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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Xi Men Ding 西門町 @ Taiwan

Widely known as the "Harajuku of Taipei", Xi Men Ding is the place to head for modern fashion, good eats and culture, that is partially influenced by the Japanese. With several departmental stores such as Wanguo and Eslite, bookstores, pubs and individual vendors selling a wide variety of clothes, accessories, souvenirs and local eats, Xi Men Ding attracts shoppers and tourists of different age groups and cultures. Based on Wikipedia, it attracts more than 3 million visitors in a month!

Some might compare Xi Men Ding with Orchard Road (Singapore), I wouldn't deny that both shopping streets are famous tourist spots, but for me, they are of different experiences. Shopping centres in Singapore are made up of different shops housed in a mall (Ion Orchard, Wisma Atria, Paragon etc.), however in Taiwan, or specifically Xi Men Ding, a majority of their shops are stand-alone, meaning one building assigned to only a few shops except for the occasional ones. They even have hair salons which are 3 to 4 stories high, which really reminded me of a famous shopping district in S. Korea - Myeongdong.

The streets and alleys of Xi Men Ding are so vast and filled with excitement in every single corner. One night or even an entire day of exploration is definitely not enough, that we realized. Similarly to night markets, some items sold are repetitive, therefore putting on your determination and exploration spirit might just find you a better deal elsewhere.

Directions to Xi Men Ding
1. Exit from Ximen Station (Exit 6). It is conveniently located just outside the station.

We got hungry soon after and decided to head to a fun dog-themed restaurant called Ah Mao 阿毛, which apparently specializes in risotto. For those who are clueless what that is, risotto is actually an Italian rice dish that is cooked in broth with a smooth and creamy consistency.

And yes, for those who noticed - Ah Mao  阿毛 is the golden retriever lying at the entrance.

For NT$250, you get a bowl of risotto (NT$160 w/o meal), soup of the day and a drink. To be honest, the risotto is not that fantastic, the rice was bland and overly-dry, in addition they were real stingy on the ingredients. Basically to savage it, we ate it with lots of grounded black pepper and salt. However, the Cream of Chicken was smooth and flavourful enough, and their signature 阿毛 tea was probably one of the best tea I had in Taipei.

The highly acclaimed "Prince Cheese Potatoes", which was frequented by celebrities was closed on the day of our visit. Sigh. But if you happened to be in Xi Men Ding, please do try this stall out!

Located just beside the potato stall, there was a long queue and although I have no idea what they are selling, being the kiasu Singaporean that I am, I knew I got to have one of whatever that is. My, or rather most Singaporeans' thinking? The shop must be good enough to have a snaking long queue, hence being afraid of losing out, we just got to have it.

My "kiasu-motivated" intuition was right, for the shop sells real good Muah Chi 麻滋 (glutinous rice flour) which is done in Japanese style - by grilling and topping with assorted flavours of your choice. We had the black sugar (left) and peanut flavoured, the latter that reminded me of Singapore's version was a tad dry, but the generous amount of peanut shavings made up for it. However, the former was splendid for a person with a sweet tooth, the sweetness of black sugar infused really well with the rice flour and the slight caramel formed on the charred areas tasted so good. Highly recommended!

Being on the same league as Shilin Night Market and Jiufen Old Street, Xi Men Ding is also a premier shopping district that one (especially for shopping maniacs)  MUST include in his/her itinerary. If you are lucky, you might even catch a performance or two at the central space.