July 25, 2013
Stir Fried Restaurants
As the saying goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans". So it follows that when in Taiwan, do as the Taiwanese and eat at a Taiwanese "stir fried" restaurant. Locally these restaurants are also known as Taiwanese beer house restaurants, and I have written in their praise before (http://go2taiwan.net/blog_content.php?sqno=86).
These restaurants are the perfect place to savour the sights and flavours of Taiwan. Not the highest class of place perhaps, but the food is really good, and that after all is the key to a good restaurant experience.
In fact, it is fair to say that eating at these kind of places is a complete sensory experience, with the smell, colour, taste and texture of the food, and the noise of the customers. These are the kind of places where local Taiwanese come to eat as mentioned, and as the "beer house" name indicates, blow off some steam. So probably not the place to go if you are looking for quite conversation, but somewhere every visitor should try.
The prices are generally very good value (around US$4 per dish), and if you like a cold beer the price is about the same. Taiwan beer seems to fit perfectly with this kind of food, and might well be the only choice (a quick reminder that the drink driving rules in Taiwan are now among the strictest in the world and are heavily enforced).
Be brave and be opened minded on the different dishes you try. With the low price it won't cost much if you order something you don't like anyway (although prepare to run if you see an offended chef staring at you*), and really it encapsulates the environment of this kind of place.
Language is likely to be the biggest barrier in ordering, as these kind of places are less used to serving foreign visitors, but this should in no way put you off. If English is not getting you anywhere, I would recommend asking for a meat and then let them choose. You can use a translation service on your smart device (do this before you arrive as these places are usually very busy). Alternatively there are some sites with translations such as this: http://www.dmtaiwan.com/stirfry.html Failing that, the old walk round and point at what other people are eating will work.
Location wise, you can find beer houses all over Taiwan, but less so in the expensive areas. Taipei's Chang An East Road Section 1 (near the corner of Xinsheng Elevated Road) boasts a load of different places to choose from within about a three block radius from specialized seafood restaurants to general places. My favourite is Ba-hsien which is located at the intersection of Xinsheng South Road and Xinyi Road, just across from Daan Park (30, Sec. 2, Xinsheng South Rd.: http://goo.gl/maps/TpFD8). If it's not raining they pull the roof back and you can eat under the stars. The boss speaks English as well.
And so to leave you for this post, a few more dishes that I recommend (following on from this http://go2taiwan.net/blog_content.php?sqno=86). All were (re-)tasted for this article. It's a tough job...
There are many types of vegetable in Taiwan that may be unfamiliar, but "shan shu" or mountain vegetable is a bit different again, and one I always look out for. Crunchy, delicious, and stir fried.
This is a typical meat and vegetable dish which comes in many forms, all stir fried. The meat is usually pork, lamb or beef, the vegetable typically as shown (commonly Chinese basil or "empty heart vegetable") in a soy-based sauce. These type of dishes are usually a hit (with non-vegetarians), but they can be spicy. If you don't want the spice, then say "boo la" whilst waving your hand.
It's unusual to find liver stir fried in Taiwan, and it is most commonly found in liver soup (also very good). This was a treat though, in a black bean sauce and cooked perfectly so it was soft. My new favourite beer house dish.
I am often asked the English for the many types of shell food here, but apart from oysters and mussels, everything can be classified as clams in my book (apologies to anyone who knows the difference). Very popular in many types of restaurants, and especially when they are stir fried.
And finally, just to show that not everything is stir fried, you can often get sashimi, which is raw fish as shown. If you haven't tried this before you should. Just be aware that you will usually be given a small dish with soy sauce and a green paste (already mixed in this picture). The green paste is wasabi, which has a unique spiciness all of its own. Try breathing in after you have eaten a bite and feel a sensation that climbs through your nose like nothing else. I am a huge fan but have to accept it is somewhat of an acquired taste.
* - okay this won't happen, but it's probably more polite to say it was too spicy or you are just too full if asked.
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