It’s a(bao)t to get Bao-werful

It’s a(bao)t to get Bao-werful

If you’ve been to Hualien, you’ve probably heard of the famous 公正包子 (Gong Zheng Bao Zi). It’s so popular that it has a whopping 14,000 reviews on Google alone! I’ve tried out the buns on multiple occasions, and I had to try it again on a recent trip to Hualien. 

Unlike the Xiao Long Bao (小籠包) in Singapore refers to the hot soupy pork dumpling, Xiao Long Bao in Taiwan is just a pork bun. The hot soupy pork dumpling is called 小籠湯包 or Xiao Long Tang Bao in Taiwan. So imagine my horror when I first ordered the bun six years ago and got an entire tray of pork buns. 

But back to the Xiao Long Bao from 公正包子. The meat is rich and juicy, and each bun is served piping hot from the steamer. The skin is on the thicker side (see the top of the bun) but has a pleasant taste to it. It complements exceptionally well with the pork filling, which is a very well-compressed meatball. The sweet juices from the pork also make the filling moist and make the whole bun very tasty. 

Apart from the Xiao Long Bao, this shop also sells dumplings. Each dumpling’s filling is similar to the bun’s fillings but in a much smaller amount. The skin was also on the thicker side but was still really good. The garlic soy sauce is also a must-add when eating this! 

Interestingly, 公正包子 is next to a 周家蒸餃 (Zhou Jia Zheng Jiao), a shop that has almost an identical menu – same items, same price. 

I preferred the skin of the Xiao Long Bao from 周家蒸餃 as it was slightly thinner than the ones from 公正包子. However, in terms of taste, it was highly similar. The filling from 周家蒸餃 was also a little less compressed than the ones from 公正包子 and seemed to have a higher fat content – it was, therefore, a lot juicier. It also had more chives which gave it a sweet hint. The dumplings tasted the same to me – and the sauce was almost the same too! 

I know most people recommend 公正包子because it seems to be the longer-standing one, but I prefer 周家蒸餃because the buns are sweeter. The queue for the former is longer, so honestly choosing 周家增加also makes sense for me – the buns are nicer, and the queue’s shorter! 

Both shops are good so why not try them if you’re around this (Bao)werful area!  Each bun costs 5 NTD (SGD 0.24), and each tray of dumplings (10 pieces) costs 30 NTD (SGD 1.46) at both 公正包子 and 周家蒸餃。

Address

公正包子
No. 199-2, Zhongshan Rd, Hualien City, Hualien County, 970
Tel: 038342933
Hours: 08:00–20:00

周家蒸餃
No. 4-20 Gongzheng Street , Hualien City, Hualien County, 970
Tel: 03 835 0006
Hours: 00:00 – 23:59

TAIPEI FINDS: Mi Yue Mochi Tang (米玥麻糬堂)

TAIPEI FINDS: Mi Yue Mochi Tang (米玥麻糬堂)

Mochi comes in many forms – some classify mochi as muah-chee (where it’s a flour ball coated with stuff), or there’s mochi that has filling inside. Hailing from Taichung, Mi Yue Mochi Tang opened a store in Taipei City earlier this year. It usually draws a queue in Taichung, so I was pleased to find it on UberEats in Taipei.

In my order, I decided to try three flavours of mochi – the classic peanut mochi (23NTD; $1.10 SGD), milk tea (tie guan yin) mochi (35NTD; $1.70 SGD), and a taro salted egg mochi (35NTD; $1.70 SGD). Do note that these prices are UberEats prices – it’s around 5NTD cheaper per mochi if you buy it from the store directly!

Before I comment on the taste of the mochi, I’d like to compliment the excellent packaging this shop has. Customers can choose between white rabbit packaging or a ‘medicine pack’ packaging if they purchase at least four mochis – and that’s what I did – to get the cute packaging. I chose the ‘medicine pack’ packaging, which was well-packed in a small bundle. When I got my delivery, I was so tickled that it looked like an actual Chinese medicine pack:

The skin of the mochi isn’t flavoured (slightly sweet) and was consistent across all mochis. What I like was that the mochi was chewy yet thin enough. I’ve eaten many mochis where the skin was so thick that it tasted rubbery. This mochi skin is light, soft and chewy – and it doesn’t break easily. It complemented the fillings well.

The classic peanut mochi – the peanut with sugar gave the mochi a good crunch; the different sizes of crushed peanuts gave the mochi a good texture. It was not too sweet and was very satisfying. The mochi was stuffed with peanuts – it was so good.

The milk tea (tie guan yin) mochi – the paste inside consists of ‘tie guan yin’, bean and milk paste. It wasn’t blended and instead was layered within the mochi. If you like the filling of typical mooncakes, you’d like this. I felt that the taste of the filling was a tad too strong. Unlike the peanut mochi that had different textures, eating this mochi felt like eating a snow-skin mooncake. It was good, but perhaps I’d instead share it with a friend next time – one is too much for a single sitting.

The taro salted egg mochi – the taro paste was slightly sweet, and the ‘powdered’ salted egg yolk filling was nicely salted that wasn’t too salty. The contrast in flavour is good, and the different textures with the soft mochi skin made it a nice snack.

If you’re around Taichung or Taipei City, I’d recommend you to try it out. From the excellent variety in flavours to how good it tasted, it’s a worthwhile snack.

Verdict

Classic Peanut Mochi – 👍👍👍👍👍

Tie Guan Yin Mochi – 👍👍

Taro Salted Egg Mochi – 👍👍👍👍

Exploring Taipei: Tamsui Old Street

Exploring Taipei: Tamsui Old Street

Just a 30 min MRT train ride from downtown Taipei lies Tamsui Old Street – a place hailed for being a ‘romantic’ with a lover’s bridge and more. Apart from being the perfect place for viewing the sunset, Tamsui is peppered with many food stalls – and some are pretty amazing.

Here are three food places which I’d recommend trying if you’re heading there:

樂湯包

Taiwan is known for it’s Xiao Long Bao’s – but did you know that other than Din Tai Fung which calls it Xiao Long Bao, this soup dumpling is called 小籠湯包in Taiwan? If you went to a regular breakfast joint and ordered a Xiao Long Bao, you will probably be disappointed when you see a pork-filled bun instead of a soup dumpling.

Fun fact aside, this shop serves three types of dumplings – pork soup dumplings, beef soup dumplings and prawn dumplings. We tried both the pork soup dumplings (8 dumplings per serving) and prawn dumplings (7 dumplings per serving). The pork soup dumplings were really good – the soup to meat ratio within the dumpling was delectable – we liked it so much that we ordered another portion! The vegetable taste in the prawn dumpling was a tad too strong for me but my friends enjoyed it.

At 70 NTD (SGD $3.45) per serving, I’d highly recommend dropping by this place for some piping hot dumplings if you’re in the area. Do note that seating is limited and the store has a minimum one serving for every two pax policy.

5/5 for the Soup dumpling 2.5/5 for the Prawn dumpling (Taste and value)

淡水渡船頭阿給老店

Ah Gei

阿給 also known as Ah Gei is a Taiwanese dish. It essentially is glass noodles wrapped in beancurd skin, topped with a bit of fish paste and drenched in sweet sauce (similar to ‘yong tau fu’ sauce). The combination of sweet sauce and the different textures of the dish made it appealing and was honestly pretty filling.

My friends tried the fishball soup here and they enjoyed it too.

There are many shops selling Ah Gei around Tamsui and I personally don’t know if this is the best store in the area, but it was pretty good. Though crowded, the food options were all affordably priced at 40 NTD (SGD$1.95) per item. Also, if you are able to get the seats facing the pier, you will be greeted with a fairly nice view of the pier (and sunset).

Do note that service isn’t the finest here. Reviews on Google also highlight the poor service standards here.

3.5/5 for the Ah Gei

阿春蝦卷

Although I was full from the soup dumplings and Ah Gei, I decided to try these fried prawn rolls. At only 25 NTD (SGD $1.25) for three, how could I not try it?

Deep-fried, these prawn spring rolls were crunchy on the edges and warm on the inside. The filling was tasty and you have the option of glazing some sauce over it yourself (too salty with the sauce).  

While there was a queue, it moved fast and I managed to get my item pretty quickly. I recommend eating this if you’re in the area – it’s pretty tasty, crispy, and piping hot. Suitable as a snack on a cold day.

3/5 for the Prawn spring rolls – would rate it higher if it were less salty and less crunchy.

Conclusion

Sunset from Tamsui Old Street

Tamsui is the perfect place to end the day after a day of walking around Taipei City. Hands-down a must visit place for good food, good vibes (buskers are everywhere) and good views.

Tamsui Old Street

No. 1, Zhongzheng Road, Tamsui District, New Taipei City, 251

Terminal station for the Red Line

Exploring Taichung: Rainbow Village

Exploring Taichung: Rainbow Village

One of the most-visited attractions in Taichung is the Rainbow Village. Once home to a group of soldiers, one ex-soldier and resident stood up to paint the houses in the village in an attempt to have them preserved. The land belonging to the Ministry of Defence was about to be reclaimed.

While he initially did it out of boredom, the village slowly gained recognition because of its vibrant colours that stood out.

Located in the Nantun District in Taichung, Rainbow Village became a hit only over the past decade. Many locals alike had not visited the place before, and it was only after it became an “Instagram-worthy” location, did more locals and tourist flood the site.

The resident, also known as Rainbow Grandpa (彩虹爺爺), still lives on site. At a whopping age of 99, he still paints the place when necessary. Teams of volunteers have also stepped in over the years to help in the preservation of the attraction. You can find Rainbow Grandpa at the attraction on some days. He takes photos with groups of visitors for a small fee that goes towards preserving the village.

Rainbow Village brings so much joy because of its vibrancy, and also because it teaches us a lesson on how sometimes our little efforts can lead to great things – just like what Rainbow Grandpa did to preserve his home.

Rainbow Village is Instagram-Worthy

P.S. There is a small play area for children in the area. Snacks and collectable items can also be found at the Rainbow Village.

Address:
Rainbow Village
408, Taichung City, Nantun District, 春安路56巷25號
Open daily from 8am to 6pm

Exploring Taichung: Gaomei Wetlands

Exploring Taichung: Gaomei Wetlands
Gaomei Wetlands

A one-hour drive from Taichung City brings one to a wetland wonderland – Gaomei Wetlands. Situated in the Qingshui district, Gaomei Wetlands has, over the years, been an attraction when visiting nearby Taichung. 

Located at the mouth of a river, Gaomei Wetlands is an area with both mud and sand and is home to a rich diversity of migrating birds, fishes and crabs. Lining the wetlands are wind turbines that add quite a view to the 300-hectare land.  

Here are two main reasons why I love heading to Gaomei Wetlands:

You can feel the sand and mud at your feet. 

A short walk across the boardwalk brings you to the actual wetland where you can walk across. While only a section is open to the public, it is a pretty large area, and one can comfortably walk barefoot across the wetland, with soft earth under your feet. There’s just something about walking on the ground with cool water flowing past. 

If you’re lucky, you’ll also be able to find small crabs and mudskippers along the area. Just remember to view from afar and not disturb them in their natural habitat. 

The sunset here is lovely.

Most visitors come in the late afternoon/ early evening to enjoy the sunset. The vast wetland, wind turbines, and the sunset make the entire place picturesque on a clear day, but the vibes the area gives on a gloomy day is still pretty impressive. 

Gaomei Wetlands is a bit out of the way and can be slightly tricky to get to, but the views and the smell of nature are what really draws people (like me) there. Some street vendors are nearby, so you probably do not have to worry about getting food in this quiet area. 

Visit this place

Gaomei Wetlands
Meidi Street, Qingshui District, Taichung City, 436

Exploring Taichung: Taichung Second Market

Exploring Taichung: Taichung Second Market

Did you know? Taichung has an interesting way of naming their markets – First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Markets. This naming convention apparently came out in the past based on the order they were founded – very different from the naming conventions we are used to, but very practical. Only the second, third, fifth and sixth markets seem to be in operation at the moment. 

Over the weekend, I visited the Taichung Second Market, which had an abundance of food options. A popular tourist attraction, the market had some signs which made it easier to move around – note, easier, not easy. The market felt like a maze, but it was fun to ‘get lost’ inside as it allowed us to explore the various shops. 

Of the many food stores in the market, I ate at five of them (over two days). Here’s my quick review of the places:

Arashi Braised Minced Pork (嵐肉燥專賣店)

Unlike your usual braised minced pork rice bowl, the braised pork here comes in thin slices (think ramen chashu), topped up with minced braised pork – this is a pork-on-pork bowl. The meats were well-seasoned, and the sliced pork came with a nice chew. If you like fried shallots, you’ll love the braised minced pork sauce as it had a robust aroma of shallots. At 65 NTD (~$3.10), I’d give it a 5/5 for this affordable bowl of rice – in fact, I’d buy it even if they raised the price. 

魚皮李滷肉飯

This store serves the more traditional version of braised pork rice. Instead of ordering the braised minced pork version, I ordered one with a thick slice of pork belly. This small bowl cost 55 NTD ($2.60) and was a pretty small portion, but when topped with a fried egg, the combination of runny egg yolk, pork belly and piping hot rice was delicious. I’d give it a 4/5 because of the cost (mainly because the portion was smaller than the bowl of rice from Arashi Braised Minced Pork. 

小庭找茶 

Situated on the market’s outer ring, this shop sells traditional desserts that come with a modern twist. Of the two desserts we consumer, the 相思粉粿 (60 NTD/$2.90) consisted of red beans and a blob of yellow slimy goo topped with almond milk. This dish was unique – the taste was good, but the texture was strange. I don’t hate it, but it is not something I’d want to order again. The other dessert, however, was good. 

The dessert, 餅冰淇淋 (55 NTD/$2.60), came presented very nicely – a biscuit made of brown sugar, which resembled a coconut husk, had a scoop of ice cream and boba in it. Considering that Taichung is known to where bubble milk tea originated, I loved how they incorporated boba into the dessert. 

2/5 for the 相思粉粿. Good to try, but only for trying

4/5 for the 餅冰淇淋.

王家菜头粿糯米肠 

Tip: Buy the tea from Like Tea Shop and have it with your snack here! (Image credit: Arlene)

This stall sells traditional snacks like radish cake, glutinous rice rolls, and soups. With a pretty extensive menu, this shop honestly sells mostly carbs, making every dish very filling. We had the radish cake with an egg. The fact that they served it fresh off the griddle made it appetizing. Still, the carb-overdose was real as it felt like I was eating a flour cake that had no strips of radish within the dish – I personally prefer the Hong Kong-style radish cakes. 

3/5 for the radish cake! 

Like Tea Shop (老賴茶棧)

This shop had such a queue when I went on Saturday, so I gave it a miss, but on Sunday, this shop only had two people in line, and I took it as a sign to try it. 

As someone who does not enjoy sweet black teas, I was surprised by how smooth this cup of iced tea was. It had a strong tea fragrance and had a pleasant refreshing aftertaste. I’d give this place a solid 5/5 as this cup of tea only cost 25 NTD ($1.20)! A definite must-drink if I’m in the area! 

Conclusion

I’d highly recommend that you visit this market if you’re in Taichung, preferably in the morning as there are more shops open. The food options are abundant so do go with an empty stomach!

Taichung Second Market

No. 87, Section 2, Sanmin Road, Central District, Taichung City, 400

Closed on Mondays (Most shops are closed by 2pm)

Dihua Street – a gem in Taipei

Dihua Street – a gem in Taipei

I love visiting old streets – the vibrancy and the old, low-rise buildings just give them a nice and welcoming vibe. Over the past weekend, I visited such a street in Taipei City – Dihua Street. While it is not considered an old street, it certainly gave a similar vibe!

Located near Dadaocheng, Dihua Street is easily accessible via the Taipei metro. This street is renowned to be THE PLACE to go and shop during the Chinese New Year season. Peppered with many shops selling dried goods from seafood to snacks and preserved food, this place is heaven for shopping regardless of age.

Dihua Street

Aside from dried produce, Dihua Street is also home to many other types of shops – shops that sell local-university products, shops that sell creative products from local artists, and even an Olympus shop selling cameras and accessories. There are various small exhibitions within some of these shops as well, which make them a great place to spend an afternoon.  

I went on a rainy weekend afternoon and it was quiet, but I do believe that it’s a lot busier on dry weekends – especially because there’s food readily available in the area.

One of the shops I stopped to eat at was 度小月 – a shop with origins in Tainan. I had a taste of the Dan Zai Noodles and Braised Meat Ball which cost 50 NTD (~$.240) and 15 NTD (~$0.75) respectively – very affordable! Can’t deny that the portion was a bit small but the minced pork sauce and prawn with the noodles, topped up with piping hot soup, was quite a treat on a cold rainy day! The interior of the shop was also very unique – it had a ‘cart’ set-up resembling how they used to sell these Dan Zai Noodles in the past.

Dihua street is an amazing place to spend an afternoon. I’ll definitely check the place out again when it’s not raining. Check out the 7-11 along Dihua Street too – it really is very pretty!

Flying (again) during the pandemic

Flying (again) during the pandemic

Having flown to Taipei earlier in August on China Airlines, here’s a short update on my flight back to Singapore on Scoot just last week.

The journey back on Scoot was a fairly smooth one. I booked the flight a month before my date of travel and was delighted to find out that Scoot resumed flights between Taipei and Singapore (previously, only China Airlines, EVA, Singapore Airlines, and Jetstar provided flights). The addition of Scoot flights gave me the option to fly back to Singapore on a Monday while the rest of the airlines flew later in the week.

Online check-in was as per usual, with me filling in my personal information and declaring if I had check-in baggage. However, I was also informed by the airline to fill in the Singapore Arrival Card, a travel requirement where all travelers to Singapore had to submit our arrival details to the ICA for immigration clearance within three days before our arrival.

Besides, Scoot also had their health declaration form which had to be submitted 24 hours before the flight.

Counter check-in at Taoyuan International Airport was also very smooth, and I was informed that there were around 20 passengers on the same flight as me from Taipei to Singapore. As we waited to board the plane at the gate, the ground staff constantly reminded passengers to keep their masks on at all times via the PA system.

On-board the flight, our seats had a ‘care-pack’ consisting of a bottle of hand sanitizer, a mask, and alcohol wipes which we could use during our flight. It was very thoughtful, considering that it’s a budget airline. Compared to China Airlines, I’ve to admit that Scoot’s care pack was a better one.

The return flight to Singapore was an uneventful one, with most passengers choosing to stay in their seats and barely anyone used the washroom or moved around during the flight.

Upon landing, all the passengers had to proceed to the immigration area where we took our COVID-19 test before clearing immigration. I pre-paid for my COVID-19 test earlier and only had to wait a short while before the test was administered (I got my test results back within eight hours!).

Immigration clearance and luggage clearance were also a breeze, which I was thankful for!

All in all, the flight back was an uneventful one. It is indeed sad to see airports so empty but I could get used to the empty seats around me on the plane!

If you’re flying in/out/through Singapore Changi International Airport, I highly suggest checking the Changi Airport website for the latest updates – it really helped me as I planned my journey back.

Finding comfort food in a foreign land

Finding comfort food in a foreign land

What is your comfort food? For me, it’s chicken rice, especially when I’m far from home.

I recently visited BoboChacha, a Malaysian eatery near National Chengchi University, that supposedly serves decent Malaysian food. Considering the number of Asean students in the school, it wasn’t surprising to find a Malaysian eatery in the vicinity.

This humble-looking eatery has a pretty extensive menu which can be found here. Out of the long list, however, one dish caught my eye – Hainanese Chicken Rice. Singapore is known for its wonderful chicken rice, and boy, was I excited to try it out.

Upon the arrival of the dish, I realised a few things –

  1. The chicken rice chili looked very similar to what can be found back home and it tasted really similar too. It wasn’t very spicy but had a good mix of ginger and chili to which I enjoyed.
  2. The chicken rice served was not white rice and was indeed chicken rice! It’s not common to find chicken rice here, and white rice is usually served with chicken rice in Taiwan so I was surprised that the rice had the signature chicken rice aroma (think chicken oil and pandan leaves)
  3. The portion of the chicken was pretty (very) small. While this photo shows a full chicken drumstick, let’s just say that it was a very small drumstick with a good amount of bones in it. The chicken skin wasn’t chewy and was instead too soft. It tasted nothing like the usual chicken you’d get with your chicken rice but instead more like a chicken drumstick boiled in water. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t taste anything like Hainanese-style chicken. For 95 NTD (around S$4.50), it just didn’t feel worth it.
  4. The side dishes served were common Taiwanese side dishes – nothing like what’s served back home or even in Malaysia. I won’t comment too much on this because it seems like this is a common value-added service to keep up with the practice here. In Taiwan, it is common for eateries to provide two to three side dishes when a rice dish is served. I would have loved to see ikan bilis or sambal vegetables though!

I was pretty underwhelmed by this meal because this chicken rice didn’t taste like the chicken rice back home but I guess I’ve got to make do with it because I’m far from home – at least the chili was decent. It wasn’t a bad meal, but it just didn’t taste anything close to chicken rice back in Singapore. Will I come here for the chicken rice again? I certainly won’t. But I won’t mind trying out their other dishes!

Verdict

Taste: 👍
Value: 👍👍
Overall: 👍

Still one of the best ramens out there – Ichiran Ramen

Still one of the best ramens out there – Ichiran Ramen

Fancy a bowl of piping hot soup filled with delicious ramen noodles, slices of chashu (sliced pork), and lots of chili? (I’m leaving out the green onions because that’s just pure decoration to me).

When my family and I first tasted a bowl of this delicious goodness, we were obsessed with it. Out of five nights of our stay in Osaka, Japan back in 2017, we saw ourselves heading back to this Japanese chain thrice. That’s two more times from our intended ‘one ramen meal’.

With it being so special, I’d always try to visit an outlet if it’s available in the city – and they happen to have it in Taipei City!

Let’s break down the contents of this ramen –

  1. The broth is thick and tastes pure – there is little residue stuck in your mouth after you slurp it. This pork-based soup has clearly been boiled for an extensive amount of time and leaves close to no aftertaste boiled soup usually has. Unlike other ramen shops, Ichiran allows you to customise how much seasoning stock and how rich you’d like the soup to be. They have their ‘suggested’ serving but give customers the option of making the soup richer and thicker. I love how I had the option to leave out garlic from my broth as well.
  2. The noodles were nice and firm. It can’t be seen in my order sheet above, but I selected ‘firm’ under my choice of how cooked I wanted my ramen to be. Just think, al dente pasta’s firmness – firm, yet still soft to chew, and gives a better bite.
  3. The chili in the broth was what sealed the deal for me. The chili was not overly salty, and it added a great ‘kick’ to the broth. It neutralised the slightly salted broth and ensured that there was no ‘porky’ taste. For my order, I asked for 4 times the spice level. You can choose up to 10 times the chili level at no additional cost!
  4. The chashu, in my opinion, was just an additional topping which did not add much value to the meal – that’s how great the broth and noodles were for me! The chashu had a slight chew and was well-seasoned. I felt that the slices could have been thicker, but I guess you can just order more chashu if you feel like having more protein in your meal!

All in all, this bowl of ramen cost me around SG$13 and in my opinion, was definitely worth the almost two-hour wait I had on a weekend lunch in Taipei.

Taste: 👍👍👍👍👍

Value: 👍👍👍👍