Taipei presented eating challenges to us as English was not as commonly understood as in other cities. And it didn’t help that many of the maps we were given did not include English names. Still, we persevered by getting recommendations from our hotel for restaurants, as well as counting how many streets we had to go by before making a turn, then how many additional streets to make the next turn. Plus, we had our hotel call up Google maps on their computers (which was also in Taiwanese) to show us a picture of the restaurant entrance since none of the signs used English characters. Knowing that the entrance had a red sign became very helpful (plus having the hotel write out the name and address in Taiwanese so we could ask for directions).
We ended up sampling a number of restaurants serving traditional Taiwanese food.
- Chenieei Restaurant. OK, this one was for Tom, not Joyce who had a beer and watched. He decided that he needed to go to Snake Alley (yes, that is really the name of the alley) to get…..guess what….snake. Unlike the last time he had snake on another trip, this one came with a defined regimen by which it can be properly enjoyed. Most people might want to skip down to the next restaurant. But, for those who are curious…the first step was to drink half the glass of snake blood (watery looking and tasting something like an sweetened, non-carbonated cherry soda). Then, pour a series of smaller glasses into the remaining blood, and drink half of that, in a specific order: first add ginseng wine (which added sweetness) and drink half the blood/ginseng mixture; then snake medicine (which added an earthy taste) and drink half of that; then snake poison (a milky liquid that gave the concoction a bitter taste); and finally a snake wine. After that, you pop two capsule of snake oil and drink a small glass of snake bile as a chaser (no real taste). After that, you’re ready for the main course: a bowl of snake soup (like a watery chicken soup) with boiled snake (more like boiled fish than the chicken-like taste of his previous stir-fried snake). Overall, an interesting experience, at least for the idea and the regimen, if not for the taste. It should satisfy Tom’s snake craving for another 15 years.
- Jin Din Rov is known particularly for its dumplings. Since the English menu is very limited, we began by pointing at a dish that looked like steamed clams in an oyster sauce. We did get the clams but instead of being steamed in an oyster sauce, they were raw and marinated in what tasted like black wine vinegar. While Joyce passed after eating one, Tom thought they were okay, but not what he expected or hoped for. We were, however, both very pleased with our main dish: "Shrimp Pies", which are actually pork-based soup dumplings, topped with a small shrimp. Not what we expected from the name, but very good–good enough to order a second serving oft the same.
- Ching Ye is a traditional Taiwanese restaurant. Its seafood-focused menu offered many options. We began with stir-fried sea clams with a soy sauce with basil, garlic and chili that was so good that we had to order rice on which we could have more of the sauce. Then came two large steamed abalones with soy and garlic sauce, also very good.Our third dish, salt and pepper fried crab was pretty good although the meat was a bit dry. The restaurant also brought a complementary dish of traditional soup, which they call green pea sweet soup. The beans were lentils and while we certainly got the sweetness, it was balanced with a pleasant earthy taste. Very nice.
- Chuan-Yang Yu-Fung. We were standing on a corner looking perplexed as we struggled to find this restaurant. As what often happens when we look that way, some locals came to our rescue. Two women stopped to help us and not only did they know the restaurant, but it was one of their favorites. They brought us to the restaurant and, when they found it did not have a menu in English, helped us order. After they left, we discovered that our waitress had lived in Los Angeles and came back home to help in her family’s restaurant. Hence she was very fluent in English. Still, we really appreciated the help we received. The deep-fried fish was delicious and the pork meatball hotpot with Chinese cabbage quite good (although the pork was undercooked). We were less impressed by tofu in soy sauce.
- Din Tai Fung is a highly regarded, extremely popular Asian (with a few branches now in the U.S.) chain of dumpling restaurants that is based in Taiwan. After a 45-minute wait, we ordered three types of dumplings: shrimp and pork and also chicken soup dumplings (soup dumpling are known as Xio Llng Bao) and pork potstickers. Although all were okay, they paled next to the soup dumplings we had Jin Din Rove and those we had in Shanghai. The wait, however, did provide an unexpected reward. The restaurant is located in the food court of the Sugo Department Store, which has one of the most amazing selections of high-end dessert and chocolate stores that you will ever see. We were enthralled, especially by its amazing selection of breads and bread-based meals and desserts: a selection that included chicken cheese French bread, tenderloin bread with vanilla and hot sauce, tuna salad and chestnut cake (which did look and sound better than it actually tasted).
We stayed at the San Want Residences on Nanjing East Rd. The hotel was several blocks away from an MRT subway stop, which made it a convenient location. However, it took longer to get the the MRT stop than it should have as lights to cross some of the streets are long (some cross streets did have underground paths which made it a little faster). The rooms were comfortable, although on the small side. The bathroom, however, was quite large. It had a “full-service” toilet, whose lid opened and closed where one walked in front of it. I had fun walking in and saying “seat up” and the seat rose. Boy, am I powerful. And, of course, it had all of the “washing” features that one can find in some Asian hotels. It had a large nice rain shower and a step down Japanese-style soaking tub. The staff was very helpful and gave us good restaurant recommendations and directions.
Although many reviews of this place talked about how well the staff spoke English, we felt that they didn’t understand as much as one thought. Often they answered what they thought was the question versus what the question was. I don’t mean to single out this hotel for this issue and it was very common during our entire Asian trip. But what is important is that they tried very hard. Usually when we asked a question, the person would call over 1-3 others, they would talk together in Taiwanese, and then the person would provide an answer to what they think we asked.
The hotel had a little lounge area that had coffee and tea and little snacks available continually. When we originally arrived, they gave us a buy one get one drink coupon. To our surprise, they honored the coupon both nights (we didn’t ask the second night, they volunteered it). When we arrived back at the hotel after the bar closed at 9 PM, they were more than willing to bring some wine to us in the lounge area. Our room came with a buffet breakfast that offered an assortment of items for various nationalities.
Wifi was free throughout the hotel (and in the room) and was very good.
This is a very comfortable place, that was reasonably priced for what you got, and with a wonderful staff.