YongChun Market Thousand Layer Scallion Pancake, Taipei

Our virgin trip to Taipei is forever marked by a life-changing appreciation for scallion pancake. This revelation was most surprising, most of all to myself, as anyone who's read this blog will know that I absolutely detest the trio of herbs: coriander leaves/cilantro, parsley and spring onions. I don't know how the Taiwanese do it, but the liberal lacing of spring onions in their scallion pancake, or cong1 you2 bing3, didn't bother me one bit. I thought I'd take at least one bite for posterity's sake, and then offload the rest to the Hubs, but it was so damn good I ended up finishing the whole thing on my own.

One of the very best renditions of this Taiwanese street food can be found at the morning market of Yong3 Chun1 Market, where its exquisite millefeuille-like folds have given it the moniker of 'Thousand Layer Scallion Pancake". This was remarkable, toasted till crisp and golden on the crust and delightfully chewy within. The spring onions, chopped finely and flecked throughout, was oily but just so, without leaving that film on the tongue. Absolutely delicious, and an absolute must-try.

The stall front for reference. She sells out her wares by like 10am so go early early.

Yong Chun Market
294 Songshan Road, Xinyi District, Taipei, Taiwan 110
(Next to Yongchun Station along the MRT blue line)
Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 7am to 8pm (it transforms into a flea market of sorts in the afternoon-evening transition)


Dolce Vita

Mandarin Oriental Hotel is my favourite hotel for its in-house restaurant options. There's the best-in-class Japanese Teppan-Ya, illustrious grand dame of Chinese fine-dining Cherry Garden, renowned steakhouse Morton's, the immensely popular buffets at Melt....and then there's Dolce Vita, the long-timer Italian trattoria.

Perched on the 5th floor overlooking the bay, the glass enclosure of a restaurant flanks the hotel pool, so you get glistening bodies oiled up and soaking up the sun's rays in the foreground, against the azure expanse of the Marina Bay in the background.

I like the ambience Dolce Vita affords, it's breezy, casual, and tranquil. Being on the fringes of the madding CBD and bustling Orchard Road shopping belt is evidently conducive for a relaxed vibe. Which is why a bunch of us from work drove out of the city for a languid Friday lunch. And also, because TGIF!!

Also, the Set Lunch ($36 for 2-courses, $42 for 3-courses, and $52 for 4-courses) was quite the attractive draw. While Dolce Vita isn't my favourite Italian restaurant by any measure, I would admit that the set lunch was one of the most value-for-money around.

The highlight of the appetizer courses, the Vellutata di Funghi, was the house's signature wild mushroom veloute, earthy, thick and creamy with lashings of parmesan crumble. Wonderfully comforting and a must-try.

The Orecchiette alla Norcina was our pick of the pasta courses for its delicate flavours. An Umbria-style pork sausage ragout, this was dotted with summer black truffle and topped with pecorino shavings.

I'm a big big sucker for risotto, but I wasn't a fan of the Pumpkin Risotto, And while I liked the sauteed prawn dice freckled through, I thought the addition of ginger oil a step too far, which heat was a jarringly stark contrast to the subtle sweetness of the pumpkin and shrimp.

We had one of every protein in the meat course; the Filetto di Salmone (supplement $10) was a poached salmon fillet crisped up on the skin for a textural juxtaposition, and sided by broccoli, vanilla parsnip coulis, and a blood orange vinaigrette. A well-balanced dish with delightfully light, fruity notes.

The Pollo, was well-executed. Organic chicken breast was seasoned with mustard seed for a mellow bite, and served alongside juicy mushroomsm, smooth mash and a rich shallot jus

The Controfiletto di Manzo (supplement $10) was a perfectly medium grass-fed sirloin, heady with a smoky char, and topped with capperata, green leaves and rubra sauce.

We also ordered a few items off the ala carte menu, for sharing, and the Prosciutto di Parma ($26) with homemade grissini and piadina emiliana flatbread was a reliable failsafe.

We also shared a cheese plate of creamy Taleggio ($22), which soft pungent notes were picked up by the tart of homemade marmalade and fruit bread.

The Crema di Cavolfiore ($20) of cauliflower soup, creamy and smooth, was speckled with cauliflower florets and a seared Hokkaido scallop dusted with black truffle powder.

The Roasted Barramundi Fillet ($46) with scapece zucchini, homemade ricotta, and mussels sounded much better on paper than it actually turned out. It was a middling, forgettable dish. The salmon on the set lunch menu would have been a far more worthwhile option.

Freshly baked bread, crusty and toasty, paired with softened butter. EVOO and balsamic are available too, feel free to ask for that.

Dolce Vita
5 Raffles Ave
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Tel: 6885 3500
Open daily from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner


Kao Chi, Taipei

Everyone knows about Din Tai Fung. The world renowned, Michelin-starred international-chain restaurant synonymous with xiao3 long2 bao1 draws the tourist horde to its ten stores throughout Taipei city. But the Taiwanese know Din Tai Fung isn't the exclusive paragon for xiao long bao. Ask any local, and they'll direct you to a Kao Chi chain restaurant instead.

Kao3 Chi1, with an even more enduring legacy than Din Tai Fung, is the less touristy, less commercial, but just as exceptional, compeer to Din Tai Fung. The restaurant may be less prominent than DTF, but the Shanghainese fare is no mousy imitation of its world-famous counterpart.

Just about every one of its four branches does a roaring business, largely sustained by the local populace. Obviously, reservations are a must. Or be prepared to wait in line for an hour or so.

The Xiao Long Bao (NT$220), or soup dumpling, was exquisitely nuanced. The skin is a smidge thicker than DTF's standard, but it was still thin enough to be toothsome. The soup and pork mince was more delicate as well, and I liked that restrain and polish.

The highlight, and must-try, was the Sheng1 Jian1 Bao1 (NT$220) or pan-fried pork buns. Thick flour buns stuffed with a delicious pork mince steamed to fluffy perfection, and given a toasty crunch on the bum with a pre-heated skillet pan.

The restaurant for reference.

Kao Chi
#B2 Eslite Spectrum Songyan
No. 88 Yanchang Road, Xinyi District
Taiwan 110
Tel: +886 2 6639 6589
Open daily from 11am to 10pm


Korean-Style Roasted Cauliflower

This is a Korean take on roasted cauliflower. Using a base of gochujang and lashings of sesame oil, I made this a sweet-spicy nibbler that's great for healthy snacking. But because it's coated in a thick emulsion, you'll need to roast this at a lower temperature of 190C (400F) to ensure it doesn't burn.

Chunk it up with fried tofu, or an egg, like I did here.

Ingredients (feeds 4):
3 heads cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tbsp canola oil for pre-oiling the roasting pan
sesame seeds or furikake for garnishing
optional: fried egg

3 tbsp guk kanjang (switch it with Chinese light soy in a pinch)
5 tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
1 tsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp Korean sesame oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp grated ginger

1) Mix the marinade.

2) Toss the cauliflower in the marinade.

3) Spread it out in a pre-oiled roasting tin, and roast for 40 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 190C, tossing it all at 15-minute intervals. At the 35-minute mark, turn up the oven to 240C and roast it for 3-5 minutes for a slight charring.

4) Serve with a liberal sprinkling of sesame seeds or furikake like I did here.

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