Ode to food.

Come Saturday, we’re saying goodbye to Taichung, our home for the past two months, which is yet another amazing place in Taiwan. We were cautious when we first came – people didn’t have the most effusive things to say about Taichung – it lacked an MRT or subway system, wasn’t either the capital of the south or the north, was full of triads and Taiwanese gang activity (this is still true), and when we came in 2013, we had a bad experience here with a hostel which wasn’t really a hostel. Despite all these things, we actually found plenty to enjoy around the city. It has changed a lot in the past few years, and the public transit is no disappointment. It also has lovely parks, cheap fresh fruit, a lot of great dogs and people, and of course, delicious restaurants which we’ve gone back to time after time. Without a kitchen, we end up eating out for pretty much every meal, and I think I’d like to write about these and record these in our memory. I’ve also attached prices and locations in case people wander onto this page and want to visit.

A busy morning at A-Gen.

Ryan introduced us to A-Gen on our very first morning in Taichung. We’ve been familiar with egg pancakes (蛋餅) since we last visited Taiwan, but instead of being soft and oily pancakes, these are crispy, delicious, pancakes with an egg scrambled on the other side. Our favorite ones come with bacon and American cheese, and a light sprinkling of chopped green onions. AMAZING for just 40 NT (~$1.30 USD). We will have to hit them up before leaving the city. A-Gen is located on Meicun, two blocks south of Gongyi, and tends to accumulate a 10-minute line by 9 am, but as I have to get to work by 8 am, that suits us just fine.

The fancy place is our nickname for our other favorite breakfast place, just two blocks away at Meicun/Xiangshang. It’s a small egg pancake joint that is run by two women – an adorable cook with a high-pitched voice and big smile, and her more diminutive assistant. The pancakes are handmade with organic flour and more crepe-like in their consistency. Inside our favorite veggie-and-cheese egg pancakes are sauteed greens and veggies, rich red marinara sauce, and a heaping of fresh mozzarella. They’re also 40 NT each. We’ve started going to them less and less though as she started up the business earlier this summer, and has gotten increasingly busier. It’s no wonder since the food is absolutely delicious. Since she makes everything from scratch, and it’s basically a one-woman operation, it’s significantly slower, and I’ve been getting up later and later for work. We’ll have to hit her up before we leave though!

This past week, we’ve been to Shandong Noodles and Dumplings (山東牛肉麵)three times for dinner. They are just that good. Their standout dish which at least one of us orders every time we go is a large bowl of fragrant beef noodles. They use braised beef that is usually incredibly tender and flavorful, very good broth, and soft chewy noodles. A shelf of condiments also ensures you can have as much chili garlic sauce, pickled greens, chopped cilantro, fresh garlic, ginger, and minced Thai bird peppers as your little heart desires. I tend to get a whole bowl, and then dump them all in the broth. We also love their scallion pancakes, crispy and chewy every time. Most recently, we’ve started getting their beef pancake wraps also, which are thin slices of beef and stalks of green onion wrapped in a scallion pancake, with a smear of spicy bean sauce. I just about died when I first took a bite; it was that good. We’ve had a few other things there that are pretty good, but nothing close to our three favorites. Chances are, we’ll be back again! Sumptuous meals there for the two of us usually cost just shy of 300 NT (10 USD). A shout-out goes to the teashop next door, which makes a delicious mango green tea – I order mine with 1/4th sugar and 1/2 ice. It is my soulmate-drink. 

The curry man was another introduction from Ryan and Sandy, who were our Couchsurfing hosts when we first arrived in Taichung. A husband-and-wife pair run a small storefront only two streets away from us. The open-air kitchen outside is his area, where he prepares his own secret recipe of three different curries (yellow Japanese, red/pink with parmesan, and green coconut, which is his spiciest) with chicken, beef or veggies; inside the storefront, four tables are clustered together, and a high dividing curtain separates the dining area from the business that she runs – a hair salon! There are two chairs in front of brightly-lit mirrors and a lot of posters on the walls of people who look really mad about their asymmetrical dye jobs. Occasionally, your enjoyment of the fragrant curry is interrupted by some more chemical sort of fumes. But it’s a cool arrangement! And absolutely delicious. A heaping bowl of curry comes with rice or any type of five kinds of noodles, and costs between 110-150 NT ($4-5 USD). The curry man’s stand is on Gongzheng, a block west of Meicun, next to a veterinarian’s office.

The yakitori place is one of our solid stand-bys. We can both agree that it is delicious, even if we don’t want to eat anything else! This place offers freshly cooked skewers to order, so it can take 10-15 minutes, but the result is worth it! We usually get six or seven skewers between the two of us, lightly brushed with red pepper spices, of vegetables, chicken, beef with apple or enoki mushrooms, and pork with pineapples. They range from 30-45 NT (1-1.5 USD), and we usually leave feeling just about full! The yakitori place is several blocks north of Gongyi on Meicun.

One of the places that Steve cannot abide is the hotpot place (台北江麻辣臭豆腐), which is a franchise spot. I absolutely love everything about hot pot, and this joint makes the star of the hot pot stew a large chunk of stinky tofu. It gets a garnish of duck blood (yes it’s delicious), lamb, pickled greens, rice noodles, shredded cabbage, all in a fragrant broth of your choice. Mine is usually miso or kimchi-flavored. I kind of just inhale this stuff when I get to it, so it’s a good thing it’s a chain restaurant. I’ll be enjoying it several more times before we leave Taiwan… Depending on the meat and broth you choose, the price goes between 110 and 125 NT (3-4 USD).

Most places in Taichung we started going to as soon as we came, but we only discovered Good Old Days (古早飯堂) after I came back from Taipei. It specializes in old-fashioned Tainan-style cuisine. The center of attention is a bowl of rice with a ladle of dark, saucy chopped marinated pork. Steve usually gets his with barbecued slices of pork that are equally delicious. Side dishes include stir-fried greens, pickled cucumbers with fresh garlic, fragrant sliced Taiwanese sausages, and succulent tofu with a splash of soy sauce. We took Ken and Kara there when they visited for July 4th weekend. Steve and I often walk out of there stuffed to the gills for less than 200 NT (6-7 USD). Good Old Days (their name, not ours for it!) is located on Meicun two blocks north of Gongyi.

We have to give a shout out to a restaurant that isn’t quite a favorite but still worth a mention: the five-star buffet. Ryan and Sandy were planning on bringing us here our first night in Taichung, but it was closed. A few days later, we came back, curious about it. It’s your typical Taiwan buffet, with a large array of common dishes that are slightly more flavorful than the norm (hence the 5-star element to it). You only pay for what you get, and we usually rack up between 60-90 NT (2-3 USD) a person here. Rice, soup, and tea are free and unlimited! We used to go here a lot, but eventually got a little sick of the food. The most interesting part about this restaurant was the amount of people watching we could do, though. It gathered some Taiwanese families and couples, but mostly, it was full of people who were eating their dinner alone at a cafeteria-like environment. When I left for Taipei for two weeks, Steve frequently found himself waiting outside the restaurant with seven or eight elderly men around 4:30 pm. They (and he) had figured out that the best food is put out at the beginning, and that going before 6 pm is the best idea. After 7 pm (the restaurant closes at 8 pm), only the dregs are left.

The last restaurant of note isn’t really a restaurant. It is the fruit stand. Behind our apartment is the Xiangshang Night Market, a quiet local night market. Our favorite fruit vendor sets up there every night, selling fresh sliced boxed fruit, like mangoes, pineapples, dragonfruit, watermelon, you name it. Boxes are 35 NT (1 USD) each, but 100 (~3 USD) for three. It’s a family business – the husband washes and slices fruit, the wife weighs and boxes it, and her mother bags purchases and makes change. We’ve been going to them for our usual (three boxes of mango every other night) since the first day we moved into this apartment, and most of the time, they’ve been very quiet and taciturn. Though we were most definitely their most regular customers, we wondered if they didn’t like us. However, a few weeks ago, when I came by myself, the woman stopped me and told me that they had just had a foreigner come by, but they couldn’t understand each other, and she had wished that I was there! I laughed and told her I’d try to make a more timely entrance next time. This week, we told them we were leaving Taichung, and the woman seemed slightly distraught. Her mother promptly asked if we were coming back next summer, and I smiled, and said just maybe. We’ll miss them!!

Here’s a Google Map I’ve made of everything. I hope people who decide to visit Taichung may make use of this and visit some of our favorite places! We’ll miss the good eats here.

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