[Taipei, Taiwan] 馬辣 – A Hotpot Buffet with Hagen Daz, Movenpick, Wine & Beer

28 05 2014

A hotpot buffet with 8 flavours each of Hagen Daz Ice Cream & Movenpick Ice Cream, Red Wine and Beer, do I have your attention yet?

While Taiwan might be known for its scenic tourist spots like Tarako Gorge, Sun Moon Lake and the various hot springs, the highlight of my Taiwan trip turned out to be buffet hotpot restaurant 馬辣, much to my Taiwan friend E’s dismay who adamantly insisted that Taiwan has much more to offer than a mere hotpot restaurant.

Anyhow, I first heard of 马辣 from my mum, and subsequently as a recommendation from an adjacent Taiwanese passenger on the flight to Taipei. It’s a pretty popular place usually packed to the brim during mealtimes, with 5 outlets currently in operation in Taipei that are all very much accessible by public transport. Our first visit left us so impressed (and lazy to search for other alternatives), that we decided to come back to celebrate T’s birthday here as well.

The buffet is priced at 498NT++ for weekday lunches and 598NT++ for weekends/dinners (or roughly S$25++), for a time limit of two hours. However, the staff seemed pretty lax on this policy and allowed us to stay on for more dessert, drinks and idle chatter since there was no one else in the queue then. Buffet items include a host of meats (Angus beef, Boston Pork Should, Chicken Thigh…), Seafood (Oysters, Scallops, Prawn, Crab…), Vegetables, Dipping Sauces, Drinks(Fruit Juices, Soft Drinks, Beers, Floral Teas…), Desserts (Cakes, Fruits, Ice Cream…). Diners are also allowed to bring their own booze with no additional corkage charge, overall a pretty good deal if you ask me. Heck, I would pay that price for just the free flow ice cream and beer.

With the exception of the dipping sauces, drinks and desserts which are self-service, other items require diners to physically tick a checkbox and pass it on to the wait staff, who will then have the indicated items brought to your table, ensuring that whatever arrives is relatively fresh and not left in the open for prolonged periods of time.

So to cut long story short, 馬辣 is an incredibly value for money hotpot buffet if you are in Taipei that I would definitely recommend visiting.

Fuxing Location
Address: No. 152, 4F, Fuxing South Road
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)27727678
MRT: Zongxiao Fuxing

Xining Location
Address: No. 62, 2F, Xining South Road (台北市西寧南路62號2樓)
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)23146528
MRT: Ximen

Tingzhou Location
Address: No.86, Tingzhou Road Section 3 (台北市中正區汀州路三段86號)
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)23657625
MRT: Gongguan

Zhongxiao Location
Address: No.4, Alley 10, Lane 233, Zhongxiao East Road Section 4 (台北市忠孝東路四段233巷10弄4號)
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)27212533
MRT: Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall

Songshou Location
Address: No. 22, 3F, Songshou Road (台北市信義區松壽路22號3F)
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)27205726
MRT: Taipei City Hall





Taste of Taiwan Food Fair @ Parkway Parade (1-14 July 2013)

8 07 2013

While Japan and Korea food fairs might be commonplace, this is the first time I’m hearing about a Taiwan Food Fair in Singapore. Held between 1-14 July 2013, Parkway Parade will be playing host to nearly 30 stalls (based on my estimate) selling a variety of Taiwanese food, such as Xiao Long Baos (小籠包), Stew Pork Baos (扣肉包), Oyster Omelette, Oyster Mee Sua, Fried Chicken Cutlet, Spicy Fish Balls, Taiwan Sausages, Taiwanese Rice Dumplings (肉粽), Pineapple Cakes, Sun Cakes, Taiwan Vinegar etc.

In addition, several entertaining activities will also be ongoing on the stage area during weekend afternoons, such as Taiwanese traditional dances, puppet shows, kite making, as well as cooking demostrations by Taiwanese Chef Ho Tien Tsai of Copthorne Kings Hotel.

Since I live relatively close to Parkway Parade, I accepted an invitation down to check out the food fair held at the mall’s basement atrium. I was down rather early on 6th July (Saturday) and most of the stalls were just opening then but when the crowd started streaming in, it started to feel like an indoor night market.

The gf accompanied me for the food fair and made a short video snippet of what to expect there.

Walked past a vendor selling mochis, durian pancakes and durian cakes. The durian pancakes were the bomb, whose filling we believe to be made with the highly acclaimed and robust tasting Mao Shan Wang (猫山王) durians.

There was a stall specializing in braised pork (扣肉), selling items such as braised pork bao, braised pork bee hoon, braised pork cheong fan and braised pork with glutinous rice. The braised pork bao was better than what is usually found outside and I quite liked the cheong fan as well since it goes unexpectedly well with the pork.

Sampled some Xiao Long Baos and Meat Baos from one of the stalls but sadly, I think these were frozen prepackaged ones meant for quick fixes at home.

The best thing of this food fair was the Taiwan Fried Chicken Cutlet and Fried Mushrooms, which I find tastier (especially the honey glazed fried chicken) than what is available at the numerous chains of Taiwan Street Snacks in Singapore.

There’s a stall selling duck crepes and oyster omelette too. The Taiwanese oyster omelette is quite different from the oyster omelette (蠔煎) that we get at our local hawker centres, as it uses a lot more starch. Personally, I still prefer our local version.

Taiwan street food is never complete without the oyster mee sua. There’s a few stalls selling this here and the one I got was decent.

I ordered the meat ball soup from the same stall I got my oyster mee sua. I had mentally prepared myself before drinking the soup since most of the time, it’s turns out to be just MSG solution but the soup here was actually not that salty and I could taste the radish that had been simmering in the base. The meat balls were quite tasty and springy too.

There was an interesting keropok (called pong pong 饼) stall as well, which was selling “healthy” keropok because the keropok is not fried nor is any MSG or oil used. Instead, the keropok in its powder form is put into a machine, which applies pressure and heat for about 10 seconds and out pops a keropok with a “pong” sound. It’s quite interesting to watch the machine at work so there’s usually a crowd around. The keropok comes in flavours such as cheese, curry, spring onion, prawn etc and I really couldn’t tell that it wasn’t fried when eating the samples.

Had a go at the Basil Pork Sausages and Bacon wrapped Cheese Sausages as I was leaving the fair. The latter was really good and I didn’t expect the bacon to actually be so crisp.

Ultimately, is the food fair worth dropping by for? Not having been to Taiwan before, I can’t attest to the authenticity of the food but I noticed there were a few stalls selling prepackaged food items from Taiwan so if you are a hardcore Taiwan fan and want to get your hands on some Taiwan mochi or fresh seaweed from Taiwan, this might just be worth your while. Staying true to the ideals of street food, prices were reasonable too, with most of the food items being sold in the range of $3-$5.

All food expenses were sponsored by Parkway Parade. Special thanks to Parkway Parade for the invitation.





Park Palace @ Grand Park City Hall – A CNY Menu to Consider

19 01 2013

With Chinese New Year quick approaching, a key question on everyone’s mind would be where to hold our reunion lunches and dinners? Initially, I admit that of the many restaurants considered, Park Palace @ Grand Park City Hall was definitely not one of them, but that was before I had a chance to sample their CNY menu last week, where I left the restaurant extremely satisfied. It was the largest scaled tasting I had been to so far, where around 30 curious individuals were gathered and eager to find out what Park Palace had to offer.

Available from 21 Jan 2013 to 24 Feb 2013, their CNY menus are priced at:

·         $78++ per person (a maximum of two persons)

·         $288++ per table (for four persons)

·         $438++ per table (for six persons)

·         $588++ per table (for eight persons)

·         $788++ to $2388++ per table (for ten persons)

Keeping true to the tradition of CNY, we started our meal with the Golden Shunde Yellowtail Yu Sheng ($88++). Literally translated, Yu Sheng (魚生)  means raw fish in Chinese but its pronunciation also functions as a pun to signify abundance (余升). Unlike the usual Yu Sheng which is sweet due to the use of sweet plum sauce, this version was more on the savoury side, as a soy based sauce was used instead. Young kids would definitely adore this as well because crispy fried vermicelli has replaced most of the icky shredded vegetables.

I had 2 favourite items for this meal and the Imperial Suckling Pig ($238++) was one of them. The skin (wrapped in steamed flat man tous) was super crispy yet not overcooked and didn’t feel oily at all. I could have easily polished off the entire pig’s skin if not for social decorum dictating I leave some for others at my table. Do order it in advance (24 hours notice recommended) as prior preparation is required for this dish.

Lazy Less hardworking people might take to the Golden Happiness Crispy Grouper, whose meat was filleted and deep fried, saving us the trouble of having to separate the meat from the fish bones. The batter was light and the accompanying plum vinaigrette sauce added some much needed flavours to the otherwise relatively bland fillets.

The Chinese New Year Flambe Pen Cai ($248/$428++ for 6 or 10 pax) was my other favourite dish. Our dining experience was made a little more exciting as the chef flambeed the Pen Cai in front of us, pouring the ignited brandy into the claypot as a finishing touch, which is supposed to enhance the aroma of the Pen Cai. It’s so ironic that it’s called Pen Cai, which literally means “bucket of vegetables”, when there’s so much seafood treasures to be found inside such as abalone, dried & fresh scallops, slices of sea perch, deshelled prawns, sea cucumber, roast pork & duck, soy sauce chicken, mushrooms, gingko nuts, lotus roots, cabbage and broccoli. A very hearty dish which goes down well with rice.

The Imperial Suckling Pig – Oven Baked with Lemongrass was made using what remained of the suckling pig we had earlier. The meat was pretty tender but given that it had already cooled down by the time this was served, it wasn’t as mind-blowing as the skin we had earlier.

When I saw that we were going to be served the Auspicious Glutinous Rice with Foie Gras and Preserved Meat, I initially thought of a bak cang (glutinous rice dumpling). Guess I was more pleased to see it being presented the way it was, where I could savour the foie gras by itself if I wanted to. Personally, I found this dish to be a little too heavy with a much too high rice-to-foie gras ratio, but it’s definitely a creative play on glutinous rice.

We were served the Steamed Mini Pumpkin Dumpling with Green Bean Paste for dessert. Very cutesy and intricate, so full marks for presentation but taste-wise, it was purely an over-glorified ang ku kueh.

Park Palace had far surpassed all expectations, with each dish I tried displaying a unique quality, be it in terms of taste, execution or simply aesthetics. So if you have not made CNY reunion meal plans yet, Park Palace is definitely somewhere to consider.

Special thanks to Park Palace for hosting this tasting session.

Park Palace

10 Coleman Street, Mezzanine Floor Grand Park City Hall

Tel: +65 6432 5888





Majestic Bay Seafood Restaurant @ Gardens By The Bay – Birth of the Kopi Crab

16 11 2012

While Gardens by the Bay is considered a national attraction, there’s now another reason to visit; the birth of the kopi crab. 10 years down the road, would it become an embodiment of Singapore cuisine, where the chili and black pepper crab now stand? I was about to find out.

Helmed by Chef Yong Bing Ngen, who also runs fine dining restaurants Jing @ One Fullerton and Majestic Restaurant @ New Majestic Hotel, Majestic Bay Seafood Restaurant is the humblest of the three. Do not mistake it for a typical seafood restaurant you would find at East Coast Park though, as the experience I had here was definitely more up-market, as evident from the ambience. The tables are spaced well apart and you will never have to strain your voices just to be heard.

As with most Chinese Seafood restaurants in Singapore, the menu is extremely extensive, though the signatures do revolve around Seafood. The cuisine style is interesting because there’s a mix of the usual tried and tested fare, with avant garde dishes for the more adventurous.

Our Soup of the Day ($18++/small) was a homely Turnip soup with pork ribs. No doubt it had been simmered for a long time, given the sweet flavourful stock.

One of the deterrents to ordering steamed live prawns is the hassle of having to deshell them yourself. Of course, that’s not the only reason why I loved the Steamed live prawns (Market price: ~$70 per kg) here, which were skilfully sliced through the middle for easier access to the springy fresh without the need to dirty your hands. I enjoyed how the minced garlic was not too pungent, doing well to complement the delicately sweet prawns.

The highlight of the night was the Live crabs in Bay’s signature “Kopi” sauce (Market price: ~$56 per kg). From what I understand, Majestic Bay is the only restaurant that currently offers kopi crab, which was conceptualized as a result of Chef Yong’s love for coffee. 3 types of coffee beans; Arabica, Brazilian and White are used to produce an optimal aromatic flavour that engulfs the entire restaurant whenever this dish is brought out from the kitchen. To best describe that aroma, it would be Garrett’s Caramel Popcorn! As a finishing touch, a shot of coffee liquor is doused on the crab and ignited, releasing even more aromatics. Apple Jam and butter are also used to thicken and balance out the flavour of the sauce, so that the bitter taste of coffee isn’t too overwhelming. The result is surprisingly positive and such novelty is worth a try. That said, my preference still gravitates toward a decent butter crab or salted egg crab.

We also had the Sautéed Wild Mushrooms with Asparagus and Minced Garlic ($18++/small).

The Baked Rice and Assorted Seafood in Chef’s Recipe Sauce ($68++/small) was my favourite dish of the meal. It was a play on Macau’s Portuguese Baked Rice, albeit a more extravagant version. It reminded me much of a Spanish Paella fused with Japanese Curry, adorned with baby abalone, scallops, mussels, live prawns, squid and potatoes. The rice was extra fragrant as it was fried before the baking process. I usually don’t help myself to seconds but I made an exception this time. In fact, everyone at the table did. I was just super thankful that the portion size is really generous, easily satisfying the 6 of us.

We ended off with the Sweet’s Temptation ($20++), a dessert platter for 4 comprising Black Glutinous Rice Balls rolled in Coconut & stuffed with Yam Paste, Mochi stuffed with Cream, Strawberry & Mango, Deep Fried Red Bean Pancakes and Salted Egg Custard Buns. Personally, I was not impressed. The Black Glutinous Rice Balls was filled with an utterly dense yam paste, which I found much too heavy as a dessert. The Mochi was decent. The Red Bean Pancake was my favourite of the lot, with just the right amount of filling for the filo pastry used. While I am a fan of Salted Egg Custard Buns, the ones here are much too stingy on the custard filling and you won’t get to that climatic moment where all the custard oozes out when you make your first tear into the bun.

Overall, I was pleased with the entire experience and would definitely consider a revisit, especially given the food quality and reasonable prices. There’s a dim sum menu available for lunch as well, which features a Chili Crab Man Tou that I have been hearing good things about, where the crab meat and chili sauce is stuffed into the bun. Say nay to dirty hands!

Special thanks to Janice and FoodNews for hosting this dinner tasting!

Majestic Bay Seafood Restaurant

18 Marina Gardens Drive, #01-10 Garden’s By The Bay (Flower Dome)

Tel: +65 6604 6604





Mid-Autumn Taiwan Pineapple Cakes – SunnyHills vs Din Tai Fung

11 09 2012

I always thought that feasting on Pineapple Cakes was only meant for Chinese New Year, but it seems that the Taiwanese trend of having Pineapple Cakes for Mid-autumn festival is also picking up here. I recently received 2 packages of Pineapple Cakes, one from SunnyHills and the other from Din Tai Fung, and I shall provide some insight on their gift packages for this Mid-autumn Festival.

Helming from Taiwan, SunnyHills is possibly one of the most well-known Pineapple Cake brands in Singapore, with its Singapore branch located within the iconic Raffles Hotel. SunnyHills doesn’t simply operate a bakery and retail shop, but goes all the way upstream within the supply chain, where it also manages pineapples farms in Taiwan to ensure quality control of its pastries.

Priced at $25/$37.50/$50 for 10/15/20 pieces, SunnyHills Pineapple Cakes are made using New Zealand Butter, Japanese flour, eggs from a local Taiwan farm and pineapples from their Pineapple Estate on Bagua Mountain, Taiwan, without the use of preservatives or additives. You know as with all pineapple tarts, it’s always the case of personal preference. So compared to the ones from Din Tai Fung, I prefer SunnyHills’ Pineapple filling, which has chunkier pineapple bits and is also more tangy and less sweet.

As for Din Tai Fung’s Mid-Autumn Taiwan Pineapple Cake Gift Set ($24.80 nett), it consists of 8 Pineapple Cakes, and 2 boxes of Jasmine Green Tea as a complement to the pastries.

Just like SunnyHills, Din Tai Fung’s Pineapple Cakes are free from food additives, preservatives and trans-fat, making it a safe and healthy snack. Songshan pineapples, which are known for their special aroma and low acidity, are used to make the pineapple fillings, resulting in a sweet jam that isn’t too tangy. What I like about Din Tai Fung’s Pineapple Cakes over SunnyHills is that its pastry has a more buttery texture.

So as cliche and PR friendly as it might sound, I guess there’s no clear winner between SunnyHills and Din Tai Fung just yet.

Oh by the way, DBS/POSB cardmembers get 15% off with the purchase of 2 or more boxes of Din Tai Fung’s Pineapple Cake Gift Set, and an additional 5% discount for purchases of 6 boxes and above.

At the same time, Din Tai Fung has also launched a new dish, the Truffle Chicken Soup ($19.80++), which is only available at the Marina Bay Sands, Paragon and Resorts World Sentosa outlets. I headed down to Paragon to see what the fuss was all about and I have to agree that this is one hearty soup with strong umami flavours, recommended for fans of their existing chicken soup who don’t mind spending a couple extra bucks for the added experience. I’m not sure if truffle oil was added into the soup or if the few slices of black truffle are just that fragrant, but the aroma of truffle was very discernible.

On a side note, my mum actually goes through the arduous process of making homemade pineapple tarts for Chinese New Year (which taste way better than any tarts you can find outside), so I know how time consuming it is to make the pineapple jam. So if anyone ever offers you a homemade pineapple tart, do take the time to savour the fresh ingredients and love that has gone into that little parcel.

Special thanks to SunnyHills and Din Tai Fung for the Mid-autumn gifts sets / meal and have a Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

SunnyHills

328 North Bridge Road, Raffles Hotel Arcade #03-05

Tel: +65 8522 9605





[Hong Kong] Tim Ho Wan – Michelin 1-Star Dim Sum

1 08 2012

For many, a trip to Hong Kong is never complete without a visit to Tim Ho Wan, one of the cheapest 1-star Michelin restaurants you will ever find. I was admittedly skeptical when my friends told me I would not spend more than S$15 here but I soon discovered they were spot on. And believe me, I don’t hold back when I get clearance to fill up a food order sheet.

I heard that the flagship outlet in Mongkok serves the best dim sum amongst its 3 outlets (the other 2 are at Hong Kong Station and Sham Shui Po) so if you don’t mind the 1-hour wait (as the joint at Mongkok only seats around 30 people), it’s the place to be.

There’s around 20 items on the menu, of which I tried 14 of them during this visit. I will cut to the chase and tell you what are the must orders here!

To put it simply, while most items are of commendable quality, only 3 items really stand out to me.

The first is the Barbeque Pork Buns (17 HKD). Think of it as a Bo Luo Bao (菠蘿包) with fatty char siew fillings. The sugary glaze atop the deep fried bun, paired with the savoury char siew is a match made in heaven. It’s so freaking awesome, it should be patented and why hasn’t anyone copied it back in Singapore yet?

When Neo chose the red pill over the blue pill in The Matrix, he made a revelation as the veils were lifted from his eyes. That’s how I felt as I sipped at my first mouthful of Tim Ho Wan’s Century Egg with Shredded Pork Congee (16 HKD). It’s so damn insanely good. The silky congee is made even smoother with the creamy texture of the century egg and as you slurp down the congee, you end with a most interesting finish of rich salted eye yolk.

Last but not least is the Prawn Chee Cheong Fan (22 HKD). The Cheong Fan skins should be ambassadors for SK-II, showcasing a pearly and elastic texture.

Most of the other items I tried such as the Har Kow (24 HKD), Siew Mai (24 HKD), Chinese Steamed Sponge Cake 馬拉糕 (12 HKD) were pretty decent as well, with the Fried Carrot Cake (12 HKD) being a popular item amongst my friends.

Other dishes like the Spring Rolls (22 HKD), Fried Beef Dumplings (18 HKD), Beef Balls in Beancurd Skin (16 HKD) were quite meh and the Pig Organ Chee Cheong Fan (18 HKD) had lingering stench of organs that had not been washed throughly.

No dim sum restaurant I know of gets everything right and Tim Ho Wan is no different. But of the ones they do get right, what you get there is a little glimpse of heaven.

Tim Ho Wan

8 Kwong Wa Street, Mongkok, Kowloon

Tel: +852 2332 2896





Din Tai Fung’s Flavoured Pork Rice Dumplings & Red Bean Rice Dumplings

5 06 2012

In celebration of Dragon Boat Festival, Din Tai Fung has introduced Rice Dumplings to its menu but unlike the Nonya-styled dumplings that we are so used to eating in Singapore, theirs is a Taiwanese version, which uses just pork and rice, doing away with other embellishments such as eggs or chestnuts to emphasize the taste of the main ingredients.

They sent some over to my house last week to sample so I’m guessing you can do takeaways of these dumplings from their restaurants as well. I followed the instructions in the delivery box and boiled the dumplings for 10 minutes before eating.

I first dug into the Pork Dumplings. As the belly pork is steeped in a homemade marinade for over 2 hours, it turned out pretty flavourful. It’s on the savoury side compared to the meat fillings from Nonya dumplings, which has elements of both sweet and savoury. The dumpling are wrapped in Taiwan bamboo leaves, so you do get a subtle infusion of fragrance and aroma into the rice, which grew on me as I dug into the dumplings further. They are also made using Taiwan Pearl Rice which gives it an extra chewy and smooth bite than you would with normal glutinous rice.

For those with a sweet tooth, the Red Bean Rice Dumpling is available. It is air-flown in from Taiwan and contains a filling of sweet red bean paste. Personally, I much prefer the meat dumplings.

These dumplings are available all-year round at Din Tai Fung and priced at $5.30++ and $4.80++ for the Pork Dumplings and Red Bean Rice Dumplings respectively.

Between 4th to 30th June, diners can also enjoy a complimentary Red Bean Rice Dumpling with a minimum spending of $70 (for DBS/POSB cardmembers) or $80 (for general public).

Special thanks to Din Tai Fung for the dumplings!








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