By Michael Karlo Lim
OUR trip to Taiwan last year (read Taiwan Shenanigans on sunstar.com.ph) was more for food market R&D, and we left out a lot of experiences that we discovered in-trip that we just couldn’t jam into our schedule then. Considering a return wasn’t that difficult at all as we knew what more we wanted out of Taipei and this one was mostly for leisure.
Connectivity is crucial, but data roaming can be quite expensive and slow. When in Taiwan it’s best to be on their hi-speed home networks. You’d have the option of a 4G portable wifi service or, as we did, simply get a 4G SIM Card. I got my ‘Welldone’ 4G SIM Card with for Taiwan with 5 days call credit and unlimited 4G data through the Klook app and picked it up conveniently upon arrival at the Taoyuan Airport. Navigation around the city has never been easier with real-time directions via map apps.
Discoveries and other surprising experiences are also prompted within vicinities through GPS. Other instant activity bookings through Klook are also made even more convenient.
Taiwan is known for its beef noodles and what better way to begin the trip than with Beef Spare Ribs Noodle Soup at Que Woodfired Grill. Beef ribs grilled to a fork-tender over native fruit-tree woods, almost melt-in-your-mouth braised beef, supple sun-dried pumpkin noodles with aloe vera, sweet roasted cherry tomatoes, spring onions and Chinese Sauerkraut all bathed in a light but incredibly flavorful and aromatic broth. Que is a “modern approach to the classic chophouse, located on level 17 of our hotel, amba Taipei Songshan.
Markets are my thing and Raohe Street Night Market, one of the oldest in Taipei, was just around the block. Two birds, one stone with another popular attraction, the Ciyou Temple, right outside its East end main entrance. The Wholesale Textile Market, the Citylink Mall and tons of shops and restaurants are all within walking distance from the hotel building – all these located conveniently around the Songshan Station of the Taipei Metro.
I’ve always wanted to take The PussyKat to a Chinese Opera performance, and we found and booked TaipeiEYE tickets through Klook. A visit to TaipeiEYE is literally a peek into the interconnected culture and traditions of Taiwan and China. The pre-show featured theatre makeup and musical demonstrations as well as a dress-up photo-op for guests. The show proper opened with an exhilarating Taiwanese aboriginal drum performance followed by an acrobatic Chinese Lion Dance. Pocket performances at the lobby kept guests occupied during the intermission. The finale featured a series of excerpts from the classic epic, Journey to the West.
Our night at the opera had us within the vicinity of the amba Taipei Zhongshan, one of the amba Hotels triplets, which housed one of the top 10 cocktail bars in Taipei (by The Bootleggers List), MUD bar. The side alley entrance hinted at secrets, and the dimly-lit stairwell that led to even darker depths progressed that thematic. Speakeasy vibes were strong here, and the music was very present yet still allowed one to, well, speakeasy. They had seats for us at the bar and the bartender, Allan, had us cased: “El Diablo for the lady and MY Negroni for the gentleman.”
He went about his business with pomp and flair restrained with much class. The restraint, however, did not extend to the alcohol content as both of our single servings already got us buzzed. His Negroni had the classic recipe’s balanced simplicity. The possessive was in his use of Mark Miller’s Premium Gin, Allan’s personal choice, tipping the scale towards fresh and citrusy with a soft and gentle finish versus the usual gin burn.
That iconic scene from the Hollywood classic Ghost came to mind when I chanced on a pottery class activity at the Yingge Ceramics Museum on the Klook app. Of course, I had the intention of replicating that for the ‘gram and had my head too wrapped around that idea.
Swayze and Moore exited frame left as the activity coordinator seated us with a family of four. Sexy flew out the window when we learned we were hand-molding mugs instead of getting dirty on a wheel. The “Melody” definitely got “Unchained” when we realized the instruction was only in Mandarin.
The setting for an expectation versus reality meme turned around with the parental units present guiding us through the activity and our mugs eventually taking shape. Ever competitive, I really put my elbow into it and showed up the rest of the six-year-olds. Firing the mugs would take forty-five days, and the coordinator offered to ship these to us herself when done. It was a highly enjoyable and very engaging activity. We made some new friends, too.
While we have our must-eats and restaurant checklists when traveling, our best food experiences are almost always the random finds. On the way to the subway station, we came across this tiny sidewalk eatery standing out from a row of equally tiny retail shops. Dumplings are my particular weakness when in Sino countries. Purple Cabbage, white Leek, yellow Corn, orange Kimchi, green Seaweed Sprout, black Seafood and white Shrimp stuffed “Color Dumplings” were as much a delight to the palate as they looked on the plate.
“Specially-seasoned and uniquely-sized large fried chicken as big as your face” sure is a hot star with lines snaking across the street from its shopfront. Arguably the Taiwanese take on the Chicken Schnitzel, these crispy, golden, pounded chicken fillet pieces are big in both size and flavor.
We’ve loved Addiction Aquatic Development from our last visit to Taiwan. We swore to return to catch more of the dining concepts open in that fancy fish market. The pull of the standing sushi bar was still strong with the memory of an incredible meal, but we had to try the other sections. We picked up ready cooked items to-go from several counters and headed to the outdoor space to order some eat-in.
Sets are always the best way to get a variety of bests, and we ordered the Assorted Seafood Platter. Simply buttery Garlic Clams, a big chop of boiled Mullet, unseasoned Braised Whelks tasting like these were just plucked out of the sea, deliciously supple Squid seemingly just scalded with broth, briny and grainy Mullet Roe drizzled in aioli, sweet Shrimp cooked in Chinese wine, beautifully barely-Braised Abalone I swear it was still moving, and forgive me but it was my favorite of the lot, exquisitely smokey Smoked Shark smothered with its drippings and cilantro.
Taiwan’s food scene is crazy and crazy good. To note are the unusual and unexpected combinations that surprisingly work. They have that Peanut Ice Cream Roll — peanut candy shavings, ice cream and cilantro in a flour wrap, and those gigantic Taiwanese Fried Chicken cutlets dusted with assortments of spices, even in plum, read: kiamoy powder. Then there are these Nougat Biscuits — barely sweetened nougat sandwiched between spring onion saltine crackers. Weirdly wonderful down to the last piece.
* ThePussyKat then nonchalantly takes it from my hand and pops it whole into her mouth.
Oh, well. Visa-free entry for Filipinos to Taiwan has been extended.
* Opens AirAsia app and looks up CEB-TPE.