All posts by Amy

Studio du Double-V

Studio du Double-V is a bit of an Instagram playground.  I respect a business that has marketing savvy and makes a good product, which Double-V does.

A friend suggested visiting after seeing the place tagged on Instagram (of course), so we stopped by on a sweltering hot day a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, no respite from the heat was to be found. The shop is essentially a counter with a small outdoor seating area. It’s tucked into the corner of what looks like a residential building on a residential street, but it’s easy to spot from the huge murals.

A colorful mural looming large over Double V.
The devil loves ice cream.
Order at the counter.

The menu features 9 flavors at a time, but I heard that nearly 100 flavors rotate through! That means there are plenty of interesting and unusual ones to try.

Flavors: sour cherry, cactus, green mango, olive oil, cardamom and grape, buckwheat, vanilla, rosemary and orange, chocolate. [S] means sorbet, [G] means ice cream.
One cup costs $110 TWD and you can choose two flavors. I chose sour cherry and rosemary and orange, and JW chose cactus and orange and rosemary. JW also ordered a waffle (it is a side order, not combined with the ice cream).

Sour cherry and orange and rosemary.
Cactus and orange and rosemary.

Orange and rosemary was so good that both of us ordered it. I wouldn’t have thought that those two ingredients complement each other, but they do! The orange is only lightly tart, and the rosemary comes in at the finish, leaving behind a savory aroma. I thought the sour cherry and cactus were both too sweet, which made it hard to appreciate the flavors.

Everything sampled had a great smooth texture, no ice crystals to be found. Even properly textured ice cream can’t stand up to Taiwan’s summer heat, though. You have to eat it fast (and snap your Instagram photos) or you’ll end up drinking it.

Wear blue.

Interesting flavors and the photogenic setting make this shop worth a visit. However, no indoor seating means sweating in the heat. Visiting at night might be a more comfortable experience.

Studio du Double-V
No. 3, Lane 85, Linsen North Rd.
Zhongshan District

Angel Gelato

Everybody knows that the best spots in Taipei are tucked away on the side streets.

Angel Gelato is on Lane 50 off Taishun Street, the main street running through Shida Night Market. Lane 50 is one of the quieter side streets, which is probably why this sign points the way:

“Gelato” in lights. I’m like a moth to a flame…

Follow it to this small and tidy store. Behind the freezer the case, there is a small seating area with a loveseat and a wooden bench.

The available flavors were a mix classic gelato flavors with two season fruit flavors: walnut, pistachio, gianduja, vanilla, zabaione (a type of Italian wine custard), and pineapple and watermelon (these were actual gelatos, not sorbets). The 老闆 was generous with the samples, so we tried everything.

Classic and fruit flavors.
A small cup is plenty for one person, and you can choose two flavors.

Pistachio was the stand-out flavor. It was a natural green color (no neon green coloring), mellow in flavor with tiny pistachio pieces. Unfortunately, there was only enough left for one of us to order it! The gianduja was excellent. The walnut was OK, but the artificial flavoring was a bit too strong. I thought the fruit flavors were a bit strange and better suited for sorbet, but overall not too bad. Every flavor had a smooth, creamy texture (no ice crystals!) without being super rich or super sweet. A good balance.

Pineapple and vanilla.
Pistachio and walnut.
Gianduja and walnut.

I’d like to come back in a couple of months to see if they will offer any new flavors. The texture of their gelato is above average, but some of the current flavors need some work (pistachio being the exception). The CP is high and I love that you can choose two flavors, plus the service was friendly. Try it after you’re done shopping in the night market!

Angel Gelato
No. 27, Lane 50, Taishun Street
Daan District

好想吃冰 (I Want Ice So Much)

Sometimes a Chinese name translated into English becomes not very name-like. For example: 好想吃冰 , or literally “I want ice so much.” As far as Chinese names go, it’s a pretty good one for an ice shop!

It’s obvious from the outside that this is a Japanese-style shop, and the tall windows and indoor lighting make it look warm and inviting. Inside, the decor is minimal and modern, with a few two- and four-top tables and a few low tables where you can sit on the floor. There’s also a room in the back with a large table (probably have to make a reservation to use it).

Dessert is undoubtedly the main draw, but they also serve rice bowls—all vegetarian. I actually didn’t know this until we opened the menu. I ordered a kimchi bowl and KT ordered a cheese bowl, both of which are built on tofu skin (豆皮). I don’t eat tofu skin, so I did not enjoy the food. If you think tofu skin is a good replacement for meat, your experience may be better. Each bowl comes with miso soup and costs $109 to $159 TWD.

Kimchi rice bowl (韓式泡菜丼)
Cheese bowl (濃厚起司燒)

I ordered the peanut shaved ice, which is Japanese-style (kakigori) so the ice is similar to an American-style snowcone, but softer. It’s piled high, drizzled with peanut syrup, dusted with peanut powder, and topped with a giant pillow of mochi. It’s eye-popping, for sure, but the flavor is not too strong or sweet due to the amount of ice. The mochi was super soft, and I love the visual effect of it hugging a big pile of ice, but it was actually very difficult to eat. I ended up pulling it off onto a plate to eat separately.

KT ordered the black sesame ice, which is even more eye-popping. It looks like a volcano, or a stalagmite. The ice is covered in black sesame powder, and a sprinkling of peanuts and scoop of black sesame ice cream rest at the base. It comes with a side of peanut syrup and hot barley tea. Like the peanut ice, the flavor is pretty light due to the amount of ice compared to the toppings.

I also ordered a soy powder dango, which is sweetened by a drizzle of black sugar syrup. If you don’t know what dango is, you’ve at least seen it in emoji form: 🍡. It’s mochi that is lightly grilled and served in triplets on a skewer. There are many possible flavors and toppings. It’s served warm, with a slightly crisp outer layer from grill contact.

The dango was my favorite item from this visit, and I wish I could have tried the other flavors. The shaved ice looks better than it tastes. Personally I like Taiwan-style ice (刨冰 and 雪花冰) better than kakigori. In 刨冰 the ice is similar to kakigori, but the toppings-to-ice ratio is greater. In 雪花冰 the ice itself is flavored and is much softer and smoother.  Shaved ice costs around $130 to $180 TWD and one order of dango costs $60 TWD.

好想吃冰 would not be my first choice for shaved ice, unless I wanted something very light. However, I would return (ideally with a big group of friends) in order to try the other dango flavors, the other dessert items, and the onigiri. I would also try one one of the low sitting tables, because the backless wooden chairs are not comfortable for sitting longer than 15 minutes. The nice environment and friendly service make this shop a welcome, slightly upscale option in the Taida/Gongguan area.

好想吃冰台大公館店
No. 80, Wenzhou Street
Daan District, Taipei

Eleven Beer House

There seems to be a fair number of beer stores in Taipei despite anecdotal evidence that Taiwanese people don’t much care about beer, especially craft beer. It’s easy enough to find Taiwan Beer on a restaurant menu, occasionally alongside one or two other virtually identical weak lagers. Even a lot of bars and bistros don’t necessarily offer a much better selection. I don’t allow myself to get too attached to any given beer store since I don’t know if they will be long for this beer-indifferent city.

I worry a little bit about Eleven Beer House, which is a small shop near 台大 that I’ve walked past countless times. It always seems quiet, which is a bit of a shame since the space is nice for casual hanging out. There is a tiny outdoor area which can seat a couple of people. Inside there is seating along one wall and several broad tables. The tables seem perfect for board games and cards, and could probably comfortably host a group of 4-8 people. You can even B.Y.O. food! We brought drinking snacks like popcorn, with the understanding of paying a 50 TWD cleaning fee (however, the boss waived the fee since he said we didn’t make a big mess—nice!). There was a chalkboard menu with food, but it seems like they actually are not offering food at this time.

The bar.

There’s a friendly and very loud cat prowling around. Personally, I hate seeing cats roaming around in a business, especially when they hop up onto chairs and tables. It’s not sanitary! And the cat really tore up one area of the seating. But my companion was totally charmed.

Tables, and the resident cat.
Wall of beer carriers.

The beer selection is small compared to other shops I’ve seen, but you can still find something suitable to your taste. There is a section of imports, which included Sierra Nevada (U.S.), Tuatara (New Zealand), Brewlander (Cambodia), Toøl (Denmark), and a few others. The domestic section included Jim and Dad’s, 55th Street, Taiwan Head Brewers, etc. Some kind of IPA from Jim and Dad’s was on tap (there is just one tap). The bottle and draft selections rotate all the time.

Beer selection.
Amrut peated whisky beer from North Taiwan Brewery.
Tropical Torpedo Tropical IPA from Sierra Nevada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This shop has potential to be a nice place to regularly chill with friends. It just needs a little more attention to detail where the environment is concerned, and some marketing savvy. That being said, I’d go back in a few months… as long as it’s still there.

Eleven Beer House
Taipei City, Daan District
羅斯福路三段283巷36號

I Tried a DIY Bakery in Taichung

I spent Chinese New Year in Taichung with my mom, eating excessively and doing lots of window shopping. We visited the Park Lane shopping mall, which is smaller but more interesting than the gigantic Sogo across the street. The 3rd floor has a traditional market with some commonly found but well-made Taiwanese foods. You pay a little more compared to a shop on the street, but the environment is nicer, the food hygiene is better, and there’s a lot of variety all in one place.

We walked past an intriguing storefront on the 2nd floor with KitchenAids in the window and a menu full of desserts. But you don’t buy desserts here—you make them yourself!  We’d stumbled upon Dough DIY Bakery. With no plans the following day, my aunt signed us up for an afternoon baking session.

When you arrive, you choose which dessert you want to make and pay. A shop assistant will show you to your place and give you a tablet loaded with text and video directions. I had chosen to make a matcha chocolate tart, because I had never made a tart before and it’s something I would never make at home.

Dough DIY menu.

I spent the next 10 minutes reading the instructions (Chinese only; no English available) and watching the video. Then I was off, gathering up equipment and ingredients from the common areas.

To me, hygiene seems like a bit of a concern, because 1) people are responsible for washing the equipment they use, which goes back into the common area, 2) all the ingredients are self-serve, and 3) there were tons of kids running around, not all of them well-supervised (really annoying, honestly). Fellow cleanfreaks, be aware.

On the flipside, it’s really freeing to bake in a kitchen that you don’t have to clean (except for some dish washing). You don’t have to worry about buying a bunch of ingredients or any baking equipment.

Ingredient shelves.

 

Ingredient jars.

 

Kitchen tools and utensils.

 

KitchenAid standing mixer.

 

Bank of ovens.

 

My piping needs some work…

 

The instructions were pretty straightforward and there are tons of shop assistants running around to answer questions, so I think even really novice bakers would not have a problem completing their dessert. It ended up taking me about 2.5 hours to from start to finish (it took that long because I made a mistake at one point and had to fix it) but time flies when you’re having fun. I was super proud of the end result and I would definitely go back to make a different dessert.

Dough DIY (動手玩)
No. 1049 Jianxing Rd., West District
Taichung, Taiwan

Sweet Mung Bean Dessert (Bubur Kacang Hijau, Sort of)

I like to keep a batch of cooked sweetened mung beans (綠豆; lǔdòu) in my fridge at the ready. It’s cheap, filling, quick and easy to cook, and nutritious with protein and fiber. It also requires no prep when you’re ready to eat it; just scoop it into a bowl cold. It’s my crutch for when I’m too lazy/too hungry to cook yet too virtuous to go buy something, so I’m usually eating it for breakfast, as a between-meal snack, or dessert.

When I want to make it a dessert, I favor a preparation that’s pretty close to an Indonesian dish called bubur kacang hijau, or “burjo” for short. At its most basic, burjo is mung beans boiled with coconut milk and palm sugar. It’s common to add other ingredients including ginger, pandan leaf, and black glutinous rice.

Personally, I prefer it served cold. And I like it on the dry side, meaning without a lot of water and without boiling the beans to oblivion. You can try this preparation, but it might be a stretch to really call it burjo. It’s just a sweet mung bean dessert. You will need:

  • Mung beans, dry
  • Water
  • Sugar or honey
  • Ginger, peeled and sliced or grated
  • Coconut milk
  1. Rinse the mung beans to remove any dirt. Soak them in water for 2-4 hours. Before cooking, drain and discard the soak water.
  2. Put the beans in a pot. Add enough water to cover them, plus about 1 inch (3 cm) more. Bring it to a boil.
  3. While it is boiling, skim off any scum that gathers at the top. Add sugar or honey to taste (I like it barely sweet). Add the ginger to taste (two or three thick slices will do). Stir occasionally.
  4. Boil until the beans start to get soft, and some start to split and lose their skins. Remove from heat and let the pot sit for about 30 minutes.
  5. Store it in the refrigerator.
  6. When ready to serve, add coconut milk to taste.

Some notes:
– You don’t need measurements because it’s all to taste and it’s very forgiving. Go wild.
– Soaking the mung beans beforehand is optional. I recommend it because it speeds cooking time, and it removes some of the color from the beans, which makes the end result less muddy-looking.
– Pretty much any kind of sugar—white, brown, black, rock, etc.—will work.

Mung beans soaking.

 

Cover with water plus a little more. I like for most of the water to be gone by the time the beans are soft.

 

Most of the water has been absorbed and evaporated away. There’s enough left to keep the beans from burning. Um, I promise the pot is clean (just stained).

 

Pouring coconut milk over the beans.

 

Cool, creamy, slightly sweet. Ready to eat.

 

References
“Bubur kacang hijau” – Wikipedia

Toasted Milk Is the Secret Ingredient

In  my house growing up, milk was not something we drank. It was strictly a medium or complement for other food: cereal, cookies, chocolate syrup, cornbread. Milk-as-beverage was too much, like eating a stick of butter or a clove of garlic—things that are unappetizing on their own but become magnificent when combined with other ingredients.

So, even now I recoil at the thought of drinking a glass of milk straight, but I swoon over milky foodstuffs. Hokkaido milk bread, dulce de leche, Vietnamese iced coffee, tres leches cake, etc. What makes these foods milky? They contain milk, obviously, but what is the essence of milkiness?

Whole cow’s milk is about 87 percent water and 13 percent solids (3.7 percent fat, and 9 percent non-fat solids including proteins, carbohydrates, and minerals). The fat and other solids work together to create the smooth, round richness and flavor we know as milkiness. Concentrating the solids relative to the water intensifies milkiness and leaves us with milk products (think evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, powdered milk) that have diverse culinary applications.

In other words, getting rid of the liquid in milk lets us add milkiness anywhere! And this was relevant to one of my old ice cream quests: making milk-flavored ice cream.

You might be thinking, But isn’t all dairy-based ice cream milk-flavored, by virtue of it being mostly milk? Well, yeah, but as noted above, milk is mostly water. Ice cream is mostly milk. Therefore, ice cream is mostly water (and air).

Of the milk solids—the fat and the non-fat solids—in an ice cream, the fat portion contributes to a creamy smooth texture. The non-fat milk solids contribute a little to texture too, but they’re more of a flavor component. A weak one, because the sugar and eggs, not to mention the ice cream flavoring, overpower them. So if you’re looking for an ice cream that truly tastes like milk, you’re going to have to boost the the non-fat solids.

This is where nonfat milk powder comes in. Nonfat milk powder is non-fat milk solids. And it’s the secret ingredient to the best ice cream in the world. See Ample Hills’ ice cream base recipe which they revealed in their 2014 cookbook Ample Hills Creamery: Secrets and Stories from Brooklyn’s Favorite Ice Cream Shop:

  • 3/4 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup skim milk powder
  • 1 2/3 cups whole milk
  • 1 2/3 cups heavy cream
  • 3 egg yolks

The skim milk powder is Ample Hills’ differentiating ingredient. The average ice cream recipe that turns up in a Google search does not include it, and even trusted sources like Serious Eats and Alton Brown don’t mention it. But there’s a way to amplify milkiness even more: by toasting the milk powder. This is the technique (from Ideas in Food) I used when I made toasted milk ice cream with pineapple cakes and sesame candy. A microwave, a fork, and a lot of patience is all you need.

Toasted Milk

I’m not in a position to do a lot of kitchen experimenting anymore, but one day I hope to return to it and to the applications of milk solids specifically.

References
International Dairy Foods Association

Retro Space Saka, Sapporo’s museum of vintage and oddities

I spotted Retro Saka in a tourist brochure picked up from New Chitose Airport, and knew immediately I had to visit. Billed as a “vintage museum,” it seemed like just the kind of unique local attraction I favor over regular ol’ art and history museums. The brochure didn’t list the address or operating hours, and googling it didn’t provide a lot more information. Apparently it’s been open since 1994, but it’s still quite under the radar. It has no website, although it does seem to have a Facebook page (liked by 125 people, as of this writing), and it’s ranked #129 of 350 attractions on TripAdvisor (none of the reviews are in English).

But, my fellow Americans and other English-speaking people, you should visit this place if you go to Sapporo. For one thing, it’s free! And photos are allowed, and there are a lot of things you’ll want to get photos of.

Some background, according to the Facebook page and one of the two English articles on this place: the museum is the personal collection of Kazutaka Saka, director of the Saka Biscuit company (Saka Eiyo Shokuhin K.K.). The company was founded in 1950, and it’s crackers are well known in Hokkaido. As far as I can tell, Mr. Saka is still alive and adding to the museum. Most of the items are everyday objects from the 1940s through the 1970s.

I walked from Maruyama Park (about 30 minutes) but you can take the Tozai line to Nijuyonken Station and walk about 10 minutes. There is no English signage, and the building has little to indicate it’s an attraction, so memorize what the outside looks like before you go or you might walk right past it.

Seems legit.

Looking from the outside, you can tell that calling it a “museum” is a bit generous. Step inside, and it feels more like a cramped old shop. Or a perverted grandfather’s house. That’s because the first “exhibit” you’ll see is this:

At this point, you might be asking yourself if you’ve made a huge mistake coming to this place.

 

What appears to be a picture of Kazutaka Saka, in front of a birdcage of dolls.

There was no one else, either visitor or staff, inside. This was around noontime on a Friday. I guess they really trust people to not touch or steal anything. Most of the items are simply set out, not behind any barriers (again, it was like being in a shop or home).

There are no plaques or explanatory texts anywhere, and the displays are basically a random assortment of collections. In one room, most of the items seemed to be from the 1950s–a collection of those perfume bottles with the squeezy balloon thing, trays of cigarette packs, shelves of cameras, a corner with half a dozen geisha wigs, etc. In one hallway, cases of creepy dolls. A shelf of gas masks. Mannequin limbs. And all throughout, vintage erotica.

Geisha wigs. They’re huge. They seemed to be made out of real hair.

 

Gas masks.

 

Saka luchador mask.

 

Bunch of rotary dial phones.

 

The panty nook.

 

Here’s a blender and a mannequin head.

 

A fat “Millennial pink” phone.

 

Random knick knacks.

 

A nice collection of lamps. And instruments. And erotic plates.

 

Vintage cigarettes.

 

Not sure what these are.

 

Icky “Sambo” merchandise.

It took maybe 30 minutes to get a look at everything. To exit, you can go out the way you came, or you can walk into an adjacent room where Saka products are sold. There are a few shelves with different kinds of crackers, and it’s all incredibly normal and disjointing, considering the preceding weirdness. I bought a bag of their most famous product, the Sapporo Beer Crackers (around ¥100, or $1), and ate them as I walked to the train station.

Retro Space Saka
レトロスペース・坂会館
3-22, 3-7 Nijyuyonken
Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Cuabing/Baobing (剉冰/刨冰), Traditional Taiwanese Shaved Ice

I still haven’t had the heart to unfollow Ample Hills and Davey’s on Instagram even though I simultaneously cry and drool whenever I see Ooey Gooey Butter Cake…

But when it’s out of sight it’s out of mind, because Taiwan has its own cult of cold desserts, and I’m a convert if not a true believer.

I was at a friend’s house last week when she served us with small bowls of shaved ice on top of a few taro balls, mung beans, peanuts, red beans, sweet potatoes, and aiyu jelly. We spooned black sugar syrup over it and then filled the bowl half-way with milk.

This is the sort of dish that since I was a little kid I’ve seen my mom eat. It’s also the sort that made me turn up my nose. I remember my mom using our popsicle mold to make red bean or peanut soup popsicles, and I remember never being even a little bit tempted to try one.

To my American tastes, everything about many traditional Taiwanese desserts was all mixed up and weird. Taro, sweet potatoes, beans? These foods should be salty and hot, not sweet and certainly never cold. Desserts should be rich and toothsome, not aqueous and slick. Peanuts should be salty if not honey-roasted/embedded within a candy bar; they should be crunchy unless boiled (in which case they definitely need to be salty). The only Q food is Jell-O, and that should only be eaten if you are in a hospital or a public school cafeteria. Actually, even then you probably shouldn’t eat it.

Assimilating is fun! It’s also a proven coping strategy when you’re a foreigner who has had strong opinions about dessert. This dish I had at my friend’s house—I’ve since hunted down a vendor near my house so I can eat it all the time.

It’s called cuabing (剉冰). Apparently “cuabing” is a Taiwanese word; in Mandarin it’s called baobing (刨冰; bàobīng). Both literally translate as “shave ice.” It consists of unflavored shaved ice similar to the texture of a snowcone. It’s sweetened with black sugar syrup and is topped with at least a few ingredients such as:

  • Red beans (紅豆; hóngdòu)
  • Mung beans (綠豆; lǜdòu)
  • Grass jelly (仙草; xiāncǎo)
  • Aiyu jelly (愛玉; àiyù)
  • Konnyaku jelly (蒟蒻; jǔruò)
  • Tapioca pearls (珍珠; zhēnzhū)
  • Tofu pudding (豆花; dòuhuā)
  • Taro balls (芋圓; yùyuán)
  • Sweet potatoes (地瓜; dìguā)
  • Peanuts (花生; huāshēng)
  • Lotus seeds (蓮子; liánzi)
  • Fruit (水果; shuǐguǒ)
  • Milk (牛奶; niúnǎi)

Stands serving cuabing and other traditional cold snacks are very common near street markets.

Small stand inside the morning market on Minxiang Street, Yonghe District.
Cuabing toppings.
Taiwanese ice shop
Shaved ice shop at the end of the evening market near my house.
From right to left: mango shaved ice, xue hua bing, burnt sugar bao bing (cua bing), hand-made douhua (tofu pudding). 45 NTD (roughly $1.50 USD) for a giant bowl of cuabing with four toppings.
Cua bing.
A drizzle of burnt sugar ,or black sugar, syrup.
Cua bing toppings.
Toppings underneath the ice. From top left, clockwise: tapioca pearls, grass jelly, peanuts, taro balls.

Cuabing is a traditional preparation of  shaved ice that contrasts with xuehuabing (雪花冰; xuěhuābīng), which often also gets called “shaved ice” when named in English.

Xuehuabing’s shaved ice is a water-milk mixture, resulting in a smooth ice cream–like texture and a milky flavor. It’s usually topped with sweetened condensed milk, fruit (Taiwan is especially known for its mango shaved ice), and ingredients like tapioca pearls, tofu pudding, and ice cream/sorbet. Xuehuabing is the more modern, sexy style of shaved ice that’s popular with younger people and people outside Taiwan. It’s infinitely more Instagrammable and way sweeter, so I feel certain it’s only a matter of time before it becomes mega trendy in the U.S. (outside of California, I mean). Is Ice Monster franchising yet? A summer pop-up in New York City would be an absolute coup.

Monster Ice.
Monstrous xuehuabing from Monster Ice. I’ve got a coffee flavored one, my friend’s got a milk tea flavor.

I’m crazy about xuehuabing, but I love cuabing too for all the ways it’s not like xuehuabing. I love that it’s stubbornly unphotogenic and drably colored. That it’s a dessert topped with ingredients that wouldn’t be out of place in a healthy dinner. That it’s dirt cheap and often found in a tiny open-air shop with zero amenities. Unpretentious and refreshing, it’s the perfect cap to my weekly fruit/vegetable shopping trips to the market.