February 11, 2014
Warming Winter Food


It remains chilly here in Taiwan, although more in the north than the south. So its time to review my favourite winter dishes that are sure to warm you up.

Steak houses

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There are many steak houses in Taiwan, ranging from the pricey (although very good) overseas brands to the local night market. And it’s the latter I want to focus on here.

In many night markets you will find somewhere selling simple steak meals consisting of a piece of steak served on a hot plate with pasta, perhaps some vegetables, and an egg. This type of steak meal has actually moved out of the night markets and there are many restaurants around Taiwan doing basically the same thing.

My Home Steak is one such chain, and I mention it in particular as it invokes a good memory from when I first arrived in Taiwan, and the level of service and food seems to be quite consistent regardless of the branch you visit. The memory was from my second day in Taiwan which was in August, and it was as hot as ever. Feeling dehydration setting in, I spotted a My Home Steak and saw the soda machine. Speaking absolutely no Chinese at the time I asked the somewhat bemused staff if I could have a drink. They made it clear there was no charge, but there was clearly a catch. The catch was of course that drinks are included with a meal. The staff eventually gave me a drink (with no charge), and I consequently became a regulate customer.

So back to the point: The great thing about these types of steak houses is the value. They are simple in that you just order the meat you’d like (a variety of steaks but also chicken and seafood), how you would like it done (from 0 to 10, with 10 being well done, 7 being medium well done), and the type of sauce (usually mushroom or black pepper or a mix of both).

For the price (around NT$250) you get soup, bread, salad, the main course, dessert, tea/coffee, and free soda refills. All bar in the main course is self-service and you can have as much as you like. I should point out that the steak is not of the quality of the more expensive restaurants, so you should consider this a cheap and cheerful option. In my opinion though, neither of these is a bad thing.

Hotpot

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I have written about hotpot before, but it is and continues to be an essential item for winter dining. You can spot these restaurants from the outside by the clouds of steam and people sitting often four to a table with bowls sunk into the tables.

As with the steak houses, it is fairly easy to order as you just need to choose the type of meat or the vegetarian option. It is usually possible to order different kinds of “soup” as the base of the hotpot, but the standard one is usually fine, unless you find yourself in a restaurant that specialises in spicy hotpot, in which case beware (or if you like a bit of spice, rejoice!)

A bowl of soup or stock will then be placed in front of you and the hotplate turned on, as you will be the cook. As it boils, you can go and make the dipping sauce. There will be a counter with various sauces (typically soy sauce to form the base, vinegar, sha cha sauce and oil), and other condiments (typically garlic, spring onions, radish, and chilli peppers) which you just really have to try to get the right balance for you. I’d say use mostly soy sauce, a good dollop of sha cha sauce, dash of vinegar and oil, with a healthy amount of garlic and spring onions with chills to taste (they will be very spicy if you aren’t used to them).

You will then be given a selection of vegetables and various extras (from fish balls to crab sticks) which you put into the bowl and cook. Once it’s done, remove, dip, and eat! The soup you create can also be very warming. Many hotpot places also have free drinks and some form of dessert, and there is usually enough to sate most appetites.

It is fun to try new things to eat when travelling, and I have found that both hotpot and steak houses are the least challenging food wise for visitors from Western countries. Yet both are very Taiwanese, fairly easy to order, good value, and fun. Happy warm eating!


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