Monday, July 25, 2011

Sushi in Taiwan - Sushi Express

Last Saturday my little blog hit over 100 visitors and to make a small celebration, I've decided to go eat sushi with my wife at Sushi Express in Taipei City. Taiwan is an island, and if you are seafood lover, indeed you will find your stomach over satisfied.

Sushi is expensive. Everywhere. Sashimi is even more expensive. This kind of food requires good handling, very fast transport and refrigeration and it turns bad after an evening. So yes, Sushi is expensive. Yet, I find the prices in Taiwan to be not only reasonable, but affordable to the point that you could manage to eat Sushi almost every day.
The most popular and recognized venue in Taiwan is Sushi Express, which offers a mixed selection of sushi, sashimi, local delicacies, salads as well as drinks and deserts. You will find other sushi spots around the island ( usually much more pricey,) but for quick lunch (or dinner) you will probably find Sushi Express close to the place that you live (if you are, of course, in a large city. Sorry folks, they tend to not open it outside main metropolis.)
My every visit start with miso soup, which contains large chunks of fish or other seafood, depending on the season. Soup is very tasty and a must. Although Japanese friend of mine told me that you should consume miso soup after eating sushi, I always follow my European instinct, or rather, my always hungry stomach.

At the same time, you will be presented with menu. The sushi is put on the moving plates, so you can simply grab anything that comes around you, but there are choices in menu that you will not find on the rolling plates. They need to be kept extra fresh. No worries here - everything (except perhaps beer) is priced the same - 30NT per dish. I usually order sashimi from the menu as well as rolls (usually choices are: asparagus, shrimps or ells.)

Each dish comes usually with 2 pieces of sushi, or 4 slices of sashimi. It might not seem as a lot, but I and my wife tends to get pretty full after about 15 plates, and inside our order usually include 1 or 2 rolls, 2 soups, 1 desert, and about 9 to 11 plates of sushi. I do not order drinks, because hot tea is free and it is quite tasty.

They also have packages for to go. Regular box is NT100 for 8 pieces of sushi. You can also buy their rice, beer, plum wine and corn.

Overall, the first visit to Sushi Express will be a memorable one, as well as second and third. After some time, you will start hoping for larger selection of sushi - there is a large selection on the menu, but only part of them is sushi. In my opinion, there are too many choices for deserts, salads, and sides, while original sushi usually tends to be pretty similar (salmon roll, salmon with onion, you get my point.)

It is very affordable and you can get full for less than 150NT if you are on budget (a soup and +4 plates, plus free tea.)

Price: 30NT per dish

My verdict: 7+/10
Pros: Menu selection is quite large, many locations, fresh, can buy for take out
Cons: Not enough selection of sushi, usually always very crowded, waitresses seems to always mess up your order, eating space becoming really small once the plates start pilling up.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Macho Tacos in Taipei, Taiwan

If you are a taco lover and like Mexican food overall, there are couple of places that you should visit while staying in Taiwan. The choices are somehow limited, so I have decided to start with food that is harder to get and can be considered a bit of exotic for locals.

After recommendation from friend, I took a bus to downtown Taipei and looked for the restaurant. It was not difficult to find, but for those that drive - word of caution - parking is a nightmare there. Once I have arrived to Macho Tacos, I've noticed that it is a rather small restaurant and it does have a limited number of tables. At the moment of my arrival, all tables were taken, but luckily, one table was reserved for me and my wife. Tables are small and once the food arrives (actually, once you bring it yourself) there is not much space left for anything. I have ordered soft taco, hard taco, burrito, quesadilla, taco salad with 2 drinks and chips and some of the trails had to be left on the chairs.
The menu has practically everything you wish from a taco shop. To mentioned above, restaurant also serves nachos and sides, and alcoholic drinks (beer and tequila.) Every meal have a choice of steak, chicken, pork, tofu or cheese. Prices are acceptable, but way above what you usually pay in Taco Bells chain stores across United States. It is also worth to mention that it has a small self service nachos bar, where you can add one of three salads to your tacos or chips, free of charge. Soda drinks, such as Pepsi, Sprite, apple and grape juice and water comes with free refills.
The food quality is good. Vegetables are colorful and fresh, and meat is tasty. Since we have ordered almost everything from the menu, I can say that the biggest winner here is their Quesadillas. In one portion, you will receive 4 pieces, and they were simply outstanding and everyone enjoyed them. Tacos, both crispy and soft are also all time winners, and I can recommend them anyone to try it. However, one word of caution: it does not come with sour cream, you need to order it as a side dish (?!?!)

Burrito salad and burritos did not pass my expectation. They were simply plain. For the salad, the rice did not taste that good, and for the burrito, it simply had too much rice that it overwhelmed the taste of other ingredients. You will be stuff with it, that's for sure, but I will not order burrito here again.
Each order can come with a combo: soda (free refills) and chips (come with sauce and you can add any salad dressing free of charge.) The chips were too hard, and nobody really liked them, but once you dip long enough in the sauce or salad, they become manageable.

I have added a scan of their menu for anyone that is interested to visit Macho Tacos. It is open from Mon-Sat noon-3pm, 6:30-10pm and Sun noon-3pm, 6:30-9pm, while delivery is available from Mon-Fri from noon-6pm. The address is: No.3, Ln. 126, Yanji St. Da'an Dist., Taipei City 106, Taiwan

Quick price check:
Burrito Bowl: 130-175NT
Quesadilla (4 pieces): 105-160NT
Nachos: 160-190NT
Burrito: 110-155NT
Taco (crispy): 50-60NT, (soft): 45-55NT
Combo: Drink and chips: +60NT

Verdict: 7/10
Pros: Large selection, great tacos and quesadilla, free refills, delivery, good location
Cons: Small tables, burrito and burrito salad simply not that good, snacks are too hard, prices are a bit high.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Western Fast-food in Taiwan

Are you hungry and on the move? Or simply don't know what to eat? Or you just need to satisfy your hunger.. Ahh, yes, junk food, including fast-food restaurants will save this problem. Taiwanese people love to eat, and they hate cooking. You will notice that they will take their entire families to eat in restaurants... every day. It is not expensive to eat outside, and if you are living alone, often eating outside will be relatively less expensive if cooking at home.

In this article, you will find information on western fast-food chains (MC Donald's, KFC, MOS Burger, Burger King, Subway) I will not provide information here regarding Taiwanese fast food (it will be covered in another article) as well as other western restaurants, such as pizza hut or Fridays. Here you will get a picture of cheap, fast food brought to you in paper bags. Drink shops will not be mentioned here as well, since they will be separated into their own articles. I will update this article once I revisit these fast foods to get more price details on individual items.

Taiwanese main chains of Fast Foods are MC Donald's, KFC, MOS Burger and Burger King (if I think of any others, I will add later) and they are exactly what you remember at home. Menu is about the same and prices are much lower compared to Europe or USA, but, for average living standards in Taiwan, I find prices a bit expensive.

MC Donald's: Opens 24/7 (including major holidays and typhoons days), will deliver to your home (!!) some includes MC Cafe and MC Ice-cream. You will find often crowded with teenagers and I usually take out since I live 5 minutes to MC Donald's. You will find restaurant almost every where. Here you only get one sized meals, but you can ask for larger fries and coke for additional 15NT

Meal: 99NT to 125NT (burger, drink, fries, drink can be exchanged to soup, fries to salad)
Meals are typical to what you remember: Double cheeseburger, Big Mac, Chicken nuggets, chicken drumsticks, and 1-2 local sets.
Breakfast set: From 39 NT to 75NT, including drink (such as coffee or tea) optional hash brown. Selection of bagels, buns, and pancakes
Ice cream: NT15 for cone, NT45 for specialty ice cream
Drink: 40 NT
Coffee and tea: 20-60NT
Fries: 40NT
Single drumstick: 39NT
Single burger: 35-79NT

KFC: Offers delivery, which is good to know because there are not many (sadly) KFC around. You will find a Taiwanese 'copy' brand called KLG, which is surprisingly also delicious. I haven't eaten KFC for over a year, since in my district, you won't find any.

Prices for meals: 109-135NT
Buckets: 199-299NT
Breakfast set: 45-75NT, including drink and soup

Standard meals include: Chicken breast, drumsticks, twister, chicken burger, local specialties.

Burger King: The king of burger. It is not that popular in Taiwan, but I find it to provide better choice and burgers than MC Donald's. Large districts and popular places will have Burger King around the corner, but don't look for it in the suburban area. It has the largest burgers from all fast foods, and its Big Whooper is about 3 times larger than Double Cheeseburger in MC Donald's.

Price for meals: 115-175NT
Breakfast set: 40-80NT

Each burger can be modified the way you please. You can add vegetables (such as lettuce, onion, tomato, each NT10) can also add extra ham, bacon
or beef burger for additional price.

MOS Burger: Japanese fast-food, selling mainly rice burgers, hot dogs, chicken legs (with no bones) and regular (but small) burgers. You can also find it everywhere, it is very popular.

Meal sets: You can choose between A,B and C meals, each having different adds, such as fries and drink, or drink and salad, or drink and drumstick. Meals go 105-135NT, while individual burgers 60-80NT

Matcha Tea: They serve a nice refreshing matcha, 40NT

Subway. Eat Fresh. I love their sandwiches, because you can decide what you really want, anyway you want it. Most major location will have it, but not suburban area. The vegetables and sandwiches are exactly the same as in USA, and meals include cookie or bag of chips, and (refillable) drink. One thing that bothers me is that in Taiwan they use white onion instead of red, which sometimes can make your sandwich too spicy.

Each day it has a sandwich of the day, when it is priced only NT69 for 6 inches long.
6 inches sandwich: 69-115 NT
12 inches: 90-145NT
Meal: Add 30NT
Cookie: 1 for 15NT, 3 for 45NT (need to double check for price of 3 cookies)

Sandwiches are same everywhere you go, you got veggie sandwich, Italian, cheese steak, meat ball, and 1-2 local sandwiches. You can also order large party sandwich, but you need to do so in advance.

Food Quality and my score: Surprisingly, quality of fast foods in Taiwan tends to be good, but there were few scandals in the past, such as not clean oil used in MC Donald's. You will always find fresh vegetables in the meal, and I never had any problems with my stomach after eating any fast food in Taiwan (this means something, my stomach is quite sensitive, and if I eat something bad, I will be sick while my wife would feel just fine.) Restaurants are kept clean and staff is trained to be friendly. Often, when you wait for too long, you might get a small drink.

There is no best fast food here, and all have their good and bad points.
1. The winner here is Subway.
+ Good prices, daily sandwich deal, easy to find locations, fresh, good selection, free refills
- No red onion, most of the subways are small, so often there is no sit, especially during break hours.
2. Burger King
+ Great selection that I remember from home, large burger sizes that make me full for half day, design your own burger
- Expensive, not many chain stores around Taiwan

3. KFC
+ Crispy chicken, usually not microwaved but freshly made, good side dishes selection, delivery
- Not enough stores, prices are quite high for those that need more than whole meal to keep hunger away

4. MC Donald's
+ Good prices, Often free merchandise (like a cup), ability to increase your portion size, many locations, everywhere, delivery,
- Eat and forget, means it tastes not bad, but nothing special, few scandals before, need to improve selection, menu: double cheeseburger, triple cheeseburger, big mac, double big mac....

5. MOS
+ Many locations, tends to open 24/7, different kind of burgers, good selection
- Expensive and small size. I must eat a meal and add 1-2 extras to be full

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Convenient Stores in Taiwan - how much things cost

One of the most easy recognizeable thing about Taiwan is abudance of convenient stores, such as 7/11, OK, and Family Mart. You can find there practically everything you need, from food and drinks, alcohol, dog food, stationary, magazines and newspapers and services, such as copy and fax, post, hub for purchasing tickets and more. Recently 7/11 becomes just like a small coffee shops, they are redecorating stores across Taiwan and adding space to sit and enjoy coffee freshly made from machine

They are very convenient (it takes me 1 minute walk to get to 2 different convenient stores from where I live) and they are expensive, yet you will probably find most of the time shopping there.

Here is a price list of what you can expect for the items I usually shop most often in convenient store:
Prices are in NTD
Coke and soda: can 20NT, bottle (600ml) 29NT, bottle (2L) 50NT
Coffee from the fridge: Mr brown (can): 20-25NT (my favorite), others range from 20-35NT*
Freshly made coffee: small: 25-40NT**, medium: 30-45NT**, Large: 35-55NT**
Tea from the fridge: Huge selection, sometimes it takes me couple minutes to just choose what to drink. A small cartoon: 10-20NT, bottle: 18-25NT, large bottle: 38-50NT
Freshly made tea: same as coffee
Juice: 25-40NT for 600ml
Redbull: 1 can 59NT
Energy drinks: 20-35 NT
Water: 15-40 NT for small bottle, 50NT-70NT for 5L bottle
Milk: 30NT for small cartoon, 1L from 89NT to 140NT
Beer: Many kinds, mostly sold in cans. Ranging from 50NT to 70 NT for small can, 70NT to 110NT for large can
Other alcohol: You should not buy it in convenient store, it is too expensive. I will mention it in the other article, but just for reference: personal mini whiskey bottle: 180NT-300NT, bottle of cheap wine: 200NT+, absolut: ~500NT
*Selection is very large, but the range is approximate, it is up to you to decide your favorite flawor
**Cheapest: americano, most expensive: latte

Again, you will find huge selection of all kind of microwave food here that clerk will be happy to warm up for you. It again depends on your preference what you like to eat, so I just point some
Sandwitch: 30-40NT
Hamburger: 35-40NT
Cold noodles: 40-60NT (depends on size)
Spagetti: 50-70NT
Salad: 35NT
Sushi roll: 35NT
Rice triangle: 30NT
Lunchbox: 55-75NT
Noodle soup: 55-80NT
Hot dog: 22-25NT + bread
Instant noodles: 20-45NT - ask clerk and they will add hot water for you if you wish to eat right away.
Bread: 35-50NT - toast bread, 18-30NT - sweet bread
Breakfast: In the morning you can combine specific food and drink for discount. For example, milk with sandwitch will cost much lower.

Chips: 17-35NT for bag,
Chocolate: 10NT - small cheapest chocolate, better ones: 40-110NT per bar
Snicker, M&M, and similar candies: 30NT
Chocolate cookies: 50NT
Chocolate puffs: 30NT
Sugar cookies: 30-50NT
Icecream: 25-180NT (cheapest: icecream on stick, most expensive: luxury icecream)
Microwave popcorn: 35NT for both salty and with cheese.

Copy and print: 2NT per white-black page, 15NT per color
Fax: 5NT local, global, usually between 15-50NT
ATM: Free, but watch out for banking charges
Call taxi: Free
Internet: You need to purchase WiFly card, last time I checked it was 350NT, but not sure how long it last.
Paying bills: Free
Adding money to MRT Easy Card: Free (For more information of MRT Easy cards, check Public Transportation article.)

This part will be updated, since I don't shop much for stationary in convenience store.
Pen: 10-25NT
Notebook: 20-30NT
Newspaper: 10-20NT
Ear cleaners: 50NT
Toothpicks: 30NT
Ciggarretes: ~70-120NT per pack
Umbrella: NT100 (those are of poor quality, but weather often changes during the raining season, so if you do not carry umbrella with you at the time, at least you get a way to not get all soaked)
Batteries (AA, AAA, etc.): ranges from NT99 to NT300 (rechargeable) and depends on how many in pack
Dog food: 35-45NT for can
Eggs: 10 for 89NT

This post will be constantly updated if prices change or I do some shopping for items that are not mentioned above, but hopefully it already gives you an idea of how much things cost in convenience shops. For example, 10 eggs for 89NT, while you can get the same thing in local market for 35NT.