Friday, March 02, 2018

Dongmen, Taipei and the search for Xiao Long Bao dumplings on Yong Kang Street

Taipei is known for its xiao long bao dumplings. It is a steamed light bun type dough dumpling usually filled with minced pork and with a soup in it. It is often times called soup dumplings. I was not going to leave Taipei without having tasted these delicious soupy doughs.

Xiao long bao's are soup dumplings.

Moi on Yong Kang Street.

I knew about the famous Din Tai Fung, the most sought-after Chinese restaurant in Taipei that now has branches all over the world. They rose to fame because of their xiao long bao’s. When I travel, I tend to follow my stomach's lead so I did some googling and found out that there is a Din Tai Fung in Dongmen area near Yong Kang Street. In fact, this is the original Din Tai Fung restaurant.

it turns out that Yong Kang Street in Dongmen is on my list of places to visit. I have read that the street has many street food eats, dumpling and noodle houses, mango shave cafes, milk teas and local Taiwanese-style restaurants. Definitely my kind of street. It wasn’t too far from Ximen as well where I was staying, just a few metro stops.

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Getting off Dongmen MRT exit on Xinyi Street corner Yong Kang Street.

So I was hoping to combine a walk in the area, lunch at Din Tai Fung and perhaps a small bite on Yong Kang Street. I took the metro to Dongmen and walking out the Dongmen MRT exit I caught sight of Yongkang Street. In front of me is Xinyi Street where you can catch a glimpse of the tall Taipei 101 building in the far distance.

As I stepped out into the street, the first thing that I saw was the crowd building up across the street. People were gathered outside in groups and there is a queue of some sort going on. So I went to look further and found out that it was my stop actually – the Din Tai Fung restaurant! Haha, the place wasn’t very hard to find. Literally right up my nose from the metro's exit. Perfect.

The very busy Din Tai Fung. This is their original flagship restaurant.

But helaas, the delight didn't last that long. The long queue and the fact that everything was Chinese really turned me off, rather, intimidated me.

Most of the people lining up were foreign tourists of Chinese origin and they all speak Chinese to each other and to the restaurant workers. Everything was in frickin Chinese characters!? I didn’t know what to do and where to start. Should I line up? What are those menus they are looking at? Oh, it's in Chinese. Why are the others standing in groups? How do I line up or enlist? Because I saw the restaurant worker has a pen and list in her hand. She was calling people in Chinese to go inside while instructing others to stay put. It was so chaotic and I felt like I was the only ‘real’ (non-Chinese) guest there.

So I made a decision to let go of my plan to eat at Din Tai Fung. It was quite sad really but all the uncertainty and the queue in front of me weren’t helping at all. I do not have the patience for super touristy places and restaurants.

I decided to go to Yongkang Street for lunch instead. But before going there, I thought doing a stroll around Dongmen would be good. I am curious how people live in the city, in the tiny alleys between tall buildings and the busy urban life.

Walk on Xinyi Street.

The residential houses and buildings in Taipei are burglar and bullet free.

It was very interesting to notice that houses in building-style have steel or aluminium doors/gates or roller shutters. These kinds of doors are usually used for garages, warehouses, retail shops and commercial establishments, mainly for the purpose of security against burglary and theft.

I don’t know the crime rate in Taipei but I guess city living has its own way of lifestyle, and of course, they vary per city and country.

Then I reached Yong Kang Street and true to what I have read, the street has many food options. It was just around lunch time and people were already queuing up at their favourite street food joint. I noticed the pancake food stall and the shave mango café on the corner. They seem to be the popular ones here, of course, you’ve got the Din Tai Fung around the corner on Xinyi Street as well.

Yong Kang Street in Dongmen.

The popular mango shaves ice cream parlours in Yong Kang Street.

Long lines of street food eats in Yong Kang.

The popular pancakes in Yong Kang Street that people line up for.

I was not in for a snack, I really wanted to sit down somewhere comfortable and eat xiao long bao. That was my original plan anyway, and after an hour of walking around, my original plan kept coming back, heightening the desire to eat a specific food -- xiao long bao.

When you are craving for something, you cannot just turn it off in your mind. It's a humane thing.

Additionally, since it was past the lunch hour already, my stomach began sending hunger pang signals. I was hoping to find a nice place quick.

As I surveyed the street, a restaurant called Kao Chi caught my eye. Their specialty is some steamed bun and a big picture of it serves as an advertisement on the restaurant's facade. It was not what I was looking for but a quick look inside gave me hope. I saw men with white hats preparing a much lighter version of buns and they are dumplings. Thank heavens, they do serve xiao long bao’s and there are no long queues here whatsoever!

KaoChi restaurant on Yong Kang Street in Dongmen.

Excited, feeling relieved and a bit famished really, the lady from the restaurant led me to a table and gave me the menu. People always say that if the menu has pictures of food on it, it is then not a good sign. Well, I do not agree totally. If you are going to cities in Europe and the beach holiday places in Spain, then perhaps there is some truth to it, but definitely not in Asia and not in Taiwan! Those pictures are heaven sent for someone like me who doesn’t understand Mandarin or Hokkien/Fookien, haha.

Although I tell you a secret, I can count in Mandarin =). I had Mandarin/Fookien lessons as a kid. Maybe I should start learning the language again. Chinese is going to be huge in the near future, mark my words.

Anyway, I ordered a set of steamed xiao long bao soup dumplings and some green beans. The dumpling buns were served with thin ginger strips and the standard soy sauces on the table.

Waiting for my xiao long bao =)

A set portion of xiao long bao and string beans with minced pork for lunch.

A set portion of xiao long bao's is around 8 pieces. You must be careful in eating it because the soup inside can be very hot! Delicious to eat with ginger and soy sauce. Yum.

There are many ways of eating the xiao long bao but the best way to eat it without burning your lips and tongue is to first set the dumping on the small ladle spoon, then prick the dumpling so it will release the hot soup inside, drink the soup, then add some ginger and soy sauce, then eat the whole dumpling. Voila, there you go. Repeat.

The xiao long bao dumplings at Kao Chi were delicious.

I can’t say though if they are better or will be at par with the dumplings at Din Tai Fung, but all I can tell people who are discouraged of the crowd and long queues at Din Tai Fung is to go into Yong Kang Street and look for Kao Chi restaurant. I do not think you will be disappointed for this option.

Kao Chi restaurant has its own bakery as well and serves other small side dishes on the food counter.

And oh, I just learned that xiao long bao is a specialty as well in Shanghai, China. I am travelling next month, end of April there and I can't wait to go on an eating spree again =)

I love Chinese food, do you?

Travel Period: January 2017
Destination: Taipei, Taiwan

Keep in touch and follow me on Facebook: Travel & Lifestyle Diaries by Dutched Pinay Travels
Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

All pictures were taken by a point and shoot pocket camera or a smartphone.

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