September 27, 2009

A Taiwanese feast

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There was a long-awaited gathering with some ex-colleagues tonight.  When we used to work together, the core group of friends used to call ourselves "rice ball" or 飯糰/團 in Chinese.  It's a play on words but reflects our common love of food, as we used to go out for lunch and sometimes dinner together.

Tonight we met at Golden Formosa (金蓬萊), a classic Taiwanese restaurant in my neighborhood.  Despite being within walking distance from my parents' house, I've actually never been to this restaurant.  They have recently moved to a new location nearby, and the new digs look much nicer.

We placed our order with our waitress, and the dishes started arriving almost immediately in quick succession.  We had to tell them to stop sending us food as we ran out of space to put them on our small table.

Braised bamboo shoots (紅燒桂竹筍) - this was marinated in typical Taiwanese style which lends it a distinctive and slightly strong flavor.  Served in rather chunky bits along with some pork, this was a little bit spicy thanks to the spicy bean sauce (豆瓣醬).

Braised tofu and pig's intenstine (滷豆腐拼薑絲大腸) - the tofu was very soft and tender, with some air bubbles inside; and I've always loved the large intestines found in Taiwanese cuisine...

Steamed free-range chicken (白片放山雞) - I took in the largest piece of breast meat, and it was pretty decent.

Formosa crispy fried pork spare ribs (蓬萊排骨酥) - I was really tempted to have a second piece of this... it was sooooo good!  They didn't just marinate the spare ribs, but the batter itself was so delicious and fragrant.  There's no question why this is a perennial best-seller.

Steamed mud crab with glutinous rice (紅蟳油飯) - this is a classic dish at any Taiwanese feast.  The mud crabs aren't very big but carry a good amount of reddish roe.  The Taiwanese sticky rice is used in all kinds of celebrations - birth of a new child, new year...etc.  I couldn't resist the rice and had seconds, which always come to haunt me later on in the meal...

Deep-fried oysters (香炸鮮蚵) - always yummy, but really, really fatty... goes well with pickles.

Buddha leaping over wall (佛跳墻) - yes, I tried to translate the name of the dish literally since I can't remember if someone had invented a better name.  This is a traditional soup loaded with ingredients, which can be relatively plain (such as the one we had) or ultra-premium (with sharks' fin, abalone...etc).  This is usually double-boiled and is meant to be so delicious that a Buddha, coming upon the wonderful smell of the soup, would leap over a wall and steal into the kitchen for some of this.

It's been a while since I've had this soup.  Tonight there was bamboo shoots, quail eggs, taro, conpoy, chestnuts, deep-fried pork, jujube... two small bowls was all I could handle since we had this near the end of the meal.

Stir-fried sweet potato leaves (草山地瓜葉) - another classic Taiwanese veg, which actually carries some health benefits (don't ask me for specifics since I don't remember...)

Deep-fried taro sticks (香炸芋條) - a popular dessert, especially with the ladies who can't seem to resist taro.

I must say that I had a really good time.  It's been a while since I sat down to have traditional Taiwanese food, and it's always good to catch up with this group of hungry friends.  I gotta come back to Taiwan more often...

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