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Monday, January 27, 2020

Exploring Banqiao Nanya Night Market (板橋南雅夜市)
January 27, 20200 Comments
Nanya Night Market was the first night market I visited in Taiwan. This night market is tucked away in Banqiao - away from metropolitic Taipei - and has served the locals in Banqiao well. I went there on a slightly drizzling, cold weekday night. a steadfastly to-go place for comforting traditional street food and night-time gaiety. Other plus points include: 8 mins' walk away from Fuzhong MRT, less crowd (hence more walking space and less waiting time), less expensive food, claw machines and game booths for families with young children.

Address: No. 87, 220 New Taipei City, Banqiao District, Nanya East Road, Taiwan
Opening hours: 5pm - 2am

Here's what I bought:

1. Stinky Tofu
First item on my plate for my first Taiwanese night market is none other than the iconic stinky tofu! Alas, the stinky tofu I had was rather underwhelming - it had none of the "stinkiness" I'd expected, and tasted just like a piece of fried tofu to me with added vinegar.

Vegetarian stinky tofu with pickled cabbage
Take note that not all stinky tofu are vegetarian. To achieve the (acquired) fermented taste, tofu is usually soaked in shrimp brine or milk first.

2. Ice-cream Crepe
Matcha ice-cream crepe, topped with a big dollop of whipped cream (hiding at the back), cherry and wafer // about 50 NTD
You should know by now that I have a big appetite. Dessert-for-one is a common phenomenon when I was in Taiwan. So yes, I ate it all (minus the whipped cream). I didn't expect the food vendor to put two heaping scoops of ice-cream in my crepe... but then again, this is Taiwan! People are generous and give customers what they deserve. :))

3.Taiwanese Roll

4. Changhsing Sweetened Bean Paste Cake (长兴饼店)
Image result for Changhsing Sweetened Bean Paste Cake

I believe I bought 白豆沙饼。Soft and mushy inside - not oily at all! Some of their pastries are suitable for lacto-vegetarians. They're also famous for pineapple tarts (use of animal fats), which I reviewed here.
*Note: Not in night market, but is walkable from there.

Address: No. 58, Nanmen Street, Banqiao District, New Taipei City
Opening hours: Tues - Sun 9am - 10pm. Mon 10am - 6pm.

4. Frog Eggs Drink (青蛙下蛋 Qing Wa Xia Dan)
No frog or egg (or other animal products) are involved in the making of this drink, despite its name. The drink gets its name from when the tapioca pearls are cooled, they turn white, resembling frog egg. Made with only sugar water and tapioca pearl - no frills no thrill. I didn't take a photo but it looks something like this:
Related image

Special shout-out to my host family who brought me to this night market! I had such a blast with them and gahhh writing this post makes me miss them even more. *sobs*
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Saturday, December 28, 2019

Banqiao Produce Market 友善農產 板橋國慶展銷點 | MUST-GO in BANQIAO!
December 28, 20190 Comments
Taipei may be the destination that most tourists flock to, but Banqiao deserves a special shout-out because it is so under-rated! Aside from Nanya Night Market, expect a taste of local flavours at Nanya Produce Market! I could taste my pure delight when I discovered the place (giving myself a pat on the back because self-love is important). In that moment, I yearned to share my discovery with someone. I guess sharing it here, albeit belatedly, with the world through this post is the next best thing to do. Banqiao Produce Market is the place nobody speaks of on TripAdvisor, and a google search would yield less-than-promising results. In fact, I may be the only tourist there, when I went. 😎 So where's that? you may ask. Give me the location! you may demand. Allow me to tell you a little backstory of how I discovered this place on foot - not maps!

My initial plan was to visit this place, which I found on Google Maps:

Da Li Red Bean Wheel Cake 大力紅豆餅(重慶國中巷內)

That day, I was on a hunt for Banqiao some wheel pancake as a cheap, simple dessert. And can I just say how fantastic the Taiwanese does their wheel pancake? SO MUCH MORE impressive than Mr Bean or Jolliebean. This place was a 20 minutes urban hike from Banqiao station to this place. Sadly, I went during Dragon Boat Festival Eve so they were closed for break. But I highly, HIGHLY recommend you go there! Granted, I didn't try it for myself, but I know for a fact that it is highly raved by the locals. See reviews here or here (in Trad. Chinese).

Prices range from 18 - 20 NTD - more expensive than the 10 NTD red bean pancake I got at Tamsui Old Street, but they offer more variety.

Address: No. 8, Alley 4, Lane 149, Guoqing Road, Banqiao District, New Taipei City, Taiwan 220
8號 國慶路149巷4弄板橋區新北市220
Opening hours: 2.30pm - 7pm daily
Google Maps

Since I wasn't able to satisfy my pancake cravings, I made do with buying one from a stall nearby.

7 NTD or 10 NTD, depending on your chosen filling
Perfection on the outside

Is this a pancake excavation site or-

Pancake with a big empty hole.. yup, you get what you pay for. The filling is not the creamy peanut paste, but something akin to the store-bought chopped peanut and sugar mix. On the whole, this is not bad.. the crust is crispy and there's a nice balance of sweet and savoury. It's just not what I'd expect from a wheel pancake.

So what's next?

Having walked to the closed Da Li wheel cake, I then saw this street of food vendors!

Welcome to Banqiao Produce Market, 友善農產 板橋國慶展銷點! (Not the actual English name, but I can't give you one when it's an unlisted place on Google Maps.)

Now, let me walk you through what you can find here. 😀😀

1. Rice Dumplings (粽子)
Because I came on the eve of Dragon Boat Festival, there were dumplings at every turn of the road, including vegetarian dumplings!

dumplings everywhere.
2. Fried Wanton and Ngoh Hiang (五香)
Store selling fried wanton and ngoh hiang

3. Fresh fruits

4. Popiah (阿霞潤餅)

Fillings include: piping hot boiled cabbage scooped out from a pot, pickled mustard greens, char siew (vendor will omit if vegetarian), crispy fried shallots, cilantro, crushed peanut. With nimble hands and an agility that can only come from years of hands-on experience, the couple worked quickly and without rest to deliver the customers' orders. The line moved quickly, but expect some customers to order as much as 10 popiahs at one go. I waited in the line for 5 minutes, feeling like an outcast when I requested popiah-for-one, while other customers were ordering 2 or more.

Vegetarian option available! Just ask to exclude meat.

Address: No. 24, Lane 86, Ren'ai Road, Banqiao District, New Taipei City, Taiwan 220
Opening hours: (not found)
Google Maps

5. Shaved ice
Shaved ice is everywhere in Taiwan, but ever tried it in a cup? Sharing is not recommended for this thirst-quencher-dessert treat.

1 for 30 NTD, 2 for 50 NTD
Flavours include: sour plum, yam, pineapple, passionfruit, mango, banana, green bean, red bean + peanut combi, red bean, peanut

I got peanut, also one of the more popular options. Tastes like peanut slush!

6. Cake bread

1 for 120 NTD

Looks like a block of ice-cream. The outside looks crispy, like a pie crust. But it's not. That'd have been weird on a bread--or amazing. I guess I'd never find out. It tastes just like normal bread with a hint of chocolatey flavour. I bought it for novelty's sake, but I wouldn't buy it again if I ever pass by.

7. Egg Crepe
Egg crepe @ 40 NTD

8. Assorted Dishes
Enormous spread of side dishes to go with your rice.
9. Mantou
Steamed Chinese buns (aka Mantou 馒头 - no fillings) for sale. This is a typical Chinese breakfast item.

10. Vegetarian grocery store
In case you wanna do some grocery shopping overseas.

11. Vegetarian Restaurant
Vegetarian restaurant
I didn't go in to eat, but it seems to operate under the standard choose-what-you-want and pay-by-weight system. Price starts from 60 NTD.


And that's it! Banqiao local produce market might just be Banqiao's best kept secret. As mentioned, I don't have the exact location to this produce market, but google map your way to any of the locations listed above and you'd find yourself surrounded by food vendors in no time.

How to get to Banqiao from Taipei?
  • HSR - One station away. The most expensive option, recommended only if you have unlimited HSR ride. Tickets can be purchased on KKday or Klook.
  • MRT - Take blue Bannan Line from Taipei Main station to Banqiao station (12 mins - 5 stops).
  • TRA - Take train from Taipei station to Banqiao station (8 mins non-stop journey).
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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Vegan Food in Taiwan: A Compilation of Food Reviews
November 26, 20190 Comments
If you haven't already heard, Taiwan is a vegetarian and vegan-friendly place. During my volunteering trip to Taiwan, I visited 9 places and tasted food ranging from Western-inspired dishes to the local vegan food fare. Read on to find out what food treasures are hidden in Taiwan!

1. Plants 

Nothing screams vegan more than an eatery that calls itself Plants. A quick search on the Internet would show you the number of times this cafe appears in the recommended list vegan cafes to visit in Taipei. Over-hyped? Wait till you try the food!

All their dishes are plant-based, gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, and refined-sugar-free. The cherry on top? They also use organic, natural farming and non-GMO ingredients. Raw vegan food options also available! Reservation is advised if company is more than 2. I arrived at 4pm on a Friday, and was brought to a long table where all the solo eaters sat. Service was excellent (5/5), and the atmosphere was calm and peaceful, lulling me to being at home.

Papaya Party Bowl (330 NTD)
Menu desc: Pitaya and banana smoothie topped with seasonal fruits, maple chia pudding, cacao goji sprouted rawnola and raw chocolate sauce.

This is the point when I stopped to think if I should get another bowl.

Papaya Party Bowl was a deflightful party of flavours in my mouth. I loved the papaya-chocolate combi, and the addition of rawnola (cacao nibs, goji berries, and oats?) added a lovely crunch. YUMMMMM. 😋😋😋 I'm still fantasising about it till this day. I loved the food so much that I went back a second time, but on a Monday - an off-day!! Ugh!

How to go: Exit from Da'an MRT station exit 6. Walk straight until you pass a musical instrument store, then turn right. The cafe is beside a ramen restaurant.
Address: No. 10, Lane 253, Section 1, Fuxing South Road, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106
106 台北市大安區復興南路一段253巷10號1樓
Opening hours:
Tues - Fri 11.30am - 9.30pm (last order 8.30pm)
Sat & Sun 10am - 9.30pm (last order 8.30pm)
Closed on Mondays


2. Vegan Taipei
Like Plants, Vegan Taipei is also a few minutes' walk away from Da'an MRT station. 

Pumpkin soup (120 NTD)
Food desc: Fresh pumpkin, coconut cream, salt and pepper

With the entrance of soup packages onto supermarket shelves, I feel the need to clarify that this pumpkin soup had a distinct taste of pumpkin (because God forbids the use of artificial gunk to ruin my exquisite taste buds). The soup is on the runny side but somehow still creamy, with a consistency that reminded me of Campbell soup.

I also ordered a slice of coffee walnut cake. It's not my usual flavour to order, but it called out to me that day, so I had no choice but to answer its call with cash.

The buttercream was so light and fluffy!

Coffee Walnut Cake (150 NTD)

It was alright, not mind-blowingly good but decent for the price.

P. S. Don't forget to give the pizzas a try before you leave! A customer recommended me to try them... alas, pizzas are better shared, not for solitary eating.

P. P. S. They do customisable birthday cakes! I had wanted a peanut cake while I was there because I saw a picture of it plastered to the wall, but the boss told me that's for pre-order only!

Address: No. 130, Rui'an Street, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106
Opening hours: Mon - Sun 11.30am - 8.30pm (closed on 1st and 4th Sunday of the month)


3. Vege Creek (蔬河)
Those "plants" on the wall are actually vegetables that you can put into your bowl! From far away, they look just like plant art. 

Vege Creek is what I would call an upgrade from Yong Tau Foo in Singapore. The concept of choosing your own ingredients remains the same, and you can expect greater variety of ingredients and elevated prices. How it works:
Step 1: Choose the ingredients according to you heart's desires.
Step 2: Look at the cost of each ingredient and frown at the above-average prices but buy the food  anyway because you're out of vegan options.
Step 3: Bring your bowl to the counter for payment and cooking.
Step 4: Wait patiently for your food.


Final result
Vege Creek has multiple outlets in Taipei. Chances are, you can find one in your nearest shopping mall. The one I went to is near Taipei Main station, as listed below.

Address: Shin Kong Life Tower, 66, Sec 1, Zhongxiao W Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei, Taiwan, 100
Opening hours: 11am - 9pm daily


4. Ooh Cha Cha (自然食古亭)
Is Ooh Cha Cha the Taiwanese way of saying Ooh la la?

While cafe-hopping in Taiwan I realised that the concept of macrobiotic bowls is common in Taiwan. And so I got myself one - although in Ooh Cha Cha, they call it nourishing bowl. All nourishing bowls are served with organic multi-grain rice and quinoa.

Sesame Tempeh Bowl (270 NTD):
Sesame tempeh, marinated seaweed, cucumber, baby corn, wild mushroom, sauteed carrot, miso sauce

Creamy as an avocado

But back to macrobiotic-ism. What does it mean?

As far as I know, vegan macrobiotic diet is just another fancy-schmancy term for whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet. Basically, a macrobiotic bowl contains an admixture of mostly unprocessed food, such as whole grains (brown rice, purple rice, red rice, rainbow rice (i'm kidding. this is not a thing)), legumes (lentils, peas), protein (beans, tempeh), and vegetables. You're literally tasting the rainbow here.

Address: No. 207, Section 2, Nanchang Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100
Opening hours: Daily 10am - 9pm

5. Brother Su (布拉德施)
It was drizzling slightly when I reached Brother Su's vegan kitchen, just in time for some vegan comfort food.

Brother Su mans the counter while his wife preps the food.

You know how people say the Taiwanese are a friendly bunch of people? Brother Su is among the friendly bunch. When I told him that I'm not entirely vegan (yet) but try to eat vegan outside, he was very encouraging and supportive of the efforts I made to my diet. He also shared with me more about their desserts, including the ingredient list.. but I only remember one tidbit of information, which is that all fruits used are organic.

Before we move on to dessert, let me show you the sunshine-y Pumpkin Curry Rice that I got.

Pumpkin Curry Rice Bowl 卡里南瓜饭 (130 NTD)

Out of all the vegan food I'd tried and tasted, this one is what I truly call home-cooked food. The smell of Indian spices hit me in my nostrils before I even see the food. Despite the strong smell of Indian spices, you would be sorely disappointed to find out that the curry is not spicy at all... like me. I like my curry to have a kick, but the spiciness of this dish was like a wimpy shove. Hence, this dish is best reserved for those who can't take spicy food at all but still want to enjoy the creaminess of curry.

Spice level aside, all you weight-watchers out there would be pleased to know that this curry was light on coconut cream and oil, if at all.

Dessert time!

Lemon Chic Cheesecake (110 NTD)

The crust seems to be made from dates and nuts, the middle layer has the consistency of ice-cream. The best part? This dessert has no sugar added! Though I must say, I was rather disappointed at the meagre slice of cheesecake. Good for lone eaters, not ideal for sharing!

My overall thoughts: Part of what makes this home-made meal so home-made, I feel, is that the food can be easily whipped up at home. If you're out and about and are craving for something healthy and wholesome, this is the place to go! Price-wise, I feel that it is slightly steep, but remember, you're paying for quality food. Plus this is a small local business so do support!

Address: No. 29, Nanhua Road, Zhonghe District, New Taipei City, Taiwan 235
Opening hours: Tues - Sun 11.30am - 3pm, 5-9pm
Closed every Monday, and 1st weekend of the month.


6. Yuan Tong Vegetarian (圆通素食)

What I got

Fried mock meat

Funny story: I actually ate the plastic, thinking that it was deep-fried batter coating the seaweed. Such a face-palm moment. 

White and brown rice available (at a small cost), served upon request at the cashier counter. Skipping the rice would be a good idea if you want a taste of more of the dishes. Each meal also comes with a bowl of self-service soup.

Put this place down as an alternative foodie spot if you ever want a more balanced meal over Shilin street food, at just 5 mins' walk away from the night market.

Address: No. 158, Dadong Road, Shilin District, Taipei City, Taiwan 111
Opening hours: Mon - Sat 10am - 9pm. Closed on Mondays.


7. Ru Wang Vegetarian (如旺素食 自助餐)

A bit of noods, some greens, eggplant, marinated tofu, and mock meats

This is one of the few vegetarian stores I don't recommend going. For one, the dishes were too oily. They were also cold from being left in the air-conditioned room for quite some time. The variety of dishes might be a redeeming factor... but you can expect the same varied offerings at any other sit-down vegetarian restaurants.

Address: No. 3, Lane 29, Heping Street, Sanxia District, New Taipei City, Taiwan 237
Opening hours: Mon - Fri 6.30am - 1.30pm.
Sat & Sun 6.30am - 2pm


8. Si Ji Flower Vegetarian (四季花開 健康蔬食)
Sesame paste noodles 麻醬乾麵 (50 NTD) // comes with soup

I wished I discovered this place earlier as it was close to my residential estate! The menu was impressive (check it out here),  Because the menu is in traditional Chinese, I had a difficult time ordering. That's when the lady boss came to my rescue! I asked simple questions like "Is this a noodle dish? Is the noodles dry?" and I got what I wanted in the end. SO SIMPLE SO GOOD!! If you haven't tried sesame paste noodles before, you're seriously missing out.

Address: No. 29, Guoji 1st Street, Sanxia District, New Taipei City, Taiwan 237
Opening hours: Mon - Fri 11am - 3pm, 5-8pm
Sat 11.30am - 8pm
Closed on Sundays.

9. Ji Yuan Vegetarian (吉缘素食)

Sesame paste noodles // can't remember the price, but I think it was around 40 NTD

As you can no doubt guess, sesame noodles had quickly become one of my favourites. A classic Asian dish, the only way one can screw up is to not add enough sesame sauce. Below the springy noodles lies a bed of leafy greens for health an that crunch factor.

Address: No. 15, Lane 109, Section 3, Heping West Road, Wanhua District, Taipei City, Taiwan 108
Opening hours: Daily 10.30am - 8pm

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