Wednesday, December 11, 2019

[Travel/ Food Guide] Itinerary to Taipei, Taiwan (台北,台湾) 2019

My last visit to Taipei was in 2016 under the invitation of Taiwan Tourism Bureau and my previous trip before 2016 was with travel agency so I've never had the opportunity to do self-guided tour. For this year, I've decided to make a short trip there and tour Taipei (and neighborhood cities) on my own pace (mode of transportation was mostly train). It was a leisure trip with mostly shopping and food; for this guide, it will consist of some interesting and worth-trying delicacies during the trip as well as some places of interest for sight-seeing. For this trip, we flew Malaysia Airlines via Kuala Lumpur and the flight was smooth with attentive Malaysian hospitality as always (though slight delay for our flight). As for accommodation, we stayed at Leo Foo Hotel (六福客栈) of Zhong Shan district with the closest MRT Station is Nanjing Sung Chiang Station (Exit 7). The place is rather strategic with easy access to many places of interest but the hotel itself is rather old and run-down. The room key was a nuisance (you may google it out) and the bed was not as comfortable as we would have hoped. Not exactly the type of hotel that we would recommend. Nevertheless, do check out the below food list:

1) Tien Hsia San Chueh Beef Noodles 天下三绝牛肉面
Service Charge: Yes 10%
Address: No. 3, Lane 27, Section 4, Ren Ai Road, Da'an District, Taipei, 106, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +886 22741 6299

Prime Beef Tendon Noodle Soup (NTW $450)

Endorsed by the Bib Gourmand Michelin Guide, Tien Hsia San Chueh Beef Noodles 天下三绝牛肉面is unlike any typical Beef Noodle shop. It is a rather upscale family-styled restaurant instead of those hawker-type establishments. Step in the place and you will find yourself in a cozy, comfortable dining space; the servers are very attentive and would quickly run through the menu with recommendations. The signature Prime Beef Tendon Noodle Soup is one of the must-haves here- supreme Beef broth topped with generous amount of Oxtail, Shank and Tendon. The Beef bone broth felt a little gelatinous but possessed a great depth of beefy flavor. It was lightly seasoned with Pepper as well as subtle anise flavor... went extremely well with the springy flat noodles. A side of special home-made Chili was also served to us but we thought that was rather unnecessary, the broth was very good on its own. If you are serious about Beef Noodles and have limited tummy space, prioritize this place. 

2) San Xiong Mei Shaved Ice 西门町三兄妹雪花冰
Service Charge: No
Address: No. 23, Hanzhong Street, Wanhua District, Taipei, 108, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 10 am to 11 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +886 22381 2650
San Xiong Mei Shaved Ice Facebook Page

Soy Beancurd with Pearls and Yam (NTW $75)

Mango Shaved Ice (NTW $170)

Taipei has no shortage of dessert parlors but if you so happen to be in the neighborhood of Xi Men Ding for shopping and would like to stretch your shopping leg, check out San Xiong Mei Shaved Ice 西门町三兄妹雪花冰. Though the sweet treats are not that superior here, the place is popular amongst tourists and is known to offer a wide range of desserts and shaved ice. One of the best sellers- Mango Shaved Ice uses fresh, plump and sweet Taiwanese Mango, topped with Mango Ice Cream and served with milk-infused shaved ice. Condensed Milk is also provided for those who prefer a sweeter touch. Apart from the fruit series, traditional Taiwanese sweet treats are also available- Soy Beancurd, Tapioca Pearls, sweetened Yam etc. 

3) Lau Tien Lu Lu Wei 老天禄卤味
Service Charge: No
Address: No. 55, Section 2, Wuchang Street, Wanhua District, Taipei, 108, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 9:30 am to 10 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +886 22361 5588

For authentic, old-school braised goodies, many would recommend Lau Tien Lu Lu Wei 老天禄卤味, a brand that withstood the test of time. Established for more than 50 years, the shop was visited and endorsed by many celebrities; the strategic location is one of the key success factors as well (in the heart of Xi Men Ding). When we were there, relentless queues were seen and the curiosity in us forced ourselves to join the queue. We had a few, including braised Chicken Wings, Chicken Thigh and Beancurd. Unfortunately, we did not enjoy any of them. We thought they were disappointingly average (probably we did not try the innards).

4) Fu Hang Soy Milk 阜杭豆漿
Service Charge: No
Address: No. 108, Second Floor, Section 1, Zhongxiao East Street, Zhongzheng District, Taipei, 100, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 5:30 am to 12:30 pm. Closed on Mondays.
Contact Number: +886 22392 2175

Savory Soy Milk (NTW $35)

Taiwanese Egg Crepe Roll (NTW $30)

Thin Flatbread Wrap with Egg (NTW $35)

Thick Flatbread Wrap with Fried Crullers (NTW $55)

Fu Hang Soy Milk needs no further introduction... not only does the name has appeared on many major social media platforms but also traditional media prints. Fu Hang is a famous breakfast place in Taipei, the place lures in a great crowd with relentless queue as early as 7 am. We joined the crowd at almost 9 am and it took us around 45 minutes to get our hands on the food. Finding an empty table was equally challenging so if you are going in a group, be sure to split the task or you will have to wait further for vacant table. The signature items include Soy Milk, Dan Bing (Egg Crepe Roll), Shao Bing (Flatbread) etc. These familiar combinations are ubiquitous in Taiwan but Fu Hang, a Michelin-approved eatery... may have done it differently to earn its rank. It has a very systematic ordering system so the ordering process was smooth but be prepared on what you want to order as the servers will not have the patience to wait for you. We had quite a few items- the Soy Milk was rich enough to our liking but the other items were nothing out of the ordinary. Some breakfast shops in Taipei could offer the same quality. I did not find the wait was worthwhile but if you have not tried before, you may do so for the novelty experience.

5) Woosa Pancake
Service Charge: Yes 10%
Address: No. 1, Second Floor of Q Square, Section 1, Chengde Road, Datong District, Taipei.
Business Hours: 11 am to 9:30 pm on every Sunday to Thursday, 11 am to 10 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Opens Daily
Contact Number: +886 22559 4846

Mont Blanc Ice Cream and Souffle Pancake (NTW $330)

Conchiglie Pasta with sautéed Mushrooms in Truffle Cream (NTW $290)

Plum Yogurt Smoothie (NTW $180)

For one of the best Pancake experiences at Taipei, make your way to Woosa… a Japanese-styled café housed in Q Square, a short walking distance from Taipei Main Station. When it first started, Woosa managed to lure in a great crowd with relentless queues seen anytime. While it is still very popular right now, visitors need not wait for a long time during off peak season. The brand is known to churn out some of the best Souffle Pancakes… while the sweets are amazing, the savory options are worth a look as well (though limited choices). The Pancakes are perfectly soft and fluffy… served with different sauces (latest seasonal flavour is Thai Milk Tea) and Ice Cream (according to the theme). If you do enjoy a good Pancake, add this place to your itinerary. Do note that every diner is required to order a food item to dine-in at Woosa.

6) Lao-A-Bei Cuttlefish Ball Soup 老阿伯胖鱿羹
Service Charge: No
Address: No. 226, Section 1, Dihua Street, Datong District, Taipei, 103, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 11 am to 6 pm. Closed on Wednesdays.
Contact Number: +886 22557 3332
Lao-A-Bei Cuttlefish Ball Soup Facebook Page

Mixed Soup (NTW $80)

Braised Tofu (NTW $30)

Braised Beancurd (NTW $30)

Dihua Street at Taipei has always been my favorite place to go to... the place is vibrant yet, with a historical trace and a plentiful of dried goodies to excavate. Apart from shopping, the place has a few worth-eating places and one of them would be Lao-A-Bei Cuttlefish Ball Soup. Established for more than half a decade ago, Lao-A-Bei is certainly one of the good eats around. The place can be very crowded during peak hours. Suggested items to try would be none other than the Cuttlefish Ball Soup... a starchy but chewy, meaty Cuttlefish Balls served with thick, starchy broth. One may eat it on its own or add a dash of Black Vinegar for a more refreshing touch. It is also common to eat with Rice or carbohydrates like Yellow Noodles or Glass Noodles... to complete as a meal. If your tummy space disallows that, a bowl of the Cuttlefish Ball soup is also possible.

7) Tonchin Japanese Ramen 屯京拉麵
Service Charge: Yes 10%
Address: No. 36, Lane 187, Section 1, Dunhua South Road, Da'an District, Taipei, 106, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 11 am to 11 pm. Opens Daily.
Contact Number: +886 22731 7897

Signature Tokyo Tonkotsu Ramen (NTW $270)

Fish Broth Ramen with Kelp (NTW $250)

Tonchin Salad (NTW $85)

Tonchin Ramen is one of the big names when it comes to Japanese Ramen... when it first stormed Taipei, relentless queues were spotted in front of the restaurant. There are a few outlets scattered across Taipei; it is known to churn out some authentic, rich Japanese Ramen. We visited the outlet at Dunhua South road on a weekday evening, to our surprise, there was no crowd at all. We managed to secure our seats without any problem. We had both the signature Pork broth and Fish broth; the former one tasted more like authentic Japanese Ramen while the latter choice had a fishy touch. Both were equally rich and creamy... possibly overly rich (and salty) for some. Interestingly, additional noodles (or ordering big portion) are complimentary and non-chargeable. Not my favorite type of Ramen but if you so happen in the neighborhood, give it a shot.

8) Haritts Doughnut
Service Charge: No
Address: No. 33 (Ground Floor), Lane 81, Fuxing North Road, Songshan District, Taipei City, 105, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 11 am to 7 pm on Mondays to Saturdays, 12 pm to 5 pm on Sundays. Opens Daily
Contact Number: +886 2877 10645

Cream Cheese Doughnut (NTW $60)

Early Grey Doughnut (NTW $50)

Caramel Pumpkin Doughnut (NTW $55)

Cinnamon Raisins Doughnut (NTW $40)

[Seasonal] Matcha Chestnut (NTW $55)

Roasted Tea (NTW $100/ Hot)

Osmanthus Oolong Latte (NTW $120/ Cold)

Originated from Tokyo, Haritts has since expanded its business to Taipei and Singapore. The brand is known to serve some of the fluffiest handmade Doughnuts- whether classic or creative flavors (noteworthy ones are Goma Anko, Curry, Caramel Walnuts, Earl Grey, Roasted Tea etc). Since we were in Taipei, we took the opportunity to try Haritts’ Doughnuts. The Doughnut parlor is tucked away in a tiny back lane near Nanjing Fuxing Station (Exit 5). The exterior is just as ordinary as any other cafes in town but if you have planned a visit here, you might want to do it before noon as the regular crowd usually flocks in at noon. They would wallop everything and you will need to wait for a couple of hours before the next batch of Doughnuts is ready. Apart from enjoying the fluffy, pillowy and lightly-sweetened Doughnuts, the place is also perfect for chilling and photography. Not the cheapest Doughnuts but definitely one of the best. Do note that for everyone who dines in, it is mandatory to order a cup of drink.

9) Mitsui Outlet Park Linkou- Kaneko Hannosuke 金之半之助 and Yu's Almond Tofu 于記杏仁豆腐
Service Charge: No
Address: No. 356, Section 1, Wenhuasan Road, Linkou District, New Taipei City, 244, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 11 am to 9:30 pm. Opens Daily
Contact Number: +886 2260 68666
Mitsui Outlet Park Linkou Website

Edomae Tendon (NTW $420)

Almond Tofu Shaved Ice (NTW $145)

Approximately 40 minute-drive away from Taipei city will land you at Mitsui Outlet Park Linkou... somewhere between Tao Yuan International Airport and Taipei city. Like most fashion outlet malls, the Mitsui Outlet Park Linkou is very huge and houses quite a lot of international fashion apparel brands like Lacoste, Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss, Gap etc. The brands are from medium to medium-high end but do not expect premium brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel or Gucci here. The prices are less-attractive but we did not manage to scout through every single shop so if luck is on your side, you might get yourself some bargain. If you are serious about shopping, expect to spend at least half a day here.

Don't worry if you are starved half way shopping, the food court at the outlet mall carries quite a few worth-trying brands. Kaneko Hannosuke is one of them, one of the famous Tempura-Don specialists from Japan. You may find long queues at certain branches but this particular stall at the Mitsui Outlet Park Linkou has no crowd so you can enjoy the food hassle free. Complete the meal with a sweet treat, the Almond Tofu Shaved Ice from Yu's Almond Tofu is equally savory. The almond flavor can be very bold but the sweetness is expertly adjusted. The whole concoction feels very light and easy on the palate, though not cheap, the Almond Tofu is a must try especially if you are an almond lover.

10) Tamsui District- Wenhua A-Gei 文化阿給
Service Charge: No
Address: No. 6-4, Zhenli Street, Tamsui District, New Taipei City, 251, Taiwan.
Business Hours: 6:30 am to 6:30 pm on Mondays to Fridays, 6:30 am to 7:30 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Opens Daily
Contact Number: +886 2262 13004
How to go to Tamsui: From Taipei Main Station, take the Red Line MRT terminating at Tamsui Station. Exit the station and walk along the coast, you will find your way to the night market and old street (with plenty of shops and eateries along the way).

A-Gei (NTW $40)

Fish Ball Soup (NTW $30)

Meat Pau (NTW $16)

Tamsui is the terminal station for MRT Tamsui line, approximately 45 minute away from Taipei city center, Tamsui is often the weekend getaway for the locals and the ideal one-day trip destination for tourists. The place has got many places of interest- the lover's bridge, breath-taking sunset view, busy night market and plenty of eateries as well as souvenir shops. One of the must-have local delicacy at Tamsui is definitely A-Gei... named after the Japanese delicacy- Abura-Age, a type of Soy Beancurd. The locals reinvented the dish by stuffing in stir-fried Glass Noodles,  and served with broth as well as a splash of Chili paste. The concoction is thick but flavorful and definitely delicious in its own way. There are 3 A-Gei specialists at Tamsui, all can be found on a narrow street 15 minute walk away from the Tamsui MRT station. Out of the 3 options, Wenhua A-Gei opens till late afternoon. We were there late so it was our only choice. But we were pleasantly surprised with the quality and portion, most importantly, extremely wallet-friendly prices. We are unable to do comparison here since we have not tried the others but all the locals have their own favorite A-Gei brand. 

Classic Shaved Ice (NTW $80)

A short walk out from the Tamsui MRT Station and you will find A-Ma Taro Balls right in front of a stretch of shops... the place offers classic Taiwanese sweet treats- shaved ice with Taro balls and various sweet toppings. Unfortunately, nothing out of the ordinary so you may skip that. Further down the road, you will find a busy stall offering blanched fresh Squid... one of the unique local delicacies.... no additional toppings or sauce, just blanched in salted water. Try some and experience the burst of seafood sweetness in the mouth. The whole place is quite happening and there are plenty of stuff to explore, we suggest spending at least half a day here or one full day if you wish to go further up to explore the lover's bridge (10 minute-drive from Tamsui MRT station).

Blanched Squid (NTW $190)

11) Shifen Old Streets 十分老街
Address: Pingxi District, New Taipei City, 226, Taiwan.
How to go to Shifen Old Streets: From Taipei Main Station, take a train bound for Keelung and alight at Ruifang Station. From Ruifang Station, transfer to another train bound for Pingxi Line and alight at Shifen Station. Please note that the train bound for Pingxi Line only operates once an hour, so if you have missed the earlier train, you will need to kill some time at Ruifang. 

Candy Peanut Ice Cream Popiah (NTW $35)

A popular destination in recent years- Shifen is branded as one of the romantic locations at northern Taiwan... suitable for couples and families. The place is merely an hour away from Taipei city and it is famous for its sky lantern. The activity of releasing sky lantern to the sky is widely reported by international media and it is one of the must do's at Shifen. Though the location is slightly off the beaten track (by public transportation), the place is easily accessible by cars. So if you are travelling in a group, booking a cab or chauffeured car would be a good option.

Once you alighted at the train station, you will find a lot of shops selling sky lantern and the sellers will make their sales pitches to you. Different color of sky lantern means different thing, the red one represents health while multi-color version can represent multiple things. The act of releasing the sky lantern is something like making a wish so if you are releasing the red one, it would symbolize as if you are wishing for good health. The red sky lantern costs NTW $150 during our visit and the prices vary depending on the color combinations. Once you have paid, you are then given a Chinese writing brush to write down your wishes. The sellers will then assist you on how to release the lighted sky lantern to the sky (as well as photography). 

Apart from the sky lantern, there is not much to do at Shifen. We recommend skipping the shopping as most items can be found at Jiufen or the city, unless you are both physically and mentally prepared to carry them back to the city. Otherwise, if you are into nature and scenery, there is a bridge for photography and a waterfall nearby (which would require at least 20 min walk from the train station).

12) Jiufen Old Street 九份老街
Address: Ruifang District, New Taipei City, 224, Taiwan.
How to go to Jiufen Old Street: From Taipei Main Station, take a train bound for Keelung and alight at Ruifang Station. From Ruifang Station, walk across the street to a bus station and alight a bus that directly brings you up the hill. The bus journey will take approximately 20 minutes. 

Fish Ball Bo-Zai Set (NTW $90)

Bitter Gourd Juice (NTW $80)

Grilled Squid (NTW $150)

If you have been to Taiwan, chances of you visited Jiufen is very high; the tourist spot was already very popular at least a decade ago. But the place is still as attractive as ever, to date, it is still luring a great influx of visitors. Jiufen sits at the top of a mountain and to reach the mountain town, one needs to travel through winding, narrow roads before reaching the place. But once you are there, you will find yourself in a completely different area... something that can't be seen in a city. The place is packed with myriad of shops selling souvenirs, food, tea houses etc. The place is fairly large and if you wish to further explore more, it is best to allocate at least half a day there. There are many interesting eats at Jiufen, one notable dish would be the Fish Balls.... offered by 2 prominent brands and we had the ones from Fish Ball Bo-Zai... not exactly as bouncy as we would have hoped but the broth was tummy-comforting especially under the chilly weather. After the meal, quench the thirst with a cup of freshly blended White Bitter Gourd juice or end with an icy sweet treat from Grandma Lai (sweet Taro Balls).

Lai Apo Sweet Taro Ball (NTW $50)

Have Fun Exploring Taipei!

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