Showing posts with label dessert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dessert. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Taichung: where transport cost more than my hotel

Taichung is now the second-largest city in Taiwan

Quite some time ago, I took a quick weekend jaunt to Taichung, mostly to see friends, but also to give the city a fair chance.

I'll admit, I've never been the biggest fan of Taichung, and I don't really understand why so many foreign residents say it's the best city in Taiwan to live. Sure, the weather is better, but the pollution is unbearable, making it hard to enjoy. Being in central Taiwan, it's equidistant from the attractions of both the north and south, but it's not actually in either of those places (to be fair, the area around Taichung is lovely). It's more laid-back, true, and more affordable - but there's also not a lot to do. The city has tried to improve public transport, but I'd say that has spectacularly failed. It has arguably one of the best night markets in Taiwan, but it's not easy to get to if you don't drive.

Miyahara, near Taichung Train Station

That said, I'd only stayed briefly in the past, usually on the way to somewhere else. So I felt I should at least spend a few days there before being so dismissive. It has also beaten out Kaohsiung to become the 2nd largest city in Taiwan, so it seemed like a good time to give it a chance.

The result? Mixed. Don't get me wrong, the cover photo on this is meant to be cheeky and fun, not a wholesale put-down of Taichung. I had a fun weekend - it's just that it cost me a hell of a lot of money to get around.

From our nighttime walk through central Taichung city

I arrived on a Friday evening and immediately went to a friend's house, where a few other friends had gathered. I drank a bit too much whiskey, ate a few too many fried chicken anuses,  and let's just say I'm pretty sure my friend had to call an exorcist to banish the demons I expelled in his bathroom later on. That was probably my most authentic Taichung experience: whiskey, chicken ass, and horking up that chicken ass a few hours later because why the hell would anyone eat that much chicken ass?

The next morning, I wandered downstairs not feeling great at all, and found a local breakfast shop. This is a small pleasure of Taiwan - little shops that have all sorts of tasty, greasy fare and are open until nearly lunchtime. Most foreigners in Taiwan seem to go for dan bing (a savory pancake-like roll with egg and filling, which is often cheese or bacon), but my go-to breakfast is a hamburger and turnip cake. The food was good and cheap and the atmosphere local. Being an industrial area, most of the other customers were Southeast Asian - Taiwanese factories frequently employ labor from nearby countries. This is one facet of the real Taiwan: not a "pure Han Chinese" "island" which is "historically a part of China" with "Chinese culture" where foreigners are temporary guests used for convenience, but a multicultural nation with a unique identity and strong ties to its Southeast Asian and Austronesian neighbors, where many foreigners of various backgrounds build long-term or permanent lives.

I'm a big fan of these flag guys - we have them in Taipei too

I have to say this for Taiwan: my friend lived in an industrial park. This is not what you'd imagine in the West: there is residential and commercial activity in such places in Taiwan. That said, in the US, in an "industrial" zone on the outskirts of town, I don't know if I'd have felt safe as a woman walking around alone. In my native land, such an area would probably have been a quiet, eerie place on a Saturday morning. Too deserted for a woman to feel comfortable.

In Taiwan, I knew I was perfectly safe.

There's no Curry Orgasmo in Taipei

After saying goodbye to my friend (and reminding him that both of his bathrooms now contained horrors that needed a few power of Christ compels yous for them to be truly clean again, I mean spiritually clean, not just mopped down, and, oh, sorry about that), I came face to face with Taichung's biggest problem: just...not very good public transport at all. I'd stayed quite far from the city center, and faced a not-that-pleasant ten-minute walk to the nearest bus stop to get into town. No idea when the next bus would come - though to be fair that particular route was probably well-serviced - I took a taxi.

The cost of that taxi was about half of what I'd spent on the hotel. It's not that I didn't have the money, I just resented spending that much cash to get around. I like cities that facilitate rather than hinder transit. I can drive: I even hold an international driver's permit. I won't drive in cities, though, because I value my life and my sanity. I'm not a comfortable city driver by any means, although I'm quite happy to tool around the mountains in a rental car. For someone like me, who feels deeply uncomfortable with city driving, there is no easy way to get around Taichung.

An evening walk in Taichung - if you have nothing else to do here, at least get yer teeth did at Hotshot Dental Center (if you are too snobbish for that, there's an Elitist Dentist in Taipei you can visit)

I waited for my husband to show up - he would meet me in Taichung after his Saturday morning private class, and we'd grab a late lunch before checking out Taichung's #1 tourist attraction: Miyahara.

I - and every other tourist in Taichung - enjoyed Miyahara, a gorgeous setting to have tea, coffee or ice cream. I almost feel obligated to write that, though. I'd write more, but Miyahara is well-covered elsewhere. We enjoyed the atmosphere enough that we ended up hanging out there until it was time to go to dinner. Even the view (of the abandoned Qianyue Building) felt very Taiwanese. As Stephanie Huffman noted in Formosa Moon, Taiwan does a good job of not hiding its scars.

Later that evening, it was also pleasant to walk from downtown - most affordable hotels are near the train station - to meet another friend in a restaurant near the Calligraphy Greenway. We avoided the massive Taiwan Boulevard, which didn't run particularly close to our destination, and took quiet backstreets. Again, in Taiwan we knew this was perfectly safe. I don't know that I would have done so after dark in many American cities.

Buses along Taiwan Boulevard were an option, but not particularly convenient to where we were going. Fortunately, we didn't mind the walk. Good thing too, as there was no alternative way to get there.

We met at Curry Orgasmo. If you're wondering whether I chose it for the name...I did. Also, it has perfectly acceptable (but not orgasmic) curries, and there isn't one in Taipei. This part of town is great for nighttime walking - there are parks, shops, restaurants, places to grab a drink. It's lively, without the unending crowds of Taipei. If I were planning to return to Taichung I'd look into staying in this neighborhood instead. The area around the train station is crowded and bustling, and the hotels are cheaper (some of them don't give you condoms and lube on the nightstand, even) but there's not quite as much to do.

After curry, beer and chat, we were meant to head out to meet yet another friend for drinks and dessert at Delys&Sens - a bar and cafe that had real French desserts and well-made drinks by an expert...what are the kids calling it these days, "mixologist"? Count me in!

A drink from Delys&Sens


Desserts at Delys&Sens

Inviting our dinner companion along, we realized that the walk from Curry Orgasmo to Delys&Sens would be just a bit too far, so we hopped in another taxi. Despite friends insisting that Taichung does have a working bus-based public transit network, there was no clear way to get between the two without a wait and walk that was long enough to not justify trying.

Delys&Sens was absolutely fantastic - I enjoyed hearing about how the bartender refused to work with Aperol but was willing to use Campari, despite being a fan of Aperol myself (too many grad school-based summers in Europe) - and the desserts, well, I wish I could easily find desserts that good in Taipei at reasonable prices. In Taipei, I feel like I usually end up with a $200NT slice of defrosted chocolate cake purchased from the same factory that every other cafe orders from.

This was a level above. Just good Western desserts. Just good. With good drinks. Just...good. I cannot recommend it highly enough. We were also able to sit on an outdoor terrace - a rare treat coming from Taipei, where there is hardly ever outdoor seating (it's not only too crowded, the weather just doesn't cooperate most of the time). It was one of those laid-back evenings in a different city with friends that you can enjoy when you actually live in a country, rather than trying to pack in must-see tourist destinations from dawn-till-bedtime.

No chicken asses to be found, but I'd had enough of those. This was another Taiwan urban experience.

Scenes of Hell at the City God Temple

The next day, we started with coffee and a browse of the books for sale at Fleet Street. Then we set out to find some of Taichung's older points of interest - the City God Temple (城隍廟), which is to the south of Taichung train station and in the area where the Qing were building what was to be the capital of Taiwan ("Taiwan City"). Nothing remains: the temple is still there, but the rest was torn down by the Japanese. But, it's an interesting old part of the city to poke around in and get a cheap lunch.

The temple itself is also interesting, with - as City Gods aren't always the nicest or kindest dudes - lots of scenes of Hell, as in, that's where you'll go if the City God judges you at your death to deserve it.

Fleet Street Cafe

Then we tried to take a look at the old Imperial Examination Hall - a wooden structure, one of the oldest and best-preserved Qing-era buildings in Taiwan - but it was closed for renovation. We tried to sneak in, but it just wasn't happening (and perhaps was not entirely safe).

A peek through the bars at the Qing Imperial Examination Hall

A zoomed-in look at the Examination Hall

As - again - there was no public transport between these two stops, we were downright flushed from walking given the heat of the day. We'd also stopped in a Filipino supermarket we'd passed to load up on things that can be hard to find in regular shops - beef bouillon, adobo seasoning, that sort of thing.

Fortunately, near the examination hall, one can find Taichung's old City Hall, a gorgeous Japanese-era building that is still in use as a government office. You're allowed to take a look as long as you sign in, at least on Sundays (I can't speak for whether that's possible on weekdays, as it seems to hold functioning office space). This sort of building just feels like Taiwan: Chinese on the signage, a Japanese colonial-style building, all bricks, concrete and plaster, colonnades. Balmy tropical heat, palm trees in the courtyard. Peeling paint. A laid-back, chilled-out vibe. A friendly security guard lounging out front, drinking from his glass thermos of Chinese-style tea, who doesn't mind if you walk around unsupervised. Staircases with worn-out red carpeting, the mechanical sound of a big metal fan churning the air. A few families with kids playing in the courtyard because why not?

At the City God Temple

International tourists might not find these things of interest, but as a domestic tourist, to me it's quite heartening. Yup, this is Taiwan. This is my home.

This is so Taiwan. I look at this scene and can only really think of this beautiful country. 

Inside the Old City Hall

Cat shaved ice

Feeling a bit too overheated to do much more, we took a brief walk - basically just across the street - to another old government building. To find it, just look for the other colonial-era structure near the old City Hall. With dinner plans looming, we didn't have a lot of time to walk around the building, but you can find vintage-vibe Cafe 1911 on the ground floor. We had some iced milk tea and a small shaved ice dessert decorated to look like an adorable little cat, and relaxed until it was time to pick up our bags from storage and head to the other side of town.

This, too, is just so Taiwan

It should have been a 30-minute drive, but it took closer to an hour and cost about $400NT. There was no public transit option, and certainly no MRT to avoid the snarled traffic. We were late for the soft opening of Texas Roadhouse Taichung, where we'd been invited to join some other friends. The food was hearty, American and yes, good - I may travel the world but I'll tell you, American mid-range restaurant chains are very good at comfort food and I won't pretend a hipster distaste for them that I don't have - and the atmosphere reminded me of the country of my birth.

Certainly there was no more chicken ass.

From there, we had to taxi to the HSR station as well - again, no convenient public transport that could get us there in a reasonable time frame (I'm not sure there was any transit available at all in that part of town) - for another chunk of cash.

Some of the books available (no real English selection) at Fleet Street

And that's the story of how I had a very enjoyable weekend in Taichung with friends, and spent more money on taxis than on a hotel, because if you don't drive, there is no reasonable, quick way to get around the city.

That's the only reason I hesitate to recommend it as a weekend for readers who live in Taiwan but don't drive. You can have a lot of fun, especially if you have friends there or like searching for old or vintage things. I could have spent more time there, heading up to Dakeng, wandering Taichung Park, or another evening in the neighborhood around Curry Orgasmo, trying a new restaurant. I would have loved to have taken Brendan to Fengchia Night Market, but it's a bit far out and the last time I went, I spent more on the taxi there and back than I spent in the market itself. Or I would happy wander in any of these areas.

Taichung isn't that pretty on a large scale - cities in Taiwan usually aren't - but you can find lots of pleasant little nooks and crannies, and unexpected things if you walk around, that might surprise and delight you. If you skirt all the construction, that is.

Just a random old thing on the street in Taichung

But if you don't drive, it will be a more expensive weekend than you might like. Few things are near each other, taxis often need to be called, and while there is a bus network, it's just not that usable or convenient if you don't know your way around already (which I didn't).

By all means, visit. But budget accordingly, become comfortable with city driving (something I will never do), or stick only to activities along the major bus routes. As a city to spend a weekend in, Taichung gets an A- (it would get an A if not for the pollution). As a city I had to navigate without a car, it gets a D at best, and that's only because the desserts at Delys&Sens made me feel generous.

Doughnut-like baked goods vendor on the way to the City God Temple (her products were delicious, and her dog adorably scruffy)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Autumn in Taipei: Hipster-iffic pumpkin spice muffins


Today's the first day of fall that it's been chilly enough for me to briefly wear a long-sleeved shirt, and we've had a few other cool, gray days recently. So I figured, time to make something delicious and autumnal and rehabilitate the mainstream backlash against pumpkin spice.

For a few hours this week, my apartment has smelled like Hipster Autumn, and I just don't care. I'm not a fan of "pumpkin spice" coffee drinks, because there doesn't seem to be much actual pumpkin flavor in there, and because what flavor there is seems to be mostly artificially manufactured. But pumpkin flavored products with actual pumpkin in them? Sign me up! I love pumpkin! (For real - my favorite pasta is homemade pesto with chunks of sauteed pumpkin).

I couldn't find any canned pumpkin puree - what most people use for their pumpkin baked goods - so I took it up a notch and made my own (it's not that hard - use peeled sliced sliced pumpkin, or even butternut squash, but I prefer real pumpkin, it's got a creaminess, nuttiness and starchiness that butternut squash lacks and purees into a thick, creamy goo whereas butternut squash purees into the texture of applesauce. Cut it into chunks and sautee in nonstick pan with either butter and vegetable oil or butter and water, cover and cook until it's falling apart - with water this will be more like a steaming and with oil it'll be more like a frying - then whizz it in the food processor perhaps with a little water).

I topped it off with maple cream cheese frosting - even better if you add a bit of butter! - dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg and decorated with walnuts, raisins and cinnamon candy. I also baked walnuts and raisins into these delicious things.

And boom! Autumn in Taipei may be somewhat disappointing - you often get good weather but this year we haven't been that lucky, it's never cool/nippy (by the time it gets cool out, it's winter and always overcast), and I'm still in t-shirts - but this recipe will add a little fall to your expat life.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins (OK, cupcakes, shut up)

2 cups pumpkin puree (see above)
1 stick of softened butter (and a little more never hurt...almost anyone)
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla (REAL vanilla, NO FAKESIES)
A shot of your favorite thing that goes with pumpkin (I used whiskey for my first batch, nothing for my second as a pregnant friend will likely eat one of these) - brandy would also be very nice but stay away from anything too fruity or citrusy as you don't want to overpower the pumpkin
A pinch of almond extract or walnut oil would also be fine, but is optional

3 1/2 cups flour (substitute some for ground flaxseed if you wish)
2 cups packed brown sugar - really packed, you want that sweetness
Hefty amounts of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice and ginger (ginger can be fresh grated or powdered, I used powdered as it was easier to distribute in the batter) - and err on the side of too much, not too little (all of these can be purchased at City Super, Jason's or Trinity Indian Store near Taipei City Hall) - a tablespoon of each would not be overdoing it
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp baking powder
Salt - should be one teaspoon but I find one spoonful from the tiny red spoon in my salt cellar was enough

Chopped walnuts to taste (I find half a cup works) - these tend to be cheaper at traditional shops and shops that sell traditional goods plus Chinese medicine
Raisins to taste (black ones are better than gold)
Butter or oil for greasing
An oven (sorry, I know these can be hard to come by but a cheapo electric one works)
A muffin tin
Ground cinnamon, nutmeg and other decorations (walnuts, raisins, cinnamon candy, whatever)
A rubber spatula scraper thing

1 packet cream cheese, softened
Half a stick of unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (real)
Icing tube and tips (optional - you could just spread it)

Preheat oven to 190C, grease muffin tin (I smear a little butter in each one and use a paper towel to smudge it around for an even coating)

1.) Sift all of the solids together. Use a colander if you don't have a sifter.
2.) Mix solids together completely - use an egg whisk, it retains the fluffiness of the various powders. Trust me.
3.) Mix all of the liquids together, you can do this by hand or give it a whizz with a hand mixer (that's what I did)
4.) Add the liquids to the solids and beat briefly until just about mixed
5.) Add raisins and walnuts if desired
6.) Beat, whisk or hand-mixer it one more time until just mixed but not a second longer (keeps the batter fluffy)
7.) Pour into muffin tin, make sure each depression is full to the top so you'll get a nice "muffin top"
8.) Bake for 20 minutes or until they look done (golden on the sides)
9.) While baking, beat softened cream cheese until fluffy, add butter and beat until fluffy again, add confectioner's sugar and keep beating it, add maple syrup one tablespoon at a time and keep beating. Then add vanilla and beat that too. I find a fork works best. Transfer to icing kit if using one. Do not refrigerate.
10.) Take out muffins, allow to cool. Use rubber spatula to get under the muffin brim and separate the muffin from the tin, this will make it come out more easily (you can usually just gently twist them out)
11.) Since we're not in America and our ovens are not big enough for multiple tins, clean muffin tin, re-grease, re-fill and bake more. Makes about 14 muffins, or 2 full tins + two more.
12.) Allow to cool completely, ice, dust with spices by sifting them through a tiny mesh colander, decorate with whatever you want, and then eat.

If you don't go all glutton and eat them all, you can then refrigerate them.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

We Love Cookies and Dai's House of Stink

We Love Cookies
Roosevelt Road Section 3 Lane 283 #17
(next to Sai Baba Pita Bar)
MRT Gongguan (捷運公館站)

We found this place while hunting for a place to have dessert and beer - we'd just come from a stinkytofustravaganza at Dai's House of Stink (which has moved, by the way, to Yongji Street - 永吉街 - Lane 120 and can be seen clearly from the multi-road intersection) and after all that stankerific tofu (the raw tofu was actually more rank, vile and, *ahem*, piquant than the last time) we wanted something sweet.

First we tried Crown Fancy on Zhongxiao E. Road across from Songren Road, which was packed. So we walked to Gordon Biersch in Shinkong Mitsukoshi A-11, which was packed. We then split two taxis to My Sweetie Pie, which was likewise packed. We then walked to Cafe Goethe past Insomnia (packed), Salty Peanuts (packed) and Prague Bookstore (packed) before arriving at Cafe Goethe, which was not packed, but was also closing in 20 minutes.

Along the way we'd passed a new and clearly unfinished setup next to Sai Baba with gorgeous looking soft cookies on display. We decided "what the heck, the inside is a bit rustic but it's dessert and maybe Sai Baba will sell us beer if they don't have any".

It turns out that they do have beer - San Miguel - and coffee, but the real deal here are the cookies. They have vegan coffee and oatmeal cookies, peanut butter, chocolate brownie, brown sugar, Bailey's and other flavors, not to mention red velvet macaron-style cookies, but soft and filled with cream cheese frosting. They also have carrot cake and chocolate mint cupcakes.

As we sat in the not-really-ready-for-customers-to-sit-here-yet "seating area" someone showed up with a guitar and there was an impromptu bit of live music. It was very chill, or as one person put it, "like being back at the co-op".

But the cookies. Oh, the cookies. I need to go back and put this place on the "Best Desserts in Taipei" list. They're perfect. They're soft and heavenly (I don't really go for crunchy cookies except for Milanos). I intend to get some for the next time we have guests.

I'd say "try this" or "try that" but...try all of them. Just do it. They're SO GOOD.

Cookies are five for NT100, cupcakes are separate and a little bit more expensive.

So back to Dai's. We had the raw stinky tofu there before - the stuff that "defeated" Andrew Zimmern. It was pretty vile, but still something we could eat. This time...we really couldn't stomach more than a bite, and Joseph didn't even take that bite (but he did gamely try the other forms of tofu we ordered).

Just so you can see how fantastically dire the raw stinky tofu at Dai's is - it's seriously horrific. They ferment the stuff for two weeks in noxious black rotted vegetable, I am not making this up.

Here are some photos.

After the photos, I will post a description of what I think it tasted like. It will be a very, ahem, ripe description. If you have any inclination towards a weak stomach, I suggest that you take great pains not to read it.

It translates roughly into "of all the things under heaven, I am the most stinky".

Sandra couldn't take it.

Cathy was thoroughly disgusted by it (her boyfriend's reaction was "Wow...that was something that...was in my mouth").

Joseph wisely refused to go near the stuff.



When I was in China, I took a minibus through the winding hills of Guizhou in Miao territory (the Miao are a minority who live mostly in Guizhou) and had to go to the bathroom. I was having digestive issues and everything, ahem, issuing forth was...err...quite violently dire and in some cases painful. The driver, who probably would not have stopped for a local, stopped for me and I was ushered to the town's only real bathroom, which was up rickety old stairs to a hut suspended over an overhang.

"Why is it over this overhang? Did they not want to dig a hole?" I wondered.

The smell was virulently bad - the only word I can think of for it was coined by the Simpsons: it was truly crapulent. It smelled of a the excretion of a hundred different digestive organs convened over a mess of unclean pigs rutting around in a slimy pit of rotted vegetables.

As I entered and stood on the ancient, slimy wooden planks over the expanse of ground below, I heard a snort.

And I found out that it smelled so bad because that was exactly what it was - the village latrine hanging over a hair-raisingly smelly pigsty. I added my own deposit to the Bank of Hell and went on my way.

The smell that emanated forth, redolent of everything that my intestines had rebelled against in China commingled with the smell of the excretory functions of every other villager in that town, perfumed with the stench of giant hogs.

Dai's raw stinky tofu, in my mouth, brought back memories of that day. That horrible, nadir-of-all-that-is-unholy day.

But do go eat the cookies.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Best Sweets and Desserts in Taipei

Ah, the Pacific Rim. So much about the food here is unparalleled - and yet it can be really hard to find decent sweets (and baked goods - no, I do not want my bread bun covered in mayonnaise). Local sweets can be "good enough" - I'm OK with Japanese chocolate, those caramel candies that come in different flavors, coffee, tea, mango and rose candies from Japan or Indonesia and maybe, just maybe, the "Italian" chocolate mousse cake from Cafe 85 (the only good thing they make, and it's not stupendous). On a hot day I love a good mango shaved snowflake ice, and on a cold day hot ginger dou hua (tofu pudding in sweetish broth) can be lovely.

But, let's face it, the sweets we all keep coming back to hail from the West. Asia may be neck-in-neck (if not ahead) with us when it comes to first-rate food, but we rule the roost in sweets. Not so in India, where I was amazed to lose weight considering the sheer volume of milksweets, samiya payasam, kheer, halwa and gulab jamun I ingested, but definitely so in East Asia. (There was one sweetmaker in Madurai who made these round Indian milksweets reminiscent of maple candy that would melt in your mouth in the most delightful way - if I ever find him again I'll import him to Taiwan).

There are places in Taipei to get your sweet on, however. Lots of them. This is a fairly small list of all that's available - just naming some of my favorites. I've put the two places to get fantastic high-end European-style noms at the top, with more common - but just as delicious - options below.

1.) Caffe Libero
#1 Lane 243 Jinhua Street, Da'an Dist. Taipei (near Yongkang St).

They close at 6 on Sundays (for shame!) and have good, but not mindbendingly tasty, coffee. In the back, however, through some darkly-lit rooms, there is a small French-style patisserie that makes some of the most delectable goodies in Taipei. We're talking the real deal, high-end Paris cafe goodies. The care and quality of the choices reminds me of when I was actually in Paris (for four days, with my parents, not some exciting and wild trip) and we stopped in a little pastry shop to try a few things - we did that a lot: we stopped the next day in a famous chocolate shop and bought chocolates, too. I picked out a little tart, glistening with apricot glaze, ringed by a crumbly, buttery crust and bursting at the top with plump strawberries in that ripe shade of red that screams "eat me", pushed down gently into a soft, forgiving custard.

I've never forgotten that tart, and though I didn't order the tart at Caffe Libero, the taste and quality of the dainties we did order brought back the memory. I especially recommend the blackcurrant-pistachio sweet - in alluring shades of of deep pink and soft green, it's unforgettably good.

#125 Zhongyang Road, Xindian (MRT Xiaobitan, Exit 2, turn right)

Go for the great Italian food, and stay for dessert. We had a plate of three - an Italian cheesecake, a brownie and a tiramisu. All three were over-the-moon delicious - I especially recommend the brownie. It was velvety on the inside, chock full of chocolate but not too sweet, with a slightly crisp crust that gives a delightful mouthfeel. We had them with grappa but you might prefer them with coffee.

Wenzhou St. just south of Xinhai Rd., Taipei

While not haute cuisine like the two listings above, this is undoubtedly the best hot chocolate in Taipei (the waffles are good enough, but the hot chocolate is truly memorable). It's as though they took six months' worth of a normal person's chocolate consumption and concentrated it into one mug. I'm not sure how they do it - with real chocolate or just lots of good quality cocoa powder and cream - but someone there has a magic recipe. They offer it in several flavors - try the Wild Aztecah, which features a hit of spice along with some alcohol.

#3 Lane 93 Shi-da Road, Taipei

I know that Hungry Girl didn't care for the place, but I still go there as my main source of American-style baked goods (I go to Cafe Goethe, below, if I want more German-style sweets). The cakes are just the sort of sugar frenzies you'd want at a good birthday party, and are always soft and moist. They do a great apple pie with Grandma-style crust (sweet, a bit crunchy, puffed up from cooking) and a delicious, homemade filling dotted with raisins like sweet little jewels. Very good with espresso.

5.) Beard Papa - creampuffs
Breeze Taipei Main

This Japanese brand makes the best cream puffs I've tried outside Europe (and I've eaten a lot of cream puffs in Europe - no, I don't call them profiteroles). They're big and chock full of flavorful vanilla cream with a crust that is just the right balance of soft and crispy: almost so big as to be sinful. When my uncle was married (the first time) in England, they had a croquembouche as their wedding cake - the profiteroles stacked to create it were passed around with strings of spun sugar still attached and chocolate sauce for dipping, and it was divine. The puffs themselves, though delicious, were rather small - not a bad thing, but contrasting that to the giant Beard Papa creampuff you're eating might make you feel as though you are making a glutton of yourself with more than your fair share of the world's goodness.

Several locations across Taipei - best ambiance at Huashan restaurant

Be careful of overcharging here (it happened to us/people I know twice and while I can excuse the confusion over one bill - which we had to correct three times - as the result of a newbie in dire need of experience, I can't help but suspect it's done on purpose when it then happens to someone else I know at the same location), but as long as you keep a wary eye on the bill, be sure to try the tiramisu.

Tiramisu at Johnny Cucina Italiana is light fare of impeccable quality and layers of flavoring - cocoa, cream, coffee, liqueur. Alley Cat tiramisu is a big, soft, messy square of deliciousness often served in tinfoil. If made well, it's soaked with alcohol and can be enjoyed just for what it is: something you don't eat delicately with a tiny gold fork but something you dig into with vigor as you finish the last of your beer.

7.) Cafe Goethe - German cakes and pies
#11 Lane 283 Roosevelt Rd. Sec 3 (near Sai Baba pita bar)

Ever been to Cakelove in Washington, DC? The owner bakes is his cakes the way your German great-grandmother might have done. They're thick, they're heavy, they've got more butter in them than you care to think about, you can pick the slices up with your hand as you eat them and they are utterly delicious (and filling).

Cafe Goethe's cakes are made on much the same principle - they're as delicious as they are stolid. Where Caffe Libero's fare is a flighty French maid flitting about in Belle Epoch buildings, Cafe Goethe's sizeable cakes are pushing plows in the field.

My husband has never cared much for citrusy sweets (lemon cookies, lime bars, orange chocolate etc.) and even he thoroughly enjoyed a slice of their orange-flavored cake. Of their Sachertorte he said - "I have one word to describe this, besides delicious." "And what would that be?" "Structural."

Go for the cakes (and pies - they sometimes have good pies on offer), stay for the coffee which often comes as a deal with the cake. If your stomach can handle the onslaught, try some of their very good food and beer (I recommend the jagerschnitzel and the wursts sure look good).

Pick up some bread on the way out, too.

8.) Zabu - banana bread and chocolate brownie
#9-4 Pucheng Street Taipei (near Shi-da)

The desserts at this arty, indie-music supporting Japanese-style student cafe are served in Japanese portions: you don't get a lot, but what you get is high quality. The banana bread is stuffed with banana flavor, and the brownies are rich and chocolatey. The brownie comes with two choices: a brownie square a la mode, or two brownie squares (I always get the two squares).

9.) The Diner - cinnamon apple pancakes
#6 Lane 103 Dunhua S. Road Section 2 (and) Rui-an Street #145, Da'an Dist.

The Diner is often seen as the epicenter of good Western food in Taipei, and I'm not one to disagree (it's certainly better than Friday's - ugh). While they always tell me that they can't do coffee with whiskey although I know full well that they can and I have to argue with yet another new server, and while I wasn't blown away by their Eggs Benedict, I stand by their apple cinnamon pancakes as the best deal in town for sweet, syrup-drenched pancake goodness (I think it's fake syrup, though, which is sort of a crime).

10.) Taipei Snow King (台北雪王) - crazy flavored ice cream
#65 Wuchang Street, Taipei (near Ximen and Zhongshan Hall)

This place has its avid fans and its customers, unimpressed by offerings of Taiwan Beer, Kaoliang, pig's foot and chili pepper ice cream, who go away saying "meh", but I love the joint. It's small - easy to miss with no English sign and run mostly by a little old lady with a round, curly gray 'fro, and has the wildest ice cream in town (I'd say Movenpick has the "best" ice cream, but Taipei Snow King has the corner on uniqueness). Recommended: chili pepper, honey, wasabi, rose liqueur, plum wine, mint, cinnamon, ginger, carrot. If you try the Kaoliang (Gaoliang), get another scoop as a chaser. You'll need it - they use real Kaoliang in that stuff and the ice cream maker doesn't take away the potency!

11.) That German restaurant in Shinkong Mitsukoshi Xinyi: chocolate cake
Can't find the name or the address

I've never been able to find the name of this place and am too lazy to go back to Shinkong Mitsukoshi to check. It's a brewery-restaurant with decent beer (not as good as Jolly's brews), middling food (try Goethe instead) but really good chocolate cake. It's not heavy like Cafe Goethe or super sweet like My Sweetie Pie - it's just a soft, airy, chocolatey standard that you won't regret - and it goes well with dark beer.

12.) Taiwanese sweets: Mango Snowflake Ice and Hot Ginger Dou Hua
Mango Snowflake Ice: Sugar House @ Nanshijiao Night Market (entering the market from Nanshijiao MRT Exit 2, turn left at the T and it's on the right mid-way down) - Zhonghe, Taipei County

Hot ginger dou hua (薑汁豆花) - Sanxia Old Street, Sanxia, Taipei County (suck on that, KMT)

The Taiwanese do make a few local sweets worth mentioning. I'm not a fan of their sweet bread-based products, all the best chocolate is of course imported, the caramel candies are nice but not unforgettable, but they do a good shaved ice and dou hua.

Sugar House uses good fresh fruit (make sure to order in season though) - if you order mango or strawberry shaved ice in season you'll be in for a sweet treat. They also do good fresh smoothies.

I've always liked, but not loved, hot dou hua - the sweet broth is a bit too pallid for my taste and while the boiled peanuts, taro and sweet potato goo balls and red beans are nice additions, it doesn't bring it up to the level of true excitement. Add a little ginger juice, though, and suddenly it's one of my favorite things to eat during the gray Taipei winter. Sanxia is the best in northern Taiwan (Anping, one restaurant in particular on the old street, in an old brick house with a lion lintel, has the best all-around dou hua in Taiwan) and specializes in the ginger flavored variant.

13.) Bongo's - Sticky Toffee Pudding

The rest of the menu is at par but not really above-par, and there is better Western food to be had in Taipei (although I do enjoy their wraps). Really, go here for the used books and the toffee pudding - it's a cake-like thing, moist with soft boiled condensed milk toffee (the kind you'd find in banoffee pie) and topped with vanilla ice cream, and is generally just YUM.

14.) A bunch of places that surely exist, which I haven't tried yet

Among other places, you may have noticed that I didn't include Paul - a French bakery that actually bakes the sweets in France and flies them to Taipei. That's because I haven't been there - it's expensive as heck (more so than anything listed here) and I have heard that they bake the pastries in France and fly them in. I do think it is possible to make great sweets in Taipei and I find that flying them in from Europe is not only environmentally unfriendly, it's kind of pretentious. Why eat a pastry that's had time to go stale on a transcontinental flight when it is possible to make good pastries here? I'll stick with local and fresh, thanks.

I'm also a fan of Mom's Pies, but prefer My Sweetie Pie's apple pie and they're either back-of-a-van or delivery only. You can't go in and just have a slice of pie.

There are surely other places, as well, and I look forward to any recommendations you may have!