Shao Shao Ke, Taipei
Our meal at Shao Shao Ke was based on Shanxi Cuisine. Utterly delicious, this was a completely new insight for us into a really different style of Chinese cooking from Northern China. Shanxi cuisine is characterised by its use of vinegar locally produced in the region, with emphasis on meats like lamb, which hardly ever makes an entrance in Chinese cooking. The flavours are salty, spicy and sour, which I imagine you have a hard time imagining how tasty that could be (it is).
The restaurant has a tiny front but it's spread over two spacious dining areas. Their choice of decor seems unusual but totally badass, with scribbles adorning the white textured walls. The writings are almost all in Chinese with a smattering of English and other foreign languages. You'll see well wishers from travellers amid brand names like Siemens or Toshiba. I even found agency names like Leo Burnett amid garlic strands hanging from the ceiling. Traditional Shanxi paintings and handicrafts adorn the walls. In a space that otherwise would've seem fairly cold and sparse, these writings brought a cosiness to the ambience.
The larger seating area resembles a cave dwelling which is apparently typical of Northwest China. The tea served is a strong Shanxi version, of which I'd never tasted before. Since everything was completely new to us - you won't find your Cantonese must-haves here - we asked for recommendations from the staff, who were more than accommodating to everything we asked about. Some dishes looked terribly unappetising on the menu but I'm ever so glad I went ahead to experiment anyway.
"Suan chiang tu douh sy" as they write in their menu is potato strips in vinegar and dried chillies. "Suan" means sour. (Yay, I speak Mandarin! No I really can't) and this sounds like the least delicious thing you can think of, can't you? Well me too, till I tried it. It's super tasty stuff, slightly crunchy, and an overall great addition to the entire meal. We also tried sliced fish with orange sauce, which was beautifully fresh, nicely fried and glazed with a savoury sauce that wasn't overly fruity. My mom, the harshest critic for fruit-based sweet foods and pretty much won't eat anything savoury slathered in sweet sauce, actually enjoyed it.
My surprise dish was "hurng your wen bahn niour duh tiaur". It reads like the name of a wildling from Game of Thrones but that's what's written in the menu. I told everyone it was beef so they'd eat it, but it was actually slices of tripe (beef stomach) in spicy sauce. I love this stuff. It was great. But by the looks on their faces they'd never eat it again.
What became our favourite was the exceedingly fork-tender and beyond delicious herbed fried pork rib, a speciality I can't recommend enough. I've never had anyone fry a pork rib like that before. They have an extensive menu so there's a lot to try, which is sometimes a shame if you're travelling solo or a couple with a small appetite. For anyone who is sick of Chinese food (wherever and whatever you get) or who think that there's no variety left, I highly recommend checking this place out. I was surprised and very pleased, considering my entire experience of Taiwanese cuisine wasn't particularly epic.
Shao Shao Ke
No. 15, Lane 41, Rén'ài Road Section 2, Zhōngzhèng District, Taipei
地址:台北市中正區仁愛路2段41巷15號 (02) 2351-7148
Nearest MRT: Zhōngxiào Xīnshēng Station 忠孝新生站
Lunch: 11:30am - 2:00pm
Dinner: 5:30pm - 9:00pm (closed on Mondays)
Before you go: Shao Shao Ke is in an area that is slightly out of the central Da'an district. The nearest sights here are the Bopiliao old street (about 10 mins) and the National Palace Museum (about 20 mins), both accessible by taxi. Both are also best as day time sights, so plan your lunch or dinner here accordingly! If you're taking a cab, write down the address in Chinese so it's easier for them to find the place.