We had cause to be down in the Tai Da (National Taiwan University) area so my highest priority was stopping by 大學口胡椒餅 (Dà Xué Kǒu Hú Jiāo Bǐng) for, well 胡椒餅 hú jiāo bǐng of course.
A hú jiāo bǐng (literally “pepper cake”) is a meat filled bun that originated in Fuzhou. The bun is baked in something resembling a tandoori oven. Basically a sticky dough is wrapped around some spiced meat and stuck onto the inside wall of a charcoal fired clay oven. So unlike the majority of Taiwanese buns which are steamed and therefor rather soft and fluffy or fried and therefor a tad oily a hú jiāo bǐng develops a wonderful crisp, dry crust on them. Almost a fresh out of the oven french bread kind of crust. Inside is a wonderfully juicy mixture of meat, green onions and spices. It is definitely worth tracking some down.
Dà Xué Kǒu has been around for a long time, owing both to the quality of their product and probably their location near the NTU main gate. If you are at the intersection of Roosevelt and Xin Sheng Rd in front of the main gate of NTU, just cross Xin Sheng Rd and go a few steps up Roosevelt, Dà Xué Kǒu is on the corner of the first alley. The address is Roosevelt Rd, 3rd Section, #335 (羅斯福路三段335號 ) the MRT Gongguan stop, exit #3 is closest (and a straight shot up the road). Also if you are in the area make sure and spend some time wandering around. There are a lot of cool shops, bars, and restaurants tucked away back in those alleys.
Hú jiāo bǐng translates as “Pepper Cake,” but if I understand it correctly it should probably be called a “Fuzhou Cake.” Since it seems that in the Taiwanese language “Fuzhou” is pronounced somewhat similar to “hú jiāo” so it is written as 胡椒 (hú jiāo, literally “pepper”) in Mandarin. Confused? Well for further discussion on the differences and difficulties of the Taiwanese and Chinese languages please read Victor H. Mair.
Of course wandering around Taipei you may come across some other charcoal ovens producing slightly different, yet also tasty buns. Such as 老宜記 Lǎo Yí Jì which is about a block away from the Nanmen Market on Lane 59 between Nan Chang and Roosevelt Roads (台北市中正區南昌路一段59巷14號). The MRT Chiang Kai-shek stop, exit #2 is closest.
The sign lists the charcoal baked 蔥燒餅 cōng shāo bǐng the 蟹殼黃 xiè ké huáng as their specialties. The 蔥燒餅 cōng shāo bǐng is their scallion bun, sort of a bready scallion biscuit which was nice on a chilly winter’s day. The 蟹殼黃 xiè ké huáng, literally “yellow crab shell” is named for its appearance not what it contains, which in this case is thinly sliced scallions. You should not stop by without having their 糖心酥餅 táng xīn sū bǐng, which is their sugar filled bun, which is really good after their more savory snacks.
Later we found ourselves in the National Taiwan Museum neighborhood and it was getting a bit past lunch and we needed to find something to eat. So we headed over a couple of blocks to look around and see what we could find. We ended up on Wuchang Street. Which is home to the City God’s Temple.
Across from the temple was this really good looking vegetarian buffet. It may surprise you, but I really like a good vegetarian joint and I try to stop by them on a regular basis when I am in Taiwan. However, I just didn’t feel like it today. I just wasn’t quite that hungry.
But as luck would have it the vegetarian place was at the head of a narrow, cramped, winding, busy little alley that just happened to lead another narrow, cramped, winding, busy little alley.
Where I found a place promising 抄手 (chāo shǒu). Yeah I had no idea what that was. So the only course of action was to try it first and look it up later. So we stopped in to 成都抄手麵食 Chéng Dū Chāo Shǒu Miàn Shí. Turns out that a chāo shǒu is a large Sichuan style wonton. Yeah ok, the Chengdu (the capital of Sichuan) in the place’s name should have tipped me off.
So I got a bowl of chāo shǒu noodle soup. I was flying blind so I got the “white oil” (白油 bái yóu), if I had known more I would have got the the “red oil” (紅油 hóng yóu). But there was some hóng yóu at the table so added a bit myself. I will definitely search out chāo shǒu again and try them with the hóng yóu.
In my desire to try something new, even though I wasn’t sure what it was, I passed on another place just down the alley. Well that and that place was packed inside, even though it was getting on a bit past the lunch rush. That place being 城中市場老牌牛肉拉麵大王 Chéng Zhōng Shì Chǎng Lǎo Pái Niú Ròu Lā Miàn Dà Wáng, or possibly Chengzhong Market Old Beef Ramen King, or just a bloody long name for a place. Anyway, turns out it was busy because it is rather well known and well regarded. So it looks like I will be trudging down that alley again the next time I find myself in the area to have me some aromatic beef noodle soup.