fried pork intestines

Review: Taiwan Cafe: Taste of Fermosa in Boston’s Chinatown

TaiwanCafeLocated just above a Chinese medicine store and down the alley from my frequent barber shop, Taiwan Cafe is a casual Taiwanese restaurant tucked neatly on the corner of Beach St. and Oxford St. in Boston’s Chinatown. With a mostly Taiwanese staff, this place seems to be one of the most authentic Taiwanese restaurants in Boston. The restaurant is quite busy during the prime lunch and dinner hours. The staff is constantly bustling from one table to the next with a sense of urgency. Small-numbered dinner parties are forced to share a 12-person table with other small-numbered dinner parties when there are no 4-person tables available.

Taiwan Cafe definitely has a lively atmosphere. Customers range from young college students to full traditional families. Although some may be uncomfortable with the wait staff’s lack of smile and no-nonsense request for orders, I find the service excellent simply because I can always waive a waiter down and get what I want. Upon opening my tea pot lid for a refill, it took a mere 20 seconds for a waitress to notice and refill it [See Doing Dim Sum Right — Tea if you don’t understand why this happens]!

You don’t come to Taiwan Cafe to chat up the waitress, but rather a casual atmosphere, good company, and great food. Among the few times I visited Taiwan Cafe, that is what I got.

I had the pleasure of dining with friends that enjoyed authentic Taiwanese cuisine and so we stuffed ourselves with the dishes below. Please note that if you are looking for good General Gau’s Chicken, this isn’t the place to have it (even though it’s on the menu). Instead, I encourage everyone to try something here they might not otherwise find in other Asian restaurants in Boston.

stinkytofuwithpaoutsai

Stinky Tofu with Paou Tsai – This is an interesting appetizer that is very popular in Taiwan night markets. In the Taiwanese-style, stinky tofu is deep-fried tofu that has been brined in fermented milk, meat, and vegetables. The tofu has a crispy outside and a soft, silky smooth inside. As its name suggests, the tofu also has a strong, pungent smell that may, from afar, be comparable to garbage or manure. Some say the taste is similar to pungent blue cheese, while others suggest rotten meat. Really, it’s a love-or-hate kind of dish. Ideally, the more it smells, the better the flavor. However, Taiwan Cafe does not make it all that smelly (most indoor restaurants avoid stinking up the place for other customers) and the dish was a bit too dry for my taste, requiring me dunk it in seafood soy sauce. Paou Tsai is the transliteration for 泡菜, better known as pickled cabbage or in Korea, kimchi. The sharp, sour taste/smell of pickled cabbage pairs well with the musky taste/smell of stinky tofu.

Chilled Sponge Tofu with Mushroom and Bamboo shoot – A delicious tofu dish that uses tender spongy tofu, which carries the texture of a sponge. Braised and then chilled along with sliced mushrooms and bamboo shoots in a sweet soy-based sauce, this delicious appetizer was consumed before a picture could be taken.

oysterpancake

Oyster Omelette- Another original dish popular in Taiwan night markets, the oyster omelette is an egg omelette mixed with tapioca starch and whole oysters over Chinese vegetables. It has a very thick, gooey consistency and a fragrant oyster-egg aroma. The real kicker is that the omelette is drenched in an addicting sweet ketchup/soy paste sauce. This is an extremely welcoming dish and I find it a great comfort food choice.

ministeamedbunswithpork

Mini-Steamed Buns with Pork — Better known as ShaoLongBao, or Soup Dumplings, this Taiwanese version of a Shanghai favorite must be eaten hot. Unlike a regular dumpling or bun, these dumplings carry a mouthful of hot broth and must be picked up carefully. The typical way to eat this dish would be to: fill a spoon with a ginger/black vinegar sauce, lift the dumpling onto the spoon with chopsticks, take a bite of the skin to suck up the broth, and finally consume the dumpling with the sauce.

Continue reading

shumai

Doing Dim Sum Right — The Food

dimsum dimsum3 tea

Dim Sum is a cuisine from Southern China’s Canton region that characterizes Chinese food. Dim Sum dishes are small plates of distinct creations made to be shared like tapas. The food is served with Chinese tea and shared with companion. However, what makes “doing Dim Sum” really standout is appreciating the comprehensive experience of tea, food, and ambiance that comes along with it.

After being seated at your table and ordering tea [Doing Dim Sum Right — Tea], there will be a dizzying array of food options around you. Depending on what type of Dim Sum restaurant you are at you may or may not have the time to observe and understand your options as servers are trying to unload their cargo on your table.

Your food preferences are your own, but while there is a huge quantity of Dim Sum dishes, I have compiled below what I believe are the common Dim Sum dishes that are worth trying and/or are must-haves at every Dim Sum outing (number of hungry people allowing). Feel free to comment on any disagreements.

The Dim Sum experience is about sampling a large variety of food:  dumplings, steamed and baked pastries, rolled noodles, rice cakes, deep-fried pastry puffs, and various miscellaneous specialty items! Let’s begin!

Dumplings

Dumplings are often referenced to illustrate Chinese appetizers. It is therefore no surprise that some of the Dim Sum must-haves in every visit are the dumpling types described below.

shrimpdumplings

 

虾饺, XiaJiao, Har-gow, Shrimp Dumplings This steamed dish of juicy, plump shrimp wrapped in translucent rice wrapper is often iconic of dim sum cuisine. Small shreds of minced bamboo shoots or water chestnuts are often tethered with the succulent lumps of shrimp.

 

shumai

 

烧卖, ShaoMai, SiuMai, Shumai. A combination of pork, mushroom, and shrimp wrapped in a wonton wheat wrapper and steamed to perfection, Shumai is always part of the dim sum table.

 

chiuchaofanguo
潮州粉果, ChiaoZhouFenGuo, ChiuChaoFanGuo, Chu Chow Dumplings. Steamed dumpling with pork, shrimp, peanuts, and cilantro. The savory and crisp filling gives an enjoyable contrast to the soft, tender rice wrapper around it.

 

chivedumplings

 

韭菜饺, JiuCaiJiao, GawTsoyGow, Chive Dumplings. Often mixed with shrimp paste, steamed chive dumplings contain an explosion of refreshing aromatic flavors.

Continue reading

tea

Doing Dim Sum Right — Tea

dimsum dimsum3 tea

Dim Sum is a cuisine from Southern China’s Canton region that characterizes Chinese food. Dim Sum dishes are small plates of distinct creations made to be shared like tapas. The food is served with Chinese tea and shared with companion. However, what makes “doing Dim Sum” really standout is appreciating the comprehensive experience of tea, food, and ambiance that comes along with it.  

When it comes to doing Dim Sum right, the first thing we must talk about is tea. After all, in Cantonese, the term for “doing dim sum” is “Yum Cha”, which translates directly to “drinking tea”. Dim Sum centralizes as much around the tea as the dishes you consume. A unique part of the dim sum experience involves the type of tea you choose and the interactions around drinking tea. (However, if you would like to skip to food, see [Doing Dim Sum Right — The Food])

Upon being seated at a dim sum restaurant, the waiter will ask for the type of tea you would like. If you ask him what type of tea they have, the typical waiter will likely recite a confusing list of tea names in Chinese, or struggle to recite a confused list of tea names in English/Chinese. At this point some may arbitrarily pick one (or he may arbitrarily pick one for you). Instead of this exchange, however, it would really add to the experience by knowing what they have to offer.

Common Tea Selections

A dim sum restaurant typically stocks a variety of tea. Below is a list of typical tea offerings with their Chinese characters, Mandarin pronunciation, Cantonese pronunciation, and English name.
For the highest rate of success in a dim sum restaurant, you should order with the Cantonese pronunciation.


juhua菊花, JuHua, GookFa, Chrysanthemum. This light, refreshing herbal tea is made from brewed chrysanthemum flowers and contains no caffeine. It has a cooling effect that prevents inflammation and helps clear cholesterol from the body; this makes it great with oily dim sum food.


puer tea普洱, PuEr, BoLay, Pu-erh. Pu-erh tea is a fermented dark tea with a strong, full, rustic, earthy taste. Made from tea leaves in Yunnan Province, Pu-erh tea is processed and aged for a distinct taste (though restaurants will generally give you the cheap stuff). The medicinal effect of this tea includes the suppression of fatty acid synthesis, cholesterol, and triacylglycerol, as well as weight-loss. Pu-erh tea can help you digest better and increase blood circulation – a perfect pairing with oily Dim Sum dishes. If you are as curious about the significant difference in pronunciation as I was, click here.


菊普, JuPu, GookBo, Chrysanthemum/BoLay Blend. This popular blend softens the distinct rustic flavor of the Pu-erh tea with the refreshing, fragrant taste of chrysanthemum. It’s delicious.


shoumei寿眉, ShouMei, SauMei, Shoumei. Loosely translated to “longevity eyebrow”, Shoumei is a white tea from the upper leaf and tips grown mainly in the Fujian Province or Guanxi Province. The tea has a sweet but slightly bitter aroma of fresh tea leaves. When paired with fried or deep fried dishes, Shoumei white tea can help with releasing the unhealthy ‘heating’ effects of those dishes.

Continue reading