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Frosty Treats & Fiery Fries (TAIPEI Quarterly 2024 Summer Vol.36)

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Post date:2024-06-11

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TAIPEI #36 (2024 Summer)

Frosty Treats & Fiery Fries

Savoring Taipei's Summer Cuisine


Text James Baron
Photos Vision

From fruit tea stalls to shaved-ice outlets, Taipei offers myriad options for cooling down in the summer. And despite the rising temperatures, piping-hot stir fries remain popular – especially when accompanied by a frosty beer. In this article, we introduce a few businesses that serve delicacies perfect for the summer season.

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Frosty Treats

When looking for a sweet respite from Taipei's hot and humid summer weather, look no further than eateries and roadside stalls selling traditional iced treats. Among the classics beloved by residents and visitors alike are tofu pudding, shaved ice, and snow ice – both served with a wide variety of toppings – and ice creations that incorporate Taiwan's finest fruits.

YU NAI CHUAN

Branches oof this tofu pudding provider have sprung up all over Taipei, and it's easy to see why the brand has proved a hit. With its thatched roof-style parasols and bamboo furniture, the original store in Neihu District is an attractive and comfortable spot for a bowl of douhua (tofu pudding). The wooden tofu vats – one on the counter, from which spoons can be retrieved, and another larger one out front serving as a trash can – are a particularly appealing touch.

2▲Yu Nai Chuan douhua store in Neihu District

The two main offerings here are the regular douhua and another type served with a mountain of black sugar-infused shaved ice stacked on top. Both contain an assortment of sweetened beans, making what initially seems like a light snack surprisingly filling. During lunchtime, when office workers show up in droves, you might have to wait a few extra minutes for the iced variety, but it's worth it. The combination of slushy ice and silky-smooth tofu works and is sure to please douhua aficionados.

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Adjoining the serving area is a small store selling dried goods, oils, and snacks, all elegantly packaged and displayed. Branches of Yu Nai Chuan's "tofu and grocery" stores can also be found at SKM Diamond Towers, at SKM Taipei Xinyi Place A8, and on Lishui Street, which neighbors Yongkang Street, well-known for its many restaurants and eateries. The newest location opened in May at Eslite Spectrum Nanxi.
 
YU NAI CHUAN 芋艿川
🚩 15, Aly. 65, Ln. 71, Jiangnan St., Neihu Dist.
📞 0976-826-529
🕝 12:00pm-9:00pm
🔗 www.yunaichuan.com.tw

BEIMEN FENGLI ICE

Visitors to this unpretentious little enterprise might be somewhat confused by the name, as the premises are down a small lane in the East District, rather than the Beimen area (covered on the next page). The misleading nomenclature apparently comes from the owner's background – she grew up in a neighborhood of Yilan City with the same name.

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There's certainly no confusion about the products on offer: these are traditional, handmade ice of a type that was once more common in Taiwan before richer, milkier "Western-style" ice cream gained popularity. The signature item on the menu is perilla plum sorbet with either pineapple or lychee. The latter, for some reason, comes only in a size smaller than the former. There is also the option of a two flavor combo featuring other choices, such as salty plum, taro, longan, peanut, and mung bean. While the pineapple and lychee ices contain dried-fruit pieces and have a delicate, refreshing taste, the peanut variety is thicker and sweeter.

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The items are available in small bowls or as popsicles – with mango and adzuki bean further options among the latter. Sweet bean and peanut soups and congees are also on the menu.
 
BEIMEN FENGLI ICE 北門鳳李冰
🚩 1F, 9, Aly. 33, Ln. 216, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao E. Rd., Daan Dist.
📞 (02) 2711-8862
🕝 12:00pm-9:30pm

STAR FRUITS ICE

Sour plums are a versatile treat in Taiwan: they are enjoyed as a candy, sprinkled on slices of fresh fruit in powdered form, and added to popular drinks such as kumquat lemon tea. The tart flavor of the prunes is achieved by preserving them for months in sugar and salt.

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It's not just plums that can be preserved in this way; for two generations, the Zheng family has used a similar process to create a unique selection of icy treats featuring star fruit (carambola) at locations in Ximending, a popular shopping and entertainment district that is part of Wanhua District. After 56 years in a more central spot, the family was thought by many to have ceased operations in 2022 when that shop disappeared. However, regulars were thrilled to learn the business had just relocated to another spot, not far from the original outlet, at the intersection of Zhonghua Road and Emei Street.

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Introduced to Taiwan from Southeast Asia several hundred years ago, carambola gets its more common name from the stellar shape it takes when sliced in cross section. While the fruit pieces in the bowls at this shop are cut lengthwise, they nonetheless absorb the icy liquid through their porous flesh, making each bite turgid and crunchy. In addition to the soup, there is also a carambola drink, which is slightly more watery and doesn't contain fruit chunks. Pineapple options are also available.
 
STAR FRUITS ICE 成都楊桃冰
🚩 144-1, Sec. 1, Zhonghua Rd., Wanhua Dist.
📞 (02) 2381-0309
🕝 12:00pm-10:30pm
🔗 facebook.com/chenfu.starfruitsice1966

MEET DESSERTS

Another shop selling cool and sweet refreshments is Meet Desserts, located a short walk south from the North Gate (Beimen) along Yanping South Road. A standout here is the snow ice with taro and mochi, which comes with three extra toppings of your choice.

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These include aiyu jelly, grass jelly, and tapioca pearls. The pieces of mochi, which are snipped with scissors and coated with peanuts, have what the Taiwanese describe as a "Q" texture (roughly akin to "chewy"), which perfectly complements the mixture of gloopy taro sauce and milky ice flakes.

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For something really special, try the shaved ice with sesame tangyuan (glutinous-rice balls) and osmanthus syrup. "Eat it quickly," says Mr. Huang, who runs the shop with his wife. He's right. One bite of the hot globules releases oozing sesame paste, creating a pleasant contrast with the ice. A minuscule amount of alcohol from weakly fermented grain is used in the syrup – just enough to impart a subtle aftertaste and create a slight bitterness with the sesame.

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The North Gate area, located west of Taipei Main Station, is full of historical landmarks. Close to the gate itself – one of the few surviving remnants of Taipei's old city walls – is the Taipei Post Office. Completed in 1930 during the 1895~1945 period of Japanese rule of Taiwan, this imposing structure features Baroque motifs, a colonnaded portico, and a small postal museum. Nearby is another attractive relic from the Japanese era – the Futai Street Mansion, built in 1910, originally an office facility for a Japanese construction firm.
 
MEET DESSERTS 來呷甜甜品
🚩 11, Yanping S. Rd., Zhongzheng Dist.
📞 (02) 5596-4288
🕝 1:00pm-8:30pm
🔗 instagram.com/meetdesserts

Fiery Fries

Stir-fryrestaurants in Taipei offer a glimpse into the city's vibrant street food culture. These restaurants are often simple affairs with a lively atmosphere where patrons sit on low stools and order from menus with a large number of seafood, meat dishes, and vegetable offerings. There is no shortage of beer to wash it all down.

GANDOU

Few experiences convey the exuberance of Taiwanese dining culture like a crowded stir-fry restaurant, and they don't get much more packed than the flagship location of Gandou on Minsheng East Road. By 7pm, the second-floor restaurant is heaving; yet orders, which are taken via a touchscreen, arrive at breakneck pace.

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The restaurant emphasizes its use of Cantonese culinary techniques acquired by patriarch Hsu Tian-sheng, who got his start as a kitchen hand at a Guangzhou-style establishment and eventually worked his way up to stir-fry master status. Having opened his first restaurant in 1987, Hsu kicked off the Gandou franchise with his first branch in New Taipei City more than a decade ago. The name, which translates roughly as "port capital," has its origins in Hsu's reminiscences about his military service in the southern port city of Kaohsiung. Note, however, that for considerations of freshness, the restaurant's seafood ingredients are sourced from the northern port city of Keelung.

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The tofu with crab butter and the broiled fish chin are two excellent choices for those looking for something a little less run-of-the-mill. The former contains succulent bean cubes and pieces of crab in a glutinous sauce; expert grilling leaves the skin of the latter crispy and the flesh juicy. And, despite the maritime theme, there's far more than fish to tempt you. Classics such as beef with scallions are found alongside intriguing items such as stir-fried intestine with string bean. Unlike most dishes featuring internal organs, the innards are crispy and covered in crunchy shallot flakes.
 
Gandou 港都熱炒
🚩 52, Sec. 1, Minsheng E. Rd., Zhongshan Dist.
📞 (02) 2522-1918
🕝 5:00pm-1:00am
🔗 gandou.com.tw

CHAO STIR FRY

"How does it taste?" the waiter asks, as we tuck into the Kung Pao chicken. "Delicious," is the answer. But it's the texture, more than the flavor, that one first notices when nibbling on these golden nuggets. As with all the dishes at Chao Stir Fry, a superb vegan eatery, the "meat" in this Sichuanese classic is fashioned from plant based substitutes. Seasoned gourmands are unlikely to mistake the poultry replacement for the real thing, but the combination of crispy flour coating and tender interior makes for a unique mouthfeel.

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That's not to underplay the taste experience at this restaurant. The sweet and sour "fish" is delightfully tangy, and nicely offset by slices of zesty bell pepper, and the unconventional serving of stinky tofu as a mash accentuates the pungency of the night-market staple. The string beans are cooked to crunchy perfection, and – nestled between them – is the most convincing meat substitute. This is Omnipork, fashioned from non-GMO soy, shiitake mushroom, pea, and rice.

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The top-notch fare at Chao Stir Fry is enhanced by a convivial eating environment – somewhere between traditional stir-fry hubbub and bistro chic. As you enter from the small lane it sits along, an eye-catching neon sign greets you at the entrance. It features the single Chinese character for the restaurant's name, 炒 (chao, meaning "stirfry")– executed with a panache that bespeaks marketing flare. In keeping with the animal-friendly environment, the fish tank is also vegan, featuring nothing but bath toys! Orders are taken by QR code and arrive promptly. Your food can be washed down with Taiwan Beer 18 Days Draft – an unpasteurized lager with a shorter shelf life and smoother taste than its other offerings.
 
Chao Stir Fry 炒炒新亞洲蔬食
🚩 21, Ln. 52, Sec. 1, Daan Rd., Daan Dist.
📞 (02) 2775-3005
🕝 Mon. to Fri. 5:00pm-11:00pm
Sat. and Sun. 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:00pm-11:00pm
🔗 instagram.com/chao_stir_fry

Please drink responsibly

TU JIAO CUO

Often easily identifiable by their turquoise wooden door frames and trimming, several notable military dependents' village restaurants can be found in Taipei. Originally established by the families of Nationalist soldiers who arrived in Taiwan from mainland China post-WWII, these places feature old Chinathemed memorabilia and an array of retro ornaments.

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Located roughly midway between Taipei Metro's Wanlong and Jingmei stations, Tu Jiao Cuo restaurant is worth visiting just for the décor. Record covers and movie posters featuring stars of yesteryear adorn the main wall of the interior dining space, while a display cabinet of cartoon and comic book collectible toys stands before the wall opposite. In one corner there's a vintage television set, in another a dusty poster covered in paper slips that way back when could be removed like an Advent calendar to afford patrons a chance to win bottles of Taiwan Beer or packets of Long Life cigarettes. On the back wall, above a blackboard, the requisite portrait of father-of-the-nation Sun Yat-sen appears in the middle of the Chinese characters for one of his famous slogans: tian xia wei gong (the world is for all people).

17▲"Matsusaka" pineapple pork

A must-try dish here is the "matsusaka" pineapple pork. Rather than denoting Japanese origin, the name is used in Taiwan to describe cuts with a desirable fat-to-meat ratio. The lightly seasoned slices are served with pineapple on a bed of red onions, cucumber wedges, and cherry tomatoes, with a garnishing of cilantro topping things off. A vinegar dressing completes a wonderful blend of flavors. Another tasty and healthful option is the shuilian, known in English by the evocative names crested floating heart and white water snowflake. The small olive-like items amid the steaming strands are the pickled, immature fruits of the cordia dichotoma – or Indian cherry tree. Seafood delicacies include the salty, grilled prawns and crispy, deep-fried icefish.
 
TU JIAO CUO 土角厝懷舊小吃店
🚩 2-1, Sanfu St., Wenshan Dist., Taipei City
📞 (02) 2933-9699
🕝 Tue.to Sun. 5:00pm-12:00am
🔗 instagram.com/tujiaocuo

18▲Crispy deep-fried burdock

In addition to enjoying iced treats and savoring stir-fried dishes accompanied by cold beer, Taipei's hot summers also beckon you to try other refreshing remedies. From freshly pressed fruit juices to traditional herbal teas – well known for their cooling properties – and cold noodles, there is no shortage of revitalizing options in the city.

🍷Please drink responsibly
 

🔎
Emei Street 峨嵋街
Futai Street Mansion 撫台街洋樓
Hsu Tian-sheng 許天生
Lishui Street 麗水街
Minsheng East Road 民生東路
North Gate 北門
Taipei Post Office 台北郵局
Ximending 西門町
Yangping South Road 延平南路
Yongkang Street 永康街
Zhonghua Road 中華路


🗺️Click here to see aforementioned spots on Google Map

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