[Nate sez]: (as he tenuously holds a bottle Mogen David in a Taipei grocery store) One last note about Taiwan. This place was named by the Portuguese as "Formosa" meaning beautiful island. This beautiful island is also home to some of (and arguably the) best bloody tea on the planet. The specialty is Oolong tea. Now we've all had Oolong tea at the local Danny Fu's Chinese Greasy Wok, with its largely unappealing flavor (unless cut with some sugar) and mostly appearing to be an incomplete black tea. BUT the real truth about Oolong is that it is partially oxidized instead of completely oxidized (as Black Tea is).
For all of you who knew me when I was starting a tea business (that didn't get off the ground), I could go on for days about this shit so I'll simply link you to an appropriate tea information area for anyone who cares. Wikipedia - A Primer on Tea & Wikipedia - Oolong Tea
NOW - There is a chain restaurant owned and operated by the massive tea company Ten Ren called Cha For Tea. I read about this place in a Taiwan train-stop tourism guide and thought it might be worth a shot, even though guide book recommendations are notoriously expensive (which it of course was). I spotted the joint while we were walking back to a train station after visiting the National Palace Museum. We were peckish and thirsty so we stopped in.
Little did we know, we were in for one of the best dining experiences to date. Cha For Tea (as it's completely obvious name would suggest) serves a lot of tea, but as a bonus, all of their cuisine is inspired by/made with their tea. It was shockingly delicious.
We started the meal with a pot of their highest quality High Mountain Oolong (which is a Taiwan specialty). It is a very lightly oxidized tea so it tastes and feels green, but has developed mature and floral notes - specifically that of rose, jasmine, and sometimes lychee-muscat flavors. These teas are unusually sweet in flavor without the addition of sugar (which would kill it).
We moved on to our apps which were Tempura Tea Leaves and Jasmine Tea Pork God-Knows-What sauce Tofu. The tea leaves were served with a ground green oolong salt that was absolutely insane and ingenious, and the tofu dish was divine. The tofu was warmed slightly and covered in a light, beautiful savory reduced shrimp and pork stock infused with jasmine tea. I'd never had anything quite like it.
The main dishes were noodles (c'mon, what else do we eat?). I ordered the "King's Noodle Soup" and Ben got the Tea oil Noodles with ground pork. My noodles were actually made with tea powder, so they were green and slightly bittersweet. The broth was underwhelming - that is until I dived into the ungodly-delicious braised pork spareribs next to my bowl. The sauce was similar to that of standard Chinese roasted pork, but they had cut the Cha Siu sauce with some King's Tea Oolong, which delicately rounded out the overbearing sweetness and raisiny tastes found in Cha Siu. I generously added the remaining sauce to my bowl of noodles (whether that was the "right" thing to do or not) and it tasted a whole lot better after that. Maybe even really damn good. But the pork spare rib was the best spare rib I've had to date, so that says something.
Ben's dish was in another league all together. This green tea rice noodles were cooked off, then coated with tea oil. Then it was topped with a salty, meaty-dark pork sauce with a shredded seaweed garnish. The plate came with some steamed broccoli, baby corn, and tea infused prunes. This was the star of the show. The flavor was definitely a savory one by and large - but the tea oil brought a body and character we had never ever tasted before. Slightly bitter, very green, indirectly floral - this tea oil was magic. And the tea infused prunes were a brilliant match for this rare dish.
[Ben sez] The presence of strong green tea flavor in this dish was amazing. Using tea oil to create a magical, savory tea flavor (as opposed to the sweet, floral notes of tea as a beverage) made for an out of this world plate of noodles. A perfect balance when mixed with the salty ground pork.
We kind of looked at each other in disbelief of what had just transpired. So if you're in Taiwan, and you're in Taipei, go to Cha For Tea. I'm the last person on this bloody planet that would encourage anyone to visit a chain establishment. However, there are noteably important exceptions.
And who doesn't like Taco Bell at 3 in the fucking morning after drinking too much anyway?