Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Taipei Eats - Yongkang Street area (永康街, Picture heavy!)

I "stumbled" upon the greatness that is Yongkang Street (永康街) purely by accident. I read a little bit about Taipei prior to our arrival, but there were so much to absorb (still!) during the first couple of weeks I had forgotten everything I read (the internet is a godsend!). And then one afternoon while walking home from school, hubby and I ran into my Japanese classmate and she asked if we knew where Yongkang Street was. That weekend (Mid Autumn Festival), we consulted google to orient ourselves and headed straight there. Turns out the street is also a mere 15 minutes walk from our apartment, just like Shida Night Market ^.^

First things first - dinner ^.^ We basically walked around and scoped out the most crowded places. Hao's Braised Pork Rice (毫記魯肉飯) was one of them, and by the time it was dark, there was a healthy long line out the door, wrapping around the side of the building. Since braised pork rice (魯肉飯) is one of the better known dishes in Taiwan, we decided to join the crowd. 

Hubby and I ordered a bowl of braised pork rice, a bowl of dry (without broth) noodles, and stir fry noodles. Everything was delicious, although we wished there was more of the braised pork, or even pork itself, as it was pretty much just bits and crumbs of belly fat and not so much meat on top of our heaping bowl of rice. Not exactly something you would want to eat everyday.

Another super crowded place was Hao Gong Dao's Shop (好公道の店, which is really 好公道的店), formerly known as Golden Chicken Garden (金雞園). Not sure why they used a Japanese kana, and I don't know how to translate 好公道 or whether it has any special meaning either. Anyway, this place was so incredibly crowded we didn't bother to get in line and came back the next Monday for lunch instead. As expected, it was much more empty this time around ^.^

We ordered several small dished, which included this traditional chicken soup (left) and wonton soup, which has strips of nori in it, just like what we had in Tamsui.

The Su Style Soup Dumpling (蘇式湯餃, 蘇 = 蘇州?), which came with a separate bowl of light soup with strips of eggs and sea weed. They were delicious! The beef soup wasn't as good, although hubby liked the thicker flavor. I thought the broth was too thick and murky.

We also ordered "regular" soup dumplings (小籠包, left) and more steamed dumplings. In all, I think we spent about NT$450 (~US$15) for a yummy meal, so yes, I'd say I agree with the blogger above, screw Din Tai Fung and their ridiculous prices (and lines!) and go here instead!

When my sister visited, we took her here for lunch the very next day ^.^ This is her second time in Taipei. The first time, she went with a tour group and didn't get to see the "daily life" side of Taipei as the guide whisked her group through pretty much every tourist top hits (including the Din Tai Fung original shop below) and that was that.

The original Din Tai Fung storefront at the corner of Yongkang Street and Xinyi Road (信義路)

On Yongkang Street, we discovered not one but two shops selling Cantonese style BBQ pork (叉燒), roast pork (燒肉), roast duck (燒鴨), and soy sauce chicken (油雞). One shop was clearly better than the other though, and I've taken pictures of the better shop here.

I ordered BBQ Pork and Roast Pork Combo Rice, and hubby ordered Roast Pork and Roast Duck combo rice, NT$85 each (~US$2.85). The portion was huge and we were totally stuffed afterwards! The BBQ Pork was well flavored, at least better than the second shop further down the street, and the Roast Pork had decent crackling. The Roast Duck was good too.

Next up is Chengji, or Thành Ký, a Vietnamese restaurant in the area that's supposedly known for good pho. Of course being a super fan of pho hubby had to give it a try (I hope you've figured out by now all these pictures are accumulation of numerous visits to Yongkang Street and we didn't eat all this in one go LOL!). However, while filling the out the order form he marked the wrong line and we ended up with just a bowl of pho broth and no actual noodles xD! How was it? Hubby thought it was good while I thought it was just alright. I admit it was probably just me being spoiled rotten. I grew up in a state with numerous fantastic pho houses within an arm's reach and so a bowl of pho would have to be extraordinary to impress, which is to say Thanh Ky didn't.

The rest of this entry is on dessert and sweet treats, the first of which is Smoothie House, famous for its mango shaved ice. There are actually 2 locations of Smoothie House, the first is a dine-in place with a smaller menu, 9 choices, and the second an outdoor patio type with a slightly larger menu, 12 choices. Hubby and I have been to both locations multiple times, depends on which location is less busy, and trust me, both locations are always very busy.

Menu for the dine-in place.

We only order one item on both locations' menu - Mango Smoothie Ice with fresh fruits (a combination of chopped kiwis, strawberries, and mango), topped with a milk pudding. And it's not just plain water shaved ice, it's mango smoothie frozen into ice, then shaved into smooth and creamy flakes. The choices can be a bit confusing, because there is another almost identical item, only with plain water shaved ice, but we like the mango smoothie shaved ice way better. There are seasonal items too, but this mango smoothie ice is so good we don't care for anything else ^.^

Smoothie House's outside patio location has more of an "interesting" history. This very spot is where Ice Monster, the original famed mango ice, first opened up several years ago. Then it mysteriously disappeared and later returned as Yongkang 15. This incarnation turned out to be a cult hit, gaining even more popularity than its former self. Then June of this year, to everyone's shock Yongkang 15 too suddenly closed down, only to resurface as Ice Monster again on Zhongxiao East Road (MRT Sun Yat-sen Memorial Station, Exit 1 for the same side of the street or Exit 2 and cross the street). 

Now the "interesting" part is that when Smoothie House took over this location from Yongkang 15 (aka Ice Monster), it kept the exact same decor and color scheme, down to the column that still says "Yongkang Street #15"! The first time hubby and I saw this place, we both seriously thought we had found the famous Yongkang 15 (we didn't know it was already closed at the time), only to wonder to ourselves why the sign at the top of the shop as well as their napkins say "Smoothie House." Isn't that some sneaky reputation-stealing move on Smoothie House's part or what? The oddest part is that they didn't need to do such a thing. In my opinion, and hubby agrees, their mango smoothie ice is clearly better than Ice Monster's, and they don't have that silly requirement forcing everyone to order at least NT$100's worth in order to dine-in at either location!

Menu for the outside patio location.

The mango smoothie ice taken in natural light. So so sooooooo delicious!

Another tea shop that features mostly fruity teas, focusing on lemonades. I got a lemon kiwi green tea with chopped fresh kiwis and basil seeds. It was delicious, though a little too tart for me.

This Patisserie La Douceur is on Jinhua Street (金華街), technically not Yongkang but it's so close by I thought I'd include it on this post too. Again, hubby and I literally stumbled upon this patisserie. We were trying to find Yongkang street and ended up following a group of people (yup, just follow the crowd!) who took a turn onto Jinhua (it crosses Yongkang at one point) and hubby pointed out the adorable statues to me. The shop looked so cute and cozy I had to go inside to take a look. Little did I know I was about to hit jackpot with all the pretty cakes and macarons

The shop is harder to spot at night than during daytime. 

Before I start gushing, I have to admit that Patisserie La Douceur is on the pricey side, because each cake, mille-feuille (aka Napoleon) or large macaron is about $130-150 (~US$4.25-5.00) and even The Little Chef Pastry Shop had better prices.

But I guess I wasn't just paying for the cute cakes and macarons, just look how adorable that takeout box was!

Hell, even the plastic bag was cute!

I ended up going home with a Tiramisu Macaron (NT$150, or ~US$5), which I thought was a tiramisu flavored macaron. One bite into it I realized it was actually a tiramisu sandwiched in a macaron! The mascarpone cream was done just right and wasn't too sweet. Inside the clouds of mascarpone cream was a ball of chocolate with crunchy nuts and a core of coffee liqueur. Yum. It wasn't exactly the size of a cake, but it was a large macaron, enough for 2 people to share. I didn't share any with hubby though, because I inhaled it in a heart beat ^.^

Last but certainly not least is Les Bebes Cupcakery. It is on Chaozhou Street (潮州街), another intersecting street with Yongkang. A classmate who shares a sweet tooth with me recommended it and so I had to try. 

It was love at first sight, because I adore bite sized anything, because I can have a little bit of everything, that's why! :P 

Preparing for catered and takeout orders.

The staff was extremely nice and helpful, I guess because they have tons of foreign visitors. And indeed, with every visit hubby and I were among the several non-Taiwanese admirers in the shop ^.^ Again, it's a tad on the expensive side, because a mini cupcake is NT$30 (~US$1) and it's literally a bite as I can pop the whole thing into my mouth. That's half the size of a mini cupcake from The Bent Spoon but going for the same price! The larger cupcake is more reasonable, at NT$80 (~US$2.75) each, although I prefer the mini ones because I like trying several flavors. 

On your very first visit (because they will recognize repeat offenders LOL!), they will give each person a free mini cupcake, you know, just to get you hooked. And hooked we were, and hubby and I ordered several mini cupcakes and a cappuccino, just to get a taste of their range ^.^ We both were very impressed with the cupcakes as they were soft and moist and not overly sweet. I especially love the cream frosting because they had a light yet creamy and fluffy taste, a difficult combo to achieve. Let's just say that hubby, who normally hates sweets, happily fought me over which flavors he wanted to try. To win a savory guy over? Now that's impressive.

Left, clockwise from top:
- Banana cake with chocolate cream: yum.
- Red velvet: loved this so much I ordered multiples of it!
- Chocolate with berry cream: doubly yum.
Right, clockwise from top:
- Banana cake with peanut butter cream: loved this and bought multiples of it too! The peanut butter cream has a slight salty taste to it, which brought out the sweetness of the banana cake. A perfect balance of sweet and salty and if you're a sweet-savory person, you definitely should try this!
- Red velvet
- Chai tea: I wasn't too keen on this flavor but hubby loved it!

Left, clockwise from top:
- Red velvet
- Banana cake with peanut butter cream
- Chocolate cake with fudge cream: yum!
Right: a water bottle and clean glasses if you need a sip of water in between your bites ^.^

We ordered several mini cupcakes and 1 full size to go on our second visit. They had different flavors and so we couldn't resist ^.^

- Chocolate cake with Bailey's cream: the taste of the liqueur was weak, but it was still yummy!
- Banana cake and peanut butter cream: couldn't skip this one!
- Chocolate cake with coffee cream: yum yum yum!!!
Right: more repeats of chocolate cake and berry cream, red velvet, chocolate and coffee cream, and chocolate cake with Bailey's cream.

And hubby loved the Chai flavor enough to get a full size of it! 

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