Last week I was in Taipei on business. One of my rules of business travel is, whenever possible, to explore the city and eat at least one meal out and about, so I come away with at least some sense of the city. Thankfully, Taipei is a familiar city and I was fortunate to have two friends join me for a trip to the Tong Hua Street Market in Da’an District.
The objective of this visit was to locate a popular restaurant that serves gua bao, the steamed buns filled with braised pork belly and other goodies that I’ve previously tried making and have enjoyed at Little Bao in Hong Kong.
Thankfully, one of the local HR team members did some research for me and found a helpful article on the Lauhound food blog. The target restaurant was Shi Jia Gua Bao, a local chain famous for their gua bao.
The menu is limited: basically there are steamed gua bao with a few different types of fillings, a baked bagel-like bun with a more limited selection of fillings, and the Taiwanese version of xiao long bao, a steamed pork bun.
The shop manager was friendly and more than happy for me to take pictures. Vats of steaming buns and all the ingredients sat at the ready, ensuring us of a freshly-made, high-quality meal.
The basic gua bao features both slices of fatty belly and slices of leaner meat. The size of the bao is larger than I have seen at some places: about the size of a McDonald’s hamburger. While a little messy to eat, the flavor was rich and satisfying.
Prices range from 50-65 New Taiwan Dollars, or less than US$2. Quite a bargain for the quantity and quality of food.
The baked version, somewhat akin to a bagel, was not as enjoyable. While filled with the same tasty ingredients, the baked bun was dry and brittle, leaving me thirsty. Better to stick with the steamed version.
Another interesting item was the xiao long bao. The Shanghainese version with which I am familiar (think of the ones at Din Tai Fung restaurant) feature as paper-thin noodle skin and the filling includes not only pork but a cube of flavorful gelatinized stock that melts when the bun is steamed, producing hot soup that will gush all over if you do not eat it carefully.
In contrast, the traditional Taiwanese version is made with a thicker bread dough so there is no stock inside, as it would only be absorbed by the bread. This was much less satisfying, although the pork filling was tasty enough.
Wandering through the rest of the market, we encountered a stinky tofu vendor. The tofu was stinky, not the vendor! Made by fermenting the tofu in a brine that can contain all manner of ingredients, the smell of stink tofu is as strong as that of blue cheese. It sparks similar responses, with some people loving it and others repulsed by it. Also similar to blue cheese, the flavor and the smell are different.
Here, the tofu is served lightly deep fried with a healthy dose of chili oil and pickled cabbage as a garnish. It was a very satisfying dish to try, although the bottom pieces, thoroughly soaked in the chili oil, were blindingly spicy.
My friends Nathan and Andrew (aka loserstepaside here in WordPress) join me at the Tong Hua night market. The stinky tofu was Andrew’s idea.
At the far end of the market was a vendor selling sheng jian bao, a pan-fried bun that I fell in love with in Shanghai, where I ate several times at Yang’s Buns.
The skins are moderately thick, not as much as the gua bao but not so thin as gyoza. However, like gyoza they are fried on a cast iron pan that is filled with a generous amount of water, covered, and allowed to steam. The cover is removed after about five minutes and the remained of the liquid boils off.
The sheng jian bao are served in a box of ten or a bag of five, sprinkled with sesame seeds and, in some places, chopped green onions.
The insides are still steaming hot and the pork, ginger, and green onion filling is juicy and salty. These are a mess to eat but worth it, as the combination of crunchy bottom, pillowy soft wides, and warm, juice filling is too much to resist.
All in all, the Tong Hua market will give you many great things to see, do, and eat!
Also known as the Linjiang Street Night Market, located near Xinyi Anhe MRT station.
Great post, Chris! Your pictures are so good and I enjoyed reading it as well – I got hungry reading about all the delicious food. Luckily it’s all around me and I can easily get me some.
I’m so envious all this good food is so close to you. I live near a lot of restaurants but it’s expensive to eat out every night. p.s. I almost fell out of my bed when I saw your pic here! 🙂 I have yet to try stinky tofu – we have a summer night market festival and the line up is very, very long.
I urge you to eat out and enjoy time with friends and/or family, Matt! Isn’t it the most loving, rewarding thing you can do in your life?
And about my pic – yeah, a coming out of sorts hahaha.
I had a very spicy Korean noodle soup last night. It was so hot that I was eating kimchi to cool my tongue down. Today is chores day.
Laundry, cleaning the bathroom, kitchen and decluttering. I’ve done the shower stall, sinks are done, kitchen island is cleaned and I polished the granite top. I even washed the trash can. It feels good. I’m going to take a walk with my camera later on.
I love spicy food! Wow – well done Matt, I’m so impressed you cleaned so much!!!!
You haven’t tried the stinky tofu yet? Please go and try it at the T&T night market pronto!
I’ve stood beside the vats of oil when they are fried – that’s as close as I’ve been to them.
We didn’t go to this market although we did walk around Daan Park to relax. J is already talking about going back to Taiwan again. (horrible addiction…) The food pics look so good. My reader this morning has entries from 3 ex Xangans – a rare treat. 🙂
maybe we should plan the return to taiwan together. ’cause i plan to visit taiwan next year, before tony leaves the country.
Absolutely. As soon as my travel schedule for 2016 is finalized, I will let you know. Maybe we can coordinate around a trip there. I am also looking at a trip to Jakarta, although we have a trainer in KL who is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, so he is a more logical choice to send.
business trip or not, you’re always welcome, chris.
I think there’s some confusion between 小肉包 (xiao rou bao) and 小龍包 (xiao long bao). The sign says they sell 小肉包, not 小龍包. 肉包 is a meat filled bun, where the bun is a thick dough like you describe.
Correct, while the person I visited with referred to it as xiao long bao, another Taiwanese friend has since corrected me. Let me adjust the post. Thanks!
omg. i have YET had a gua bao. shame on me. that close up pic is just too much. i’m salivating already. damn. but i’m glad you able to spend time and catch up with tony. i plan to do the same next year.
How have you not had a gua bao!?
The best gua bao I’ve had is still in Gongguan Night Market haha. So delicious!
sigh… i was never introduced to one when i went there for a visit. though i did get to eat well.
I’m sitting here eating my crappy left over pizza for lunch, dreaming that I was eating this food instead. 😛 Looks so good!
OMG I am craving fast food pizza (yes, I will take Pizza Hut/Dominoes as real pizza). Haha.
It was Dominoes pizza! 😉
I’m also getting the munchies reading this! Naturally I love the a Shanghai comparisons as well!