Showing posts with label western_food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label western_food. Show all posts

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Wandering around Neihu (yes, Neihu!) and a political history of the Kuo family, for some reason

On the final day of the long weekend for Mid-Autumn Festival, we decided to pick a part of Taipei we rarely visit and find something interesting to do there. Usually when we do this, we end up in one of the older or more innately interesting areas: Ximen, WanhuaBeitou, Shezi (included here as an antique store listing, but I've actually explored far more of the area than that), Wanhua again, my many walks in the quieter parts of Dadaocheng and Dalongdong, more Wanhua. Sometimes, of course, we seek out the less clearly fascinating parts of the city and run with that. These include our visit to the oldest house in Xindian, which has probably been demolished by now, or our trip to the Li Family Mansion in Luzhou - though that post doesn't actually discuss the Li mansion as we couldn't enter that day, we did eventually visit. 

This time, we set our sights on a more challenging district: Neihu. While it looks like a nice place to live, and the restaurant scene there is improving, there isn't much to interest the casual visitor in this part of town. Other than restaurant trips, the occasional visit to a big box store (hey, that's where they sell American-style drip coffeemakers), plans to meet friends, one visit to Donghu Park and one hike, I don't think I've ever purposely gone to Neihu for fun. Has anyone?

I had a vague recollection of hearing about an old family mansion in Neihu that I'd never been to. The photos from my old set of Historical Sites in Taipei books made it look decrepit and unloved, and back when I first heard about it, there was no MRT up that way, so I let it slip from my memory. But with this idea to see what one could actually do for fun in the area, I dug out the books and found the listing: the Kuo Family Estate (now the Kuo Ziyi Memorial Hall). Nearby was another Japanese-era building -- the old Neihu Village Hall.


And conveniently enough, both were near the MRT.

In fact, the Kuo mansion is so close to Wende Station that I'm surprised it took me this long to check it out -- it's less than 50 meters' walk, not including a long but not particularly steep set of stairs. So that's where we started. 

Kuo Ziyi Memorial Hall 郭子儀紀念堂

MRT Wende Station (Exit 1, turn left and follow the signs, you cannot miss the gate and stairs)


Built in 1919, the house is in the Taisho style very common to that era of Japanese colonial rule in Taiwan -- you'll know it by its red brick and cement exteriors with Baroque decorative flourishes and typically wood interiors.

This was originally the home of Ku Hua-jang (郭華讓) the first mayor/borough chief of Neihu, back when it was a village unit rather than a district of Taipei City. In fact, it was an administrative unit called a zhuang 庄 in Chinese, which isn't quite a town, and was a different type/level of administrative unit from the old Qing-era system. (I don't really understand much more about that, so that's the most I can say). It was later occupied by Kuo's relative, Kuo Hua-xi (國華溪). 

The Kuo descendants from this branch of the family also were important figures in twentieth-century Taiwan.

Historical Sites in Taipei says that there was a beam installed specifically to hold "traditional Taiwanese censers and lanterns", and at some point it was re-named 碧奉宮 (Bifeng Temple), although it was never actually used as such. Apparently in the 1980s there were plans to turn it into a Matsu temple, but the architecture of the front gate was deemed inadequate, and neighbors opposed the move, which led to the site being abandoned and falling into disrepair.

Then, the World Kuo Family Association -- which has its own website -- stepped in to direct and fund its renovation. (Their website calls Taiwan the "Taiwan Area" - a minor thing, but it'll come up later). It's also now the seat of the association. 

Anyway, even though the house was built by the clearly wealthy and connected Kuo Hua-rang and his cousin Kuo Huaxi, they had a much more famous ancestor, Guo Ziyi. Guo was a general in the Anshi Rebellion (the one where An Lushan revolted) in the 700s. That would be the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Xuanzong -- if that means nothing to you, you may have heard of Xuanzong's favorite and famously beautiful concubine, Yang Guifei (who had been friendly with An Lushan....anyway, there are lots of dramas, go watch those). He was also key in diplomatic (and war) dealings with the Tibetans and Uighurs and apparently saved poet Li Bai's life. Long story short, Guo Ziyi was an extremely important historical figure who had a real impact on the history of East Asia. 

This is why, when the World Kuo Family Association renovated the mansion, instead of honoring the builders, they turned it into a memorial hall for their much more famous ancestor, Guo Ziyi. 

Here's the culture difference: if I built a bad-ass Baroque mansion because I was the local town chief, and a few generations later my descendants decided to renovate it, I'd be pretty annoyed if they ignored my legacy and turned it into a big memorial for some ancestor of mine. But, when it comes to local culture, that doesn't seem so weird at all. I bet Kuo Hua-rang and Kuo Hua-xi would not only think that was fine, but deem it right and appropriate. 

Here's another thing I find interesting: years ago, a friend of mine surnamed Kuo told me about how there were three groups of Kuo immigrants from Fujian. One settled in Yilan, one in Hsinchu and one in Tainan. More Kuos came with the KMT refugees (including the family of tycoon and supreme jackass Terry Gou). Apparently, although most of the Kuos of Fujian were entirely Han Chinese, some were actually descended from Hui ("Chinese Muslims", though I don't know how I feel about that term). Guo Ziyi was from Shaanxi (陝西) and was later named the Prince of Fenyang (汾陽王) -- according to a plaque in the mansion, this was due to his military victories in Fenyang, Shanxi (山西 - not the same as his birthplace). The Kuos had been around for a long time before the Tang Dynasty, and therefore not every Kuo can name Guo Ziyi as a direct ancestor. However, many Kuos in Taiwan, regardless of which group of settlers they were in, claim that the Kuos from Fujian originally came from Fenyang, and can be traced directly back to Guo Ziyi. 

I have no idea if (or how many) of these Fujian Kuos, many of whom eventually settled in Taiwan, were actually descended from Guo Ziyi, and how many were not. But this is illuminating

One of the Guo family is from Hui clans around Quanzhou in Fujian.

Early in the 14th century, a Persian Al-Qudsan Al-Dhaghan Nam (伊本·庫斯·德廣貢·納姆) was sent to Quanzhou by Külüg Khan for assisting grain transportation by sea. He failed to return to Khanbaliq due to war, then got married and settled at Quanzhou. Because his Persian surname Dhaghan pronounces similar to Chinese Guo, Al-Qudsan Al-Dhaghan Nam's grandsons began to change their surname to Guo in order to assimilate with local Han Chinese. It was politically expedient to claim they were descendants of Guo Ziyi in order to be better accommodated by Local people and later Ming Dynasty government....

In Taiwan there are also descendants of Hui who came with Koxinga who no longer observe Islam, the Taiwan branch of the Guo (romanized as Kuo in Taiwan) family is not Muslim, but still does not offer pork at ancestral shrines. The Chinese Muslim Association counts these people as Muslims. The Taiwan Guo now view their Hui identity as irrelevant and don't assert that they are Hui.

Various different accounts are given as to whom the Hui Guo clan is descended from. Several of the Guo claimed descent from Han Chinese General Guo Ziyi. They were then distressed and disturbed at the fact that their claim of descent from Guo Ziyi contradicted their being Hui, which required foreign ancestry.  While the Encyclopædia Iranica claims the ancestor of the Guo clan in Baiqi was the Persian Ebn Tur (Daqqaq).

Huh. Assuming this is true, the guy being memorialized in the Kuo Family Mansion is probably not an ancestor of all of the Kuos in Taiwan (although surely he is an ancestor of some). 

Another unofficial story, relayed to me by word of mouth, is that some Kuos from Fujian were actually the descendants of captives or slaves brought back by Guo Ziyi after his dealings out west. Some moved back west and even on to Turkey, but some stayed in Fujian. In later generations, in order to assimilate, they took the surname of their captor's family. It again was considered politically wise to simply say they were descendants rather than admit they were not Han (this is also said to account for some Kuo families not including pork in religious offerings).

I don't want to presume too much, but if the ancestors of these Kuos were actually Muslim and from areas west of China, wouldn't that potentially make them more closely culturally/historically connected to Guo Ziyi's negotiating counterparts or even enemies, rather than Guo himself? Does it matter, so many centuries later?

Perhaps that's too much of a supposition, but it's worth contemplating that the official or "politically expedient" version of history is not always the correct one.

And in the case of Taiwan, this potentially looks a lot like a Sinicization -- no, a Han-washing -- of history to keep every narrative in line with Taiwan as a mere offshoot of the "Great Chinese Nation" and its "5,000 years of history", rather than a unique place that may hold some of its own unexpected historical twists and turns. I do wonder why the World Kuo Family Association, which includes people of "Kuo" ancestry across the entire spectrum of the Chinese diaspora, might be interested in pushing a Han-centric narrative, especially in *ahem* the Taiwan Area.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, and connecting the site to an extremely famous guy from Chinese history was just a way to get government funding for the restoration. But the Kuos are huge (just check their website!) and there's a wall of donation plaques, so I am pretty sure it was funded by the association. If you're curious, I did not see a plaque from Terry Gou. 

In any case, the mansion has been beautifully restored, though rooms that would have been living spaces once are now clearly meeting halls for the World Kuo Family Association. 


There is a rubbing from a Tang Dynasty tablet extolling the virtues of Guo Ziyi, a placard that casts some pretty passive-aggressive shade on Yang Guifei, a big idol of Guo Ziyi, some lovely wood restoration especially around the windows, and lots of dorky-fun photos of the World Kuo Family Association as well as a variety of books locked in glass cases.

It's well worth a visit. 


Neihu Village Hall 內湖庄役場會議室

#342 Neihu Road Section 2 內湖路二段342號

MRT Neihu, or a short walk from the Guo Ziyi Memorial Hall 

From the Kuo mansion, we walked to the Neihu Village Hall, which is now a community activity center. 

Built in 1930 -- so, when the Kuos were still around and probably running the area -- it faces north and looks over the "old village" of Neihu. There's nothing left of that, however: just newer residential buildings all the way to the hills. There is an old ruin called the Chen Family House a short distance north but a quick look on Google Maps made it seem unimpressive -- a ramshackle of bricks mostly hidden by a corrugated metal roof. We were hungry and it was hot, so I didn't suggest we go. 

The interior of the hall was not open but no matter; the outside looks far more interesting (you can see some photos of the interior here). In a country full of Japanese Baroque, it's refreshing to come across some straight-up Art Deco

The design of this hall is more interesting than its history: the tiles are greenish-blue and reticulated (meaning they have a veined or network pattern), and are dull, meaning they don't reflect light. This is apparently the "air defense color" I wrote about before, as it made buildings more difficult to identify by the bomber pilots flying above. Of course, knowing that now, I seem to have messed up the popular bright cyan color that I wrote about with this duller blue-green; it's clear that this earthier color camouflages better than bright turquoise-y cyan, and would more naturally be used in architecture where air defense was a concern. That means the bright, cheerful cyan I looked into was probably just a cheap and popular paint color in mid-century Taiwan (it was also popular in the mid-century US, so that's no surprise) and because it's both bright and contrasts attractively with brick, wood and concrete.

Of course, the "air defense color" -- that earthy blue-green -- also became popular as an aesthetic-only choice. Look at the way it's used here: there's no actual military or defensive purpose for it. 
It's there simply because it was deemed pleasing. 


The cyan I had been talking about looks more like this: 

Other notable features include the bull's eye windows with medallion/key pattern decorative casements -- very common in Art Deco -- and the semi-circular columns that end in a waterfall pattern that reminds me of the Art Deco dressers my mom used to have (we sold them not long ago, and though I'll miss them, I have no reasonable way of getting them to Taiwan). The stepped gable is also classic Art Deco, though only a nod to the design (some stepped gables are far more dramatic). 

After the ROC occupied Taiwan, the building was briefly named Zhongshan Hall (not to be confused with the bigger, fancier Zhongshan Hall in Ximen) and then the Neihu District Public Activity Center, now that Neihu had ceased to be a village or zhuang 庄. 

We wrapped up our day in Neihu with a visit to a whiskey store near Xihu that has a particularly good selection so I could pick up some rye (洋酒城 - literally Foreign Liquor City; there are more branches than the one in Neihu), a quick stop at Oma's German Bakery, and a late lunch at The Antipodean Specialty Coffee, which I strongly recommend. 


The walk from the Neihu Village Public Hall to The Antipodean takes about 20 minutes, and will take you past the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts, interesting for its mid-century 'Eurasian' architectural style that I find both revolting and fascinating (it looks a little bit like a budget Sun Yat-sen Memorial hall from the outside, if you squint). 


You'll also walk past Bihu Park -- it's not dramatically impressive on its own, but it does make the walk more pleasant and offer a nice place for a break. The large, white building at the far end is a reading room -- literally just a large building full of tables with air conditioning where you can go read and study. Not very exciting, but I enjoyed the review by one visitor who complained about the old lady who hangs out there like it's her house and spits loudly and frequently. 

There are more things to see and do in Neihu, of course. If you're closer to the Costco end, check out the tomb of Lin Xiu-jun (林秀俊墓), which is very close to the bus stop with good service from all over the city. Though it's just a small tomb, it's the best-preserved, and perhaps the only, traditional Fujian-style tomb in Taipei, and dates from the 1770s. There don't seem to be any animal sculptures like the one in rural Miaoli or the few you can find on Kinmen, but there are some interesting colored tiles. It's also near Aphrodite, the funky antique market I sometimes like to peruse, though I haven't been in years. 

There's also a Qing-dynasty quarry (easily findable on Google Maps) near the trail up to Gold Face Mountain. That is also a worthwhile hike, though we came at it from the Jiantan side, which took all day. A bit to the east of that are several hiking trails that snake past temples with good views and a suspension bridge. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Kaohsiung Weekend


I'm quite slow with travel posts, often creating them long after the actual trip taken - and this is no different. The reason is simple - unlike writing, which I can just punch out on my computer or even iPad with the help of a Bluetooth keyboard, travel posts require photos, perhaps a touch of background research, online checks for locations, directions and addresses etc. The photos are the most annoying part: years ago I exhausted my Blogger photo storage limit and have been posting from Flickr ever since, and frankly I find it to be a pain. So, I procrastinate.

Anyway, over the summer I had the chance to travel for work to both Tainan and Kaohsiung. The Tainan post for that work trip can be found here, but I'm only now getting the chance to write the Kaohsiung one. I took the HSR down on a Friday, met my colleague, we did our work, and then I was free for the rest of the weekend to enjoy the city. My colleague hightailed it back to Taipei but I love southern Taiwan - I was happy to take the opportunity (and free HSR tickets) to stick around in a part of the country I don't get to go to very often.

The last time we went to Kaohsiung it was very briefly, on our way back from exploring the east coast of Pingdong (a wonderful trip that you can read about here). We met our friend from Dashe - mentioned below - ate at that super local burgers-and-rice-vermicelli chain (Dan Dan?) that is all over southern Taiwan but not Taipei, and went to the Sugar Refinery (one of those government 'creative park' projects that takes advantage of old industrial space, is basically fine, but not the most interesting thing most cities have to offer). A good 5-6 years before that we had a free day in Kaohsiung, also due to my having a business trip down there, and we wandered Hamasen, Qijin Island, Chaishan - to see monkeys - and the British Consulate at Takao after spending the night in the Batman Room of the Eden Exotica Love Hotel - an experience I highly recommend by the way. We'd taken trips before that, but all were quite some time ago, stopping at Love River (really only nice at night, decent beer garden with weirdly no bathroom?) and a few other places.

For this trip, Brendan had work on Friday evening, so I had the city to myself until he could join me around midnight.

I checked into our hotel - a pretty good one though it was one of the many in the 85 Tower (I can't remember the name, but there are a ton and they are all fairly similar) and booked it to Formosa Boulevard Station. Enjoying the Dome of Light was not my main goal, though I always take a moment to appreciate it:



My main mission, though, was to visit the silversmith who has a small shop (half a shop really, he shares space with another vendor) in the MRT station. He makes gorgeous silver flowers: cherry blossoms, lilies and more. I already have two; my sister wanted one. After procuring it, I met a friend for dinner and drinks at Beast (recommended: all the food, though I had the sweet potato quesadillas, and their drinks - I had a cucumber mojito that was excellent).

In fact, I would go so far as to say this is my favorite Western restaurant in Taiwan now, and I am impressed that it is in Kaohsiung, not Taipei (not because I think Taipei is better, but it is bigger, has a bigger international/expat scene and most people think of it as the place to find good Western food).

Beast American Bar & Grill 野獸美式餐廳
118-1 Liuhe 2nd Road, Qianjin District, Kaohsiung (MRT Formosa Boulevard Station)
07 286 5137

The next day we didn't stay in Kaohsiung city at all (or at least not what I consider "Kaohsiung City" - the reorganization of counties into cities in Taiwan is not something I've ever grown accustomed to and doubt I ever will). Instead we headed out to Dashe (大社) to visit our friend, Sasha. We haven't had the chance to see much of Sasha since she moved back to Kaohsiung, so we were happy to have this chance.

The most interesting thing to do in Dashe is go to Guanyin Mountain on the outskirts of town. Near the base of the mountain there is an old memorial arch, and several eateries serving a local specialty: whole chicken in a pot (土雞). At the right time of year you can also buy large quantities of green jujubes, the local fruit of note, around here.

We went through the market and stopped at one random house (was it a house? I'm not sure) whose owners had several pets, including two cats and a lizard. I am not sure they were all very good friends.






...before hiking to a scenic viewpoint and just hanging out for awhile. I have a picture from this but I don't like how I look, so I'm not going to post it. But first, of course, we got chicken:

About that sticker on my water bottle: my favorite question this year was my cousin from the USA, who doesn't really know Taiwanese politics (he actually bought a KMT sun pin, and I told him he was lucky I was letting him in the house with that trash): "Who's Bumbler Ma?"


Anyway, as evening fell we said goodbye to Sasha and headed back to Kaohsiung City, where we met my friend and student Charlene to go to Ruifeng Night Market (瑞豐夜市) near MRT Kaohsiung Arena, a far better night market than the more famous Liuhe Tourist Night Market downtown. We hung out in the market, ate various things, saw some straight up weird stuff:


...and then grabbed a beer at Sojourner Cafe nearby. In fact, there are two fantastic cafes in that area, Sojourner and Reve Cafe. Both are cool places to hang out.

Sojourner Cafe 蝸居咖啡
1035 Yucheng Street, Gushan District Kaohsiung (MRT Kaohsiung Arena, near Ruifeng Night Market)
07 555 2530

Reve Cafe 黑浮咖啡
#2 Wenzhong Street, Gushan District, Kaohsiung (MRT Kaohsiung Arena) 

The next day, in keeping with my theme during these trips of doing the things we did when we visited these cities nearly a decade ago, no matter how touristy, I suggested we take advantage of the good weather and go to Lotus Lake (which, by the way, is very hard to reach by MRT - we ended up taking a taxi).

This was an easy choice because, having to leave on Sunday night rather than Monday morning for Taipei, we checked out of our hotel and stored our bags in lockers at the HSR station: Lotus Lake is not far away. 

The most famous of the many temples around Lotus Lake is the Dragon Tiger Pagoda (龍虎塔) and an easy place to ask a taxi to drop you off. From there, you can wander to a few other spots and there is at least one cafe (but not much in the way of food) in the area. This part of Kaohsiung has been pretty well covered in English travel guides and blogs as it is fairly touristy, so I won't say much more - enjoy some pictures: 














After that we headed down to another touristy area, Pier 2. Again, a place we'd been before but not for many years. Honestly, there's still not that much going on around here, but sometimes a little market sets up and it can be nice to walk around. Though it does feel kind of like a government 'creative park' project that never quite caught on (though I feel the same way about Huashan and Songshan Creative Parks in Taipei, and rarely go to either - I don't think I've been to either in years, in fact). But, you always see interesting things, like this guy who brought his cat. The cat was not into it.


And I will say the large-scale outdoor art is interesting, and makes for good photo opportunities.




...and that all in all, while Tainan has my heart and Taipei is my home, Kaohsiung remains one of my favorite cities in Taiwan. I appreciate that it has acceptable public transit (something my beloved Tainan lacks, though Tainan does have something of a walkable core, unlike Kaohsiung), the weather, my friends there, the general feel of the place - a relaxed, laid-back culture.

In any case, because I had a class on Monday morning, we had to leave Sunday night. We watched the sun go down on Pier 2 and went out to eat at Zzyzx because they had Takao Beer.

Zzyzx 宅克斯
#234 Chenggong Road, Lingya District Kaohsiung (MRT Central Park or Sanduo Shopping District, though neither are very close)
07 269 3438

I know it seems like we went to Kaohsiung and ate all Western food, but I assure you our other meals were entirely local, either from random restaurants and noodle shacks on the street, like the 涼麵 place near our hotel, or at the night market. I'm pointing out the Western food because Taiwanese food is easy to come by in Kaohsiung. But, do try Zzyzx - it's more of a bar and I wasn't a fan of the music, but the burger was good and I actually prefer Takao Beer to Taiwan Beer (sorry).

After dinner, though we would have liked to have stayed, we walked back to the MRT (Central Park) and headed to the HSR. A great trip, far too short.



Oh yeah, one of the things you'll notice in Kaohsiung is how mayor Chen Chu's adorable cartoon avatar is everywhere. Here she is racing a car and getting a massage (which totally looks like she's a sniper aiming at a target while getting an encouraging back rub).


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sauteed Persimmon and Smoked Duck Baguette: A seasonal treat

1240032_10152018931531202_1613492407_n I went to Lalashan recently - that'll be another post once I have more free time - with some friends right smack in the middle of persimmon season. I don't think I'd ever seen a persimmon in the USA (or I did, but I didn't stop to figure out what it was), but between mid-autumn and mid-winter in Taiwan they're everywhere. It's a great chance not only to eat them straight - yum! - but to mix them with yoghurt, bake them into breads (think banana bread but with persimmons), cookies and muffins, put them in fruit salads, but also to cook with them!

What I really wanted to try was a roast duck with persimmon glaze, but having never roasted a duck before, and not giving myself lead time to find a duck to roast - plus I'm not a fan of buying meat still on the bone and cooking it myself - the deboning part is never something I do gracefully - I ended up with a packet of smoked duck slices from City Super instead. 

What I made, however, was absolutely delicious, and a unique way to enjoy persimmon season in Taiwan if you're not into eating them raw, or just don't like them that way. It also just feels seasonally autumnal, in a way that's actually more authentic than pumpkin-based foods (which I also love).

It tastes best if made with just-ripe persimmons. Red and soft enough to have that intense spicy-sweet flavor, but still hard enough to slice up more like a peach than a tomato. A very deep nearly-red orange'll do ya.

You don't have to have this with duck, the two just happen to go very well together.

Makes 2-4 sandwiches

1 good baguette (try Lalos on Anhe Road between Xinyi and Ren'ai)
1 ripe persimmon (see above)
1 pack of boneless smoked duck slices - City Super at SOGO Fuxing Rd. has this, 150-200NT
Soft goat cheese - NT200 worth will do
A good lettuce - no iceberg, nothing too bitter, the sweetish one with green leaves and ruffled red edges does nicely
1/2 lemon (you only need the juice from 1/4 of it though)
Half a thumb sized piece of young ginger, pressed - MUST be young ginger and should be nearly pureed, you can do this in a garlic press
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika (NOT spicy)
a pinch of cinnamon powder
a pinch of clove powder, or 2 whole cloves
a pinch of nutmeg powder, or 1/2 a crushed whole nutmeg
(optional) a teaspoon of fresh rosemary leaves, chopped and crushed slightly
Oil - any good saute oil, butter may be OK (haven't tried this)
optional: a teaspoon of crisp white wine
A heavy-bottomed pan

Oil your pan with just enough oil to coat evenly and to coat the spices, heat on low
Add crushed ginger and while roasting, prepare other spices
Add other spices, saute on low (DO NOT allow to burn) as you slice your persimmon into "sandwich tomato" style slices
Use spatula to move spices evenly around pan, juice your half lemon
Add 1/2 of the juice to the pan (using more is optional), add rosemary, make sure it's all really evenly distributed around the pan. If you have wine, add it now.
Lay the persimmon slices in this oil-spice-rosemary mix and turn heat to medium-low
Gently saute, occasionally turning, until persimmon slices get a bit transparent around the edges and turn darker in the center, and are well-coated with the mixture
Layer duck slices on top - your goal is not to cook these, but to warm them and mingle the duck and persimmon flavors - continue to saute for about a minute
Turn the duck slices once and saute for another minute, liquid should be more or less cooked off by now
Turn off

Slice your baguette and prepare pieces for your sandwich. Smear top and bottom with soft goat cheese. On the bottom, layer the duck and persimmon (I do duck on the bottom - it doesn't really matter) and then add lettuce on top.


YUM! Amirite?

I made a really nice cherry tomato salad with this - a carton of halved cherry tomatoes, several cloves of well-roasted garlic (some shallot would have been good too), basic Italian seasoning (parsley, basil, oregano) with fresh thyme and rosemary, the rest of the lemon juice, some thyme-infused aged rice vinegar, some rosemary infused good olive oil, a pinch of salt and a handful of capers. You could also add cubed hard cheese, roasted shallot, walnuts, whatever to this. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Recipes: Beef and Squash Stew with Beer and Mustard

I haven’t posted a lot of recipes or book reviews recently – OK, until about a week ago I hadn’t posted anything much at all. Sooner or later I’ll get around to a double review of Jan Wong’s Red China Blues and Jan Wong’s China.  For now, recipes!

I recently made a dish, based off of thisrecipe, for my in-laws on a chilly Maine day, and it came out extremely well (if quite different from the original). I thought I’d post it here because it can definitely be made in Taiwan, and is perfect for those cold, damp, “oh yeah no central heating in a cement building” Taipei winter days.

Beef and Squash Stew with Beer and Mustard


4-5 cups cubed butternut squash – you can also use pumpkin, other kinds of squash, or if you are willing to alter the recipe even more, lentils

1 normal size package of cubed stew beef (I avoid chuck personally)

a packet of frozen peas (or fresh peas, whatever)

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks

2-3 large potatoes, peeled (or not!) and cut into chunks

1 red bell pepper, center removed – slice and cut slices in half

1 tart apple, peeled and cut into chunks

Optional add ins: parsnips, celery, green beans, cauliflower, chopped spinach etc..

Handful of finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Handful of chopped dill weed

Lemon juice (a few squirts to taste)

Salt, pepper to taste

Bay leaves (1-2, optional)

A few coins of ginger or shakes of powdered ginger

2-3 large garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped

2 bottles of dark beer

1 jar of whatever mustard you like – but avoid the bright yellow French’s stuff – in this recipe you can really taste the difference with expensive mustard

2 soft breadsticks (not the hard kind but the kind you can slice and cut) – you could also use several cups of croutons

Olive oil, water, optional paprika

A few chunks of butter

Large casserole, crock pot or pot, pastry brush


If baking, preheat oven to 350.  Recipe can be baked, crock-potted or cooked on the stove

Rub down chunks of stew beef with salt, pepper and paprika if desired, sauté in olive oil on medium until they start to brown. About halfway through the browning process add the garlic to nicely roast it. Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine all chopped/chunked vegetables and apple in crock pot, large deep pot or large casserole.  Leave out the red peppers and peas or anything that cooks relatively quickly.

Add 1 tablespoon mustard, other spices/herbs including lemon juice. Add beef when cool, including oil/drippings.

Melt butter and add to mixture. Mix everything together well.

Pour beer into mixture – it shouldn’t come quite to the top but should come near the top.

Bake on 350 for about 1.5 hours – or you could bake it longer at 320. Every 15-20 minutes, use a wooden spoon to stir up the mixture to make sure the stuff on top doesn’t dry out and burn.

Add bell pepper and peas. By now, the butternut squash and apple should have dissolved into the beer and formed a soupy mixture.  Add sifted flour and mix in until suitably thickened. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Slice breadsticks down the center to reduce thickness. Use pastry brush to coat completely in mustard, or cover croutons in mustard if you are using those.

Press breadsticks into top of stew about halfway, so they form a top “crust”, or cover in croutons. Return to stove and bake for 15 more minutes, reducing heat to 320 if baking at 350. If cooking on stove or crockpot, take it out, pour into casserole, stick in breadsticks and warm in stove on 350 for 15 minutes. You can also toast the mustard-covered breadsticks and add them to the serving dish if you don’t wish to bake.

Serve in soup bowls, or over rice on plates. Each guest gets a whole or half breadstick – serves about 8, or 4 with leftovers.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cafe La Boheme and Coffee, Tea or Me

On Wenzhou Street just south of Xinhai there are two cafes that we've been going to a lot lately, so I thought a review was in order - especially as they both have cats. One has cheap but strong, well-made cocktails and the other has the best hot chocolate in the entire independent country of Taiwan and I am not even joking, so all the better!

If you enter Wenzhou Street from Xinhai (or walk north), just south of a small shop decorated with hanging CDs you'll find Cafe La Boheme on one side, and Coffee, Tea or Me on the other. The placement somewhat mimics the placement of Cafe Bastille and Shake House down the road (running along Lane 86, catty-corner to the Lutheran church where you often see a guy who walks his Persian cat on a leash). Those cafes are both great - Shake House is better - and so are these two.

Shake House is one of my all-time favorites, with friendly staff, an artfully shabby space, usually decent music, great beer and, for a student beer cafe, pretty good coffee and food. Bastille has a snotty staff and horrid food - though the focaccia sandwich is OK - but good beer, plugs and Wifi. You can use Bastille wifi from Shake House, but there are no plugs.

Anyway, back to the two cafes at hand.

La Boheme, on the west side, has a velvet-furred declawed tabby named Luna, a selection of books in English and Chinese, generally good but more popular-music oriented music, beer (Belgian) and excellent food. I mean truly good: their burgers are stupendous, generous and well-made. The burger choices are unexpected: I recommend the burger topped with apples and white wine sauce.

Their fries are just as fries should be - not too salty, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I've also had their herbed lemon chicken, which was quite good. Their hot chocolate is absolutely excellent - dark and chocolatey, you can smell it before it reaches your table. It's rich and tasty, nothing like the wimpy brews of the various "chocolate" cafes found in Taipei. If you love a good hot chocolate, go here and nowhere else. It's more like drinking chocolate than "hot chocolate" (which in my mind conjures up Swiss Miss).

It has its own wireless network and plugs, and is very "local" (foreigners do come, but they're not the norm). With green and yellow walls and a wood-floored raised area, this place is more brightly lit and comfortable like an old chair.

With its decidedly less healthy (but no less tasty) fare, it's Gongguan's answer to Zabu, whose tasty Japanese food feels downright good for you, despite the many fried menu items. That's Japanese food for ya.

It's rare to find cafes in Taipei that have a good atmosphere and good food, let alone genuinely good hamburgers, so this is something to take notice of.

Coffee, Tea or Me (also called "Cafe, Tea or Me") has two, possibly three cats. It's hard to say and only the orange cat is friendly. You have to steal La Boheme's wireless, but they have their own plugs and truly excellent coffee. La Boheme's coffee isn't bad either. They have more space, very odd books and other decorative bits and bobs, more chairs but a limited selection. You can get drinks of all sorts, from good coffee to a very limited beer selection - really just Erdinger, a few boring choices like Heineken and a vanilla-y French beer in a blue bottle. They also do cocktails, and have an impressive bar for what is basically a coffeeshop. They made me a drink at their suggestion: Jameson, some sort of bourbon and Grand Marnier with ice and I assume something that was not alcohol (or maybe not - coulda been pure alcohol). The serving was generous and it cost NT$140. WAY TO GO.

Coffee, Tea or Me's space is more artfully distressed, with dingier walls, a menu board that's impossible to read, hodgepodge chairs and tables - including one low set of chairs in blue faux velvet and another pair of antique-looking Chinese style bamboo wicker chairs. It has a great atmosphere but is not the place to go if you think you'll get hungry.

I strongly recommend both, but for entirely different reasons!

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.