Honest in its presentation, Tainan is a relatively small city to the south of Taiwan, unique in regard to the other cities around the island.
Last year I was fortunate enough to be invited down to Tainan by the Tainan City Government to help promote Tainan City’s restaurants. This year, I was asked once more. For the uninitiated, Tainan is essentially known as Taiwan’s Mecca for food. Say Tainan to any Taiwanese person and they will say one of two things about the place: Food, or temples. Both of which are in plentiful supply in this glorious city.
Unlike Taipei, which is becoming more and more English friendly, Tainan can still be quite difficult for foreigners to both navigate and also access. The government has set up an initiative aimed at improving the English on menus in restaurants throughout the city, and each year chooses a ‘Top 100’ of eateries in the city, too. The residents of Tainan take their food seriously, with lots of shops/restaurants into the 3rd/4th generations of owners.
If you want to see what restaurants they reviewed this year, check out the link to the names, here.
好豆爸咖啡可可烘焙舖 Apapa Cafe & Cocoa
I am both an avid coffee drinker, and an avid coffee maker. I enjoy the process of coffee making, from grinding, to weighing, to pouring, to savouring. However, what Apapa does best, and almost revolutionary so, is the roasting. Did you know that a lot of coffee roasting machines use gas? According to the owner of this place, using gas in the roasting process is bad for the consumers health. Who knew?!
So, the owner of this shop decided to go ahead and build, from scratch, an electric coffee roaster. Slowly roasting the coffee using electric only, ingestion of fumes are limited, and the roasting of the beans can be more delicately controlled. The result? Light-medium roasted coffee with bags of flavour, and health benefits (rather than risks).
Apapa’s inside is clean and nice. Lots of coffee smells – yessss
As we sat down with the owner of the place, Mr. Chen, we were presented with this lovely cup of coffee to kick start our stay in Tainan. Mr. Chen created this place in memory of his grandad, a humble sugar factory worker.
As we supped on a nice latte, Mr. Chen shocked us – all of the equipment is made in Taiwan, by him and his company. Why? They got rid of the gas roasting method due to the health implications of the roasting itself, and replaced it with their own patented electric coffee roasting machine.
What’s more, is that they also use Taiwan cocoa beans grown in PingTung, to produce an insanely good cocoa drink – it’s good enough to render any chocolate fanatic into a choco-coma.
Whilst there isn’t so much of an emphasis on the sourcing of the beans at Apapa coffee, they still have a wide variety from popular growing areas all over the world.
Here we tasted the Costa Rican coffee, which was my favourite. Less water was used to brew the coffee than the previous cup, and a difference in the water of only 2°C (81°C in the previous cup and 83°C in this cup) made the depth of the coffee greater and the bitterness greater, too.
Oh. My. Days.
This iced cocoa from Apapa was so damn good. Every time we come back to Tainan, we eat at MaoDon sushi 毛丼. However, this time it wasn’t possible as we had other priorities. So, this incredible Cocoa drink was the best way to kick off our weekend, and will be added to the list for next time we are down here.
After we had had our fill of coffee, we headed over to Spot-Life, for some pizza. Right near the University in Tainan, there’s a couple of streets filled with restaurants. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop walking down this street!
I like the inside. It’s simple.
Nice wooden tables and chairs give it an authentic feel.
Spot-Life have been working hard on their menu, getting the English checked and adapted. Through demand they have added a pepperoni pizza (although don’t expect salty and oily pepperoni, expect a slightly sweet Taiwanese sausage).
I could watch flames all day.
We first ordered a salad. The great thing about Spot-Life is that the owner goes to the market every day and buys only the freshest, in-season ingredients. So, each day is subject to change.
The owner is very hands on, and makes the pizzas herself. Again, ingredients change daily. So, sometimes things on the menu may not be available. But, I am a huge advocate of this. Don’t get vegetables out of season, don’t get fruit out of season.
Figs! Fresh figs are my weakness.
Here, our fig and prosciutto pizza is being made – salivation for the nation.
Oh now check that out! Syrupy figs, salty prosciutto, fresh corriander, simple tomato sauce and cheese. The cheese isn’t too heavy, and the pizza base is crispy and the perfect thickness.
The great reveal…
Any guesses on the flavour?
4 slices on the left are the sausage pizza, 4 on the left are ginger and sesame oil pizza. What the??! Ginger and sesame oil pizza?? It doesn’t stop there, it has brown sugar on it, too! The result? A deliciously sweet and slightly spiced (a fresh spice, rather than a deep chilli spice, due to the ginger) pizza. However, I am more a fan of the salty pizzas, truth be told…
But, that crust though… #crustporn
Dessert was a baked apple with a red dragon fruit ice cream. The ice cream was simple, fresh, and tasty. But, the apple was addictive to the point of me wanting to order a second one. The apple is slowly baked in the pizza oven in tin foil, left to stew in brown sugar and cinnamon. Soft enough to retain somewhat of a bite to it, but be the most enjoyable dessert to eat. Really, really good.
Mingte Milk X Awakening Coffee
On a busy round near the DongDa Nightmarket 東大夜市, MingTe Milk X Awakening Coffee sits on the corner of ChongDe and ChongMing intersection.
On the right, we have the daughter of a farmer who lives in the north of Tainan, producing milk from over 700 cows twice a day every day. The farmer feeds the cows a supplement of probiotic to help with any stomach problems that can be produced and negatively affect the milk, meaning that this fresh milk is legitimately delicious. They spend time and effort on milk production at its lowest level, meaning that this milk is as fresh as it gets. No additives, and impossibly creamy.
The cafe itself is nice a clean inside. Not many chairs are put out, making the small place seem bigger than it perhaps is. However, it feels open and breathable inside here.
The shop also actively promotes local honey production – yum yum!
I’ll be honest, I don’t really like flavoured coffees such as the caramel lattes and hazelnut lattes of the world, however, I understand that cafes make them to appeal to all customers. For me, the winner here is the milk. Really, I can’t stress that enough.
The milk tea was milky and delicious. It’s not what I am perhaps used to from England, possibly a bit too milky for my particular taste, but with this awesome milk I don’t really care!
The latte was pretty good, I must say. But, again, I prefer my coffee to be without milk.
Oolong tea latte? Whaaat. Maybe I am just one of those ‘Baa humbug’ people, but I prefer my drinks to be pure and unadulerated. Meaning, I like a cup of oolong. I like a cup of milk. But, never the two shall meet, in my household. Nevertheless, the flavours here were good and quite surprisingly so, for me.
However, the real winner here is definitely the milk. If it wasn’t 37°C outside, I’d have taken a bottle of milk and drank it on my way round the city.
Minzu Nabeyaki Noodle Shop
Claimed to be the first ever Nebayaki of its kind in Tainan, this specialty noodle restaurant is packed throughout the week. Pictured above the owner (left) and daughter (right).
A mix of the fresh ingredients on display are meticulously put into the bot at different stages of the cooking process, to create your desired dish.
Everything on the menu sounds (also looks, and smells) great.
The udon noodle was the first dish the restaurant became known for. In 1963 when the restaurant first opened, udon was the dish that everyone knew and loved. It has stood the test of time, for sure.
Juicy, chewy noodles, give way to a clear broth made with no additives, just katsuobushi – a Japanese dried, fermented and smoked tuna. A fresh poached egg is added, in addition to a thick slice of deep fried fish and a deep fried shrimp, accompanied by a slice of Japanese kamaboko (processed white fish paste made into a shape and then sliced and put into soups).
The soup has a very subtle fishy taste that takes on the flavours of the ingredients the bowl is filled with. I could happily sip on this soup all day. Light in flavours and clean, sip after sip.
When I asked the owner why she introduced these different noodles, following the incredible success of the initial udon noodles, she simply said that she wanted to give her customers more options. The noodles are made at the local market and impart a unique flavour into the broth. They retain a delicious bite in the center, and they’re definitely my favourite of the noodles on offer here.
The ingredients remain the same in the soup here, only the noodles change.
We also ordered a plate of squid. Squid has been a feature on the menu for over 30 years, and remains a favourite of customers. The squid is perfectly cooked, not chewy in any way, and packing plenty of flavour.
Sailfish is Mrs. Lee’s choice of fish for deep frying and putting in the soup. Why? She took time to research from the local area which fish handles being fried and put in the soup best, asking local shop owners and fishermen. The milkfish is suitably meaty and holds together well, not simply falling apart in either of the cooking processes.
But, let’s talk about the squid some more.
Or, more importantly, this irresistible sauce. We quizzed Mrs. Lee for a long time about the ingredients in the sauce, but she remained very tight-lipped. A family secret that will only be passed on to people who need to know. It’s handmade every day by Mrs. Lee, and goes so well with the freshly cooked squid. Salty, sour, spicy (from the wasabi), and sweet. Really, order it and let me know what you think – answers on a postcard.
Of course, we couldn’t leave without trying the fish dumplings we had heard so much about. Also, a winner!
Mrs. Lee was apprehensive to give us the leek and pork dumplings because she thought it perhaps wouldn’t suit the taste of foreigners. However, they went down an absolute storm with me and I could’ve polished off at least 2 plates.
The leek used is the yellowy part of the leek shoot, tasting a lot like the leek flowers I showed you in my seasonal fruit and veg article for September. My secret tip for you: dip the dumpling into that secret squid sauce – too good!
Naturally, we had tried pretty much everything on the menu apart from the sweet and sour soup. So, we had to try the sweet and sour soup. And, I am glad that I did. Spicy (from the pepper), plenty of carrot, bamboo, egg, black fungus and gloopy fresh soup. The soup base is the same one used in the previous noodle soup.
It’s important to note, that worked wit the government here promoting restaurants, not street stalls. Often you may think of Tainan as tiny shacks on the side of the road with lines of people 100+ deep. However, not all the streets are like that, and not all are foreigner-friendly. These restaurants all have English menus, and at least somebody who is able to simply communicate with you in English.
Bottom line – Tainan has more to offer than most people think. This article only talks about 4 places, but there really is so much more.