Taiwan Soul Food

I had just finished walking through Shilin Night Market. Being completely honest, I have a sort of love-hate relationship with night markets. I enjoy the sensory overload – the nonstop array of sights, smells, and sounds. Within a matter of feet the smells alone can vary between grilled meat, waffles, or stinky tofu. What I don’t like are the crowds that accompany the market. It’s almost impossible to walk at a reasonable pace, and once you’re in the market, it can be difficult to leave just because of the slow nature of the traffic.

By the time I made it through the night market, I was starving. While there were countless stalls and restaurants inside the market, the raw number of people and frenetic energy influenced me to eat elsewhere.

Daily Pictures: Taiwan Soul Food

taiwan soul food restaurant

“Taiwan Soul Food”; the English name of this fast food restaurant caught my eye. When I think of soul food, I think of southern food. Paula Deen, and typically unhealthy/delicious southern classics such as chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes loaded with butter. What could Taiwanese soul food possible be?

The answer is gravy. That’s the direct translation – in reality its more of a thick, delicious broth. Stock made from cooking virtually every kind of animal meat and bones together. Hungry patrons each get a pasta strainer and a set of tongs. You pick your starch, vegetables, and meat as you like.

collage 2

Udon noodles, ramen noodles, rice noodles, thick rice noodles, mung bean noodles, spaghetti, and rice are all available. Little sausages, krab meat, quail eggs, caramelized tofu, cheese rangoons, and tens of raw meats are all available. Bags of fresh tatsoi, corn on the cob, and mushrooms are available,  It’s a free-for-all.

After paying accordingly, the food is dropped into the ‘gravy’ broth and cooked to perfection.

taiwan soul food soup

How was it you may ask? To be completely honest, I was my own enemy. I ordered 小辣, or a little spicy. My first taste of the soup was a spoonful of broth, and I nearly choked from the heat. Back home, it would probably be a solid four out of five on the spice-o-meter. All of the individual ingredients were delicious however. I ate what I could before running to a nearby boba tea shop for some ‘sweet’ relief.

What struck me from the experience mostly was the very identification of the food as ‘Soul Food’. Back home, soup often isn’t considered a meal. However, being able to pick noodles, vegetables, and meats to be poached in broth is considered comfort food here. I think that’s great.

Foods of Burma

Before arriving, I had no idea what Burmese food would taste like. I knew Burma was between India and Thailand on a map, and guessed it would be some sort of combination of the two.It turns out I was partially right; their cuisine is heavily influenced by geography. Samosas and biryani were sold on the street, while their curry was to-die for.
For breakfast, the two most famous dishes are mohinga soup and fritters. Mohinga, the unofficial national dish, is a breakfast rice noodle soup in a fish broth made with lemon grass, garlic, ginger, and onions. Bone-shaped fritters and samosas are the most common street food, particularly around breakfast time. Because what could possibly start to your day better than deep-fried goodness?
Burmese curry, one of the other national dishes, tasted different each time I ordered it. Some were lighter and almost souplike, but my favorite curry (pictured below) came as a thick paste on top of fried fish. The curry was very spicy and garlicy, but the main flavor was ginger. It reminded me almost of a heavier version of Thai curry, with even more aromatics herbs and spices.
Many restaurant menus had a section dedicated for Thai food. In Bagan, I couldn’t help but order a bowl of red curry.
Watercress seemed to be the vegetable of choice in Burma, appearing on most menus.
On my final day in Yangon, a friend and I went to a Shan noodle restaurant. After staring at the six pages of noodles on the menu, I eventually chose Shan sticky noodle soup – mainly because I had no idea what sticky noodles were or would taste like.

While I was waiting for the Shan noodles to arrive, to my side a lady was stuffing dumplings with minced spinach and folding them.

myanmar handmade dumplings plateAfter watching her complete the tray, I couldn’t help but order a plate. What I did not anticipate was how they arrived – fried in one large dumpling pancake. The top layer was as thin as paper, while the bottom of the dumplings remained soft and tender as if boiled.

Finally, my sticky noodle soup arrived. Let me tell you something – when Burmese people say ‘sticky’ noodles, they mean it. It took me several minutes to de-clump them enough to grab my first bite. But they were worth the effort. The noodles were fully cooked, yet chewy – and paired well with the full-bodied gingery, garlicy, fish and soy sauce broth.
While five days certainly isn’t enough time to fully understand a culture or its food, I loved everything I tasted. Burmese food is extremely influenced by their geography next to Thailand, India, and China – all of which have cuisines I love. I look forward to breaking out my new Burmese cookbook and trying some new dishes when I return in August!

Frank’s Spot

Last week, I posted about the uniquely named caterers in the small town of Busua. As it turns out, Busua is full of characters. Today I’ll  be introducing my favorite – Frank.

Frank owns a ‘spot’ (another name for a restaurant or bar) in Busua. It featured a variety of items – everything from pancakes and porridge to spaghetti and banana shakes. Everything on the menu (besides the $6 lobster) is available for under three U.S. dollars.

Our group of seven went to Frank's Spot for breakfast and ordered the following items:
  • Eggs with Bread x2
  • Oats with Bread
  • Local Porridge (Koko) with Bread
  • Banana Pancakes
  • Pineapple Pancakes
  • Supper Spaghetti
To drink, we ordered the following items:
  • Banana Shakes x3
  • Milo (Hot Chocolate)
  • Tea
  • Orange Juice

Frank’s Spot kitchen (note the two-burner stove)

Seconds after taking our orders, Frank sprinted out of the door without notice.
Several minutes later, he came back with full a bag of groceries. “Okay,” we thought. He was missing a few ingredients to make what we ordered.

 

He served the banana shakes first – which turned out to be surprisingly delicious. Despite not being served cold (and being made using only a fork to mash the banana), the creaminess of the milk and sweetness of the banana paired wonderfully together. After everyone tasted how delicious the shake was, we called Frank over to the table and requested two more banana shakes in addition to one more glass of Milo.

“Okay,” he said scratching his head. After making sure that was our only change, he sprinted out of the restaurant. We peered out of the window and watched him run down the street and go into a nearby store. He came back carrying two bananas to make shakes  and a package of Milo.

 

As Frank prepared our meals, he alternated between frantically cooking on his two-burner stove and sprinting out of his store to buy last-minute items. For instance, after making the drinks he ran out and bought oats. After preparing the oats, he ran out to buy eggs. After making the omelets, he bought the spaghetti – and so on. It turns out that Frank didn’t own a single ingredient – he bought everything as he realized he needed it.
The reasoning behind this is likely because Frank’s Spot doesn’t get very much business. By purchasing ingredients ‘on-demand’, Frank saves money by avoiding waste. It’s a smart idea, particularly if you don’t have money to spare.

Since Frank’s Spot was a one-man operation, breakfast for seven took more than two hours to eat. This was primarily due to the fact that every items came individually as it was made. But it was worth the wait – Frank prepared the best breakfast I’ve had in Ghana, and some of the best pancakes I’ve had in my life.

The pancakes were thinner than American ones, with crispy edges. Sugar crystals could occasionally be tasted inside the pancakes, giving them enough sweetness to make them exciting and not even need any sauce or syrup (although I used the local honey anyways). The local pineapple served with the pancakes was perfectly ripe and absolutely divine.

Each dish tasted as fabulous as my pineapple pancakes. Balthazar went as far as saying that his ‘supper spaghetti’ should rather be called ‘super spaghetti’.
Frank’s Place not only had outstanding food at great prices, but also provided lots of laughs due to Frank’s frequent trips to buy more ingredients. One thing’s for certain – if I ever come back, I’m going to give him a token of appreciation for his hard work – a notepad to make shopping lists.

Cesibon Gelateria Review

The phrase “c’est si bon,” roughly translates to “it’s so good” in French. This concise phrase accurately describes the flavor of this local gelateria. Fabrice Morazel, Cesibon’s owner, proudly told me that their sorbetto is made out of only fruit, water, and sugar, while their gelato base is milk, cream, and sugar. The simplicity and freshness of these ingredients unify so that the end result is truly greater than its parts.

Sorbettos from top right clockwise: lemon, mango, pineapple, berry, orange, and strawberry

As I looked through and sampled many of the 14 flavors (they vary daily), I felt as if I was tasting each fruit and flavor for the first time.  Their pineapple, strawberry, and mango tasted as if I had picked each fruit individually off the tree at the peak of its season. Grapefruit isn’t one of my favorite fruits, but by combining it with strawberry, the bitterness was perfectly balanced. The lemon was perfectly tart, and simply refreshing.

“Gelatos from top right clockwise: nougat, mocha, pistachio, dark chocolate with almonds, hazelnut, and stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate chunks)

The gelatos and the sorbettos both achieve superb creaminess and texture.  The sorbettos taste as if they are made with dairy they are so smooth and creamy,  while the gelatos offer richer flavors than their counterparts. Caramel, pistachio, and coconut are among our favorites. Fabrice keeps the case at the perfect temperature so that the sorbettos & gelatos are not frozen solid, and all have a soft, smooth consistency.

Coconut gelato sprinkled with toasted coconut

[easyreview title=”Cesibon” cat1title=”Taste” cat1detail=”Each sorbetto somehow tastes better than the fruit itself, and the gelato is absolutely divine. The sorbettos, gelatos, frozen yogurts, milkshakes, and drinks are terrific. The only possible complaint is that Cesibon no longer offer crepes and waffles, despite them still being on their menu (see picture below), but that is easily overlooked after tasting everything which they do offer.” cat1rating=”4″ cat2title=”Atmosphere” cat2detail=”Cesibon is charming and quaint with cute posters of gelato sprinkled throughout the parlor.” cat2rating=”3.5″ cat3title=”Food Presentation” cat3detail=”Each bin of gelato and sorbetto is beautifully presented in the pan with a rippled/wave-like texture. Many flavors have toppings sprinkled on them such as toasted coconut flakes, almonds, and candied walnuts.” cat3rating=”4″ cat4title=”Service” cat4detail=”As customers enter Cesibon, Fabrice happily makes each one feel welcome with an enthusiastic ‘Bonsoir!’ Cesibon does steady business, and there’s usually not much of a wait.” cat4rating=”3.5″ cat5title=”Overall” cat5detail=”Cesibon serves top quality sorbetto and gelato which tastes as if it comes directly from Italy. As you leave this gelateria you’ll definitely be saying, ‘C’est si bon!'” cat5rating=”4″]

Cesibon

8807 Tamiami Trail North; (239) 566-8363

PRICE RANGE: $3.50 to $5.50 per cup/cone; $7.50 per pint
CREDIT CARDS: Cash only
HOURS: Monday through Thursday 12:30 pm to 9 pm, Friday & Saturday 12:30 pm to 10 pm, Sunday 1 pm to 8 pm

MORE PICS: (click to see full-size)

Cafe Normandie Restaurant Review

As I headed to Cafe Normandie, I didn’t know what to expect. My first taste of French food had not gone over well; I had the misimpression that all French food is drowned in  butter and cream and is essentially an excuse for Americans to go off their diets.

Cafe Normandie defied my expectations. When I opened the cafe’s door, the smell of freshly baked bread filled the air. This smell immediately lured me to the “sandwich” part of the menu, and I inevitably decided to order the salmon sandwich. My partner chose the “friand to order.”

The salmon sandwich was absolutely everything that a sandwich should be. The baguette was right out of the oven – crispy on the outside, while light on the inside. According to our waitress, the dough was imported directly from France. The baguette was filled with smoked salmon, fresh spinach, and tomato slices. The smoked salmon was top of the line quality – the best I’ve ever had- and was layered generously on the baguette.  The sandwich and spinach salad came with a very light balsamic vinaigrette that didn’t overpower the smokiness of the salmon.

The friand included a choice of 3 stuffings (meats, cheeses, and/or vegetables). My partner chose chicken, brie, and fresh spinach. The pastry was light, flaky, and “melt in your mouth” delicious. The amount of brie was perfect – enough , yet not so much as to overpower the chicken and the fresh spinach.

Chef and owner Benoit Legris, from Normandie, runs this cafe wonderfully. He greeted us, chatted with us, and, at the same time, completed multiple orders. He serves simple, delicious, yet not pretentious, French cuisine.

Both dishes were large enough to take half home. The only problem was they tasted so amazing that we didn’t have the self control to do so.

[easyreview title=”Cafe Normandie” cat1title=”Taste” cat1detail=”The ingredients were distinctly fresh, the bread hand-baked, and contained perfect amounts of brie and/or vinaigrette.” cat1rating=”3.5″ cat2title=”Atmosphere” cat2detail=”Cafe Normandie is a quaint little French eatery, with charming paintings and the smell of bread baking as you enter.” cat2rating=”4″ cat3title=”Food Presentation” cat3detail=” A crisp spinach salad accompanied each of the well put-together sandwiches. ” cat3rating=”3″ cat4title=”Service” cat4detail=”Our waitress was friendly, hospitable, and the food service was fast and efficient.” cat4rating=”3.5″ cat5title=”Overall” cat5detail=”Cafe Normandie represents French food at its best with the absolute freshest and best ingredients available. I look forward to many meals here in the future. ” cat5rating=”3.5″]

Cafe Normandie

3756 Tamiami Trail North; (239) 261-0977

About Us

PRICE RANGE: Lunch $9 to $13, Appetizers $6 to $13, Dinners $17 to $23
CREDIT CARDS: All major ones are accepted
HOURS: Lunch 11 am to 3 pm, Dinner 5 pm to 8:30 pm