Aside from the deadly temperatures, one major thing I was worried about in moving to Phoenix was how I was going to get my Asian food fix. No, not sushi and orange chicken, but the real stuff. I heard about a place in Mesa called Mekong Plaza, which was supposed to have a bunch of good, real Asian restaurants and as luck would have it, it turned out to be between work and home. So, I paid a visit to Taiwan Food Express to see what they had to offer.
One thing that the Shilin Night Market is especially known for is giant flattened fried chicken. And there is not just one place that offers such chicken, but many. Having already had the chicken from Hot Star in Pasadena, I decided to try something else. One spot had an insane line that I simply could not handle, so I headed to Monga, a place that my friend had recommended.
As you may have already realized based on a lot of the Street Food Spotlights I’ve been posting about, the Shilin Night Market in Taipei is one of the coolest places in the world to eat food. And yet, like some sort of off-balance iceberg, there’s a little more to share below the surface. There, you can find tanks of seafood and additional food options, plus get out of the heat for a little while. Down there is a place called Zhong Cheng Hao, which is all about the seafood.
The scallion pancake may be one of the greatest culinary creations of the Far East. It comes in different forms, but is delicious on its own and also makes up the base of the beef rolls that are super popular in authentic Chinese restaurants around LA. But perhaps the greatest take on the scallion pancake can be found at the Shilin Night Market in Taipei, Taiwan.
Here, the scallion pancake is the more flaky variety, but starts like all others on a griddle with some oil. After that, it takes a turn towards greatness by adding a fried egg. In itself this is not so revolutionary because scallion pancakes with eggs have existed for about as long as scallion pancakes. What’s big here is the addition of a slice of cheese. Yes, cheese!
As with nearly every dish, cheese can always make it better, but what is more significant is that cheese is simply not an ingredient in really any traditional Asian dishes. Therefore, embracing cheese as a complement to something traditional as opposed to relegating it to Western-style food is pretty fantastic. With a touch of spicy sauce, this was truly a transcendent bit of street food.
I often find it amazing how universal sausage is. It seems like every culture has its own version of tube meat, like all humans have some sort of collective conscience that led us to grind up meat and stuff it inside of an intestine. And while you might think that Taiwanese sausage would basically be the same as Chinese Sausage, you would be wrong.
You may recall that a few years back I paid a visit to Shanghai and had some of their stinky tofu (aka chou doufu in Mandarin). At that time it was pretty much the only variety of stinky tofu I really knew of because I had spent a year living in that city. Stinky tofu, however, seems to come in as many flavors as bread or pasta, with Taiwan claiming one of its own.
When I found out that a Taiwanese fried chicken place had opened next door to my office, I knew I had to stop by, especially because I would soon be paying a visit to Taiwan. It’s called Hot Star, and for some reason it specializes in flattening the fried chicken to make it look massive. I don’t know if this is meant to make it taste or look better, but I was ready to find out.
When your Taiwanese friend invites you to grab some Taiwanese food, it is wise to listen. Yes, even when that Taiwanese food is all the way in goddamn Allison Park. So we took a long journey out to the suburbs to see what Chow’s had to offer. We found the place sadly empty, but at least it wasn’t full of white people.
Community hot pot like that offered at Hunan Bar is a great thing. Yet, sometimes it’s nice to just have your own stuff to eat. That’s where I Tea Cafe in Shadyside comes in handy, offering personalized hot pot, but unfortunately lacking in the all-you-can-eat aspect. They also try to make up for it with some bubble tea and tasty appetizers.
How do you know if an ethnic restaurant is authentic? You look inside and see if people resembling that ethnicity are inside. Or, better yet, you let one of them take you there. At least that’s how it went down for me when a Taiwanese friend of mine invited me to Rose Tea Cafe in Squirrel Hill (supposedly the Oakland location isn’t as good) to get some Taiwanese food. Rose Tea Cafe isn’t just some tea house, it’s a full-on restaurant with almost too many options to choose. So we turned to my friend to figure out what to get.