Taipei Discoveries – Coffee And 1895
“Let’s eat at 1895” I tell my friends. 1895 is NOT the name of the restaurant but its founding date/year. Its name is really Tu Hsiao Yueh and underneath its name is its founding date. But since I don’t speak Mandarin or any Chinese for that matter, 1895 became our nickname for the place. It serves authentic Lu Rou (braised pork, probably cooked for 30 or more hours) over hot steaming rice, fat clams in a soup, birds eye curly fern vegetables and a fried chicken with a super delicious sauce you would come back for. I ate here twice in three days and that says a lot about this century-old restaurant.
Taiwan has many old haunts—by old I mean they have staying power. They respect old recipes, old ways of cooking or should I say, traditional. It’s like what we espouse at Slow Food-respecting tradition and culture and making sure they stand the test of time, fads, trends and evolving palates and tastes. I just had to take a photo of the master—a man in his 70s who probably is the son or nephew of the founders. And beside him is a teen of no more than 18 years old, already boiling the noodles or portioning the steamed rice into bowls. That’s what you call sustainability —training the young to take after them and maybe see the restaurant through till 2095.
For coffee, I found a 1956 one. Fong Da in Ximending district. The roaster is pretty new, maybe a new iteration of a German roaster, a PROBAT P12, but you know they know their coffee and how to roast it. The Fong Da blend is consistently good, mild and has a beautiful aroma. I even took some coffee beans home to enjoy and recreate my after lunch experience with that nice cup of coffee.
And for Xiao long Bao, there is Hang Zhou Xiao long bao in Da-an District where you have to queue up and get a number. Our secret: Come at 11 am and you may be the first one in. The place fills up in ten minutes with locals and tourists. There is no English menu but you can check the order sheet and memorize through Google translate the characters for Xiao long bao—hot steaming soupy dumplings in many variations. Though it is only about 20 years old it is a Michelin Guide-listed restaurant. That says a lot, right?
Another Michelin guide-listed restaurant is Shin Yeh which was conveniently located near the Nangang Exhibition Center. The pork neck in fermented bean paste then fried was highly recommended and enjoyed by my friends. The dessert of a “panna cotta” texture for almond jelly and the sweet soup with bean balls were amazing. I feasted on Squid with salted egg yolk and the fried rice with fish roe.
For a coffee place proud of its Taiwan Alishan single origin, visit the Little Green Café and Health Studio at the Expo Park. It is located within a green store called MaJi Food and Deli in Jhongshan District. Maji is a green and eco-friendly lover’s heaven- everything you need for a sustainable lifestyle (just like ECHOstore). It has organic fruits, vegetables, provisions, staples and green cleaning materials, too.
Coffee enthusiasts will love Taipei. There is good coffee almost at every corner and these are local brands. One across our hotel is called SAHORS and its manager Kai entertained us with freshly-brewed Jamaican Blue Mountain and Hawaiian Kona. He gave us free rounds of coffee and pieces of macadamia in dates to go with the brew. As I watched him entertain customers, I realised Taipei does have a coffee culture and it must have been here since decades ago. I see septuagenarians walk in and ask for their favourite coffee blend which Kai keeps in notebooks—analog way, yes—and packs a kilo of beans for this couple. Another 70-year old lady walks in and engages Kai in conversation while enjoying her free cup of the day’s roast. She also specifies her coffee order.
Right next door, there is a third wave café called Ray’s. Here millennials order their brew, specify the method and pay a handsome amount for their “third wave” coffee order—probably a brew with their “acidity” or brightness as many of them describe coffee these days.
That’s coffee—probably also decades old but a wonderful discovery just next door. So Taipei, even if you are not the type to visit night markets, seems to have a good array of choices for food. I just chose Taiwanese for this short visit though Japanese selection also seems to be good too.
You can reserve at Michelin-starred ones or visit the neighborhood dumpling and noodle places. For me, three days was just right. We even had time to go to a Shabu Shabu place which also did not take reservations. The secret? Come at 6 pm and be the first at the door.
I had to take photos of the signage to remember the place close to our hotel in Da-an district. The vegetarian set was substantial. The broth and sauces were wonderful.
Ah, Taipei, hot in the summer but I am sure I would even discover more places if the weather were cooler. A visit in the winter time is probably my next plan. Hot soup, Chinese and Japanese choices and the coffee, of course.
1895, I would visit again and I am certain Uncle would still be there mixing the broth just like his father did and how his sons and grandsons would do it.