Eat Me goes to Taipei

Rene Redzepi took Noma to Tokyo and Heston Blumenthal took the Fat Duck to Melbourne, so we thought we’d take Eat Me to Taipei.

Chef Tim, and Mark and Chang from the Eat Me crew are in the Taiwan capital to take over the kitchen of The Westin Taipei for a couple of nights. My nephew Lachlan and I tagged along to support.

I arrived in Kaohsiung on Monday, my first time back since my inaugural trip three years ago, when I had a blast. Kaohsiung is a cool city in the southwest – the country’s second largest – with a long history.

Kaohsiung is located on a stunning harbour and the Love River runs through the Old City. I went around with friends to see the local sights. We rode bikes around town and along the river. And we ate our way through the night market.

After kicking around Kaohsiung for the week, I joined Tim and the guys here in Taipei, where we made a beeline for the Raohe Night Market.

Fortunately Tim and the boys had already had the full-on stinky tofu soup the night before I got to Taipei, when they went out with The Westin hotel team to sample some local restaurants. You can’t visit Taiwan and not sample this love it or hate it snack.

Typically marinated in a brine of fermented milk, Chinese greens, dried shrimp, and bamboo shoots, it’s a bit like blue cheese only you can smell it a mile away. I’d noticed the smell from some of the night market stalls in Kaohsiung and Taipei, thinking it must be pork, but it turned out to be stinky tofu. It literally smells like you might imagine the floor of a barn would smell.

Stinky tofu can be eaten hot or cold, steamed, stewed, or fried. I didn’t think I was going to able to handle the soup so I tried the junk food version. The tofu was cut into wedges, fried, and sprinkled with wasabi-spiced salt. I called them ‘stinky wedges’ and they weren’t bad at all. Chef Tim said he hated it but my nephew Lachlan didn’t think it was that bad.

I might have gotten seconds if we didn’t have the rest of the market to get through. It took two hours to eat our way up one lane of the market. We also played a little street stall pachinko and fooled around the rifle range. But we pretty much ate from every stall.

At the end of the street, we checked out the beautiful Song Shan Fu De Temple (a tip: they also have a bathroom) and then returned to work our way down the other lane of the market.

Another highlight was minced pork buns that are baked in tandoor-style ovens and come out all crispy and aromatic from anise. A little further down was a place that did beef steak cut into dice sized cubes and gently blasted with blowtorches.

It’s impossible to visit Taipei and not eat at Din Tai Fung. My friend Dylan, who really went out of his way to show us around, took us to the legendary dumpling restaurant, which originated in Taiwan. It’s renowned for its xiaolongbao – heavenly steamed buns that are handmade on the premises. Wow.

Though I have to say that I have loved the street food the most. Almost all the street food seems to have wonderful spice-mix rubs. It’s all about the spice rubs. I have to admit that I liked the stone grilled chicken a lot. I’m a terrible vegetarian.

A street food tip from my Taiwanese friends: if there’s a queue, it must be good.

Lachlan and I spent our last night in Taipei at the hot springs – and getting lost in an old hillside Chinese cemetery while trying to find the lookout!

Our Eat Me dinners at The Westin went really well. The wine pairings were great. The hotel management and the staff were really lovely and they and Derek and Roseline from San Pellegrino really took care of us. It was such a fun experience.

See you back in Bangkok next week!

Darren