Friday, November 18, 2016

[Suggested] Travel Itinerary to Tainan (台南), Taiwan (台湾).

Tainan (台南), a city located in southern Taiwan; was once the most prosperous and bustling city in Taiwan. It's historical foot steps can be traced since the Dutch-colonization and during the Qing Dynasty, Tainan was once, the capital and central business district during the Qing Dynasty-era. The strategic location makes the place ideal for sea fright logistics. Ask any Taiwanese on the perfect place to experience the vibrant culture of Taiwan and the answer you will probably get is Tainan. Traditional cultures continue to thrive in Tainan, where the people still value and celebrate important festive seasons. Similarly, the flavors of the yesteryears were carefully preserved; the Tainanese are very particular about their Ko Cha Bi (flavors of the past). There are several traditional delicacies that are native to Tainan and cannot be found in other places of Taiwan. While Tainan is known as the melting pot for culture and myriad of mouth-watering Ko Cha Bi, there are quite a number of new exciting, hipstery and artsy space to explore. 

*This post is brought to you by Taiwan Tourism Bureau (台湾观光局).*
*Special Thanks to China Airlines for making the trip happened.*

Getting to Tainan from Taoyuan International Airport

Travelers flying in to Kaosiung International Airport may take a short trip to Tainan via train; travelers flying in to Taoyuan International Airport may do the same too but at a longer distance and time. We took the High Speed Rail from Taoyuan Railway Station to Tainan City; the journey took us 83 minutes and the ticket cost was NTD $1,190 (one-way).

The train departs sharp on time, travelers are required to be on stand-by at least 10 minutes prior to the departure time. If food and beverages are your concern, fret not. The Taoyuan Railway Station has plenty to offer, from the grab-and-go kiosks to convenience stores to proper restaurants. There's premium outlet right next to the Railway Station too (the name is Gloria Outlets).

The ride was smooth and the cabin was comfortable. Occasionally, there was a man pushing the cart to offer refreshments but the items on sale were generally more expensive than those found in convenient stores. It is thus, wiser to buy the goods required to take on board than to purchase in-house. There are vending machines in certain cabins too (same goes to washrooms). If there was one thing that they need to improve on... it would be the WiFi. There was no WiFi available during my journey... something that they need to benchmark against Japan and South Korea.

1) Shennong Street 神农街
Address: Shennong Street, West Central District, Tainan City, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 12 pm to late. *subject to the tenants*

In the effort of marrying old street and heritage houses with vibrant, lively arts and murals, Shennong Street has become one of the busiest streets in Tainan. Travelers may explore the area during daytime but it is the best to do so in evening; but one cannot get the best of the both worlds at the same time. Visit the place in the day time and you get to photograph all the tiny details, such as the old wooden doors, flimsy window and classic knick-knacks. The place turns into a lively, hipstery area in the evening with many food stalls, bars opening in the vicinity. Some of the heritage houses have turned into shop houses selling handicrafts and hand-made products. If the weather permits, it is indeed a fun place to explore. The area reminds us of the heritage zone in central Georgetown, Penang. 

2) Minzu Road- A Street full of Traditional Eats 
i) Shen Maw Woah Koay 森茂碗粿 
Address: 228, Section 2, Minzu Road, Tainan City, Taiwan 台南市民族路2段228号.
Business Hours: 9 am to 10 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +886 (06) 222- 5575

Milkfish-Fish Ball Soup 虱目鱼丸羹 (NTD $30)

Wah Koay/ 碗粿 (NTD $30)

Shen Maw is one of the top 100 eateries chosen by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and it is very famous in Tainan. We were told that this is one of the de-facto places in Tainan City when it comes to Woah Koay- a type of Rice cake slathered with savory meat sauce and a hint of pickled Radish. We were taught by the locals to enjoy the Rice cake with a dash of vinegared Garlic. It somewhat reminded us of Steamed Radish cake, not bad for a change though. 

Another popular choice of theirs- Milkfish- Fish Ball Soup, is simple and most comforting. For the uninitiated, most delicacies in southern part of Taiwan are on the sweeter side... same goes to this particular dish. It possessed an indelible sweetness, probably a tad too artificial for us.

ii) Shi Jing Jiu Dim Sum City 台南石精臼点心城
Address: 230, Section 2, Minzu Road, Tainan City, Taiwan 台南市民族路2段230号
Business Hours: 9 am to 2 am. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +886 (06) 220-9671

Bee Koh/ 米糕 (NTD $ 40)

Few doors away from Shen Maw is a 75 year-old establishment that sells Bee Koh- steamed Glutinous Rice topped with braised Meat and condiments. Bee Koh is unquestionably one of the most famous traditional delicacies in Taiwan, a close relative to Bee Koh would be Loh Mai Kai (Glutinous Chicken Rice). Chai's (蔡) rendition comes with a generous helping of braised Meat, Fish Floss, crunchy Peanuts and some chopped Coriander. It has a good mix of sweet and savory item; the condiments were of nutty texture but the Glutinous Rice offered a chewy-hard dimension. The calorific dish was addictive; weight-watchers are urged to approach with caution!

iii) Yi Feng Ah Chuan Winter Melon Tea义丰阿川冬瓜茶
Address: 192, Yong Fu Road Section 2, West Central District, Tainan City, Taiwan. 台南市中西区永福路2段192号
Business Hours: 10 am to 9 pm. Closed on Mondays.
Contact Number: +886 (06) 222-3778

Winter Melon Tea/ 冬瓜茶 (NTD $20)

It's easy to spot Yi Feng Ah Chuan Winter Melon Tea, just around the corner from Shen Maw and Shi Jing Jiu Dim Sum City... where the shockingly long queue can be spotted. The Winter Melon Tea specialist is right across a Chinese Temple and regular patrons are queuing patiently for their Winter Melon Tea. We were very curious and decided to join the 20-minute queue... to find that the Winter Melon Tea was just disappointingly average. It was very sweet and perhaps, saccharine sweet for some; it possessed similar sweetness to Honey with a bold refreshing Winter Melon flavor... unbelievably affordable at NTD $20 per cup.

Hokkaido Milk Soft Serve (NTD $35)

3) Zheng Xing Street- A Street of Food, Heritage Houses and Cultural Hub
Address: Zheng Xing Street, West Central District, Tainan City, Taiwan. 正兴街
Business Hours: Subject to the tenants

The shopping district is huge enough and you might want to schedule at least half a day of your time here. There are plenty of long-established food stalls nearby as well as fashionable handicraft kiosks that will draw your attention away. It gets busier in late afternoon, so need not to be there early. It is best that you drop by for afternoon tea and do some work out (shopping)... before proceeding for dinner.

Due to our hectic schedule, we were unable to fully explore the area but we did manage to try a few famous ones though...

i) Juan Wei House's Soft Serve Ice Cream 蜷尾家霜淇淋
Address: No. 92, Zheng Xing Street, West Central District, Tainan City, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 2 pm to 9 pm on weekdays, 11 am to 9 pm on weekends. Closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Tie-Guan Yin Tea-flavored Soft Serve (NTD $80) and Chestnut-flavored Soft Serve (NTD $80)

Juan Wei is an award-winning brand, the name was once ranked as the first runner up in a world Gelato contest. It has been crowned by many renowned bloggers and journalists as one of the must eats in Tainan City. The shop occupies a corner lot and often attracts a beeline of patrons. Rumor says that it is not uncommon to wait for 1 to 2 hours... just for a Soft Serve. The menu is on a constant change, flavors are not fixed daily. On our visit, we were fortunate to sample their Chestnut and Tie-Guan Yin Tea-flavored Soft Serve.

The former choice was light on the palate, but the Chestnut element was rather weak. Had we not looked at the menu, we would not know we were having Chestnut Soft Serve; the latter option exudes
refreshing-earthy tea aroma. The tartness counter-balanced the sweetness of the Soft Serve, many of us preferred the Tie-Guan Yin Soft Serve over the other option.

ii) Sheng, Taiwanese Beef Soup (盛,牛肉汤)
Address: No. 2, Section 3, Guo Hua Street, Tainan City, Taiwan. 台南市國華街3段16巷2號
Business Hours: 8 am to 8 pm. Closed on Tuesdays.
Contact Number: +886 (06) 989 351 382
Sheng, Taiwanese Beef Soup Facebook Page

Beef Soup 牛肉汤(NTD $100)

The Tainanese are very proud of their local creation- Beef Soup. It is believed to carry invigorating-health effect, such as to boost energy. Fresh Beef meat is delivered straight from the slaughter house nearby the State. The meat is then sliced thinly and boiling hot broth is then added to the Beef. The meat is then allowed to sit for a while and the cooking process begins. The meat juice is believed to be locked within the soup and the meat is unbelievably tender and succulent. One way to make it a meal is to enjoy the soup with a helping of White Rice.

Just a stone's throw distance away from Juan Wei House is a big market, the market houses numerous food stalls, textile and handicraft shops. Sheng Beef Soup can be found at the corner of the main entrance to the market. The Beef was undeniably tasty and pleasing to the palate, the soup was lip-smacking either. It has hint of vegetable-sweetness and not mono-dimensional. It was most heart-warming especially to enjoy under chilly weather.

iii) Jiang Shui Hao Shaved Ice 江水号-古早冰风味
Address: No. 13, Section 3, Guo Hua Street, Tainan City, Taiwan 台南市国华街3段16巷13号
Business Hours: 11 am to 9 pm. Closed on Tuesdays (Winter).
Contact Number: +886 (06) 225- 8494

Eight Treasure Ice/ 八宝冰 (NTD $40) and Taro Shaved Ice/ 芋头冰 (NTD $40)

In the journey of excavating the classic-traditional flavors of Tainan, we stumbled upon an old establishment (since 1932) that sells traditional Ice desserts. Tables are limited so one would need to muscle the way through in order to secure a table and seats. Taro Shaved Ice is apparently one of the best sellers; the Yam was slowly cooked till fork tender... delicately sweeten and served together with a mountain of shaved ice. The real draw was the soft, creamy-starchy Yam and together with the cooling shaved ice, it was the perfect thirst-quencher under the sultry hot weather.

Dumpling Noodles/ 混沌意面 (NTD $50/ small)

4) Blueprint Culture & Creative Park 蓝晒图文创园区
Address: Lane 689, Section 1, Ximen Road, South District, Tainan City, Taiwan 台南市南区西门路1段689巷
Business Hours: 1 pm to 9 pm. Closed on Tuesdays.
Contact Number: +886 (06) 222- 7195

One of the latest tourist spots in Tainan (opened in early January 2016) is Blueprint Cultural and Creative Park. The concept started when an architect materialized the blueprint of a building and brought it into real life (3D model). The team then restored the old houses behind, restructured the unused space and invited fellow entrepreneurs to join them in their venture. The area boomed and welcomed tourists from all over the world to witness the artsy, handicraft scene in Tainan. There are currently more than 20 tenants in that area and includes handicraft stores and restaurants. There are plenty to see and to explore in this area but do note that products are uniquely designed and handmade by their (tenants') own designers, prices may not be as friendly as one would expect. Getting there is easy, simply ask the taxi drivers to align in front of Tayih Landis Hotel Tainan or Shinkong Mitsukoshi Supermarket on Ximen Road. You will find the place across the street.

5) Hua Yuan Night Market (花园夜市)
Address: Section 3, Hai An Road, Tainan City, Taiwan. 台南市海安路3段
Business Hours: 5 pm to 12 am. Closed on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Ask any Tainanese about their Night Market and many of them would point you to Hua Yuan Night Market. Being one of the largest and most important Night Markets in Southern Taiwan, the Night Market gathers countless of food stalls that sell myriad of both local delicacies and international food. Be clever to choose the date you wish to visit. we were rather unfortunate that the place was thronged with a huge crowd; so crowded that we found it impossible to move around. We did muscle our way through and managed to maneuver a couple of lanes but the place was too huge for us to fully explore (we had limited time). Our suggestion? Do some basic research on some of the must-trys and make your way directly to that stall... to avoid disappointment.

Grilled Mochi 烤麻糬 (NTD $25 per stick)

Spicy Fish Balls and Coagulated Blood 麻辣鱼蛋-猪血 (NTD $40 per portion)

Steamed Pork Dumplings 肉圆 (NTD $50)

Deep Fried Stinky Tofu Fries 臭豆腐薯条 (NTD $50)

Grilled Oysters 烤鲜蚝 (NTD $150/ large) and Grilled Scallop 烤带子 (NTD $50 each)

The best strategy to try the most dishes is to share amongst your friends, we did the same and managed to try quite a number of food. Steamed Pork Dumplings left us with a deep impression; carefully seasoned meat filling encased in a silky smooth, translucent dumpling skin. A slather of home-made sauce was then added to give the dish a miracle, gooey but savory dimension. Equally delicious and worth-eating was Grilled Oysters and Scallops; though prices may seem to be on the higher side, rest-assured, the quality commensurate with the prices. Sizes were not as large as expected but the flavors were big. Seafood-sweetness aside, the salinity of Sea water can still be clearly tasted.... no frills, straight-forward... merely grilled them on the stove, without additional seasonings.   

All in all, we were quite happy with most of the food we had except... the Spicy Fish Balls and Coagulated Pork Blood. Nothing wrong with the food but we were annoyed by the cantankerous proprietor whom seems to rush customers to finish the food and vacant the seats fast.

Fresh Almond Juice 杏仁露 (NTD $60 per bottle)

Taiwanese Madeline 鸡蛋糕 (NTD $40) 

6) Shinkong Mitsukoshi Shopping Center and Tainan Simonhall (新光三越台南新天地小西門)
Address: No. 658-1, Section 1, Ximen Road, Tainan City, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 10 am to 10 pm. Opens Daily.

An Ping Tofu Pudding with Peals and Red Beans 安平豆花 (NTD $35)

Fresh Guava 新鲜芭乐 (NTD $100)

Right opposite to the Blueprint Culture and Creative Park is Shinkong Mitsukoshi Shopping Center, the Japanese store houses many premium brands and it's considered as one of the largest shopping centers in Tainan City. The shopaholic in you might be interested to know that it carries luxury brands like Gucci, Hugo Boss, Prada etc. While you have completed your shopping, stretch your shopping legs at the basement- Lower Ground floor for a variety of international eats and dainty snacks. There's also a supermarket that sells many Japanese snacks and Taiwanese souvenirs, try your luck there if you are looking for souvenirs to bring back to homeland.

Two stalls caught our attention- An Ping Tofu Pudding and Jin You Guava. The former brand is well-known in southern Taiwan for serving some of the smoothest and most delicious Tofu Pudding while the latter one is famed for its crunchy, sweetMilky-Pearl Guava served with Chinese Licorice Powder. We sampled the An Ping Tofu and did find it particularly delectable. It was alright but something that we would go all out for it. One peculiar Taiwanese-local way of eating Tofu Pudding is to add zesty Lemon Juice to the Tofu Pudding... it was odd for us and we did not enjoy the sweet-sour Tofu Pudding combination; not for the faint-hearted to try though. Guava on the other hand, was amazing. The crunchiness was of another league and we simply love the way they treated their Guava- lightly marinated in Sour Plum juice for an appetizing but addictive tang (sour-sweet). 

After you have completely rested your shopping legs, hit the ground for another round of shopping. Make your way to the next building- Tainan Simonhall (台南小西门); goods are generally more affordable here but the target audience is completely different- youngsters, hipsters or young executives. If there's one reason you need to visit this place, it is definitely to find G U flagship store here. G U is a sister brand of Uniqlo, it offers the same quality of products (equally fashionable) but at fairly lower rates. It is also note-worthy to know that Sport Shoes are generally cheaper in Taiwan (as compared to Malaysia). You may also try your luck here. 

7) Yu-Cheng Fruit Store (裕成水果店)
Address: No. 122, Section 1, Minsheng Road, Tainan City, Taiwan. 台南市民生路1段122号
Business Hours: 12 pm to 3 am. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +886 (06) 229-6196

Red Bean with Caramel Pudding Shaved Ice 红豆牛奶冰 (NTD $80)

Mixed Fruit-Shaved Ice 鲜果冰 (NTD $150)

Black Leaf-Tomatoes 黑叶番茄 (NTD $50)

Mixed Fruit Platter 综合水果盘 (NTD $400)

Ever wondered what are Tainanese's favorite after-meal desserts? Fresh Fruits. One can find many fruit stalls (though many of them open in afternoon until late) that sell freshly cut fruits in Tainan City and Yu-Cheng is one of the famous ones. The store carries many fresh produce, not only locally but from other countries as well (even the posh Okayama Grapes). Not only fresh fruits but Yu-Cheng is also renowned for its Shaved Ice series; serving portion might be a little terrifying for Malaysians though. It is best that one serving portion of Shaved Ice is to be shared between a few. We had their Red Bean Pudding Shaved Ice and Mixed Fruit Shaved Ice; we found the former flavor more appealing than the other. Flavors were direct and straight-forward nevertheless. We noticed almost all tables ordered a curious plate of Tomatoes on our visit; we then later found out that it was one of the unique Taiwanese breed known as Black Leaf. The Tomatoes carry dark-green hue at the top and is known for its sweetness. The local way of enjoying the fresh fruit is to dip it in a sweet-sour concoction that contains grated Ginger. It reminded us of Rojak sauce in a way- sweet, exotic with a gentle heat.

8) Ten Drum Cultural Village (十鼓文化园区)
Address: No. 326, Section 2, Wenhua Road, Rende District, Tainan City, Taiwan. 台南市仁德路区文华路2段326号
Business Hours: 9 am to 5:30 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +886 (06) 266 2225
Admission: NTD $399 per adult

One of the latest and greatest tourist spots in Tainan City (border of Tainan City)- Ten Drum Cultural Village, is built on a huge piece of land (7.5 hectares) with a defunct Sugar Refinery Factory (named Rende Sugar Refinery). The place was vacant with old and non-functional machinery. A team of drummers were looking for a venue to practice and hone their skills... so they found this place (in Year 2005). They love the place so much that they wanted to preserve everything here. They revamped and refurbished the entire place; new elements were introduced to the place and of course, Ten Drum's live performance to enliven and provide soul to the vacant land. Combining the Taiwan Drum Music of Ten Drum, it becomes the first international art village of Drum Music in Asia. News spread and visitors from all over the world came just to see their live performance and enjoy the facilities. Drum lessons are also offered in Ten Drum Cultural Village. For the uninitiated, the Ten Drum tea was once nominated for Domestic and International Golden Melody Awards, Grammy Awards and American Independent Awards.

There are 22 old warehouses built during the Japanese Colonial Rule and now turned into different places of interest- Drum Museum, Drumming Experience Classroom, Ten Drum Restaurant, Audio Visual Hall, Water Tank Theater, Ten Drum Praying Hall, Sky Walk, Cafe etc. It is suggested that you spend at least 6 hours here to fully explore the area and to utilize the facilities. To go to Ten Drum Cultural and Creative Park (besides taking a cab), you can take High Speed Rail to Taiwan Railways Shalun Line > Baoan Station > Baoan Bus Station and take the Red 3 (to Tainan Park) to Ten Drum Cultural Village.

Fizzy Sugar Cane Juice (NTD $50)

The sweltering heat kills at Tainan (unless you are visiting during late autumn or winter) so rejuvenate yourself with plenty of fluid. Quench your thirst at a cafe of Ten Drum, it sells a range of Sugar Cane-related products. Their Fizzy Sugar Cane Juice worth a mention here, it was a Sugar Cane carbonated drink. It was mere Sugar Cane juice with gassy and fizzy texture. Not particularly amazing but good for novelty experience.

Most activities provided in the village park are complimentary; the courageous could go for a quick slide at the five-storey high (13.5 meters) Chimney slide and experience the thrill. It only takes 4-6 seconds to slide down from the top. I personally tried that and thought it was fun but definitely not for the faint-hearted. Another activity that the entire family could partake is the Drum Experience Class, the short 15 minute- experience would give you an idea how intense drum-playing could be. When the time is right, head to the hall for the Drum Performance, at 10:30 am and 3 pm (extra rounds of performance available during peak seasons, please check with the authorities). Other activities available include cliff walks, Drum-making workshops etc. Please note that certain activities require long-waiting time so join the queue as early as possible to avoid disappointment.

Deep Fried Pork Set (NTD $299)

Vegetarian Chef's Special Set (NTD $299)

Sugarcane Chicken Thigh Set (NTD $299)

Sugarcane Pork Ribs Set (NTD $299)

Braised Pork Belly Set (NTD $299)

While visiting Ten Drum, you need not worry about getting starved. Our program stretched from morning till late afternoon and so we had our lunch at their in-house restaurant- Ten Drum Restaurant. The menu is small and consists of a few Rice Sets (NTD $299 per set); none of them were outstanding. We even struggled to finish some of the dishes. Not recommended unless you are famished.

9) Zhu Xin Ju- Private Home Cuisine 筑馨居
Address: No. 69, Xin Yi Road, West-Central District, Tainan City, Taiwan. 台南市中西区信义街69号
Business Hours: 11:30 am to 2 pm, 5:30 pm to 9 pm. Opens Daily but by reservation only (min 1 day reservation with min 2 pax of diners).
Contact Number: +886 (06) 221-8890
Price: NTD $500 nett per person/ subject to dishes (please inquire within)

Cold Platter- Shrimp Cake, Taiwanese Sausage and Steamed Tri-Eggs (冷盘-虾饼/ 香肠/ 三色蛋)

Steamed Milkfish with Tofu (清蒸虱目鱼与豆腐)

Stir Fried Squid with Greens and Curry Powder (咖喱大卷)

For a taste of classic Tainanese home-cooked flavors, make an appointment at Zhu Xin Ju Private Home Cuisine. The restaurant is housed in an old heritage house right smack in town but finding the place might require a little effort. It can be found at a small alley off a bustling road. Step in Zhu Xin Ju and you will feel the warmth of home- walls with red bricks, old-school Chinese Wine Bottles, wooden tables and traditional Chinese knick-knacks.

There is no standard menu here; the Chef cooks whatever fresh in season. The Chef goes to market to source for the freshest catch and produce during the day time. In order for the Chef to accurately predict and plan for the evening, he needs to know the number of diners to expect. As such, a one-day advance reservation is required to dine in Zhu Xin Ju. The meal for one person is priced at NTD $500 and requires a minimum diners of 2 person. For a 10-course meal, we found the price extremely reasonable.

Amongst the 10 dishes we had, we unanimously agreed that their Steamed Milkfish with Tofu was the best dish of the evening. It uses Milkfish's Stomach, sans the bones and steamed till perfection. The texture was smooth and with the fish oil, it felt like the fish was swimming in our mouth. Simplicity at its best, the dish was served with light Soy sauce and it went perfectly well with rice. The meal continued to shine with a variety of home-cooked dishes. All were expertly prepared and none of them were boldly seasoned. We love the no-frills dishes here, straight-forward and sincere.

Stir Fried Fern (清炒水莲)

Braised Pork Belly (东坡肉)

Steamed Grouper (清蒸石斑)

Steamed Chicken with Yam and Millet (芋头粉蒸鸡)

Black Chicken with Ginseng Soup (人参乌骨鸡)

Home-made Tofu Pudding (豆腐花)

*Have Fun and Travel Safe in Tainan*

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