Showing posts with label thanksgiving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label thanksgiving. Show all posts

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving at 龍都酒樓

Sorry I haven't been blogging this week - on top of a crazy work schedule, I was still sick. Only now am I starting to feel somewhat better. Something had to go, and that something was blogging (and most of my free time activities, as all I had energy for in my free time was sleeping).

But yesterday was great - I was so impressed with 龍都酒樓 the first time I ate there that I was really excited to return for our Thanksgiving meal. It's something of a tradition with us to go out for Beijing Duck on Thanksgiving and put together a group of friends with whom to enjoy the meal. We could have gone to one of the hotels for the traditional spread, but from what everyone tells me, those meals are expensive, and not particularly good.

I never really warmed up to turkey anyway, and have always preferred duck or other birds. What's interesting about putting together Thanksgiving dinners in Taipei is that most of the time, the other guests aren't American! This time we had several Taiwanese friends, a Canadian and an Australian join us. It doesn't really matter - every culture and citizens of every country can understand the joys of a large group meal for tradition's sake.

龍都酒樓 is great not just for its duck, but for the rest of the menu, which is actually Cantonese (they do a mean dim sum) - so you can have your Beijing specialty and your BBQ pork buns all at once!

...and the pork pastries are fantastic. Say goodbye to the hard, lardy crust at Luckstar or Diamond Star Hong Kong Style restaurants, and say hello to flaky, buttery, savory heaven. They're so rich - I think that this is what angel meat must taste like.

And the duck is so juicy - other places have served us slightly dry meat. Not here. The fat practically runs down your chin, and the skin is lacquered to perfection.

How much meat can I shove in my face hole?? Also, I need a haircut.

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Another thing I love about this place - which I learned of through local friends who took me there for 11am dim sum one weekend long ago - is the total '80s style amazingness. It looks like an old kung fu movie, maybe from '86, where the Good Guy Cops face off against the Triads and do martial arts while jumping over mezzanine balconies and generally destroying the place. If I had had a Taiwanese wedding, Id've wanted it here.

It helps that it's off Linsen N. Road - the "Japanese Businessman Entertainment Area". Old school foodies from across Taiwan (or even East Asia) come here to enjoy the throwback ambiance and amazing duck, and I sure intend to go back again. Too bad you have to make reservations about a month in advance.



Then some of us headed over to our place for pie and cookies, and my special Swiss hot wine, while we decorated the Christmas tree.

Hot wine is 2/3 dark, sweet wine (well, I use drier wine, but Dad uses sweeter wine), 1/3 Fire Water cinnamon schnapps, a shot or two of something like Goldschlager (depending on how many glasses you're making), a stick of cinnamon per glass, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom if you like, all heated to just-about-to-boil (turn it off when steam starts rising, but before bubbles start forming).

It gets you real toasty, real fast. I have to bring the two kinds of cinnamon schnapps from the USA - just try and find it in Taiwan (no seriously, try, and if you find it let me know because I've sure been unsuccessful).

We're going home for Christmas this year, so we only have a few weeks to enjoy our tree - but I'd rather go home, because while I love Taiwan, they don't do Christmas very well. This year I will be home for Christmas, and they better have snow, and mistletoe, and presents by the tree!

We still stuff stockings for each other despite being in our 30s.

                                                       The end of the hot wine

We fixed the wonky star later.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I'll Not Be Home For Christmas which I admit I'm a total sucker for the holidays. Including the cheesy music and glittery decorations.

I love Taiwan, but it can get a little depressing around here between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the weather is almost uniformly crap and the only places that decorate or really do anything for the holidays are the department stores, Starbucks and IKEA - and the Holiday Inn Shenkeng, as I've recently discovered. I've been known to peruse IKEA just for the holiday music and goods, and go to Starbucks even though I don't particularly like their coffee, just to get an infusion of holiday spirit.

Yes, of course, it's clear that Christmas is not a local holiday and I can't expect it to really be celebrated in Taiwan, but well-decked halls are a part of not only my culture but also my life, since childhood. It's hard to go without them. It's hard to watch the streets go by from a bus window, with overcast skies - no snow, of course - and no decorations in sight. Going out into Taipei City at this time of year is like preparing for a sad little Holiday of One (now Two).

Joseph, Becca and Alex at Thanksgiving
I'm all about the cheesy music, plastic garlands and shiny ornaments and lights hanging from everything in sight. I don't even mind that half the time it's done in an attempt to get you in the spirit to buy more stuff - maybe it's the result of being totally in love with Christmas but having a very secular moral code. To me, Christmas is about family - which includes shopping carefully to find them gifts that will bring them joy* (or spending time making them, which I have also done). It also involves baking cookies with my mom and sister, going out to the fire department's Christmas Tree sale in a shopping center parking lot to pick out a tree, always a real tree, the livingroom redolent of evergreen as the cats sized it up as a climbing post, visiting Grandma and burning wrapping paper in the fireplace, watching the flames catch the dye and change color.

In Taiwan I don't have the chance to do any of this. No real tree, no fireplace, and this year is the first one in which baking cookies is a real option. Sometimes I feel like I drink Toffee Nut Lattes - which I'm not even all that fond of, if I'm going to drink a gussied up holiday beverage I'd go for gingerbread latte or peppermint mocha or good ol' egg nog, but those aren't things you can get in Taipei - just to pretend it's good enough to make up for what I don't have.

And that's just it - most of the time, living abroad is great, but this is the one time of year when it's not quite so great. Christmas in Taipei is not the same as Christmas in a city that actually celebrates, and definitely not the same as going home for Christmas. All of the traditions Brendan and I have adopted for Christmas are great, and I love that we have our own little family unit with our own way of doing things on the holidays, but my childhood always included larger family gatherings on Christmas and Thanksgiving and it's hard not to have that every year. The party is great, but it doesn't quite adequately substitute what the holidays are back home: in part because it's not family, in part because the weather is all wrong, in part because the run-up to the holiday is so devoid of holiday cheer everywhere except in my own apartment and at Starbucks.

There is something really missing in that lack of a feeling of communal celebration. Something about the holidays is made richer by knowing that your friends, neighbors and extended acquaintances are celebrating too. I guess I have an inkling now of how it might feel to celebrate Channukah in a community that isn't very Jewish, or Chinese New Year in a community where you might be the only Chinese (or Taiwanese, or Singaporean) family celebrating. It's true for both Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Of course, we do have some holiday traditions that we've built up in Taipei. It's not a complete wash. We put up a plastic tabletop tree - pretending, again, that it's good enough - and put gifts for each other under it. We stuff stockings because - why not? I play Christmas music on iTunes and buy foods that remind me of the holidays at City Super and IKEA (Glogg!). This year I'll invite people over to bake cookies. Every year we throw a Christmas party on Christmas Day for other expats at loose ends - some years big, some years smaller. I never take pictures because I'm generally enjoying myself too much to remember my camera, and anyway, what happens at the Christmas Party stays at the Christmas Party.

Thanksgiving Beijing Duck with Cathy and Alex
I love that Brendan and I have our own way of celebrating Christmas now that we're a family unit. I love that this year we get to celebrate in our new apartment, which I'm hoping to have painted and decorated by the time the holiday comes around. It's not quite the same, though, as being near family - everything I associate Christmas with includes family gatherings, big or small (more often than not "big").

Which, you know, is how expats have been doing it ever since the dawn of expats. I'm not the first to feel like I'm celebrating alone, to spend the day with friends rather than family. I'm not the first to get a little misty-eyed when I'll Be Home For Christmas plays, not the first to throw a big party in a land far, far away in lieu of a family gathering at home, and definitely not the first to put up a plastic tree and proclaim it "good enough".

On Thanksgiving we get whatever size group we can together, not always on Thanksgiving, though, and go out for Beijing Duck. This is actually great, because duck is clearly the superior bird to tasteless turkey. It may not include Grandma L teetering around with a Manhattan in hand, green bean casserole, pumpkin and cherry pies, uncles passed out on the couch, or cousins arguing over which Thanksgiving special to watch on TV, but it's got a big dinner, a group of friends and a convivial atmosphere.

In all the ways Christmas comes up short in Taipei, Thanksgiving has the potential to be just as good - if not, in some ways, better. This year I think it lived up to that, although everyone was a bit tired (I have bronchitis, too, so there's that). I've written about previous Thanksgivings in Taipei in 2009 and talked briefly about it in 2008. This year we went to Tian Chu (天廚) near MRT Zhongshan. Better service, we got two ducks instead of Song Chu's paltry one (I still call that place 北宋廚 - which utilizes some slightly rude Taiwanese slang), and really good duck.

Next year, for Christmas, I think we're going to try to go home. No idea which family we'll spend the holiday with, but it's high time we had a real American Christmas, with family and shopping malls and tinsel and all that fun stuff.

*before y'all judge me for being all about the shopping and the gift-giving and less about the religion, I just want to say this. Last year my mother was coughing terribly at our wedding. The family ganged up on her to see another doctor. She did, and by Thanksgiving was diagnosed with lung cancer. Serious lung cancer. By Christmas she was starting chemo. I bought her an iPad to watch movies or whatever else she wanted while she recovered from the chemo sessions as a Christmas gift. I couldn't be there in person - we were still recovering financially from the wedding - which was totally worth the cost, I might add. She'd already started losing her hair when we did our annual Christmas Skype session. She got through chemo and despite being given a prognosis of "you've got two years at most", she's made a full recovery since. Complete remission! Her words: "I spent days on the couch after the chemo sessions, especially the later ones. That iPad got me through it. Thank you." So I don't want to hear any "you're so materialistic!" BS in the comments, 'k?

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.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Reason #4 to Love Taiwan

Comfy student cafes in Taipei.

We - we being four Americans, an Australian and a Taiwanese girl - celebrated Thanksgiving at Exotic Masala House, the new Indian restaurant featuring idli and dosa. I think they're losing money; some menu items are gone, the rice is no longer saffron-colored and we had to ask to get the same orgasmic cardamom & cinnamon kick to our tea.

Well, the Taiwanese member of our group noted that it might have been spiced less dramatically to cater to Taiwanese tastes; maybe other customers didn't like it the old way.

It's still a good restaurant though, and the tea is still fantastic as long as you make sure it's got the right amount of cardamom.

After that, we tried to retire to Cafe Salt & Pepper, but it was full. Not interested in the smoking area (even the girl with the stuffy nose could taste the air) we moved on to Cafe Bastille (Shi-da, not Gongguan).

I love how Taipei has no end of these cafes - Cafe Odeon, Latte (or Shake House - we're not sure), Lumiere, Red House, Bastille, Salt and Pepper, Giuliano, and about a million more. Good beer at a reasonable price - yes, NT180 for Belgian beer is reasonable, the same beer in an American pub would cost you far more - comfortable seats, great atmosphere. Funky and fun without being ratty or juvenile. The actual food at some of these places could stand to improve (although Red House does a decent meal and all of them do good brownies) but relaxing with a Delirium Noel in a tatty grandma-chair with good music and a good vibe...that can't be outdone.

Here's where I put in my plug for Malheur 12% Bier. You have to try this stuff at Red House Pub (nobody else seems to have it). This is amazing stuff. Black as night, so fuzzy and deep that it foams right out of the bottle once opened; you have to have it already tipped into the glass if you don't want to lose any. It tastes like everything that's good in the world. Imagine coffee cake, raisins, peaches, pumpkin pie, well-cooked high-quality steak, a crackling fireplace in the dead of winter, Christmas carols, richly flavored tea, gingerbread, black chocolate, dark cherries, cooked apples, cinnamon, Ethiopian coffee, old mahogany, evergreen trees, nutmeg and the sweet sound of your mother's voice - all distilled into an amazing beer experience. Try it.


It was great that out of our group, the Americans talked about Thanksgiving and the others replied with "Yeah...I've heard about that" for things we consider not only normal, but indispensable. 8-hour bus rides home, cold weather, bickering with relatives (all because you love them, of course), cooking all day, watching parades and American, or as I call it, real football, and eating fabulous amounts of fabulous food, followed by swigs of alcohol and getting along famously with the relatives you bickered with earlier in the day.

Thanksgiving as an expat - the rating: 8. Not as good as being home, but still pretty damned good.