Category Archives: Taiwan

The Ramen Rater Visits Taiwan – Day 5: A Fond Farewell

Day 1 * Day 2 * Day 3 * Day 4  * Day 5

Our last day in Taipei greets us again with the Taipei 101 yet again; a constant companion during the trip. Definitely tired still after going so many places and seeing so many new things, we start the day that will end up with us coming home.

Had some breakfast buffet at the United Hotel. Have found I like baked sweet potato as well as baked pumpkin. Also has sliced pork in oyster sauce, taro buns and some noodles. We also stopped by the 7-Eleven one more time – I found a couple gifts to bring home and yet another bowl of noodles. To be honest, I didn’t know whether or not any of my noodles would end up making it home; so many contain meat and that generally gets a big no from the CBP/USDA, so my fingers are crossed! Kyle picked us up for lunch and we planned on going to a popular beef noodle soup place but the line was pretty crazy so we went to a place called Lao Zhang. We started with some steamed rice with pork which was really good – served in a little wooden pot and underneath was a little bit of yam. It was accompanied by some cucumber and eggplant. Next was the beef noodle soup which was out of this world good! Afterwards we wandered around the area to find some snow ice. I tried this the night before at Raohe night market. Basically imagine the fluffiest snow that tastes like vanilla ice cream topped with mango and mango syrup as well as some whipped cream and custard on top. Ended up sitting next to a nice family from Washington D.C. (the other Washington!) who had moved to Taiwanbn. I asked how they liked it and they were really happy there. We walked around a little more and found something interesting. A while back, I saw a video showing a place that was selling stuff from my top ten list – not only that, it was using signs that said The Raman Rater (sp) and even pictures of me. Well, they don’t have that anymore at this particular shop but I intrroduced myself and the lady working there knew who I was. Pretty neat – gotta go 6,000 miles from home to meet people who recognize me ha! I also took a second to marvel at an automated display of chopsticks and noodles in front of a Japanese ramen shop.

Next we visited the National Museum Of Taiwan. We drove up and up and up – it’s on the side of a mountain. So many people and lots of walking and stairs – I was going to have no problem sleeping on the flight home tonight! Saw lots of Taiwanese antiquities – lots of jade, calligraphy and statues. Very impressive – especially how ancient many of them were. One bowl in particular caught my eye – I guess when I’m a billionaire maybe I can start doing my reviews in 500+ year old bowls!

We ended up going to Back Garden restaurant overlooking Taipei. A neat place with a great view, and awesome food! Had some nice fried tofu, water spinach, and sweet and sour pork. Now what’s nice about the sweet and sour pork is that it wasn’t breaded and deep fried like they do here in the states; it was moist and tender with pineapple and a sweet and indeed slightly sour sauce. Finally, we had some crusted cod which was really good. A great way to cap off our trip. We headed back to the United Hotel to get our luggage and catch a cab to the airport. We bid Kyle a fond farewell and a big thanks for showing us a great time in Taiwan – he really went above and beyond.

We took a cab to the airport and I recorded the whole thing. As soon as I uploaded the video to YouTube, it told me that there was a copyright claim (the cabbie had music going) and the whole point of posting this super long video was that towards the end you can hear him singing along to the music. The singing cab driver was one of the last fond memories of Taiwan. Unfortunately, YouTube scrapped the audio so I put in some of my own, but here’s an audio clip of what I’m talking about.

Got through security and had a few minutes to chill before the next flight. Ate the first meal and then passed out, waking up about 1,000 miles from home which was nice. Got to Seatac Airport and went through the security/customs re-entry without a hitch and rolled my luggage full of meaty noodles, big hats from flipping noodles and plenty of other things. Met my wife and two sons at the airport arrivals gate and soon we were on our way home. I want to thank everyone at Mom’s Dry Noodle for making this trip happen. I also want to thank my sister Sue for coming with me and watching out for curbs and other easily tripped over things what with my poor vision. Finally, I want to thank my lovely wife Kit for letting me go while she stayed at home with our boy Miles, dog Otis, and our daughter who she will give birth to any day now. Good to be home again.

The Ramen Rater Visits Taiwan – Day 4: Media, Malls & Raohe Night Market

Day 1 * Day 2 * Day 3 * Day 4  * Day 5

Yet again, we start our day gazing at the Taipei 101 as it towers over the local landscape. Kyle picked us up and we went to the Mom’s Dry Noodle offices.

ET Today, a well-known Taiwanese news website wanted to do an interview with me and I accepted. It was nice to actually do an interview with the Taiwanese press; so often they don’t do interviews with me and so I don’t get a chance to comment on stories that are put out. What also was nice ws to have Kyle there to translate – I think that made a big difference,  Here’s the article (warning – Google Translate does a poor job on this one). Kyle had some work to do, so James took us out on the town.

During the trip, I asked a lot of questions. One I’d been particularly interested in was how people get their ‘Western’ names. Kyle mentioned how very often a teacher in English class will assign you one ‘you look like a Keith or John’ etc. Kyle got his from a friend who thought it was a good name. James got his from the daughter of a family friend. I asked James if he felt put  off by the need for a Western name; I mean, shouldn’t we in the West have the respect to learn everyone’s name, regardless of whether it’s European or not? He said that it was very important in school, especially in the West. Growing up here, I remember how cruel other kids could be, but it sounds like a lot of kids give Asian kids a lot of crap. Knock it off, I say!

He also mentioned something extremely funny. So if you want to make someone from Taiwan mad, say China number one. To anger the Chinese, say Taiwan is number one. Well, here’s a video from YouTube of how this got started. In fact, the guy who says Taiwan #1 ended up being invited to Taiwan by the company! I found myself saying TAIWAN NUMBER ONE repeatedly during the rest of the trip, and I think it’ll be something I’ll be saying in upcoming top ten lists when Taiwan appears.

We went to lunch at Saboten, a tonkatsu restaurant. So many of you are familiar with tonkotsu, a Japanese style of ramen with a milky pork bone broth. Tonkatsu is usually breaded pork or chicken. It was excellent – you got a choice of tonkatsu with either cheese or asparagus in the center (I went for the asparagus). A mortar and pestle with sesame seeds was there – you grind the sesame seeds and it brings out the scent and then add plum sauce; seriously good with the meat. Shredded cabbage and grapefruit dressing was refreshing as well. My set included the tonkatsu, a couple pieces of seafood tempura – oyster and shrimp. I’ve honestly never liked oyster – until I had this! Awesome lunch.

Next we hit Miramar Entertainment Park, like a big mall. Now this was huge – I think there were six floors! At the top was a ferris wheel my sister took a ride on. We checked out a Carrefour that was in there. Carrefour is like a grocery/department kind of store. Got a ton of instant noodles there! Up a bit and we saw some familiar things – Subway, Krispy Kreme, Jamba Juice – all with neat Taiwanese twists to them. Next floor was the kid’s level – I was hoping to find some clothes for Miles and our daughter who will be born next month. I ended up at Toy World, a place my son Andy would have really liked. He’s a Pokemon fanatic and so I played a game and got him a little square plastic trinket (which he’s pretty stoked on by the way). One of my favorite things were the storage lockers. Not that storage lockers are all that exciting, but the big warning signs not to leave pets, drugs, guns, diamonds or babies in there. Pretty awesome.

We got dropped off back at the hotel and said goodbye to James and took some time to chill. Then met Kyle in the lobby. We were going to go out for dinner, but we decided to go to Raohe night market instead. Got to try even more delicacies – cock’s comb (the pointy thing on a rooster’s head), duck tongue (very chewy and tough), chicken heart, fried frog (quite tasty), spicy fishball, dragonfruit drink and fried milk. I also found some clothes for the kiddos which was awesome. A good evening of tromping around and trying new things.

Full of different animals parts, we ended up back at the hotel. Another very full day in Taipei and ready to crash.

The Ramen Rater Visits Taiwan – Day 3: Taichung Noodle Factories & Taipei’s Huaxi Night Market

Day 1 * Day 2 * Day 3 * Day 4  * Day 5

Woke up at the Silks Place hotel and had some breakfast. Then we were off to the Tainan rail station. We said goodbye to Darren there and then goodbye to Perry who had to head back to Taipei as he was off to travel on business the next day. The rail stations were really fascinating; almost like a mall to themselves! Tons of people, but everything seems to work very logically. We took the train from Tainan to Taichung where three more noodle factories were to explore! Met Jason, Erickk and Paul and went out for lunch at a hot pot restaurant. Got to try plum drink – kind of tasted like American barbecue sauce to be honest, but went very well with the Taiwanese beef. Was an enjoyable meal for all and then we were off to visit three noodle factories. These factories are all part of a company called Hung Guang.

The first factory was interesting. First, we see the dough flattened thinner and thinner and then cut and deposited into grid-like trays. Workers make sure the noodles are in the correct places before the trays are sent off to the drying room, a very warm place indeed. Then the dried noodles come upstairs for packaging.

The second factory makes the straight noodles found in the new varieties by Mom’s Dry Noodle. The first machine we see takes the noodles and gets them bundled. In the next scene, we see the hanging noodles ready to go up to the drying room upstairs and a processing machine (it was late in the day so it wasn’t running). In the back, the dough is being made. Upon entry, we saw a big fish tank that we took a closer look at when we were leaving. The large fish has scaled that look kind of like coins arranged in a pattern and Kyle told me that these fish bring luck in the wealth department.

On the way to the third factory, we stopped for some bubble tea. Taichung is the birthplace of bubble tea and so having some from there was really great. I also got to try wheel cakes – they’re shaped like a wheel and kind of like a pancake outside with either a custard of red bean inside, and served hot. Perfect combo!

We visit the third factory late in the day. This factory uses fans to dry their noodles as well as heat. What you end up with is the ability to dry the noodles without the sun’s help, which is great for a colder day. After our tour, we had some oolong tea and talked about our trip thus far and how I was interested in eating snake and maybe even trying steamed spider. They liked that a lot and wanted to take us out on the town in Taichung, but unfortunately we had to catch the train back to Taipei. So, we bid them adieu and headed for the THSR station. Once back in Taipei, we check into our room, again at the United Hotel, and then headed to the Huaxi night market.

I’d never been to a night market before and if you haven’t, it’s an amazing, living, breathing thing. Lots and lots of food and product stalls everywhere and lots of people too. So many smells, sounds and sights that it almost becomes a bit of a blur. Huaxi (snake alley) night makret has a lot of the more interesting things like a couple places selling snake and turtle to eat. I saw a YouTube video about snake and really wanted to give it a try. I did in this video – and quite honestly, I liked it, albeit kind of hard to eat. I hope you enjoy the video! After this we went back to our hotel and passed out.

The Ramen Rater Visits Taiwan – Day 2: South To Tainan

Day 1 * Day 2 * Day 3 * Day 4  * Day 5

Awake this morning in Taipei. Headed down and had some breakfast at the buffet – onion pancake, taro and red bean buns, orange juice.

Kyle met us with a taxi out from of the United Hotel and then we picked up Perry and headed to the train station. The THSR (Taiwan High Speed Rail) stations were ultra modern and really nice. We got our tickets, hit the 7-Eleven (I think we saw three 7-Elevens in there) and hopped our train heading south. The trains speed along at a top speed of 300 kph (186 mph). It was a very smooth ride and pretty quiet to be honest. It was interesting when we would pass a train heading the opposite direction – it almost felt like the two trains were sucking together for the brief moment they were close. We exited in Tainan and headed for a noodle factory.

Shortly after being picked up, we were in the countryside headed to the Sun Chi factory. I met Darren Wu, the assistant manager. He gave a presentation about the noodles they made there – Guanmiao style. They had me give a try at folding noodles and one thing’s for sure, I shouldn’t quit my day job. Maybe I did have a little jetlag because what looked so simple was absolute rocket science to me! I at least got one folded semi-decently. Next was something I was able to do a little better – flipping the noodles. The sun dried one side, but the other must be dried as well, so someone has to flip the trays over. This I could do and it was fun, but I’m guessing doing this for all the noodles that were out on this day would be a serious task. Visiting Sun Chi was a great experience I’ll never forget.

Next on the agenda was lunch. We went to a famous noodle restaurant called Tu Hsiao Yueh. They opened originally in 1895 after a typhoon wreaked havoc on the fishing industry and started selling noodles with garlic and shrimp on top. On their 100th anniversary, the pot that they still used since their opening busted out the bottom and is on display. The noodles were quite good – tried their rice vermicelli version as well. So many tasty delights here; I particularly enjoyed the braised pork intestine (fei chang) – my sister even tried it and liked it as well.

After lunch we checked into Silks Place hotel – very nice, new hotel. Afterwards, we stopped at Chihkan Tower, which was erected originally by the Dutch in the 1600s. Later, an earthquake destroyed it and was rebuilt by the local leaders. I had no idea that the Dutch had ventured so far so long ago. Next was a boat ride at a national park. The boat heads down a little stream that is covered by trees – very serene and tranquil. Afterwards, we took pictures of the temple next door and then visited a park with a large statue of the Taiwanese god of the sea. Lots of people flying kites there – was a really neat place. We passed a large body of water – the Strait of Formosa. Looking southward was the direction of the South China Sea – a place I’ve always been fascinated by.

Here’s some footage of driving back to the hotel in the evening. It’s a serious contrast to what I see here in the US – so many storefronts, so many businesses. I don’t think I saw any empty ones.

To cap off the day, we all had dinner the the Silks Place hotel restaurant, Silks House. They have a special roast duck – here’s how they describe it: “A premium 3.5kg Yilan cherry duck is roasted to perfection 070-462  in a Cantonese-style hanging oven, resulting in tender, supple meat and irresistibly crispy skin. Armed with over 30 years of gourmet experience, Executive Chef Wei-Chiang Lu showcases his exceptional culinary dexterity as he draws upon local Tainan ingredients in his gastronomic creations.” I’m not sure about the numbers or what they mean, but that was some amazingly tasty duck! They served it four ways: first, mu shu style in a pancake and spring onion. Next as a kind of lettuce wrap, third as a soup and fourth cooked again with more sauce. I thought perhaps the four ways of serving were representative of the seasons but I was reading a little too much into it. Finally, we finished with a kind of cold dessert soup with transparent mushrooms and a honey lemon taste. What a day!

The Ramen Rater Visits Taiwan – Day 1: Arrival & Immersion

Day 1 * Day 2 * Day 3 * Day 4  * Day 5

A couple of months ago, I was invited by Kyle Kao of Mom’s Dry Noodle – a company in Taiwan – to visit and check out their operation. Just like last time I traveled (last May to Thailand), my wife is pregnant and the trip would happen when she was too far along. Again, just like last time, she said it was alright to go and I was accompanied by my sister Sue. Like many of you know, I can’t see very well so I need a little help when travelling. In the following posts, I will chronicle everything we saw and did while there. Thank you so much to Kyle for extending this invitation, as well as to Perry, James and everyone else we met there – You made us feel welcome and we had an amazing time! I hope you all enjoy the posts!

November 13th, 2016 we headed to the airport. Got there around 10pm to make sure I’d get through security and check luggage in time for our flight. The flight was at 12:50am (the 14th) – and we would arrive around 13 hours later (which would be around 6am on the 15th, Taiwan time! The flight was great – I ate the dinner, took a sleeping pill and got about 6-8 hours of sleep. After the trips before, I was totally prepared; I knew that if I didn’t sleep on the flight, I’d get there zonked – and early in the morning. This time it was nice to feel human when I arrived. First thing, we went through immigration. I walked up to the counter ‘hello, how are you doing?’ ‘Not good’ the officer replied. Apparently I needed to fill out a form and then return to the desk. ‘Fill this out and then find me.’ I filled it out and then talked to different officer and was let through into Taiwan! Taoyuan Airport is a place I’d been 4 times previous, connecting to different flights – but I’d really wanted to get out of that airport and see Taiwan. Well, this time I was able to. We headed out and met Kyle and were off to breakfast.

Kyle took us to a little place in Taipei – soy milk, soup dumplings, a congee-like soy item, fried radish cake, buns and a kind of Taiwanese pastry followed. It was early – and busy. Afterwards we stopped in at a Family Mart – kind of like 7-Eleven (Kyle told us that there are around 2,000 7-Elevens in Taiwan – and we saw a ton of them everywhere). Checked out the noodle selection and got some bottled waters. Next we visited a temple (out of order sorry – that’s the next video) then visited the Mom’s Dry Noodle office. It was a neat place – got to meet Perry Chen, co-founder and watch a presentation about the company. Then we tried some of their new products – good stuff! Also got to meet James Lee – making the shallot and spring onion base for one of their noodle products. A huge, bubbling cauldron with steam issuing upwards; a strong scent wafting in the air. They also make a spicy Sichuan base – I’m guessing that really opens up the sinuses when its cooking! Next stop was lunch at a restaurant in a new Breeze Mall called Dim Dim Sum. I’ve been a fan of dim sum for as long as I’ve loved noodles and this place had some great stuff as you see towards the end of the video.

Okay, rewinding a little bit (we did so much on this trip that it’s a little hard to put it in the right order). Like I was saying, after breakfast we checked out a Taoist temple. As we got closer to the entrance, we could hear chanting, a drum being hit, a bell. There was a large covered area full of people looking toward the source of the chanting. People would bow at certain points. Others were throwing things on the ground which Kyle explained were kind of like dice; you ask a question – should I stay at my job or go for a new opportunity – questions like that that involve changes in the direction of one’s life. If the two pieces land face up, the answer is yes. Otherwise, the answer is no. The chanting and the sound of the pieces hitting the ground was compelling; the architecture was amazing as well.

Next, we headed to the Taipei 101 which is the world’s second tallest building. There was a Jason’s Market there and I scored some noodles. Then we took the elevator up, up and up some more. It was weird – it didn’t feel like it was moving – just a little hum and feeling my ears popping as it hurtled upwards at 10 meters per second. The view was amazing from the 88th floor, and then a quick hike up three flights of stairs and we were on the outside deck – very windy at the top! Afterwards, we checked into our room at the United Hotel and had some down time (we walked over to the local 7-Eleven and I nabbed some noodles. Then it was time to go out for dinner.

We went to a restaurant called Hawji. Had papaya milk – much like an Orange Julius but with papaya juice. We talked a lot about food and that I really wanted to find a place to try snake while in Taipei. Steamed spider was mentioned – and yeah, I would’ve tried that if we’d have found it somewhere. New things are what I live for, and eating spider and snake are definitely things I’d not tried before. We dined on squid, shrimp salad, duck, pork and other delicious fare.

After dinner in front of Hawji restaurant. From left to right: Hans ‘The Ramen Rater’ Lienesch, Kyle Kao, James Lee, Susan Lienesch and Perry Chen. Kyle is holding a framed label I brought from the Mom’s Dry Noodle package that made The Ramen Rater’s Top Ten Taiwanese Instant Noodles 2014 Edition in the top spot.

After dinner, we went to a fruit stand and they got me a sugar apple – a bumpy green fruit with really soft innards that was very sweet and tasty. I tore into it when we returned to our room at the United Hotel and looked out the window at the Taipei 101. Our first day in Taiwan was really amazing – already have seen and done so much and there are four more days to go!