Taiwanese Foodie Adventures

>> Monday, October 31, 2011


Taipei 101

Even before going to Taipei, I knew it was going to be a foodie’s heaven. Every site I visited online had endless lists of must try dishes, drinks and desserts. I couldn’t wait. One thing I didn’t count on was how remarkable and breathtaking the rest of the city was as well. Aside from the foodie scene, Taipei is an astounding city with the best of both worlds. Starting from its modern downtown core with the Taipei 101 tower appearing from all angles and housing all high end shopping to the amazing temples situated on the side of Maokong park. The urban sprawl of Taipei manages to mix chic modern whilst never loosing it’s innately Buddhist culture. Walking around the city you can see alcoves and cubbyholes made up as tiny altars with offerings to the gods while the across the street you can find a full fledge shopping mall.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Gate
Yes, it does sound similar to other cities in Asia, however the main difference with Taipei is everybody does style with grace, order and poise. I was utterly amazed at how clean the city was and how polite all the people were. My husband thought we stepped in to the twilight zone. The scenery was breathtaking. If you’re ever in Taipei, the Maokong area with little tea houses where you can enjoy locally grown tea, is not to be missed. It was one of the most relaxing portions of our Asia trip and will be forever etch in to our minds. Sitting a top the beautiful lush green canopy, having the experts teach you how to properly steep and pour tea. Then to slowly sip each cup overlooking the canopy along side some simple but tasty Taiwanese food was out of this world! If you’re unsure of which tea you’d like to try, they will instantly “pao cha” (steep tea in Mandarin), so you can try each flavour until you find one of your liking.

After you’re done enjoying cups and cups of delicious tea, you can take the gondola to either the Taipei Zoo or Zhinan Temple. We decided to stop by the temples, which is actually made up of 3 temples in total. A complete spiritual experience, each temple elaborate and unique in their own way, plus you would be silly to miss the amazing view of downtown Taipei. We were there during the sunset and what a sight indeed.

Lunch
If you’d like to take on the modern aspects of Taipei, then shopping and dining in Taipei 101 is for you. The tower holds all the brand name stores and has a huge selection of fast food restaurants in the basement food court. It was amazing to see restaurant quality Chinese food being prepared in a mall food court. I had a fried oyster cake with fresh veggies and a nice comforting bowl of soup. My husband enjoyed his roasted chicken with a veggie rice bowl and fish ball soup. A complete meal in my mind, especially considering it was in the mall.

The food gets even better when you hit the streets of Shilin Night Market. There are many different markets all over Taipei (we ran in to a few of them not even expecting them) but the most famous one is the Shilin Night Market located right beside the Jiantian MTR station (very convenient). The locals were all lining up for the deep fried chicken, which reminded me of a weiner schnitzel, but we were their for the local Taiwanese street food like Stinky Tofu, Turnip Cakes, Beef Noodle Soup and Glutinous Dumplings. (Aside from the food, this night market also has a bunch of stalls selling consumer goods, which always makes for a fun time strolling up and down the streets, oh and they’re open late).

Shilin Market
This wasn’t my first time trying stinky tofu since I already had my fill in Beijing, but everybody has told me that no other stinky tofu can rival the ones found in Taiwan and they were correct. They were stinky in a sense that it smelled like rotten fish (not the best thing to be thinking of when you’re hungry) but once you taste them, they are more akin to a crispy french fry with sweet and spicy soy sauce. Hard to explain, my recommendation is…you’ve got to try it on your own. I’ve had turnip cakes before and when we walked by the stall we didn’t really know what to expect. We thought they resembled a dessert cake due to its shape, but after the first bite, we immediately wanted another one. They were soft and flavourful, not gummy and gooey like the ones here. A must as well.

Dessert
Finally you can’t go to the street market and not try the dessert there. The stalls don’t offer one type of dessert, instead the list is so long, they pretty much list the ingredients and you can mix and match what you want. I usually opted for the mung bean, red bean, sweet tofu and glutinous rice dumpling mix. I love beans, especially when they’re sweet and mixed in to dessert. My husband enjoys his grass jelly (a mild asian jelly which doesn’t have much flavour and you must add sugar to it, its suppose to be good for the lungs) along with glutinous dumplings and coconut. No matter how you mix the desserts together they’re a hit. We had more then our fair share during our time in Taipei at many different markets and they were each just as delicious as the one before it.

Breakfast
After a long night of eating, it’s hard to imagine that I’d think of food first thing when I wake up in the morning (well you don’t know me well enough). I had read online that there was a soymilk king right by our hotel and I had it in my mind that I was going to find it. So I dragged my poor husband up and down Fu Xing road to find Yong He Soymilk King. I’m sure he wasn’t that happy with me at the beginning but once the food hit his stomach, all was forgotten. The soymilk was fresh and their Yau Tiao (Chinese fried donut) was crispy with a nice doughy center. Just thinking about it now is making me hungry. They also have a wrap made with scrambled eggs, green onions, yau tiao all wrapped in a black sesame pita bread. Great for when you’re on the go.

So now that I’m nicely full, of course there is more food to be had. One must not miss the Taiwanese bakeries. The selection of freshly baked buns and tarts are to die for. Since these are eaten best when they’re warm and fresh out of the oven, I highly recommend that you do so, however, it’s not always that your stomach is willing. So pick up a few because they’re just as delicious when you need a snack. Honorable mentions include: Taiwanese Drunken Chicken, Sushi (very fresh), Taiwanese Beer and the amazing fresh fruit!

Fruit Market
From sightseeing to eating to everything else that Taipei has to offer, I would do it over again in a heartbeat. The Taiwan travel slogan really does ring true. Taiwan – it touches your heart (and your stomach)!

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Restaurant Review: Shiraz Persian Cuisine

>> Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Appetizer Platter

When I was young, I was never really in to food (gasp, I know!). Back then, to me meal time was always just a means to an end. To get filled, to be full. Then all of a sudden it grew on me, out of no where I started to try new recipes, think about food, eat all types of food…blog about it. It’s gotten to the point where all my parents and I do when we get together is talk about different dishes and how we can improve on them to make it better. My friends often ask me how that all came to be and to be honest I’m not really sure, but I have a feeling. I seriously think it could be due to travelling. I am just as addicted to travelling as I am about food and there is no better way to truly experience a people’s culture then through their food. To me both are one and the same. So it really isn’t surprising that during my travel lulls I get urges to go try different exotic cuisines, which brought me to Shiraz. So begins another foodie adventure…in Calgary.

Atmosphere: Contrasting red and black décor provide contemporary accents throughout the dining area, which was designed to accommodate a moderate sized group.

Price Range: Mid $10s - $20s

Food and Wine: After getting our menus, it didn’t take us long to spot all the platters that are offered. Since I enjoy variety, it was really pretty obvious what we were going to order. It was also our first time at Shiraz and this way, we’ll know what we like most and can order it again when we come back.

First up was the Shiraz Appetizer Platter which had samplers of all the following dishes. Dolmeh (grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions, dill, mint and spices). They were a little bland and not the highlight of the plate, but worked well when you ate them with the dips that came with the platter.

Tour of Persia Platter
The Kashk-e-bademjan (roasted eggplants mixed with kashk or whey, flavoured with garlic, onions and mint). Similar to baba ganoush except that it’s served warm. I liked it that way. The warmth of the dish enhanced the aromas and made it comforting in a way. Although I did find it to be a bit heavy due to oil in the dip, I think this dish would greatly benefit from a bit of acid and less olive oil.

A dip called Mast-o-khiar (yogurt, cucumber and mint dip), similar to the better known tzatziki, a nice tangy change to the roasted eggplants which could get heavy if served by itself.
Salad-e-Olivieh which is described as a Persian cold salad made from a combination of egg, potatoes, carrots, green peas, chicken and mayonnaise. It tasted just like you thought it would, a creamy potato salad.

Overall, it’s quite the platter and was a good size for the three of us (would be good for four, if everybody also orders their own entrée). It helps that the platters also comes with pita and if you don’t have enough, don’t be shy about ordering more since there is quite a bit of dip to be had.

Baklava
For our main, again we stuck to the combination platter called the Tour of Persia. It’s hard to resist when the food promises to take you on a culinary tour. The platter came with a combination of barg (strip loin), chicken barg (breast) and koobideh kabob, served with basmati rice (a plate for each person) flavoured with saffron, soup of the day and grilled veggies. Everybody enjoyed the kabob. It was moist thanks to the added onions and spices, plus it had a nice char from the grill. The strip loin was well marinated, but we found it to be a bit dry as is the same with the chicken. The stew of the day was the Ghormeh sabzy or Persian green herb stew. It consisted of sautéed chunks of beef and fresh herbs, simmered with kidney beans and dried limes. It wasn’t quite as thick as the stews I’m use to and was a bit under seasoned leading me to think that I probably wouldn’t order this platter again. I’d stick to the kebob platter next time.

At the end of our meal the server also mentioned that they had the Persian ice cream available that day. So as they twisted my rubber arm, we got both the ice cream and the Baklava. It’s the first time I’ve ever tried Persian ice cream, which also came with a side of faloudeh, which is a frozen sweet vermicelli like noodle topped with a sweet syrup. When combined with the saffron tasting ice cream, it was very unique. Reminiscent of desserts I’ve had in Morocco. It was very floral, not what I expected. Our baklava was a bit dry and needed more syrup, but the good thing was it wasn’t overly sweet. I recommend trying it with coffee, but that’s a recommendation for any baklava. I find that coffee brings out the honey flavours and makes for a perfect pairing.

Persian Ice Cream and Fadouleh

My Pick: Kashk-e-bademjan

Overall: There is no better escape then through food, especially when it’s something exotic and unique. Shiraz is distinctive since it offers a different take on menu items we thought we were use to. However, there is always that little room to take the dishes and make them better. Can’t wait to see how Shiraz will reinvent them and make it to the next level.

Shiraz Persian Cuisine
1120 Centre Street NE
Calgary, AB
(403) 452-4050
Website: http://www.shirazpersiancuisine.ca/

Shiraz Persian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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Spicy White Wine Mussels

>> Thursday, October 20, 2011


Mussels

Hands down Asian food has always been my go to cuisine of choice when I’m in a bind for time. Maybe because it falls within my comfort zone, but a bit of soy, fish or oyster sauce can never do any wrong in my books. However, after our recent Asia trip, I’ve found that I do miss European or Western food. I guess you can get too much of a good thing after all. So it’s nice to be able to mix things up and that’s just what we did over the past weekend, which included a bit of Italian, Spanish and of course….French.

The best thing about French cooking is the sauces. Being able to grab some bread and use it to sop up all the extra broth or sauce at the bottom of a dish is of my favourite things to do (plus I’m a carboholic). Plus, it really does add that extra element to your meal, making it more tactile. Nothing like engaging all your senses right?

Since I wanted something fast, simple, tasty and sop worthy. Mussels popped in to my head. They cook extremely fast, goes great with wine and the broth unquestionably requires some bread. I chose Provencal styled mussels, with white wine, lots of garlic and onions plus a bit of spice. For those who find mussels a bit fishy, the garlic will put that to rest.

Nutritional Tidbit: Garlic has long been used in all forms of cooking as a flavour enhancer, but it does a lot more than just that. There has been studies demonstrating the use of garlic to prevent the common cold due to its high level of sulphides. Since those compounds are considered antioxidants, eating more garlic over time increases the health benefits. The best way to release those healthy compounds from the garlic is to chop or crush the garlic. The more you do so the greater the reward, plus, you’ll get more garlic flavour as well.

There are quite a few different variations of this dish online, but here’s my take on it. Hope you enjoy!

Mussels
Ingredients:
1 tbsp butter
½ onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped (or more if you want it really garlicky)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup white wine
2 Bay leaves
1 tsp crushed red peppers
2 lbs fresh mussels, cleaned and scrubbed
Parsley, roughly chopped
Salt and Pepper
Tomatoes (optional)
Lemon wedges (optional)

Preparation:

Melt the butter on medium heat and add in the onions and garlic, cook until the onions become translucent (roughly 5 mins).

Pour in the white wine, followed by the chicken broth. Add in the bay leaves and crushed red peppers.

Once the liquid boils, add in the mussels and tomatoes (if using, I prefer them without). Put on the lid and let the mussels cook for 5-10 mins. Watch for when the mussels start to open.

When the mussels are done, remove them from the pot and turn the stove up to high to reduce the sauce. Add salt and pepper to the broth to taste and pour over the mussels.

Sprinkle chopped parsley on top with wedges of lemon and enjoy!

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Restaurant Review: Koto Sushi Lounge

>> Friday, October 14, 2011


Seaweed Salad

The traffic situation in Calgary definitely doesn’t evoke bliss and serenity. Half the time I wonder why we decide to leave work at the time that we do. So there are many instances where we’d rather stay downtown, have dinner and then try to have a go at the traffic. At least then we might be in semi-bliss. It just so happened that there was a new sushi restaurant near by my office the recently opened up and what’s better to evoke bliss then a bit of sushi and sashimi? Enter in Koto Sushi Lounge.

Atmosphere: Modern, roomy and contemporary with Asian (albeit not Japanese) accents throughout the dining area.

Price Range: Mid $10s – 20s

Food: We arrived fairly early in the evening (we were starving after work), so the restaurant was still pretty quiet. It was nice. We got a table near the back of the dining room and had the whole place to ourselves. The server quickly took our order and the food didn’t take long to arrive.

Sushi and Sashimi
We started with the Seaweed Salad (a usual for us). It came very nicely plated in a martini glass, which I thought was very elegant and unique. The seaweed had a nice crunch and was seasoned well. The addition of tomatoes, lettuce and onions gave it that little something extra. Although we enjoy the special sushi rolls since they’re unique to the different sushi restaurants you go to, we still like ordering the more traditional sushi and sashimis to start. This evening was no different. When the combo arrived, it came with salmon and tuna sashimi, a California roll as well as the usual suspects of sushi (salmon, tuna, shrimp and the like). The sashimi was thick and fresh tasting (as fresh as frozen sushi in Calgary can be) and the sushi were correctly plated with a bit of wasabi in the middle. California rolls pretty much speak for themselves.

After we had our fill of the more traditional kinds of sushi, the three special rolls came. The Lobster Dynamite Tempura Roll consisted of lightly deep fried lobster rolled with crabmeat, mayo, cucumber, avocado and tobiko. I enjoyed the combination of the crunchy lobster and cucumber with the velvety avocado and crabmeat. However, I found there wasn’t enough lobster at times to balance out the crabmeat. In the end it tasted more like I was eating another California roll rather than a lobster roll.

Special Rolls
Second was the Deluxe Spicy Tuna Crunchy Roll with spicy miso tuna tartar, spicy sesame miso sauce and jalapeno pepper. My husband and I both enjoyed this roll the most. We enjoy spicy food and found this roll to be very well balanced. The light coating of miso around the tuna gave it a unique flavour we haven’t had before in other spicy tuna rolls. Although we did find that there was a bit too much rice in each roll (in all three of them) and would have preferred it if there was less. It probably would have made the rolls a bit smaller but I wouldn’t have minded.

Lastly was the Shichimi Spicy Prawn Roll highlighting the center with tempura prawns and tobiko then topped with traditional Japanese spice, chopped prawns mixed with spicy mayo and a sweet eel sauce, the roll was creamy and complex. I did find that there was a bit too much mayo which hid the prawn flavour and a bit too much batter around the tempura prawn. However, it was unique since we haven’t seen shrimp rolls too often without other accompaniments such as avocado or cucumber.

My Picks: Sashimi, Deluxe Spicy Tuna Crunchy Roll

Dining Area
Overall: Its fun to try different types of special sushi rolls when you’re at a new restaurant, but some times nothing beats good old tradition. Such is the same at Koto, although their special rolls are worth a shot, you can never go wrong with the sashimi. Who knows, maybe it’ll bring you that little bit of bliss and serenity and seriously we all could use more then a bit of that.

Koto Sushi Lounge
435 4 Ave SW
Calgary, AB
(403) 457-2898

Koto Sushi Lounge on Urbanspoon

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Sights and Flavours of Xi'an

>> Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Terra Cotta Warriors

My dad is a historical buff, especially Chinese history. Growing up it was inevitable that I got my own so-called personal Chinese history tutor. Even my husband has gotten his fair share of "knowledge" over the years. So when we decided to tell my parents that we were going to Asia for our next vacation two questions came from my dad. 1. Are you visiting the great wall? 2. What about the terra cotta warriors? Let's just say he was pleased with both answers. I personally have been intrigued by the Terra Cotta warriors for a long time, which was why Xian was number two on our travel itinerary.

Bell Tower
Of course there is a lot more to Xian then just the Terra Cotta warriors. Xian was the capital of China for over 500 years and there are many emperor and dynasty tombs to highlight this. Walking around the city you get a feel for how ancient some of the buildings are including the Bell and Drum towers located in the center of the city walls.

Right by the towers lies the Muslim district where you can find the Great Mosque (the only mosque to be completely built in the traditional Chinese style), do some trinket shopping and grab cheap eats. It's busy all day but at night is when the crowds come to sample the street food found only in Xian.

Sweet Cakes
One of these specialties is the Yang Rao Pao Mo, which consisting of the ordering desk thrusting a couple pieces at brea at you after you order. You rip the bread in to tiny pieces based on your preference and then give it back to the kitchen. The chef then pours delicious beef and mutton soup over your bread and brings it back out to you. It's like nothing I have experienced before and can only relate the taste of the dish to eating little doughy balls if gnocchi in amazing savory soup. The beef and mutton ate fall off the bone tender yet still full of meaty flavor!

Things to keep in mind to try are also the green bean cakes, made with mung bean flour. They have always been my favorite growing up as a kid, but I've only ever been able to get them when my aunt use to make them so you could imagine how ecstatic I was when I could buy them off the street!

Yang Rao Pao Mo
There's the braised Meat stuffed bread (Roujiamo). You can find this from the crowds surrounding the stall or just follow your nose. The chefs will pull out the steaming hot beef from the pots, chop it up and mix it with the stewing juices before placing it all in between some bread. Simple yet delicious!

Xian is also the birthplace of the dumpling and you can attend dumpling banquets which showcases the dumpling in all forms: shapes, sizes and varieties. A well known place is known as Defachang, which is located in the square right by the drum tower (just look up, it’s on the second level).

Dumplings
Don't be afraid to sample the variety of street foods as well and maybe pick up some dates and walnuts to keep you going!

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Rocky Mountain Food & Wine Fest plus Free Tickets!

>> Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Rocky Mountain Food & Wine Fest

The autumn season is upon us again in Calgary and that means only one thing…the snow is going to start soon. Yup, it’s going to get cold out and the daylight starts to shrink, but don’t despair! Because although the fall brings with it cold weather, it means the wine festivals are beginning again! And there’s nothing better to kick off this season then with the Rocky Mountain Food & Wine Festival happening next weekend October 14 &15 at the BMO Centre in Stampede Park.

What could beat that? Well I have a set of tickets for Friday October 14th to give away as well (they're entrance tickets only, you'll have to purchase the sampling tickets)! So message me through twitter or respond to this post and I’ll do a random draw Thursday October 13th for the winner.

For all of you that are interested, here’s a bit more information. Plus there are still additional tickets available for purchase, but they might sell out soon so don’t wait too long!



Swirl, sip, and savour at the Calgary Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival
Tantalizing details for Calgary’s most popular wine and food event

What: The Calgary Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival is back for two days of indulgence, marking this year as the biggest and tastiest on record. The Grand Tasting Hall will be bustling with more food and beverage exhibitors than ever before, leaving taste buds satisfied and craving more. The Festival offers the opportunity to sample an extensive variety of wine, scotch, import beer, and premium spirits along with gourmet food samples from local restaurants and hotels.

Liquor Depot will once again feature an on-site liquor store, where attendees can purchase their favourite finds from the night and Liquor Connect will also be available to demonstrate how LiquorConnect.com can help find sensational sips after the Festival.

Who: Food lovers, wine, spirit and beer enthusiasts will unite to indulge in a tasty selection of mouth-watering treats. Festival-goers can be sure to sample award-winning wines from several Wine Access International Value Wine Award (IVWA) winners. It’s a weekend of indulgence, relaxation and fun for those who are passionate about wine and food.

Why: To celebrate local restaurants, hotels, food, wine and unique spirits and provide Calgarians with an exclusive night of indulgence, sampling and savouring with friends, family and co-workers alike.

When: Friday, October 14, 4-10 p.m., Saturday, October 15, 3-10 p.m.

Where: Stampede Park’s BMO Centre, Halls D & E

For ticket information visit: http://www.rockymountainwine.com/calgary.html

Good Luck to those who enter!!

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