My Two-Day Adventure Stay-cation in Taipei
Words Penned By Evan Vitkovski
With the current global situation when it comes to travel and tourism, it’s refreshing to have the chance to go on a stay-cation in Taipei to see the best of what the city has to offer. And I hope that by sharing with you our experience, you also get to see a glimpse of what Taipei has to offer for when this dreadful lockdown ends!
It’s easy to get bored or comfortable in daily life. Sometimes, you do have to go outside of your comfort zone, and this is the best time to be a tourist in your own city in the current disastrous climate. Taiwan is relatively safe, and the island is known for being a foodie destination. And this tour did not disappoint, from street food stalls to Michelin star throwback 1930s themed restaurants: Taipei has something for everyone!
Taipei is extremely safe when it comes to crime, so don’t worry about pickpockets or anything, just bring an umbrella in case it rains. Even if you get caught in the occasional downpour, in the city, you’re pretty much always less than a block away from a convenience store to buy anything you might’ve forgotten to pack.
First Stop: Jin Feng Restaurant
Open: 9am- 1am
Address: No. 10, Section 1, Roosevelt Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, 100
We started with breakfast at one of Taipei’s most popular traditional restaurants. Braised pork-rice is a staple of Taiwanese cuisine, and Jin Feng has nearly a 40-year reputation for long lines that’s worth the wait. Pro-tip: You can skip that by going there early just as they open.
If you wait until lunch or thereafter, be prepared to wait in line for a taste of the locally-sourced pork-rice with organic pickled cucumber and a selection of 13 different soups to pair with the tofu, eggs boiled in sugar cane juice, vegetables, and pork side dishes.
The owner said their variety of soup is so that loyal customers can try something different every day of the week. Nearby is the Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall, which is a great place to see some unique architecture and catch the local metro train (MRT).
Foodie Find: Chicken ginseng soup with goji berries. The chicken is cooked to a gelatinous texture to please the local palate.
Second Stop: The Grand Hotel Tour
Sitting on the edge of a hill overlooking the city of Taipei is the iconic Grand Hotel. A popular place for afternoon tea, or a quick teleport to a simpler, historic time, the hotel is an ornate structure with the dragon/phoenix motif that can be found in most temples around Taiwan.
That is quite fitting since the location used to be a temple when the Japanese occupied Taiwan back in 1901. The temple was destroyed during WWII before the hotel was built at the request of Chiang-Kai Shek, who wanted a five-star hotel to impress any foreign guests or dignitaries that came to visit.
It was designed by Yang Cho-cheng the same architect who made the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. The tour started in the lobby, which is an impressive chasm of decorative carved panels, tiles, and “Yuanshan red” columns, all carrying some symbolism for guests to have good fortune and wealthy status maintained in some way by the decor.
The best part was seeing one of the escape tunnels that were built during the tumultuous times of the east and west branch of the hotel so CKS or any other diplomats could make a speedy exit if the Chinese decided to attack. New Years’ Eve is the most popular time to book a room since it has a clear view of the bustling city, airplanes departing and landing at Songshan Airport, and Taipei 101 fireworks. Though Covid-19 has taken a deep cut into hotel tourism, the cafe, restaurants, and souvenir shops are still open at the Grand Hotel.
There is a monument to the old metal room keys that can now be purchased from the souvenir shop in the lobby. They have since changed to key cards, but you have to actually rent a room if you want to see what it’s like. There are no rooms included in the tour of the hotel itself. After the tour, visitors can also go for a hike behind the hotel at Jiantan and catch the MRT from a couple of blocks from the train station.
Third Stop: Blossom Rena in Zhongshan District
Address: No. 26-1號, Section 3, Zhongshan N Rd, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, 10491
For lunch, we went to Blossom Rena, which is a small cafe tucked away in a back alley in the Zhongshan district just north of Taipei Main Station.
There is a park across the street, for views of some greenery within the urban landscape. They had the honor of being awarded in the 2020 National Braised Pork-rice Festival in Taiwan as a vegan competitor, after being open as a restaurant and catering service since 2016. The owner joined us to tell her story of how she developed the fusion dishes, which included two versions of the vegan pork-rice one with garlic and onion, and one without.
Many vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Taiwan are affiliated with some Buddhist temples, but this place chooses to go this route for health reasons and then goes the extra mile to make all of their offerings delicious.
The owner and the head chef have worked together for ten years traveling around not only Taiwan but also other countries to come up with ideas for their cuisine. They paired the pork-rice with oolong tea, and the sides of Thai salad, Lion’s Mane mushroom 3-cup soup, bamboo, spinach, and braised tofu.
The intricacies of making pork-rice from vegan ingredients were fascinating. They use special rice and small-batch soy sauce that takes 1 year to ferment using no preservatives. Smoothies made with oat milk and berries or passionfruit/pineapple were brought out last along with coffee chocolate jelly.
After eating, walking along the pedestrian mall takes you past a few MRT stations, including Minquan West Road, Shuanglian, Zhongshan, and finally Taipei Main Station.
Fourth Stop: Dihua Old Street
Taipei has an interesting history that is partially preserved in a part of town that was a hub of industry and trade, reflected in the Japanese colonial architecture, some of which has been renovated and restored. There are tons of instagrammable locations along the old street with some traditional Chinese medicine shops that have been open for decades next to brand new cafes and hip handmade clothing and trinket shops. We visited the Taipei Xia-Hai God Temple to get some blessings for our romantic relationships.
On the way out, we passed a 7-11 with wooden doors and an antique facade. A perfect example of the contrast between old and new Taipei.
The nearby MRT is Daqiaotou, and the riverside nearby is a great place to take a bike ride starting at Dachaotou passing by Taipei Bridge.
Fifth Stop: Mountain and Sea House
Hours: 12–2:30PM, 5:30–10PM
No. 94號, Section 2, Ren’ai Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, 100
From the outside, Mountain and Sea House doesn’t have large signs advertising that it is a restaurant. The understated exterior holds a portal back to 1930s Taipei within.
The atmosphere, decor, food, presentation, and menu are all meant to evoke a sense of what it was like to have fine dining nearly a century ago. The Michelin-star restaurant has private dining rooms with windows overlooking the outside gardens and surrounding treetops, fine art paintings from modern artists and painters from the time period they are seeking to emulate.
The food was served in smaller portions for social reasons, as most patrons would take breaks from eating to smoke in the garden lounge area. The recipes of the 1930s are revived at Mountain and Sea house, from seafood delicacies to roasted chicken and handmade sausages to name just a few of my favorites.
The presentation was particularly notable, especially when one of the chefs came to carve and plate the chicken into three parts: one with the crispy skin glistening under the art-deco lamp and garnished with cilantro, and the fresh steamed bun guo filled with chicken were particularly delicious.
An assorted plate of meat (Yunnan chicken with soy sauce, 3-color eggroll, abalone, handmade sausage, liver roll, and ginseng pork heart) that the owner has for afternoon tea came out first. Fried fish, fresh from the fish tank downstairs, was topped with a sauce made with local, organic vegetables was another stand-out dish from the spread.
Sixth Stop: Ningxia Night Market
Ningxia Road, Datong District, Taipei City, 103
Although the last stop was a non-stop food extravaganza, no tour of Taipei would be complete without visiting a night market to soak in the local culture of late-night snacking. While the crowds were thin, thanks in part to the lack of tourists, and some stalls that would normally have lines around the haphazard tables and chair setups were missing in action, bubble tea, oyster omelets, and deep-fried taro cakes with egg yolk filling were still available and plentiful.
It’s harder to reach Ningxia Night Market on the MRT, so taking a bus is probably the best option.
After a long day, it was nice to get some rest at Green World Grand Hotel on Nanjing to take in some views of the city at night in the light drizzle of autumnal Taipei.
First Stop: National Taiwan Museum (Railway Park)
Hours: 9:30 a.m.- 5 p.m.
No. 2, Section 1, Yanping North Road, Datong Dist., Taipei City
Newly opened in July, after 15 years of accumulating relics and renovating the old Taiwan railway administration buildings next to Taipei Main Station into a museum, the National Taiwan Museum Railway Park might not sound very exciting, but it has enough curios and antique train paraphernalia to pique the interest of even those unfamiliar with the history of train industry and travel in Taiwan.
Exhibits and maps of the complex are in Chinese and English, and the museum has several buildings dedicated to different aspects of how they were used over the years. Most notable are the miniature models and life-size replicas of train stations, as well as the antique pieces of physical history that are on display throughout.
It shows how big of a role the training industry played in the evolution of Taipei as it changed into the modern metropolis it is today and Taiwan’s ride as a country into the modern age. The stone paths, original architecture, and restored sites around the museum give any visitor plenty to see and explore. There’s even a children’s area with digital interactive games and exhibits that capture the imagination while still being educational.
The museum is located right next to Taipei Main Sation, so finding it is easy, and there are many options to travel to and from the Railway Park.
Second Stop: Shin Yeh Restaurant
Hours: 11 a.m.-11p.m.
No. 34之1號, Shuangcheng Street, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, 10491
From the time it opened in 1977, Shine Yeh has been a shining example of Taiwanese cuisine. They have five locations around Taipei with the same 140 dishes. Over the years, they have had over 1,000 different items.
The head chef has been in the business for 37 years and certainly knows his way around the kitchen. It’s a nice middle ground between fine dining and casual and guests can choose to have an entree or just sample some of the appetizers. Our lunch was selected by the restaurant to show off some of the best from what they have to offer.
The menu doesn’t change from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., so you can show up anytime and get the same things. It all started with a 3-part set garnished with a carrot bird, featuring fermented pork, fish roe cuttlefish, and smoked duck rolled in cabbage. The order of dishes is meant to go from a more subtle flavor to the strongest.
Next was a deep-fried breaded shrimp, followed by a pork liver, which is a common signature dish. That was followed by stir-fried beef with pickled ginger. Since the ginger season is from February to March, they pickle the ginger to preserve it so that the dish is available year-round. No Taiwanese meal is complete without soup, and Shin Yeh had a fantastic chicken bamboo soup with bamboo that was still slightly crunchy compared to how it is usually prepared at other restaurants, and chicken that was so tender it fell off the bone. Those balanced textures really complimented each other. For dessert, we had a peanut mochi that was chewy and not too sweet and was a perfect end to an early lunch.
Foodie Find: Beef with pickled ginger and scallions & Chicken/bamboo soup
Third Stop: Longshan Temple
Hours: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
No. 211, Guangzhou Street, Wanhua District, Taipei City, 10853
Steeped in local history and defined by a variety of local traditions and mixing of religions, Longshan Temple is a great place for people watching and learning about the different ways people worship in Taiwan.
The temple itself and the surrounding area has a funky patina of Taipei tourists, locals, and busloads of Taiwanese people unloading to bow and pray to whichever god they came to pay tribute to. The main hall has a large Guanyin statue that is the centerpiece, but as you look around, you can see the flower offerings, snacks, and other items left on tables to be blessed by the gods. Many of the religious relics and architectural features are from the 1920s, and the faded facades and copper columns are a throwback to both Japanese, Chinese, and Western influence.
That includes Taoist, Buddhist, and Shinto traditions. There are many reasons to visit Longshan Temple other than as a tourist perusing the pedestrian promenade full of stalls hawking snacks, antiques, treasures, and replicas. The temple is next to the largest fortune telling street and people love to hang out at the park nearby. There are different areas of the temple dedicated to specific reasons to pray, including fertility worship for hopeful couples or parents, academic worship for students, Love and marriage worship (only for those over 16 years old), career and wealth worship, and health worship. People come to pray for themselves or others.
They banned the burning of incense in 2018 for environmental reasons, but patrons can still be seen clutching their mala prayer beads, tossing the divination blocks (jiaobei), and getting readings from joss sticks. The plumes of incense smoke have been replaced by the smell of Chinese herbs and medicinal teas to cure any ailment.
Longshan Temple is located on the Blue line of the MRT and has a designated stop. Walking around the area around the temple is good for people watching and shopping for second-hand goods. The night market nearby is the famous snake alley, where you can find snake wine, snake soup, and other oddities.
Fourth Stop: Jia Xiang Wei Restaurant
No.104 Kunming Road, Wanhua, Taipei 108 Taiwan
For four years running, Jia Xiang Wei has been selected for the National Pork Rice Festival. Their 2020 entry was a unique spin on the traditional dish that added a latte into the mix.
The subtle coffee flavor was born from the owner’s love of coffee and experimenting with food. The rest of the dishes were prime examples of things that you would find at any pork rice restaurant, including cabbage with garlic, fried tofu bites, fried pork, and a small platter of egg, tofu, and tripe.
The fish soup recipe was a nod to the local residents who are mostly from the southern part of the island. The family father-daughter owned and operated restaurant has outdoor seating and pictures on the wall from when they recently updated the interior of the dining area and open kitchen. It was interesting to taste test the original recipe pork rice that was already acclaimed next to the latte flavored version.
Foodie Find: Latte pork-rice
Fifth Stop: Bopiliao Cultural Center
As night fell, we ventured to the historical block of Bopiliao, which used to be one of the busiest bustling districts of Taipei. Over the years, it has seen many changes, but the government saw fit to designate it as a historical site and preserve and restore the buildings there into working order.
The tour was filled with historical factoids and plaques that explained the importance of certain areas from tea houses to formerly industrial warehouses. The red brick and distinct architecture of the one block were a lovely step back in time. The design highlighted the original dual usage for both business and residential purposes. It will host the upcoming Taiwan Film Festival.
Sixth Stop: Tchin Tchin Restaurant
No. 6, Sec. 3, Zhongyang Rd., Tucheng Dist., New Taipei City 236, Taiwan
To cap off our whirlwind tour of a few of Taipei’s finest eateries, cultural, and historical sites, we went just outside of the city limits to New Taipei City’s district of Tucheng. Tchin Tchin has been open in the same location for 43 years. It is not only a renowned seafood restaurant, but the large building also hosts wedding banquets and parties.
The decor reflected that will fancy gold plated tableware and illustrious artwork and antiques. We went to the fifth floor, which has two large tables set up for a family-style meal. The small portion appetizers were chosen to showcase four flavors: sour, sweet, spicy, and bitter: the pickled daikon radish from Pingtung was sour, along with a sweet pickled carrot-plum, bittermelon steamed with capers, and spicy clams that were cooked and then frozen to lock in the chili flavor. The first dish was two kinds of roe cake with onion and radish garnish, both were very salty, and one was smoked to add another layer of flavor.
The most complex dish we had was Buddha Soup, which had 14 ingredients and a very precise process of preparation that was explained in detail by the chef. They cracked open a bottle of discontinued Chinese medicinal rice wine to add to the soup, in case the 14 different complementary parts of the recipe weren’t enough. It’s a traditional Fujian soup that was changed over the years to incorporate Taiwanese ingredients.
Tchin Tchin’s recipe became so popular, that they even have it frozen at some 7-11s for Buddha soup on the go. The other entrees were also quite impressive in both taste and presentation. These included Fried squid in garlic, winter melon, and candied pineapple paste; a shellfish, oyster, onion, and scallops with a fried egg that was cooked at the table; crab, mushroom, bamboo topped with duck, chicken, and crab eggs to keep it warm.
This was particularly delicious since it’s crab season! Another soup was brought out with escargot squid and sparerib in a pork broth. It was much thinner and not as complexly flavored as the Buddha soup, so as not to compete with the dishes we had already sampled. Like most family meals, fresh fruit salad with local fruit was brought out, but the owners had to dazzle us by flambeing the passion fruit with a blow torch to caramelize the sugar and wow the guests. We posed for photos with the original owner of the restaurant whose family keeps her recipes alive and well. She thanked us for coming to try her food and bowed gracefully.
Since Tchin Tchin is way outside of the city, taking public transportation is time-consuming, and there’s not much of a draw around other than the food. The best option is to take the Blue MRT Line and get off at Haishan Station.
Final Thoughts on The Experience
With all of the chaos going on in the world, it was nice to be treated to such amazing food and be introduced to nice, friendly people whose so proud of their history and culinary accomplishments. Being a tourist in the city you live in can still be a fun change of pace. And when the storm clears, Taiwan will be ready to welcome you with open arms, as long as you’re really hungry!
Words Penned By Evan Vitkovski
Edited by: Mary