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October 6th 2016
Published: September 30th 2017
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Should've Gone Small at DTF ...Should've Gone Small at DTF ...Should've Gone Small at DTF ...

... we didn't need the medium-sized hot and sour soup, as we barely made a dent in it. A superior spin on the classic and widely available soup, this riff on it had a delightful peppery punch, with some interesting strands of noodles that appeared to be fine slivers of tofu.
Geo: 25.02, 121.45

Little known fact - while the acronym DTF may have been popularized by Jersey Shore, it actually originated nearly 50 years ago, in Taiwan. For the Taiwanese, it's always about DTF, and it's something they do every chance that they get. For those not in the know, who aren't aware of what DTF stands for, it's Din Tai Fung, representing a cultural movement spreading around the world, and is the key strategy in Taiwan's bid for global domination!

For DTF fanatics, it's more of a religion or way of life, as they worship the almighty Xiao Long Bao - XLBs are considered by many to be the finest dumplings in the world, and are roughly 50%!s(MISSING)oup, 50%!d(MISSING)umpling, and 110%!A(MISSING)WESOME. There must be well over a hundred branches around the world, and for good reason - when made correctly, nothing beats the taste and sensation of biting into these succulent little dumplings, and getting a shot of savoury broth oozing out into your mouth, before devouring these tasty morsels.

It wasn't the first time I've had them - that was a few years ago in Singapore, and while good, I wasn't blown away by them. But having
Famed Xiao Long Baos ...Famed Xiao Long Baos ...Famed Xiao Long Baos ...

... DTF is famous for these, little dumpling bundles of goodness, filled with ground pork and vegetables which, when steamed, form a delicious broth inside. Perhaps it's because I appreciate things like this more after having all that khinkali in Georgia, or maybe because DTF is stronger in its homeland, but these XLBs were fantastic, and far superior to the ones we had sampled in Singapore. Unfortunately, our eyes were way bigger than our stomachs today, as we had ordered two bamboo steamers of the XLBs - we should've ordered just one, with the massive quantity of other items we had ordered. In the background are spicy house special shrimp wontons - not served in a soup like traditional Chinese wontons. I actually thought these were better than the XLBs - heavy praise, considering how good those were.
sampled Georgian khinkali a few years ago, a similar but more robust version of a soup dumpling, I began to appreciate the whole experience far more. Eating khinkali was a bit different, as they aren't bite-sized - you actually grab them by their nub, bite off a piece of the thick dough, suck the broth out of it, and then eat the dumpling itself. XLBs are quite elegant in comparison, and it seemed that the quality and execution in Taiwan far exceeded the ones we had in Singapore.

Taiwan has a reputation as being the mecca of Asian food, with DTF being just one example, and we quickly discovered the truth for ourselves this morning, as we attempted to hit up the famous Fuhang soy milk, for a traditional Taiwanese breakfast of hot soy milk and Chinese-style doughnuts and green onion pancakes. Unfortunately, we got just a little bit delayed on our way there, as we navigated the main train station to get to the metro line. Somehow, on our way to breakfast, we managed to snag some free samples from vendors, try out some steamed pork buns, eat half of a cheesecake, and down a mango slushy bubble tea. I
Perhaps the Best of Them All ...Perhaps the Best of Them All ...Perhaps the Best of Them All ...

... were these shrimp and pork shao mai - very different from those you would find at a typical Cantonese-style dim sum spot. Buddha took full advantage with a bit of sauna time, as he steamed open his pores while these cooked. It's the secret to his eternally-youthful appearance.
point out once more, that this was on our way to breakfast.

So it was no big deal for when we arrived at Fuhang 90 minutes after we had intended to, to find a massive lineup - after a massive pre-breakfast that would put lunch to shame, we really didn't need an actual breakfast at this point, and certainly not one with a significant wait. At this point, we figured that we should do some actual sightseeing in Taiwan, and try and burn off pre-breakfast. But try as we might, we simply could not escape the food of Taiwan, and soon wound up eating once again, even though we weren't even remotely hungry.

Taiwan seems to be the epicentre of many global food phenomena, with DTF and bubble tea being two prime examples - we couldn't help but wonder if Ice Monster might be the next big thing. They sell a special type of shaved ice, impossibly light and fluffy, that doesn't so much as melt on your tongue as it sublimates, going straight from solid to gas. While it does cool you down, it's not overly thirst quenching because it doesn't feel like you are actually ingesting any
Steamed Vegetable and Pork Dumplings ...Steamed Vegetable and Pork Dumplings ...Steamed Vegetable and Pork Dumplings ...

... similar in ingredients to the XLBs, but substantially different, with a much higher ratio of vegetable to pork, and a less delicate wrap. We could've skipped this type of dumpling, though the shrimp and pork version was still worth getting.
liquid. It almost felt unnatural for shaved ice to behave like this, leaving us to wonder if some type of chemical was used to maintain its state - more than 20 minutes after receiving a bowl of seasonal shaved ice (a nice kiwi sauce with some tasty lychee), it still hadn't appeared to melt at all, even though the shop was nearly 25 C with over 80% humidity.

Even without seeing its preparation, it's blatantly obvious that food here is made with love and passion - a great example of this was Haaya's Coffee, a renowned chain in Taipei. Not since Lecce in southern Italy, have I had such a fine iced latte! Taipei has the reputation of having the best coffee shops in all of Asia - based on our experience today, that seems to be true. We were a bit put off at first by the Starbucks-feeling location inside of a department store, and nearly walked away. It was a good thing we didn't, as the barista put a phenomenal amount of effort into our drinks. It took about ten minutes for him to produce the iced latte, and I watched the entire time as the barista frothed
Jugetsudo ...Jugetsudo ...Jugetsudo ...

... some matcha chocolates purchased in Tokyo became our first breakfast of the day, along with some biscuits acquired here and there in Japan.
that milk like a madman for half that time. It's that perfectly-foamed froth that makes an iced latte stand out, and his work would make any Italian barista proud.

I commented to him that it's a far cry from Starbucks, which is prepared in mere seconds, and it comes out in the taste. He responded that, sometimes when people go to Starbucks, they just want something fast, and nothing more - what Haaya's offers is a true experience to go along with your drink. With that kind of mentality, Haaya's definitely isn't your average coffee chain, and that became even more apparent when Benita's hot latte came out ... served in a fine bone china cup! Their menu read more like an encyclopedia of coffee, with an astonishing variety of gourmet roasts from major coffee-producing regions from all over the world. The majority of them were all served up as pure, black coffee, with prices that shockingly dwarfed those of a Japanese cup of coffee - anywhere from $10 to $15 CAD a cup! Now, not everything was perfect here - our only mild complaint about the coffee was that they were a bit light on the quantity of
Italian Sausage Bun ...Italian Sausage Bun ...Italian Sausage Bun ...

... at least, that's how this spicy pork bun tasted! We didn't get very far initially this morning in our search for a hot soy milk breakfast, as we were mesmerized by the train station's snack offerings. Not bad, but not mind blowing as we have been led to believe of Taiwan's buns - the meat was a bit dense, and the bun was fairly light and fluffy, but as pillowy as its reputation. This particular stall was unique for its more modern offerings, such as tomato cranberry and quinoa pumpkin.
espresso used, leading to a slightly-weak drink overshadowed by the milk used. But that still didn't take away from the luxurious coffee experience that they offer.

We really outdid ourselves today, and it was shocking that, after snacking all morning long, that we had enough stamina to DTF over the lunch hour. I have no idea how the Taiwanese manage to do it so often ...


Additional photos below
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Uncle Tetsu ...Uncle Tetsu ...
Uncle Tetsu ...

... apparently, he's rather famous in Taiwan, with people lining up for nearly an hour at times, for one of his Japanese-style cheesecakes. Again, we didn't get far in our search for soy milk, as we somehow ended up with an entire cheesecake - though we did save half for later. It had a fantastic texture, more like a light eggy souffle than a cheesecake, but the flavor was lacking - in typical Asian dessert fashion, it wasn't very sweet and didn't have any real flavoring. With even a little bit of added lemon zest, this could have been an amazing cheesecake.
Another Fail ...Another Fail ...
Another Fail ...

... yet again we failed to leave the train station, getting sidetracked by a mango smoothie bubble tea. At this point, why even bother with a hot soy milk breakfast?
Fuhang Soy Milk ...Fuhang Soy Milk ...
Fuhang Soy Milk ...

... another famous Taipei institution. The lineup not only snaked through the upstairs food court, but also down the stairs and out the door! We skipped it, though we were nearly starving by that point, since our breakfast of chocolate, biscuits, a spicy pork bun, half a cheesecake, and a mango smoothie bubble tea was so incredibly inadequate ...
Ice Monster ...Ice Monster ...
Ice Monster ...

... another famous thing to try while in Taipei - apparently, it has even been featured on CNN, furthering its wild popularity.
Wan's Teahouse ...Wan's Teahouse ...
Wan's Teahouse ...

... in Hualien, the jumping-off point for Taroko National Park. We could have hit up one of their famed night markets, but were too bagged after a long train ride from Taipei. Without many actual sit-down restaurants available at the late hour near our hotel, we stumbled upon this place for a cheap and filling meal. The spicy chicken was solid, crispy but a tad dry compared to other fried chicken we've sampled in Japan and Taiwan. Served with an interesting form of kumquat for drizzling some acidic juice, it was a filling, if unspectacular dish.
Hot and Spicy Shank Soup ...Hot and Spicy Shank Soup ...
Hot and Spicy Shank Soup ...

... though the shank was supremely tender, it was rather bland overall, and served with some mushy noodles. If only the noodles had the wonderful bite and chew of the huge strips of yuba, the dish might have been saved. The bamboo shoots also had that weird, slightly-unpleasant taste they often have, unlike their Japanese counterparts. For the most part, this felt and tasted like a poor man's version of ramen. Of course, I didn't realize this was going to be a bowl of soup noodles when ordering, expecting a fried noodle kind of dish, and was slightly biased against it.
Highlight of Wan's ...Highlight of Wan's ...
Highlight of Wan's ...

... was actually the drinks - a refreshing and nicely-frothed iced green tea and a milk tea served with some delicate little pearls.
Only in Asia ...Only in Asia ...
Only in Asia ...

... can you go to 7-11 and find marinated eggs!
Chicken Sausage ...Chicken Sausage ...
Chicken Sausage ...

... not a sausage in the traditional sense, as it wasn't ground, but the meat was formed into a roll and grilled, then basted with sauce.
Pretty and Tasty ...Pretty and Tasty ...
Pretty and Tasty ...

... very unique bubble tea presentation.
Assorted Innards ...Assorted Innards ...
Assorted Innards ...

... only in Asia can you buy a skewer of duck hearts as a snack. Surprisingly tasty.


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