Showing posts with label mba_wan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mba_wan. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nanjichang Night Market (南機場夜市)

Nanjichang Night Market can be found to the immediate east of Zhonghua Road in that hazy area between Zhongzheng and Wanhua. It's just south of Tibet (Xizang) Road and just west of Dingzhou road. MRT Guting, Taipower and possibly Xiaonanmen will take you there, as will Bus 304, or just do it the easy way and take a taxi.

On Sunday, we went looking for a Vietnamese place I like on Heping West Road that has either closed or disappeared, couldn't find it and ended up at Nanjichang. A student had told me about this night market - a little jewel hidden in the blue-collar not-really-historic-just-kinda-grody butt end of Wanhua, or Zhongzheng, or wherever. The name means, literally, "South of the Airport" (though "South of the Station" is also an OK translation) but it is not south of any airport. This area was apparently settled around the time Wanhua Train Station was built, and railway employees moved in. At the time a "機場" was not necessarily an airport, so my student says.

The place truly is a little gem - it's not as expansive as Raohe, not as convenient as Jingmei (which begins literally across a small street from the MRT exit 2) and not as historically-located as Ningxia, but it's local, it's authentic and it has delicious food.

We started out at "Jia Chou Tan" (or however it's pronounced) - Taiwanese 'jia' (to eat) plus 'chou' (stinky) plus the sound element for list with a water(?) radical. In Taiwanese it turns into "Tasty Place" or something. We sat at old-school wooden tables and had deliciously stinky and savory mala chou doufu (麻辣臭豆腐)and sweet potato leaves (地瓜葉) in a flavorful meat sauce. Our friend got sesame noodles (麻醬麵)- well-made thin noodles with a sesame-oil sauce and whole sesame seeds, which made the whole thing a lot more light and easily digestible than the usual crushed sesame paste noodles. Absolutely great. Across the street, we got mba wan (肉圓)from a little stand that was constantly crowded.

Jia Chou Tan (?) Nanjichang Night Market, Zhonghua Road Section 2 Lane 311 #15 (台北市南機場夜市中華路二段311巷15號)

Then we headed to a tian bu la (甜部啦?) stand that had an unceasing line for deliciously fresh fish mash goodies. These were so well-made that I could practically taste the hands of the wrinkled old obasan who squished them together from a giant plastic bucket of fishy goo.

I stopped at a candy vendor to buy some black sugar cashew candy (黑糖) which was quite good and we got shaved ice at the place with the longest line. Brendan and I loved the mango milk ice (芒果牛奶冰)but our friend was less enamored with his sour plum (酸梅)traditional-style ice.

The only unsavory part was when we saw a sign hanging from some grated apartment windows in one of the night market lanes, above the vendors. An approximate translation from the Chinese was: Those miscreants who caused Huang (Name) to be shamed and to die at home - his ghost will return and those people will be avenged upon for justice. Or something like that. Huh. We didn't ask any of the locals, because while we're sure they all knew what the deal was, we figured nobody would really want to tell the curious white people about the goings-on in their neighborhood.

All in all, the food was excellent and the local atmosphere - very salt-of-the-earth - made it worth the trek. Plus, we were not only the only foreigners there but we suspected that we may be the only foreigners who've happened by it in a loooooong time, from the way kids were staring at us.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Temple of Chiang Kai-Shek (and Xinzhu food)

Lots of Chiang

We tried (and failed) to escape the unceasing rain yesterday by heading south . We went to Beipu and Xinzhu. More on Beipu later - I'm going to start by talking about the few wet hours we spent in Xinzhu, exploring the old street, the night market, the old city gate and - the most fascinating by far - the temple dedicated to the worship of the Taiwanese "deity", Chiang Kai-Shek.

(If Qingshan Wang, Grandfather Seven and Grandfather Eight, Lin Mo - that's Matsu to you - and Baosheng Dadi were all real people, and most believe that they were - then I see nothing wrong with worshipping someone whom we know to have been a real person. I wouldn't pray to him myself, mind you.)

Beam Me Up, Dr. Sun

We didn't linger long in the temple, partly because we aren't big Chiang fans, and partly because the temple isn't very big. It's more of a shrine room, filled with statues and pictures of Chiang Kai-Shek, another general whose name escapes me, and (apparently) Sun Yat-sen. I didn't see anything for Sun, though the guidebook says he's there.

Apparently, this little temple in Xinzhu, not far from the Qinghua University campus and night market, collects a lot of the old decommissioned busts and statues of Chiang and uses them in this temple as god-idols. Other ones seem to end up at a spot along the North Cross-Island Highway.

There are other gods and figures present, mostly in the form of woodcarving - the kind you can see in many temples across Taiwan.

These guys are big Ma fans, as we could see from the Ma bobbleheads decorating the temple. The toy cranes are there because the man we spoke with also runs his own construction company and he really likes cranes.

We only spoke with one person, but it was clear that the people tending the temple are mostly from the Mainland. The guy we talked to was born near Shanghai and came over with his family when he was 16 (which would make him about 75 years old). Although he still remembers how to speak Shanghainese, he's picked up a Taiwanese accent in his Mandarin and can speak Taiwanese as well.

Nice older gentleman from Shanghai. Note all the different flags surrounding the main shrine area.

As we didn't tell them where our true political beliefs lie, they were extremely friendly and happy that we'd stopped by. As important as it is (for me, at least) to own one's own beliefs and moral code and not shrink from admitting them, maybe standing in the temple of Chiang Kai-shek is not the best place to tell people around you that you think he was a murderer and a traitor to Taiwan, especially when those around you are genuinely friendly people.

We were given some fruit and made our way, drippingly, to the night market where we had lumpia - those crepe-rolled burrito-lookin' things with meat and vegetables inside which are a specialty in Xinzhu, and mba wan. The lumpia were better than anything I've tried in Taipei, where they skimp on the meat and savory flavors and add lots of veggies or worse, rou song (which I can't stand). We loved the many-textured innards of these lumpia, replete with lots of richly marinated meat, peanuts, bean sprouts, greens, carrot shavings and other tasty bits and pieces.

The mba wan were very different from Taipei - they're on menus as "Xinzhu Rou Yuan" and are fried rather than steamed, and filled not with regular ground pork but with purple chunks - real chewy chunks - of marinated pork and cubes of young bamboo served in a spicy, flavorful pink sauce that I normally see on vegetarian sticky rice. The bamboo reminded me of Yuanlin Rouyuan at the Heping-Fuxing intersection in Taipei, where they serve it in brown gravy with cubed bamboo and mushrooms.

Sesame noodles (not the cold kind) and Xinzhu fried mba wan

Then we headed into the city god temple - the most important one of these in Taiwan - where tall god costumes we haven't seen in Taipei were on display.

We've never seen this god before, and don't know who he is.

For anyone in or planning to be in Xinzhu on Friday, the Xinzhu city god's birthday is this coming Friday (3/13/09). If you want to see a cool procession, head over to the temple and inquire about the time (they usually start at 1:30 in my experience).

The most interesting of these tall god costumes - called big dolls in Taiwanese but the actual words escape me - is the god of yin and yang, to whom you should pray so that you "always do the right thing" and have a proper balance of, well, yin and yang.

The God of Yin-Yang

We also saw all the pinata-like decorations from Chinese New Year - identifiable because most of them involved depictions of cows - hanging from the ceiling of the temple. It was quite a sight; there were hundreds of them.

One of Hundreds of Hanging Cows

Candle in the City God Temple

We then took a quick venture through the old street - which has a few old buildings but not many, but at least one interesting place to have some tea or coffee and one good mashed-taro dessert joint, a pass by the old city gate and a stop at the old moat to feed the fish (but actually ended up feeding the geese). We passed one of the two Matsu temples along the way.

No photos of this part because it was dark - my camera is not up to taking good night shots.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Yuanlin Rouyuan (員林肉圓)

Ever found yourself on Fuxing S. Road, wishing you could have a nice, hot, local meal that was flavorful, hearty and cheap? In an area dominated by Starbuxes and fake-o Mongolian joints with fancy lanterns, that seems impossible.

But it's not.

I had the pleasure of discovering a new restaurant out of the blue today - and on a very busy intersection to boot! Usually the best places are hidden in the lanes or tucked away in a maze of tiny vendors, but this one was right out in the open.

I'm talking about Yuanlin Rouyuan (員林肉圓) It's right off the intersection of Heping E. Road and Fuxing S. Road, next to Sheng Li - the discount store with the green sign and the giant scary baby cutout perched on its roof.

It's a small unassuming restaurant - well, not so much a restaurant as it is a "joint" - with blond wood tables, disposable chopsticks and old ladies in hairnets shouting orders in the delightful nasal plops and slips that make up the Taiwanese language.

Their specialty is, of course, mba wan (rou yuan) - Taiwanese rice gluten dumplings stuffed with pork and served with gravy. In the night market, these usually come with a pink sauce and are topped with coriander. The women of Yuanlin Rouyuan dispense with the pink sauce and greenery and give you a hearty helping of artery-clogging gravy, topped with cubes of delicious young bamboo and mushroom slices.

And they are absolutely delicious. The gluten isn't too sticky or weird, and the pork is savory and delicious. I miss the pink sauce, but the young bamboo more than makes up for it.

On a rainy, bleak, typically Taipei day, it's a hot meal reminiscent of something a hearty ol' farmer would eat after coming back from the fields. Not that I know if farmers ate mba wan, but they probably do/did.

I also had their lu rou fan, another Taiwanese treat. It was savory, soft and delicious as lu rou fan always is, but I had to add a little soy sauce to amp up the salt.

They serve far more than those staples - a small menu boasts several standard-issue rice and noodle dishes, all of which are served piping hot and ready to combat the city's relentless drizzle, and xiaochi in environmentally unfriendly plastic contraptions. I had the broccoli - cold and garlicky. Yum.

And all for 90 kuai.

Beats eating mediocre pasta at Dante anyday...and those ladies in hairnets are extremely friendly.

Yuanlin Rouyuan 員林肉圓 is next to Technology Building MRT Station on the brown line. Exit the station and turn left - it's past Starbucks and Cosmed, but before Sheng Li discount store and the Heping E. Road intersection.