Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Eat Together Buffet 餐食天堂

Lining up in the lobby before dinner service
From the gigantic seating area
Stadium sized buffet
Living in Taipei has changed me in ways I never could have predicted. I love buffets. Buffets in Taiwan range from affordable to glamorously decadent. In America, a buffet was mostly a cattle call with troughs of macaroni salad, jello, and some meat-like foods. In Taiwan, it means lobsters, champagne, European cheese, sushi, and duck. Buffeting has become a hobby for my boyfriend and I. We've scoured the internet for photos and reviews and tried 8-10 so far. Yes, I have suffered from a few, but most all are a wonderful way to spend an evening.

fresh sushi
Sashimi station has the longest lines
Boiled shrimp and crab
More sushi
Japanese tempura and grilled items are all excellent
Eat Together Buffet 餐食天堂 in Dazhi, next to the 美麗華 Miramar cinema and mall is my favorite. For $1100 NTD (less than $35 USD) an adult can eat as much as they like for 3 hours (that's an hour longer than most buffets) on a weekend evening, there are discounts for children, and prices are cheaper on less popular days. The food is very good quality and a huge amount, that changes seasonally. You can eat everything from sushi, sashimi, rib roast, salad, fruit, tempura, dim sum, Chinese, pasta, risotto, and more. Dessert is epic. There are at least 20 options ranging from cakes, mousse, chocolates, cookies, fresh fruit, and something every Taiwanese buffet must have a Haagen Daz ice cream. I think the most impressive addition is a drinks bar that ranges from cans of soda, cold and hot tea, fresh juice, coffee machines, and local and Japanese beers. I'm always surprised I don't see tables of Candian and American dudes taking advantage of the abundant beers.

Beers and sodas
Fresh juice and tea
Dim sum and Chinese
Soup and congee
Ribs, the best thing 
Duck and beef carving stations
Appetizers and aperitifs that change seasonally
Western and Eastern dishes
 It's important to know this isn't just a buffet you can drop by and pick up a plate. There are 3 services, 11:30-2, 2:20- 4:20 (usually limited), and 5:30-9:30. Eat Together Buffet is often booked up months in advance. If you show up 30 minutes before a service you will be put on a short waiting list for cancellations. Its is typical to make reservations for any kind of sit down restaurant in Taipei, and it is also typical for customers to cancel or not show up too. The 3 times I have visited Eat Together Buffet this approach has worked without fail.

Coldstone-style ice cream dessert station
Cake counter
More cake, candy, and cookies
Eating at a buffet is not quite the same as ordering a few dishes at a restaurant.  Its like ordering everything on the whole menu and sharing it with 500 other people. To deal with the pressure of wanting to inhale the whole buffet I have a few suggestions. First of all, don't eat too much before, but don't show up hungry. Next, go slow. You have 3 hours. If you eat too fast you won't feel good. Take 10 minutes between plates of food. Avoid the rice, pasta, and bread. They are rarely special and will just fill you up. Eat what you really want first. If you are feeling full or uncomfortable a hot clear soup or tea will help you feel better. Also,  don't feel bound by the layout of the buffet. I love making a big salad with beef carpaccio and some mushrooms of the grill from 3 separate areas.  If your cake is from the dessert counter is dry, why not add some vanilla ice cream.

That pink cup, raspberry, and pistachio was delightful, other items include lava cake, pomelo mousse, and oreo cheesecake
Salad is my priority at the buffet
Still want a little more guidance? I suggest the following: the clam soup, sushi and sashimi, ribs, grilled bamboo, grilled king mushroom, roast duck and fried pumpkin. The fried pumpkin looks like nothing but it is perfectly crisp outside and soft inside.

The buffet is inside the Food Republic Food Mall next to Miramar in Dazhi
Inside of Food Republic take the elevator to the 4th floor
Eat Together 餐食天堂 website
#218 LeQun 3rd Rd, Dazhi Zhongshan District
(4th Fl of Food Republic 大食代大直旗艦店  )

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

National Vegetarian Buffet 全國健康素食餐飲連鎖

From left to right, top to bottom: yams, cauliflower, vegetarian sushi, tofu and century egg, braised Chinesee greens, carrot cabbage kimchi, bamboo shoots, veggie fish patty and steamed lotus root.
I remember now why I don't eat a "new food" every day now. There is a lot of greasy, deliciousness on the streets of Taipei that I simply can't stomach too often. I took a day off my 2 week-long adventure in testing my stomach's limits and visited an old staple, the National Vegetarian Buffet. It is a large Buddhist vegetarian buffet chain found all around Northern Taiwan. Taiwan Buddhist vegetarian is different from the concept I knew of vegetarianism in America. Buddhist vegetarians do not consume meat, fish, garlic or onions, but do eat eggs and dairy. They also open delicious buffets in every neighborhood which are excellent places to go and enjoy a huge variety foods.

This buffet chain in particular is my favorite. They offer at least 12 individual dishes, several preparations of tofu, eggs, mock-meat, vegetarian sushi and even a couple of desserts. Sometimes they have pizza or cheese coated potatoes. They change a few items daily, and seasonally. Its clean, there is plenty of space to sit even when its busy. There is unlimited rice (white, multi-grain, and congee), soup, and dessert if you eat in for a small extra charge. Price is determined by weight, and I'm not certain what that price is, but for $120 I usually get way too much.  Buffet is the ultimate foreigner friendly way to eat in Taiwan. No menu or conversation necessary.

White rice, mixed grain purple rice, and a chopstick sanitizer machine
The congee area 
Free soup, to the left off camera is some free soupy dessert too

Don't forget to pile on some chili-spiced soy sauce, very important when eating vegetarian food

When you are finished with your meal you can bus your plate, tray, and chopsticks. There is a separate area for each item and food collection for composting. Neat!

National Vegetarian Buffet 全國健康素食餐飲連鎖
Check their FB page for a location in Northern Taiwan 

Japanese Shao Bao 稍飽

Taipei has been having a "sandwich moment" for the last year or so, and I have been very supportive. Of all the great food joys to be had, a humbled balanced sandwich can be the most satisfying. The sandwiches at Japanese Shao Bao are promising. Offering a menu of two, high quality, BBQ pork or beef  on "handmade bread" sandwiches is a great plan. From the order window, customers can watch the action in the entire kitchen. It looks and smells like they are putting the time in to put out good food. 

What I received was an ok piece of pork belly/loin, lettuce, and apple on nice bread.  I'm jaded. My standards are higher in Taiwan than in America. A few $NTD go a long way and have a lot of competition. 稍飽, you are doing a good job, but for $90 I need more than half pork belly sandwich on nice bread. Thinking about the ingredients I can only imagine that the price of that sandwich is going to labor, rent, and possibly bread and something (important) has been left out.

I am empathetic. I've been there. I often wonder if the price of bread flour (or rather the shipping charges) is holding back a world of affordable sandwiches. Sandwiches are never going to make it in Taiwan if they can't compete with a bowl of beef noodles.

Japanese Shao Bao 稍飽
I'm not sure if they have a permanent location, but I found them at the Huashan Cultural Park
# 1, Sec. 1, Bade Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City
on FB