I hate people who are not serious about their meals. -- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Taiwan Dispatch: It’s Breakfast and I've got to Eat

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: carbohydrates are everywhere in this country. Resistance is futile.
Looks like Breakfast

Anyone that reads this blog can figure out that I really like breakfast. Due to my inability to sleep late, something that is the result of being part of the real world, I wake up really early, run and when I am done I am starving. Breakfast for me is one of the most important meals for me and during the work week, it is what gets me through the day. In Taiwan, throw in the jet lag and time difference its like 6 in the morning and I need something like now. Thankfully like New York, Taipei is a city that never sleeps…come to think of it, no city is ever really asleep. People are always up and about and they may not have jet lag, but damnit they are hungry and need something too. Some people I have talked to are under the impression that dim sum is the average breakfast fare in Taiwan which is clearly not the case because the Taiwan economy and social health would be on a downward spiral and would beat out the United States in obesity. However, a more common fare that is eaten for breakfast here is a bit more lighter, but do not worry, they do not skip out on the carbohydrates or the grease. 
Do Jaing- Soy Milk Hot and Cold. That ain't Coffee
Soy milk in Taiwan and Asian countries is nothing like the weird Soy milk that hyper vegans and the weird kids drink in the box. I am telling you right now, they have many flavors of soy milk here, but there is no vanilla or chocolate flavored soy milk. This is the legit kind of soy milk that main ingredients are just soybeans and water. Soy milk is served hot or cold or sweet or salty and if my math is correct from my failed statistics semesters, that is about 24 different combinations. Most Taiwanese enjoy soy milk hot and sweet and feel that soy milk in the morning soothes the soul and does not mess with the flow or energy in your body…or something like that. I personally have become to Americanized as my Mother says and I like it cold and sweet. Apparently only children drink it this way which is fine by me because the stuff that kids eat and drink here are awesome and cute. Excusing the tangent, soy milk does not have a chalky taste to it like the weird boxed soy I was forced to have for about a month. Instead it is truly milk, it is thick and creamy and richness that is almost comparable to whole milk. A warm bowl of soy in the cool (well, rarely cool) morning in Taiwan is a perfect remedy. 
Shao Bing with an Egg in it on Left, You Tau right

Like a coke and burger, soy milk is rarely separated by a stick of you tau. You tau is a cruller that is deep fried (hooray grease!) and is a crispy, lightly salted and has pockets and crevasses of air pockets. Biting into one you are welcomed by a satisfying crunch and a sprinkling of crumbs. A You tau does not really have much is taste by itself so it plays either the role of a crouton, in which it is cut up and thrown into a bowl of soy milk or you just go ahead and dunk it in. The You tau is like a sponge and soaks up soy milk giving the You tau a whole new taste to it. Now generally, this is where most people would call it a good breakfast and stop. Anther popular breakfast item is a dan bing which is a egg crepe. It is only a crepe by definition, which it is a thin pancake, but that is the only similarity that a dan bing has with the better known French crepes. The crepe itself is stickier, gummy texture to the crepe and has scallions in it. Before it is finished off, a beaten egg is thrown on top, complete this breakfast creation. Although it can eaten all on its own, most dip it in soy sauce paste or like me, with some hot soy bean paste for a bit of heat. There are many variations of this, such as adding in bacon/mystery canned meat and one of the more interesting ones cheese. Not like aged Gouda, more like good old American-never-spoil-singles-packet cheese. I have had such creation and you know what? It actually works. There is something about Asian countries and putting cheese randomly on things, specifically American or Parmesan cheese. I understand how it works, the savory unami flavors and all that jazz but I guess it still is a bit hard for my Gringo-mind to grasp it. 
Food After the Jump!

Egg Crepe- Dan Bing
A shao bing, is a flaky sesame flatbread. Many people split them open and fill them with fried egg or a You Tau. Sometimes you get lucky and get both the egg and you tau all shoved into a shao bing which is also the same formula if you do not want to do anything else for the rest of the day!

24 Hrs! Ever got a Hankering for Soy Milk here is your spot
I like the English translations of restaurants and places because I always get a good laugh out of them. One of the best examples is Yong He dou Jiang Da Wang which translates to Yong He Soy Milk King. From observation, Taiwan is apparently littered with royalty and getting a title such as a king is easy to get especially in food. It is like Ray’s pizza in New York, there are about 20 of them all throughout the city and like so, in Taiwan there are kings of Soy milk, beef noodle and other things. I mean, I will give the guy credit, someone must control the soy milk kingdom, and it is a demanding job. The place is open 24 hours so if you have that craving for soy, vegans you are in luck! This is a local place in which it is normal to see men wearing pajama pants and under shirts and school kids running in to grab a quick bite. At Yong He Dou Jiang Da Wang, I got my usual cold soy milk while my parents being the “natives” got theirs hot. The Soy milk here was not really rich but still packed a heavy soy kick. The You tau here was a bit drier than I would like it so it of course got the Soy milk dunk making it tasty. The dan bing here was gummier than I would have liked it but again, that is what soy sauce is for. We got a shao bing as well and it came piping hot and plain. Although I am weird and I can eat the shao bing all on its own, it was quickly gutted and a you tau was shoved in between creating something greater and still dunkable in the soy milk. Another common breakfast treat or just all around anytime eat as I see it is a Jiucai bao.
Juicai Bao
It is pan-fried hot pocket like bun that is filled with minced pork, rice noodles and Chinese garlic chives. It is a hearty thing to have in the morning, and the Asian equivalent of having a lox and cream cheese shmear on a bagel. It is hearty, filling, your cardiologist would not approve and your breath does not smell minty fresh after eating it. I like it that it is pan fried because it achieves a crispy layer on the outside and a satisfying crunch when you bite into it. A lot of these morning fares are rich and salty, which is why having soy milk is a common pairing because it cuts the richness of the food creating balance which is a main theme in food, especially in Taiwan. Yong He Dou Jiang Da Wang is overall an okay place. It has been around for many years,I remember coming here when I was a kid so although they may not have the best, the food and the soy milk is still solid. 
Cooking on the flat top
Fu Hang Dou Jaing is a bit newer and it is located upstairs a non-descriptive buildings. I just know it is close to the Sheraton Hotel and you have to kind of go through an lackluster market but this place is well worth the find. Finding this place and going here is the foodie equivalent of getting the Fireball in Super Mario Brothers. It is a very local place and there are no ma guo de (American in Chinese) here at all. Walking up some shady-esque stairwell you are greeted by a line, no matter what time you go and the furious shouting and people clambering for food and balancing trays filled with orders of blistering hot soy milk and enough you tau, shao bing and other treats providing you with enough caloric intake to run a half marathon.
Although the time I went there was considering the light and low period waiting in there was still that sense of urgency and wanting to get to the front of the line. It is like waiting in line to go to the bathroom when you have to go really bad, you shift your weight from one foot to the other, and you are constantly craning your neck and peering to the front of the line, to see when it will be your turn. There is no reason for this behavior; it is something that is triggered from the controlled chaos that is happening at the front of the counter. The counter is full of activity as people are placing their orders and counter ladies are impatiently rolling their eyes and waiting for the slightly indecisive ones that do not rattle off their order or hesitate when they get to the counter. From there people shuffle to the side, waiting and peering at trays hoping and impatiently waiting for their number to be called. Each time a patron is gifted with a tray and walks through the crowd while carefully balancing their morning bounty, it is visual getting dissected and analyzed by all that it passes by. Trust me, this experience and food is not getting the Lumberjack Breakfast at the Diner.  
Soy Milk hot, served in bowls. You drink that up like soup
At Fu Hang Dou Jiang, we got the same stuff such as the soy milk, dan bing, you tai with the addition of a hou bing and a radish and pork bing. The hou bing is something that I have not really seen or eaten in Taiwan. It is similar to the shao bing but the shao bing is flaky, the hou bing is doughy and there are no sesames in the hou bing, it has the addition of scallions and it is suppose to be eaten on its own. The hou bing is what the Chinese call “Q” which is the Chinese description of chewy and having a bite which is not really a pleasing texture for a Western palate, but a texture that many Asians look for from noodles and breads. 

Hou Bing

Shao Bing with Radishes and tiny dried shrimp

Shao bing is just a general term for the type of bread that is flaky and bombarded with sesames. Shao bing can also be filled and commonly filled with radishes and dried shrimp. The little dried shrimp are rarely visible and are there to add the unami factor and saltiness. We got a few here and they were fresh, biting into them, you get a mini steam facial that is filled with the aroma of radish and scallions, something that you cannot get at a spa. the food here was a bit better and fresher, I accredit that mainly to the high volume business that they do that forces them to be constantly pumping out fresh food. They open at 5am and are working well before then. Both these places are using traditional methods and are not shoving them into conventional ovens. The hou bing here is baked in a tandoori like oven pit and the you tau are not being thrown into frying pits and are still fried in pots. It is amazing to watch the people work here. Donning surgical masks, it is only appropriate to compare their work to a surgeon, it is precise work that they are doing in working in the early hours in the morning consistently producing common breakfast fare, not knowing that they are part of keeping traditions and Taiwanese culture alive. 

Tandoori-like oven baking up Hou Bings

102 Fuxing South Road
, Sec. 2

at Hua Shan Market, 2F
No. 108,
Zhongxiao E. Rd.
, Sec. 1


  1. LOVE your blog! I go back to taiwan every year and need to get my epic taiwanese breakfast and DTF xiaolungbao fix as well. Def could use some in NYC. Yummm!

  2. Thanks! I will be heading back in November so more epic Taiwan-like eats to come! NYC can mos def use some Stinky tofu though....

  3. oh yes... I can already picture a stinky tofu truck