Dear Food Diary:
I didn’t grow up in Asia and my parents weren’t adventurous eaters or cooks, so I’m not quite sure where my love for all things “unique” came about. My first taste of stinky tofu (fermented) was at 18 while in Shanghai and duck tongue was only something I saw on TV until moving here. I’ve only been able to find these items in Taiwanese restaurants, mostly Queens.
Taiwanese Gourmet, Corp. in Elmhurst is second after my favorite Taiwanese joint, and it offers really yummy renditions of these dishes at very reasonable prices. This place has a good variety of Taiwanese specialty dishes, a lot of which you would find in a night market or street food stall while eating around Taiwan. If you’ve never been, this would be the place to start and a good choice for an upcoming “adventurous” Chinese New Year meal, or any awesome gathering. It’s best to order a lot of dishes and share family style.
Last time I brought my Chubby Buddies here, they gave us a complimentary appetizer of Marinated Pig’s Ear and Sweet and Sour Radish. The ears are crunchy and a little spicy, while the radish was refreshing with a kick.
For starters, I like their TaiChung (Central Taiwan) Meatball. It’s nothing like any other meatball you may know. This has a thick/starchy, sticky, and gooey wrap, filled with a pork, mushroom, bamboo shoot mixture, and topped with a sweet sauce. It’s sort of like a sweet and savory mochi, only super moist and messy. An acquired textural sensation for sure, I enjoy it, but totally understand if it’s not your thing.
Ok now to the much anticipated Fried Stinky Tofu, the name is self explanatory. They’ve disguised it as fermented bean curd on the menu, which could be deceiving. Trust me, if another table orders it, you’re most likely to smell it tables away. I’m not sure if you can ever learn to like this, it’s a love or hate at first taste kind of deal. I love it, just as some people love the stinky cheeses I can’t swallow. Unfortunately all the stinky tofu I’ve had in America are mild and child’s play compared to the ones in Asia. Yes, the stronger the smell the better. It’s really hard to describe the taste, it smells funky, but once you put it in your month, the funky smell turns into this addicting aroma. Pared with a spicy garlic chilly soy sauce and pickled cabbage, together it accomplishes the 5 S: savory, sweet, spicy, sour and stinky unique goodness.
Duck’s tongue are a good snack for drinking, popular in China and Taiwan, why limit yourself to wings and feet right? ok, maybe you’ll disagree, but these little tongues are tasty! This place has a Duck’s Tongue Three Cup Style which means it’s prepared with soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, simmered in low heat so the mixture gets absorbed into the meat and the basil perfumes it in and out.
There’s little to eat, but its fun and I like the crunchy texture. It has cartilage and only a tiny flat bone that’s not edible. I believe in not wasting any part of an animal, this is the perfect example.
If your not concerned about calories and cholesterol, I highly recommend their Crispy Fried Intestine. It’s not everyday your taste buds can enjoy pure fatty goodness with a crisp exterior like this. It’s slightly chewy and as you dip into the salt/spice mixture, the much needed salty factor is heightened, while the sweet and sour pickled veggies gives your mouth a break in between each piece, sort of like what pickled ginger does for sushi. This is a dish you will want to share, trust me, it’s too much even for this Chubby to attack alone.
If Deep Fried Instestine isn’t enough and your in for more of this chewy fatty galore, there’s always Intestine with Pickled Mustard Greens. It’s tastes less fatty than the fried version since there’s an generous amount of the sweet and sour pickled veggies to contrast and cut out the fattyness in every bite.
Or you can always up the ante and order Intestine in Hot Pot. A pot of pig’s blood cubes (firm, a cross between jello and tofu), intestine and pickled mustard greens in a spicy sauce, a sizzling pot on top of an open fire placed on your table.
No Taiwanese Restaurant is complete without their version of Deep Fried Pork Chop over rice, this place has the BEST I’ve tasted thus far. It puts Excellent Pork Chop House to shame, and if these folks brought this to the streets of Manhattan, The Cravings Truck would be out of business in a day. You get 2 big pieces of extra crunchy, juicy and tender pork chops, seasoned perfectly with salt, pepper plus a blend of spices, over white rice, with a really good braised minced pork sauce. Add to that some sweet and sour picked mustard green and you got the best, I repeat the best $5.25 you’ll ever spend. Did I mention the BEST?
For something healthy to balance it all, I usually get the Bitter Melon and Chicken Casserole Soup. I’ll take this over chicken noodle soup any day. It’s clear and flavorful with a sweet and bitter after taste. The soft bitter melon is good for your and it comes pipping hot, a bowl of comfort on a cold day. It’s said that bitter melon can cool all the hot chi or air (deep fried food) you’ve consumed, so it literally balances your inner “chi”. PLUS Chubby Mama says it’s good for your skin, one of the main reasons I’ve learned to love it.
I was so sure this is called Chinese Loofah, but apparently the restaurant decided to simply call it squash, to dumb down the menu? Regardless of its name, this is one of my favorite veggies, Dried Scallops with Loofah (squash). It’s soft, with a very very slight crunch bite to it, its sweetness pairs well with the salty dried scallops.
This decade old spot always had 5 Yummies until they came out with the following dish recently: “Flies Head”. They copied an original creation from Chef Ling of Imperial Taiwanese Gourmet! It’s about 85% there, but just not the same, maybe the ratio of the ingredients just isn’t right. This is Imperial Taiwanese Gourmet’s signature dish, one of their most popular so I can see the monetary appeal to replicate, but if your food already speaks for itself, is this really necessary!? I say definitely “NO” and had to take 1/2 Yummy away for lack of creativity.
Even though I stand firmly on the matter of replicating the “Flies Head”, Taiwanese Gourmet Corp does have many many Taiwanese Specialties up its chef’s sleeves. It’s even open late, so you have time to take the train over to Elmhurst up until 2 am.
84-02 Broadway (Elmhurst)