Not surprisingly, we got some great food touring Asia. A few meals stand out in my mind. In Tokyo, we ate at a teppanyaki restaurant, complete with our own chef [photos]. The beef, with a lot of marbling, was tender and flavorful, but also quite greasy — you can’t eat as much of that beef as you would normal beef. Unfortunately, it was also quite expensive — over US$110 per person. Well, we were on vacation, so I didn’t feel too bad, as long as every other meal wasn’t going to be this pricey.
In Osaka, Matt’s brother’s friend Koji took us to a kaiten-zushi restaurant. It’s like a sushi boat place, except that the plates were simply on a conveyer belt. We ate plate after plate after plate — I’ve never had so much toro (fatty tuna). In fact, I had never had toro before. Anyway, total bill: about US$9 per person. We were flabbergasted. Most food in Japan isn’t cheaper than in the U.S., but sushi is! By the way, Koji didn’t expect us to be so familiar with sushi — he was really surprised that I knew what hamachi was.
Koji’s girlfriend Kyoko took us to her favorite ramen restaurant, Golden Dragon Ramen 金龍ラーメン [photos] There are two items on the menu: ramen with pork, and ramen with more pork. To order, you get a ticket from a vending machine [photo] and give it to the staff. It’s also cheaper than ramen in the U.S. (about US$5 for the normal ramen).
In Hong Kong, we ran across a Cantonese noodle shop called Tsim Chai Kee 沾仔記 [photo]. The menu is simple [photo]: three types of noodles (egg, rice, and rice vermicelli) and soup, with one or more toppings: prawn wontons, fish balls, and beef. Vegetables with oyster sauce. That’s it! The wontons were huge: a fresh giant shrimp with a thin wonton wrapper. The fish balls were also gigantic, and the beef was very fresh. Total cost: less than US$3.
In Taichung, my cousin Mingshu took us to a hot pot restaurant called Mala Wang 麻辣王, which means “the hot-and-spicy king” [photo]. We got half spicy and half plain. Mingshu asked for the spicy to be at the low end, and then he still skimmed the hot oil off the broth. Only then could the rest of us tolerate us (I know, we’re wimps). The broth was so flavorful that I didn’t need to use my soy sauce-and-satay mixture. Mingshu eats there so often he’s a VIP customer.
In Taipei, at the Shilin Night Market, we had fried chicken at Hot Star Fried Chicken stand 豪大大雞排 [photo]. A chicken is halved and then mostly deboned, leaving only part of the breastbone. Each piece is then flattened, breaded with Taiwanese seasonings, and deep fried. The finished piece is put in a paper bag. Cost: about US$1.50. Our only mistake was getting one piece each, leaving little room for the other night market food.
My uncle to us to “the best beef noodle soup restaurant” in Taipei, Lao Zhang Niurou Mian 老張牛肉麵 (“Old Chang’s Beef Noodle”). It was quite good, and we got seated at the same table with another family, which made for interesting conversation — between my uncle and them. Unfortunately, I came down with a stomach illness the next day, which meant congee for the next few days (ugh).
The night before I came back to the U.S., my cousin Jane took my dad, grandmother, and me to a Hakka restaurant in Hukou called Ke Po Lou 客婆樓. Hakka food is not common in the U.S. (the only one I know of is Ton Kiang 東江 in San Francisco), so some of the dishes were unfamiliar. For example, the fried fish dish consisted of filets of whole small fish, battered and deep fried. The shape was like a very large French fry — long and rectangular. The fish itself was very soft and pillowy — almost like a French fry! The boiled cabbage came with a strong orange-flavored sauce with the consistency of mustard. All of it was very tasty, but since I was still sick, I literally ate only a nibble of each dish. Sigh.