was served on a sterno warmer, which Tianfu doesn't do. It was fantastic, although I would have added an extra handful of huajiao (花椒 - mouth-tingling Sichuan pepper). It also wasn't as complex as Tianfu in flavoring, but really it just needed more huajiao.

Rating: tied with Tianfu


These clams are not really Sichuanese, we just happen to like them.


The green beans were excellent - with more garlic and less black bean than Tianfu, and expertly seasoned and cooked (if you eat the beans without the topping they seem to need salt, but add the topping and the problem goes away).

Rating: as good as Tianfu


The kung pao chicken was AMAZING - cooked to perfection, not overcooked but not rare (rare chicken is, of course, gross and unsafe). It was glazed just so. needed hua jiao.

Rating: as good as Tianfu, would be better if it just had hua jiao.

The problems came later, with the eggplant (魚香茄子) and spicy tofu. The eggplant and tofu both lacked hua jiao totally. The eggplant was too sweet and didn't have enough pork. The tofu was low quality, not savory enough and not NEARLY spicy enough.


Eggplant - not as good as Tianfu

Ma Po Tofu - we almost sent it back. I was not pleased. I wonder when I told them specifically to add hua jiao and make it spicy, if the chef misheard the server (the server didn't mishear me, she'd confirmed it) or just decided there's no way foreigners would want that so I must have meant not spicy. I don't know, but either way it wasn't very good.

Han Chi Tiger Noodle


#203 Jinhua Street (金華街203號)

I can't really compare this place, which mostly does basic noodles and puffed rice soups in spicy Sichuan broth, with the others. I just wanted to include it because daaayum, these guys know how to add spice to a complex and well-flavored broth. They don't skimp on the hua jiao, that's for sure.

It's also the easiest to get to, the cheapest, and does not require a reservation.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Best Deer Penis Wine in Taipei


Deer Penis Wine (鹿鞭酒)
Huanhe Road north of Guangzhou Street, right side (past all the old appliances and the cool old temple, just past and across the street from Old Lin's Mutton Emporium, just walk to the end of Guangzhou to where the aboriginal market is, don't cross Huanhe, turn right and keep going).

Continue on from there and you'll find another guy with deer meat and, I think, wines, as well as snake and turtle.

First of all, I got new totally hipsteriffic glasses. So the first thing I did was put on my hipster earrings and take a selfie, because I'm totally not concerned about looking cool. At all. Really. I mean it.

Also, our honeymoon (a monthlong backpacking trip around Central America), submitted ages ago, was just featured on Offbeat Home. Go check it out!

Now that that important announcement is out of the way, we also decided (well, I decided and Brendan gamely went along) to finally try some things we hadn't tried in 7 years in Taipei. One of these is Chinese medicinal wine, which is usually made as an herbal tincture with deer parts.

Wanhua, especially the area outside of the Guangzhou Street/Huaxi Street Night Market (also called Snake Alley), has a lot of this sort of traditional stuff - you just have to leave the night market to find it, or head to a different, less touristy part of the market (Wuzhou Street is a branch off of this market that has consistently good food...and a lot of brothels). This is the sort of area where an obasan will sit minding her shop packed floor to rafters with giant colorful dildos, right next to her granddaughter sitting in that shop doing her homework, and maybe there'll be a small poodle, too.

So if you're going to find interesting traditional medicinal wines, Wanhua is the place.

The most common are deer antler (also available at Wellcome and 7-11 - this one is dead easy to find), deer blood (not safe if not made correctly) and deer penis (much harder to track down - PUN INTENDED).


Mmmm, delicious tincture of deer penis.

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but from what I've read, deer blood wine is, I believe, supposed to help with circulation and as a good iron supplement, and is good for bones. Deer antler is good for muscles and joints, and deer penis is good for, well, virility (but can be also good for joints, aches and other weak areas). From what I've read, although it's usually drunk by men as a natural Viagra, it can be drunk by women.

So, here goes.


It was surprisingly good. Like a slightly savory Jagermeister (for the herbal flavor - I know Jager doesn't actually have any deer in it). Think of it as the Jagermeister from an alternate universe in which all the urban legends are true. I'm not even joking.

The deer blood and penis, which might be gray market if not entirely illegal, is not labeled. You have to ask for it. 50 kuai for a glass as big as the one you see me drinking above. So if you want to try deer penis wine, you've just gotta know where to get it. And now you do!

Brendan and our friend Joseph tried some too, but I ended up drinking most of it. The owner wasn't too bothered about serving women his Viagra wine - he said nothing but his smile and body language said "Chhhhh...foreigners. Whatever."


You can also get venison kebab and various foods cooked in medicine, like snails and shrimp - and the chicken sausage (雞肉卷) is quite good. For every serving (two sticks) of venison you order, you get a free small glass of medicinal wine that is just herbs - no penis, no blood, no antler. We drank that too.


This stuff doesn't have any penis in it. Boo.


Afterwards, I felt pretty good. Brendan and Joseph were all like 'eh' I guess the stuff really does work just as well, if not better, on women!


The best part was the dude at the end of the stall with his own bottle of deer blood wine, getting completely toasted. I am not sure how one could get toasted on medicinal wine (I felt great but too much of the stuff can't be good for you), but he was managing that.

Happy deer penis drinking!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

貴州人怕不辣 ("In Guizhou, people are afraid food is not spicy enough")

"Mi pi" noodles in a sour spicy sauce
Dazhi Road Lane 46 #27, Dazhi District, Taipei (MRT Dazhi - surprise!)

In 2002 and 2003 I lived in Guizhou (貴州), a southwest-central province of China. Specifically, the city of Zunyi (遵義), in the north part not far from the Moutai brewery and, further up, Chongqing.

When I lived there, for most lunch meals that I didn't eat at the school, I would go out for either the town's famous lamb noodles (遵義羊肉面) or get something called "mi pi", or "rice skin" noodles. Like the wide "bantiao" noodles popular in Hakka cuisine in Taiwan (板條), they're basically soft, white, wide, thin noodles - but these are much wider than bantiao and served in a much spicier sauce with ground lamb or pork and vinegary undertones. It tends to be spicier, reminiscent of the flavors of Chongqing hot pot, in the north and more sour, reminiscent of Miao (苗族) cuisine in the south where there are more ethnic minorities - mainly Miao but also Dong and others.

Mi pi quickly became my favorite food IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, second only to dried chilis stuffed with rice gluten and baked until the chili skin crackled. I've tried every Chinese restaurant that does a good job with southwestern Chinese fare - Sichuan, Hunan, Chongqing, Yunnan - and never found my mi pi outside of Guizhou. It was so simple and yet so perfect. And I could only have it in Guizhou - it was too simple, too local, too basic, to be served elsewhere it seemed.

Until now. 

The other day I read a review of "Oriental Cuisine" in the Taipei Times (linked above) and thought "I must go there immediately". It was actually my husband who found the review, but I was the one squealing giddily over it. Finally! MY FOOD! I could have MY FOOD again! I didn't like a lot about China - I got pneumonia twice in one year after all - but I loved, loved, LOVED the food, especially the amazing yet underrated cuisine of my "home state" of Guizhou. It was like Sichuanese food only better. As though Sichuanese food could get better (actually, it can).

There's even a saying: 四川人不怕辣,湖南人辣不怕,貴州人怕不辣. In Sichuan, the people are not afraid of spicy food. In Hunan, the people of spicy food they are not afraid. In Guizhou, the people are afraid food is not spicy enough!

And it is so true. The variety and depth of spice in cool, humid, mountainous and poverty-stricken Guizhou (all true: they also say that "in Guizhou you cannot walk three steps without going uphill, it cannot go three days without raining, and the people do not have three pennies to rub together") is truly a magical, life-changing thing. I tear up just thinking about it - and not from the chilis. The sweat on my brow from a fiery soup steeped in chili oil. The long-term burning of the dried chilis used in many dishes, especially when tempered with nothing but rice gluten. The use of grilling, stewing and adding sour or bitter notes, the sharpness black pepper and flower pepper (花椒, a personal favorite of mine and found in all good Sichuanese food) created a cuisine that I grew very attached to.


Unfortunately, Guizhou cuisine, for reasons I cannot explain, has not caught fire - pun intended - abroad the way Sichuanese and Hunanese cuisines have. Why? Why?! I honestly don't know.  So, after leaving Guizhou, I'd resigned myself to never enjoying that particular beauty again, unless I were to return for a culinary visit (which I fully intend to do, even if I will never again live in China).

And then, there was magic.

A restaurant - in Taipei!!!!!!! - specializing in Guizhou food with a guy who had studied it in depth and in meticulous detail at the helm? Oh, pinch me! Bring my smelling salts! Bring my stuffed dried chilis and my mi pi sauce! BRING IT!

So, it was really not an option: we had to eat there as soon as possible. Which we did, on Sunday.  We ordered many of their most famous dishes, I got my mi pi (not seen on the menu, but he could whip it up for me easily enough) and I had a lot of great banter with the chef about the wonderfulamazingness of the food of Guizhou. Either he was humoring me or he was genuinely pleased to meet another fan of the cuisine who had been there and knew what she was talking about.

The chef explains the history of Miao dry chicken pot as my friend Cathy gazes into the wok
We also ordered a meat dish cooked with a special root which has a bitter-ish taste (one of the only bitter tastes I can handle) and a fishy smell - and not in a good way. I'd seen it many times in Guizhou, and at the time didn't like it. With five years of Chinese cuisine under my belt, I was ready for another go. This time, I can say I honestly liked it. My, how things change.

Scary root dish that is a little bitter and smells of fish
We ordered some of the cheaper Moutai - not the "ten thousand NT a bottle" stuff, but good stuff - to drink to our amazing meal. Despite not being the most expensive kind, it did make us a little lightheaded.

And the meal was amazing. This chef is the real deal - he knows what he's doing and the food delivers.

 We also got the Miao sour fish soup (above), which comes with a "dipping soup" for the fish slices - amazingly boneless - shown below. So good. This reminded me less of Zunyi - mi pi and lamb noodle territory - and more of Kaili, the Miao stronghold in the south of the province, not far from Guanxi.

Good decor, too.

All I can say is that if you live in Taipei like spicy food, you have to eat here. If you don't, I will punch you in the face.

And now, please enjoy some of my photos from Guizhou - this trip down memory lane brought to you by the fine folks at Oriental Cuisine. Just to give you a little cultural and landscape background to the food that you WILL eat because I will MAKE you eat it. You don't have a choice, sorry.

Kaili textile market

Downtown Guiyang - China Construction indeed

A "Chinese horoscope" game in Zunyi - you get a lollipop that looks like the animal
the spinner lands on

Somewhere in Zunyi

Minority woman (Dong, perhaps?)

Phoenix Park in Zunyi

Zunyi wet market spice shop

A very poor area in northern Guizhou

Villager in a Dong minority area

Miao woman outside Kaili, preparing to go to a wedding (which I was invited to, attended,
but could not take photos of as it was too dark - it was amazing)

Zunyi's main wet market

Miao woman outside Kaili

Miao girl and her mother dressed up in a village outside Kaili (we were going to a wedding)

View from the highway between Guiyang and Zunyi, central Guizhou

Miao mother and child Chong'an in southwest Guizhou

Southwest Guizhou

Miao textiles for sale (I own several)

Way up by the Chongqing border

Capital city of Guiyang

Near Chishui (north Guizhou)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Restaurant Review: Yin Yi (銀翼/ "Silver Wings")

Yin Yi / Silver Wings Restaurant
(02) 2341-7799
Jinshan S. Road Sec. 2 #18 2nd floor / Jinshan Xinyi intersection

金山南路2段18號2樓 / 金山信義路口
10am-2pm, 5pm-9pm

MRT CKS Memorial Hall (you could also get there from Zhongxiao Xinsheng without much trouble. It's very close to the Xinyi end of Yongkang Street).

Notes: Reservations recommended, great for large groups, some specialty dishes need to be ordered in advance (a few hours ahead)

Four words: really tasty, great service. Here's a rundown in Chinese.

So, OMG, I managed to find a good restaurant recommended by a student that has not already been reviewed in the Taipei Times! Yin Yi is locally famous, although not really well-known among expats (obviously, the restaurants that get to be known among us foreigners tend to be the ones that end up in guidebooks, which are often good, sometimes not). Rather like Rendezvous (龍都酒樓, another gem), local reactions to my eating there run along the lines of "it's famous! How did you know about it?!" with the strong implication that all Taiwanese in Taipei have heard of these places but it's expected that foreigners have not.

清炒鱔魚 - slivered braised eel (or something like eel)

Yin Yi specializes in Yangzhou food (from the province of Jiangsu, but cuisine from here is apparently closer to Shanghainese or Zhejiang food), although locals I know have mistakenly said that it's a "Zhejiang" restaurant or even a "Shanghai" restaurant. I'll be honest - the food was amazing, but if you told me "this is Zhejiang food" and not "this is Yangzhou food", I'd be all "Oh, OK." The three cuisines are really very similar. I wouldn't really know. I know a fair amount about regional Chinese cuisine, but I'm not an expert.

鍋粑蝦仁 - shrimp and puffed rice in tomato sauce

But anyway. The food. It was excellent! We had three kinds of dumplings cooked on pine needles, which give the dumplings a subtle but unique aroma and flavor. I highly recommend any one or all of the three.

小籠菜餃 (the second photo) - all the dumplings cooked on pine needles are recommended!

We had the famous shrimp pot with tomato sauce and puffed rice, which is a good dish to order if you're entertaining visiting friends or family members (or clients) - very easy on foreign palates. We had the "shanyu", which is like eel ("manyu"), which had an interesting texture. There was a shredded tofu and dried meat dish that, by east coast Chinese standards was spicy, but to this woman who lived in Guizhou and ate Sichuan-style food for a year, was not spicy at all, but still good. It was hard to tell what was tofu and what was meat, because it was all quite tender. We also had a sour cabbage salad and the red bean paste in fried tasty thing (it has a real name, but I prefer this one) as well as their famous noodle dish (蔥開煨麵), which was fantastic, but I don't have a photo. It's thick noodles in a cloudy soup with dried meat and shrimp: delicious!

紅椒肉絲炒干絲 - dried slivered pork, I think with tofu, and some chili

Finally, we had the duck. It's served as something between Beijing duck and fatty pork gua bao (the dish for which you put slices of braised fatty pork into sesame buns): a roast duck, more dry and not as 'lacquered' as Beijing duck is torn to shreds, and the shreds dipped lightly in salt and put into soft white buns. Absolutely delicious, and a real treat. The salt really made the dish: don't skimp.

香酥全鴨 - duck with bread. You can see what we did to this poor duck, who is now just a carcass (in our fridge, because we took it home - Imma make SOUP!)

Everything was  really just...good. I'm not sure how else to describe it: think of visiting a new city and having your friends there introduce you to their favorite place that isn't in guidebooks. Or going out with a group to a new restaurant and having just a fantabulous meal together. Think of a well-made, well-served meal where you leave thinking "that was so yummy, my stomach is so full, I'm going to get cramps if I try to walk!" That's really the tone the food at Yin Yi sets. For me, that's the hallmark of a good Chinese meal.

I'd also like to note Yinyi's fantastic service. These folks could really go teach Song Chu a thing or two about cultivating service that will keep people coming back. We got a free dish because I said the boss (or a boss, it's hard to tell), who also took care of our table looked like my boss - and he did. To the point where I was startled for a second. He brought a free dish (the sour cabbage salad) and said "it looks like you don't like your boss, and I don't want you to not like me!"

                                               拌白菜心 - sour cabbage salad with peanuts

When they realized it was Brendan's birthday - our reason for going out - they helped us with the cake I'd brought from My Sweetie Pie and gave us a plate of mint candies and almond roca (although we were so stuffed already that it was hard to eat it)! They didn't pressure us right away with the check, and they didn't try to overload us with food: what they said should be enough for 8 people was just about enough, but we ended up ordering more. At some less ingenuous restaurants - not sure if that's the right word but we'll go with it - they'll purposely upsell and oversell in the interest of raising the bill, not what you actually want to eat. At Yin yi, they recommended the dishes that they were truly famous for and didn't kill us with volume.

We killed ourselves with volume, ordering three extra dishes that we could barely finish!

It was never difficult to get a waiter to come over (something that is a problem at a few good restaurants in Taipei) and we never felt rushed, bothered, upsold or kicked out even though we stayed until closing time, even long after we'd finished our order and were having cake and Brendan was opening gifts.

                                            豆沙鍋餅 - red bean paste in tasty fried thing

All in all, it was a fantastic evening and I strongly recommend this restaurant to anyone and everyone. Especially for foreigners who like Chinese food but want dishes that are palatable to Western diners: this isn't American Chinese, not at all, but the flavors are the sort that Westerners can enjoy, even if they aren't used to the many variations of Chinese cuisine.

Now, as it was my dear husband's birthday, enjoy a few birthday pics!