I always hear people rave about Taipei; some love Taipei so much they return to the city on a yearly basis. In fact, I've heard of folks so in love with Taipei they opted the city as their honeymoon destination. In spite of all the fuss, I've never really felt any compulsion to visit Taipei.
Maybe it's because Mandarin is the main language of communication (which would, in most cases, be terrifying for an MGS-girl), or perhaps it's because I don't know much about Taiwanese cuisine save for stinky tofu (which I hate) and bubble tea (which I can easily get in this part of the world).
But, having gone to Taipei twice in the last year, once to usher in the new year, and once to catch the awesome Coldplay gig, I still don't get the love for all things Taiwan.
It's not to say I hate the city at all. I like it well enough, but I didn't think anything about the city stood out that would compel me to put it on a must-return list.
First of all, I wasn't particularly crazy about the culinary landscape, which factors majorly in my determination of a place. What Taipei does well is with respect to its street food, but the only food I really loved about Taipei was its "peasant food", namely beef noodles, minced pork rice, and spring onion pancakes. Even so, I much prefer cities like Penang and Hanoi for street food. I mean, I actually crave, and return for, the street food of Hanoi and Penang. I don't really see myself doing that for Taiwanese street food.
And then, in terms of fine dining, Taipei's establishments are no where close to the bonanza of Singapore's culinary offerings.
That all being said, I still enjoyed myself tremendously eating my way through the city. And during our short jaunts to Taipei, we found the Taiwanese to be a lovely, warm people. Also, they were a much livelier, and passionate, crowd during the Coldplay concert.
One of my favourite spots in Taipei, and I would absolutely recommend as a must-try, was Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodles. It may be on every tourist to-eat list, but the ramshackle shop was far from touristy. You'll find locals a-plenty having a quick meal, or taking away bags of soup for home.
Despite its rustic appearance, the Beef Noodles (NT$150 for small) was the most exquisite dish ever. The broth, almost consomme-like, was rich in depth and heft, but incredibly balanced and nuanced. The udon-styled noodles were delightfully chewy, and the beef brisket, while forgettable, passed muster. But really, the star of this dish was the broth. Everything else played second fiddle to that amazing, comforting, nourishing broth.
And part of that magic was in geshalt of these trio of condiments, one a peanut butter-esque paste, one a sort of curry powder, and the last a mildly spiced chilli blend. On their own, they didn't add much to the noodles. But together, they made the noodles an insanely glorious bowl of spicy beef noodles. Seriously, there must be some kind of chemical reaction when blended together that was pure fireworks.
There's a small selection of "xiao cai", or 'small dishes', that you can help yourself to at the main counter. The Poached Beancurd Skin (NT$40) made for an excellent add-on to the beef noodles.
The Poached Kailan (NT$40), lightly seasoned with chilli and garlic, and served chilled, was refreshingly clear in taste.
A deceptively addictive nibbler, the Baby Whitebait & Peanuts (NT$40) was fried with sugar and garlic for a toasty, robust flavour.
The shop front for reference. While the space looks small, they've another shop space 2 doors down with a lot more tables. Still, queues form, especially during peak hours. Don't be put off by that. The queues move really fast; I found that the Taiwanese eat efficiently, and seldom linger after slurping down their food unless they're in a proper cafe.
Lin Dong Fang
No. 294 Section 2 Bade Road
Tel: +886 2 2752 2556
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 11am to 4am; Closed on Sundays