Travel Diaries Taipei: Got Xiao Long Bao?

Elephant Mountain in Taipei, Taiwan
The view from the top of Elephant Mountain in Taipei, Taiwan. 
I still can’t forget the amazing beef noodle soup that I had the first night in the Ximending District of Taipei. Now anytime someone asks me about that trip to Taiwan, I immediately associate it with that experience. And, it’s all thanks to a friend who took the time to show me around the city. For about five days, we hopped on and off the local metro system visiting the major tourist destinations. It was exhausting! Although my husband and I would be visiting for only one day this time around, I was looking forward to the more leisurely pace I had envisioned. 
US tourists can stay up to 90 days according to the U.S. Passports & International Travel website so there was no need for me to obtain a visa. With our flights and Airbnbs booked, we were off to Taipei to kick off a 3-week vacation that would go to Hong Kong Macau, and lastly Tokyo.

We arrived 6pm on a Thursday night and took a 45-minute taxi down to our Airbnb in the Xinyi District. The Airbnb was on the top floor of an old apartment building. It wasn’t the prettiest apartment but it was only a 15-minute walk away from the Taipei 101. I had beef noodle soup on my mind but unfortunately, we were already full from having a meal during our 5-hour stopover in Incheon Intl Airport in Seoul. Well, at least I was able to sleep early from the jet lag.

The number one thing I had planned for my full day was a climb up the steps of Elephant Mountain. My husband would be meeting with some friends during most of the day so I thought this would be a good chance to have some hiking up a mountain alone time. Located in the Xinyi District, the Elephant Mountain about a 15-minute walk from the Taipei 101 and the closest MRT station is the Xiangshan station. The steps up to the top take about 15 to 30 minutes to climb, depending on your fitness level. I thought it wouldn’t be that bad if I went up at 7am in the morning; plus, the majority of the path was shaded by trees. Sounds likes a breeze, doesn’t it? Not in hot and humid weather. My soaked shirt clung to my body as beads of sweat rolled down my face. I even got bitten by a mosquito so bring repellant if you go. Around the halfway mark, there’s a fork in the road. I took the path to the right which is steeper but faster; the one on the left is easier but slower. Finally, I made it up to the main lookout after taking a break at one of the benches along the path. I wasn’t the only who looked like I just stepped out of a sauna. Other tourists started arriving, huffing and puffing, and a few started showering themselves with a nearby faucet. After my breathing started to normalize, I was able to enjoy the view of Taipei’s skyline and especially of the Taipei 101 as no other building came close to its height. 

Steps at Elephant Mountain in Taipei, Taiwan   Steps at Elephant Mountain in Taipei, Taiwan
                                           Start of the steps                                                                                                    Fork in the road
After a much-needed shower, a few gulps of water, and a nap on the couch, it was breakfast time. I had rolled up rice with shredded pork with an omelet inside and some soy milk from a street food stall nearby the Airbnb. 
Taipei street food stall   
I leisurely strolled around the Xinyi District towards the Taipei 101. Taipei feels calm compared to other major Asian capitals like Tokyo or Bangkok. My friend, who showed me around my first visit, said that it’s very livable and I agree with him.
Zhongshan Park
Zhongshan Park
For lunch, I waited in line for the famous xiao long bao (soup dumpling) restaurant, Din Tai Fung. I didn’t have a chance to try it the first time I visited so I made it a point to try it on this trip. There are several locations in Taipei but the one I went to is located in the Taipei 101 Mall. At the reception desk, I received a number and a menu that I filled in ahead of time with my order. There were crowds of people waiting for their number to appear on the digital board above the reception desk. Once I was called, about 15 to 20 minutes, I was promptly seated and my already filled in menu was taken by the waitress.

Xiao long bao making at Din Tai Fung Taipei, Taiwan
Xiao Long Bao being prepared behind a glass window
in the back of the restaurant. 
I have only been to two other Din Tai Fung restaurants, one in Shanghai, and the other, in a food court in Sydney. I enjoyed the food at both locations so I was excited to order a few items. I ordered a minced pork noodle dish and pork, pork & crab, and taro xiao long baos. The waitress gave me an instruction guide on how to eat a xiao long bao. If you’ve never tried xiao long bao before, you might make the mistake of putting the entire dumpling in your mouth only to suddenly spit it out because your tongue was burnt from the scalding soup inside. A kind friend taught me to first place the xiao long bao on a soup spoon, pinch a hole in the skin with your chopsticks so the soup can come out. Then you can sip on the soup and take a careful bite.

The noodle dish came out first, then the two savory dumplings, then lastly were the taro dumplings. Everything was delicious and I was able to finish everything by myself. I’ve come to the conclusion that, from the three branches that I have tried, the food is fairly consistent regardless of country. Now I can cross eating at Din Tai Fung off of my food bucket list. 

Minced pork noodles Taipei Taiwan
Noodles with Minced Pork Sauce
Xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung Taipei, Taiwan Xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung Taipei, Taiwan
                                           Pork Xiao Long Bao                                                                                       Pork & Crab Xiao Long Bao
Xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung Taipei, Taiwan
Inside a Pork & Crab Xiao Long Bao
Taro xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung Taipei, Taiwan Taro xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung Taipei, Taiwan
                                     Sweet Taro Xiao Long Bao                                                                          Half Eaten Sweet Taro Xiao Long Bao

I waited at the Taipei 101 Mall until my husband arrived to have dessert in the afternoon. On the 4th floor court, we had rich tasting hot chocolate at French chocolatier Jean-Paul Hevin‘s boutique cafe. The environment was fancy with its blue carpeting and cushioned seating so it was a nice place to relax regardless if it was on the pricey end. 

Hot chocolate at Jean Paul Hevin Taipei Taiwan Hot chocolate at Jean Paul Hevin Taipei Taiwan

We went over to Ice Monster located in the Breeze Song Gao shopping center, just a 10-minute walk away from the Taipei 101, for some flavored shaved ice. The portions were huge, which I did not expect since I had never tried this popular chain before. The texture was fluffy and I could taste both the oolong and mango flavors in the ice. The peanuts on the oolong flavored one seemed kind of strange to me so I just ate the azuki beans and herbal jelly toppings instead. The mango chunks on the mango snow ice tasted fresh and of course who doesn’t love mango? It started to rain heavily so we watched the rain pour outside from the large glass windows by our table as we tried to the two pounds of ice in front of us.

Ice Monster Taipei Taiwan
Oolong on the left and mango on the right
with mango chunks in the middle. 
We spent the remainder of the day at the Airbnb since the rain persisted until the early night. It would have been nice to get a bowl of beef noodle soup for dinner but the shaved ice was a meal in itself. However, I got to climb up Elephant Mountain and eat at Din Tai Fung so I feel my day was complete. The next morning we would fly to Hong Kong at 8am. It’s unfortunate that we only had a day in Taipei but I’m sure I’ll visit again so I can have some amazing beef noodle soup.

-Jamie

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