August 7, 2010

Trippin' with the elves day 2: pork and dairy run

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Got up this morning after a few hours of sleep, and pinged the elves about getting breakfast.  No reply.  Pinged again.  Still no reply.  After a while I decided to leave the house and head into the city center, as we would meet up before noon anyway.  The elves finally woke up and got in touch after I arrived at Taipei Main Station (台北車站), and we made plans to meet up for our first stop of the day.

There are two places in town where I go for my braised pig trotters - A Shui Shi (阿水獅) and Fu Ba Wang (富霸王).  Both are very typical Taiwanese in style, in that the trotters are still somewhat chewy in texture.  Since the elves have already hit the former, I decided to take them to Fu Ba Wang.  We met just after they opened, since the most popular item would sell out quickly.

The mid-section (霸王腿節) was pretty good, and is always a favorite.  No real meat here... just skin, fat and collagen.

Braised bamboo shoots (滷筍乾) is an acquired taste, as the shoots were slightly fermented.  I used to hate it as a kid...

Braised tofu (潤油豆腐) had a great, spongy texture...and was a tad spicy.  Always on my list of things to order.

Finally, the upper section (霸王腿扣) arrived.  This is the part that sells out quickly, and there've been a few times when I've been here and wasn't able to order this.  It's the only part where there is a mixture of lean meat and fat/skin.

Of course, you can't have the pig trotters here without a bowl of rice with braised meat (魯肉飯)!  And what you get here is my favorite... There are many versions of this Taiwanese classic, with variations on the amount of lean/fatty pork served over the bowl of rice.  And here... you get nothing but skin!  No lean meat, only pure fatty goodness.  The rice grains are slightly chewy and don't stick together.  The best way to consume this is definitely to pour the leftover sauce - along with a few bits of fat and skin - from the plates of pig trotter onto the rice.  Mix thoroughly.  Open mouth and shovel the rice in.  Instant happiness.

We proceeded to our second stop just after 12 noon, for some beef noodles.  The second part of lunch deserves its own, separate blog post and shall be the very next entry.

I'm very full after the bowl of noodles, and pause for a while in terms of food.  We head over to Ximending (西門町) for the next few stops.  The elves take in a bowl of rice flour vermicelli with intestines (大腸麵線) at Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodle (阿宗麵線).  The guy who was serving it today wasn't doing it as impressively as some of the others, so I pass on the opportunity to capture the motion on video.

We revisit my favorite ice cream parlor in the city - Snow King (雪王冰淇淋).  This place is a Taipei institution, having been around for over 60 years, and is in every guidebook on the city.  I was first introduced to their ice cream 15 years ago, and have loved it ever since.

The shop boasts a range of 73 flavors, grouped in broad categories such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, alcohol...  and even has a few flavors in the "other" category.  Years ago I tried out the pig trotter (豬腳) and curry (咖喱) flavors, and yes, they do taste like they're supposed to.  I vividly remember the little bits of pork in my scoop of savory ice cream... Years before any Michelin-starred chef thought to do so, this family was already serving basil, wasabi and cinnamon ice cream to their customers.

We ordered a total of 7 flavors covering 6 different categories, which I thought was a pretty impressive lineup.  Custard apple (釋迦) has always been my favorite flavor, since I love the fruit itself and no one else makes this flavor.  I found myself really enjoying the Oolong Tea (凍頂烏龍茶) for its intense flavors where the fragrance lingers in the mouth.  Taro (芋頭) was excellent, one of the best I've ever had.  I love watermelon (西瓜) so it's not hard for me to like this.  Black plum wine (烏梅酒) was pretty cool.  I never expected us to finish the scoop of sesame oil chicken (麻油雞) despite it being a very accurate representation of the soup itself, because savory ice creams are just too weird.  The runner bean (大紅豆) flavor was the biggest disappointment for all of us, as somehow it was just a little too milky and the flavors didn't jive.

We were running tight on time and decided to skip the other 2 stops in the area.  We headed south to the Experimental Farm of the National Taiwan University - specially the animal husbandry section.  The farm is right next to the university campus, within city limits.  The purpose?  To pet and feed some dairy cows, and to drink some fresh milk!  I was told that fresh milk is sold daily in the morning and at 3pm, so we rushed over to get some.

Unfortunately for us, I was not informed of the full picture.  They only sell fresh milk in the morning on weekends (twice a day on weekdays), and of course they had already sold out of today's allocation.  So we decided to spend some time with the cows and fed them grass.  The younger calves were fed grass that was more tender and that had been cut into shorter lengths.  They definitely enjoyed the attention we were giving them.

After our failure to get any fresh milk products, we left the university and headed for our next stop.  Lan's (藍家割包) is famous for their steamed pork sandwiches (割包), and I'd never had an opportunity to sample it.

One has a number of choices here in terms of the exact mix of fatty and lean pork, and of course I chose the fatty-only version...  I do have to admit that it was pretty good... the fatty pork, the preserved vegetable and the ground peanuts creating a symphony of flavors.  Loved it.

I needed a break while the elves hit Yung Kang Street (永康街) area for stops like Ding Tai Fung (鼎泰豐).  We split up and I killed some time while waiting for them to finish touring the area.  Unfortunately, communication lines went down and we never managed to meet up again...until they've already finished their night market run much later in the evening.  I guess it was just as well, since I probably didn't need any more calories for the day...

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