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In North America, the term ‘buffet’ usually brings to mind a low brow, sort of pedestrian dining experience. Here, in Asia, it is quite the opposite. Some of the best restaurants in Taipei are buffet style – Shin Yeh is a good example. Offering all-you-can-eat Japanese cuisine, there is a wealth of foods and drink to choose from. At the drink bar, there is Calpis (sweet white colored drink), white and red wine, plum vinegar wine, sake, Taiwanese beer, fruit juices, hot and cold tea and coffee. There is a sashimi bar that includes the largest oysters I have ever seen, trays of fried rice, tempura shrimp and vegetables, soba noodles, stir fried oolong noodles, tea kettle soup, steamed eggs, sushi… the list goes on. The pictures speak for themselves.
Mitsui is elegant, sophisticated and chic. With slick black granite floors and tables, stylish wood/glass partitions and an understated, minimalistic decor, the restaurant is known to cater to celebrities, mobsters and famous politicians as well as the local elite. The service is impeccable here. The ratio of the wait staff to the clientele is almost one to one – that is how well taken care of each individual at the restaurant is. Or at least that’s how it feels, and that’s what counts. The minute we sat down, we got bowls of tea, wet towels to clean our hands with and additional cutlery to match what we ordered. Our bags and jackets, leaning on the backs of our seats, had black bags put over them so as to ensure nothing would get dirty.
A few steps away from the Shida night market, Mo!Relax Cafe is a stylish meeting spot that acts alternately between a cafe, a bar and a snack dispenser. The walls are plastered with all kinds of colorful posters and CDs which are actually available for sale – much of the music they play at the restaurant comes from their physical collection. If a client happens to enjoy a track and want to purchase the album, they can! On the coffee tables, there are graphic design and architecture magazines, fashion lookbooks and photography texts lying about, creating an art chic feel. There are bookshelves full of Chinese literature and manga. Exuding a cool and relaxed atmosphere, the place seems to attract young twenty-somethings of the ‘creative type’. The layout of the restaurant is unusual – in this, several spaces/nooks for people to wander into are created and as a result some areas are more secluded than others, giving the place a little bit of mystery.
Attempting to ease our bodies back into normalcy, we opted for a light breakfast which consisted of soybean milk and a variety of Chinese steamed buns. There are two types of soybean milk: sweet or salty. These can be ordered either hot or cold. I had the sweet cold version, my brother had the sweet hot version and my parents had the salty one which comes in a bowl with some fried dough, black vinegar, dried turnips and small dried shrimp. I had the taro flavored purple bun whereas the rest of my family shared the brown sugar bun, the traditional steamed bun (white bun) and a deep fried bun wrapped in baked flatbread with sesame seeds on top. (In Chinese, these buns are pronounced “man-to”). These are not very strong tasting and are some of the most inoffensive foods Taiwan has to offer. Man-to and soybean milk can be found almost everywhere in Taipei – these are staples of a typical Chinese breakfast.
A lot of the restaurants I will post in the coming future will likely be difficult for me to translate into English. Please bear with me! I’ll do my best with pictures and Google Maps to identify the places for you. The first restaurant we went to in Taipei city was a noodle shop close to my grandmother’s apartment. We ordered a beef tenderloin noodle soup and a pork turnip noodle soup. Food came out a few minutes after we ordered and tasted great too. Having gone with natives of the country, we didn’t think to give our bodies time to adjust to the local food. Either that or we got a bad batch of noodles. In this, both my brother and I had upset stomachs that evening and had to stay in bed for the entire next day. So my advice to you is to stay away from greasy/oily soups your first couple of days in.