December 31, 2017
First up came these wonderful shrimp & squash xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings, as we Americans call them. The dumpling mix contains a gelatinous powder that's absorbed water. When the dumplings are steamed, the heat liquifies the gelatinous mix giving you this wonderful soup. I don't think I'd ever had shrimp soup dumplings, so I wanted to give these a try, and I'm sure glad I did! Compared to what I've had in the past, I think what elevates these little morsels of perfection is the skin. It's so light and delicate, translucent. The other style of thicker wrap is a lot more filling, and all that dough add anything to the dish. However, I did notice the actual soup just wasn't piping hot even though I dug into these as soon as they were served, and the bamboo container was still steaming. These were seasoned perfectly, and I honestly couldn't find anything I disliked in them. You're served shredded fresh ginger, and you mix it with some soy sauce and vinegar...it totally adds a nice brightness to each bite. Four human tongues, all the way!
I went to Din Tai Fung for lunch, a place known for their soup dumplings. They started out in the late 50's, and like so much of the way of the world, they've expanded to other cities, other countries, and they have three locations in Taipei. I walked to the oldest location, first, but there were maybe 100 people standing on the sidewalk waiting to get a table! Din Tai Fung?! More like "Din Tai F*ck This," I thought to myself. Luckily, a second store was also within walking distance, so I proceeded undeterred. Things weren't much better regarding the crowd, but that this location was in a nice shopping mall with seats in the waiting area made the 75-minute wait more bearable.
Din Tai Fung at SoGo Mall
Shrimp & squash soup dumplings:
Next up were the pork soup dumplings, maybe the most frequently-ordered variant. These were fine, but I find steamed pork just has this sour flavor that hits you immediately before you taste the pork. And the soy sauce, vinegar and ginger only seem to magnify that slightly uncomfortable, pungent taste. They're still easily worth two Licks.
At around the same time as the dumplings arrived, I was served this wonderful plate of piping hot, sauteed spinach. It was seasoned with salt and garlic. What made this dish so good was that it was only slightly wilted; you almost don't have to chew sauteed spinach at a good American steakhouse because it's so collapsed, and I'm not a fan of that slick texture. It was the perfect companion to...
Pork chop fried rice:
the (family) serving of fried rice with a sliced pork chop. The meat was beautifully seasoned and lean, though just a tad tough at times. I'm not sure if it was prepared paillard, or pounded. This was my first rice dish of the trip that was a little bit sticky. In this case, it was perfect because it was relatively easy to handle with the chopsticks. This was really a terrific meal, and boy, was I full afterwards!
Raoue Night Market:
And though I was stuffed after that wonderful meal at Din Tai Fung, I was only three subway stops away from the Raoue Night Market. So, I headed just east to check it out. It felt at least as large as the one in Keelung, but mainly because it was on one very long street; the Keelung Market was maybe three short blocks on adjacent streets. Anyhow, I got to Raoue at a few minutes past 4:00 PM just when it was starting to open. I'm glad I learned these different markets aren't totally unique; even the signage was the same on stalls at both markets that sold similar food. So, those deep-fried baby crabs weren't so unique, after all. And now I'm convinced not every stall prepares their offerings from scratch. But that's OK; I just know that if I ever return to Taipei that I don't have to head all the way out to Keelung Night Market for unique eats.
The Raoue market was different from Keelung's in that it had retail vendors amongst the food stalls. And there was a very long line of people waiting to purchase steamed buns filled with minced pork, scallions, the usual suspects. I took a quick video of the scene; it's cool seeing the workers prepping everything.
All I had to eat was a serving of deep-fried shrimp and fish, the latter being smelt, I believe. Each piece of fish was filled with roe. The grease did me in for the evening, and I'm glad I had a decent walk home to burn some of it off!