Apr 4, 2017

Taiwan Travelogue: A Visit to Huashan 1914 & Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (12 Nov 2015)

Our breakfast for the day was simple and did not involve any walking. Literally breakfast in bed but nothing fancy, such as this bowl of instant noodle, which we bought the night before after dinner at Xiong Ben Ramen 熊本拉面 - 佐野拉面武昌店.

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Breakfast in Bed - Instant Noodle
The noodle texture was thick, chewy and more delightful than the usual instant noodle we have in Malaysia. Soup was normal but hey, it was pork based!

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Thick and Chewy Instant Noodles

After our breakfast-in-bed, we took a train from Ximen Station to Shandao Temple Station, before continued another 500m on foot to Huashan 1914 Creative Park.

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Huashan 1914 Creative Park
Huashan 1914 Creative Park is a remodelled early 20th-century wine factory which now houses live music performances, fancy souvenir shops, stylish restaurants, hipster cafes and bars.

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Exterior of Wine Factory @ Huashan 1914 Creative Park

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Theatre @ Huashan 1914 Creative Park

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One of the Fancy Souvenir Shops Huashan 1914 Creative Park
While dining in hipster cafe and bars was not in our agenda, we spent our time exploring the souvenir shops. Should you want to grab some souvenirs that aren't too mainstream, visit one of the souvenir shops in Huashan 1914 as they have eclectic local-designed products where one couldn't find elsewhere.

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Porcupines @ One of the Fancy Souvenir Shops

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Elevated "Tree" House @ Huashan 1914

The ambiance of whole Huashan 1914 was perfect for photoshoot, be it industrialised shots, creative shots etc. In fact, we came across some photographers taking model shoot during our leisure visit.

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Tall Chimney of Remodelled Wine Factory @ Huashan  1914
After an hour or so, we took a train from Shandao Temple Station to Zhongxiao Dunhua Station in hope to squeeze in a lunch session in Solo Pasta but luck wasn't on our side. We ended up in a nearby Hong Kong style cafe named 真好味茶餐廳.

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Cheese Baked Rice @ 真好味茶餐廳
It was an utter disappointment. To begin with, the "cheese" was too powdery, a sign of too much flour in a mixture. Fried rice under the coat of baked cheese was terrible, so much so that an amateur me could do better than 真好味茶餐廳.

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Pork Bone Soup
This free pork bone soup was no better. So diluted it was that it tasted like water with a hint of pork. I barely remembered what my mom ordered.

Total damage for 2 pax = TWD290

Our next stop was Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, which is located about 2km away from 真好味茶餐廳. Initial plan was to take a train from Zhongxiao Dunhua Station to Zhongxiao Xinsheng Station. However, the adventurous us decided to rent 2 YouBikes from a YouBike rental station along Taipei-Keelung main road.

Payment was relatively straight forward: tap your EasyCard on the card reader, select which bike you are taking, and off you go! For the first 30minute, it was TWD5 per bike.

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Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
I must say it was an enjoyable experience to take a leisure 1.5km ride along with local cyclists on a chilly autumn weather. After we parked our bikes back to YouBike station opposite Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, we began our touristy visit with Chiang Kai-Shek Chinese garden in the 25-hectares Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Park.

Filled with various species of plants and flowers, the garden was a welcoming change to the cityscape. At different seasons of the year, one can witness the beauty of plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, and osmanthus bloom. Locals were seen spending their leisure afternoon in the garden, strolling and chatting the day away.

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Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
The giant structure with while walls, blue tiles roofed corridors and pavilions, decorated with Chinese-style latticed windows featuring 26 different motifs, were the definitive characteristics of Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. Standing tall and proud, it was beautiful.

We did not visit the interior of Chiang Kai-Shek. Instead, we sat at the Liberty Square, enjoying the cold breeze and admiring the beautiful architecture and weather. If you are interested for a visit, you can arrange for a guided tour.

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Smoked Duck Spaghetti @ Solo Pasta
Another 1.5km ride and 400m walk brought us back to Solo Pasta. Since my mom is a big fan of carbonara. and today was her birthday, I made Solo Pasta my choice for celebration. I opted for Spaghetti with Smoked Duck Breast in Balsamic Cream Sauce. That tender slices of duck breast was perfect, so was the balsamic cream sauce that enhanced the diversity of flavour. Even my mom sang praises of it.

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Carbonara @ Solo Pasta
As expected, my mom opted for Spaghetti Carbonara with Bacon, Egg, Grated Padano and Pecorino. The ingredient list sounded fantastic but its taste was pale in comparison. Despite being creamy and cheesy, the taste profile was flat and boring. A little dash of vinegar would have helped to spice things up.

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Tiramisu @ Solo Pasta
Since my mom isn't a big fan of tartness, we did not have any wine but little did she know her Tiramisu Mascarpone was infused with Marsala wine! Despite its "magnitude" in size, it was great in flavour. Though I personally prefer stronger liquor, this was more suited to my mom's taste bud.

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Montebianco @ Solo Pasta

Limited by the choices of dessert, I went for Montebianco. Mont Blanc chestnut puree topped with whipped cream was an unusual delight, especially the subtle nutty profile of the puree. Again, my mom stamped her approval on Montebianco.

Total damage for 2 pax = TWD836

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Scary Transparent Flooring @ Taipei 101
Post dinner, I brought the birthday lady to Taipei 101. We walked 750m to Xinyi Anhe Station, rode 1.2km to Taipei 101/World Trade Centre Station and headed up to Taipei 101 for Taipei's night view. The ticket to Taipei 101 Observatory costed TWD500.

Truth be told, I would have spent the TWD500 for drinks at rooftop bar with a view of Taipei 101. The night view was not spectacular. Moreover, we had to queue in line for half an hour for the ticket, another half an hour or so for our turn to board the fastest lift to Observatory and forced to tour around the jewellery counters. The only consolation was we did check off "Visit Taipei 101 Observatory" in the list of to-do.

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Signing Off from Hitomi & The Birthday Lady

IN SUMMARY,

My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance
    • 真好味茶餐廳 - 1/5
    • Solo Pasta - 5/5
  • Price
    • 真好味茶餐廳 - 1/5
    • Solo Pasta - 3/5
  • Food
    • 真好味茶餐廳 - 1/5
    • Solo Pasta - 5/5
  • Verdict
    • 真好味茶餐廳 - It was a mistake
    • Solo Pasta - They do have some interesting dishes that warrant your visit

My personal hotel/attractions verdicts for:
  • King Lei-Lei Hotel - Strategic location, spacious room but looked draped and aged
  • Huashan 1914 Creative Park - Hipster place for the like-minded 
  • Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall - Beautiful architecture that was filled with histories 
  • Taipei 101 Observatory - Save your TWD500 and spend on dinners/drinks overlooking Taipei 101

DINING INFO:

真好味茶餐廳
No. 29, Lane 170, Section 4, Zhongxiao E Rd, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106
Operation Hours: N/A
Tel: +886 2 2752 3909
Credit Card: N/A (We paid cash)

Solo Pasta
No. 29-1, Section 1, Anhe Rd, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106
Operation Hours: 11.30am to 3pm, 5pm to 10pm (Mon to Thurs); 11.30am to 10pm (Fri to Sun)
Tel: +886 2 2775 3645
Credit Card: Yes

Mar 22, 2017

Taiwan Travelogue: Ximending, Here I Come (11 Nov 2015)

After two days in Keelung, we had pretty much eat all that we can. My mom simply couldn't wait to move on to our next destination. A quick shower, a final shove of luggages, and a simple hotel breakfast ploughed our way to Ximen. From TRA Keelung Station, we took a train to MRT Taipei Main Station, before switching to MRT Ximen Station.

By the time we arrived at Ximen Station, it was drizzling. My mom and I were lugging our luggage around while looking for King Lei-Lei Hotel, which some of the locals were clueless where it was. To look for King Lei-Lei Hotel in Chinese among the sea of Chinese billboards was the first challenge. To look for a store front (which is inexistent) was another. What we should have looked at was an entrance to lift/reception, a lift to the 5th floor of the building.

King Lei-Lei Hotel's homely operator was quick to respond upon our arrival and even kind enough to show us a few rooms for us to choose. The room we had was poorly lit (by way of design), the bed was decent, the TV was the ancient 24-inch box, the fridge was barely functioning but toilet was freshly renovated with bathtub.

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Ay-Chung Mee Sua 阿宗豬腸麵線 @ Ximending
On the good side, within few hundred metre walking distance, we would immediately find ourselves in the hustle bustle of Ximending. Better still, found the famous Ay-Chung mee sua 阿宗豬腸麵線 for lunch!

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Ay-Chung Mee Sua 阿宗豬腸麵線 @ Ximending
Fine threads of noodles swam in the smooth golden concoction hinted a little more vinegar than we used to and maybe a dash of Chinese wine - the moment we passed by, we knew we had to try. This bowl of mee sua was the second best thing we had in Taiwan. The mee sua was so smooth and silky that you could easily slurped it down if it were not of heat. The soup was well balanced so you could go without any condiment if you should choose not to.

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Condiments to add @ Ay-Chung Mee Sua 阿宗豬腸麵線
For us, we went on a little with chilli and garlic. Best thing about chilli and hot soup, it accentuated both flavours to the next level which both of us found extra intoxicating.

Total damage = TWD65

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Bubble Milk Tea @ Ochado Bubble Tea
It was not until Day 5 we had a proper bubble milk tea in Taiwan, which we so happened to grab from Ochado Bubble Tea while walking around looking for more good food. Flavour and texture were similar to Chatime in Malaysia, so we did not loose much back home.

Total damage = TWD45

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Taiwanese Sausage Stall @ Ximending
Half way through Ximending, my mom pointed to me this Taiwanese sausage stall. Immediately I saw what made her so excited - her favorite Big Sausage Wrap Small Sausage 大腸包小腸

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Big Sausage Wrap Small Sausage 大腸包小腸
If you read about my previous post about big sausage wrap small sausage adventure in Jiufen, you would have understood the happiness of finding your number one Taiwanese delicacies. Personally I still think the mobile truck at Golden Waterfall served the best but this came close second. The only improvement I would have made was the ripeness of the pickles as this was too raw to provide the complex flavour it needed.

Total damage = TWD65

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Onion Cake 抓葱饼 Stall @ Ximending
Around Ximending area, you would see plenty of these push cart style vendors selling street foods. We ordered an onion cake 抓葱饼 from this stall for takeaway. Half way cooking, polices came ambushing. All these vendors (apparently they did not have proper operating licenses) fled all over the places but the moment polices went to chase others, this stall lady continued her cooking at another corner of the street. That was how our onion cake 抓葱饼 was saved.

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Onion Cake 抓葱饼
Though named the onion cake 抓葱饼, the only onion part was the leaves used in this dish. The texture of the bread was akin to roti canai in Malaysia but thicker and dense.

Total damage = TWD45

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Ximen Red House Taipei
Around Ximending, you would surely come across this signature two storey high building laid with red bricks called Red House Taipei. This front facade you are seeing were based on octagonal structure, which was joined with a cruciform building. Concerts, theatre, creative events could all be found here in Red House Taipei.

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Skyline of Ximending

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Night View at Ximending

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Xiong Ben Ramen 熊本拉面 - 佐野拉面武昌店 @ Ximending
Come night time, my mom and I headed out to look for food. Plenty of options were available but nothing strike the fancy of my mom than this Xiong Ben Ramen 熊本拉面 - 佐野拉面武昌店. Yes, she loves her ramen.

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Ramen @ Xiong Ben Ramen 熊本拉面 - 佐野拉面武昌店
I barely remembered what I ordered or how it tasted like. All I knew it did not suck big time. I would have gone other places given any chance.

Total damage for 2 pax = TWD220

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Beihui Papaya Milk 北回木瓜牛奶
To compensate the lack of my dinner, I ordered one of this unusual Beihui papaya milk 北回木瓜牛奶 to try. I was skeptical at first but it was really out of the world. Given another chance, I would surely order again!

Total damage = TWD65


IN SUMMARY,

My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance
    • Ay-Chung Mee Sua 阿宗豬腸麵線 - 5/5
    • Ochado Bubble Milk Tea - 5/5
    • Taiwanese Sausage Stall - 4/5
    • Onion Cake 抓葱饼 Stall - 3/5
    • Xiong Ben Ramen 熊本拉面 - 佐野拉面武昌店 - 4/5
    • Beihui papaya milk 北回木瓜牛奶 - 5/5
  • Price
    • Ay-Chung Mee Sua 阿宗豬腸麵線 - 5/5
    • Ochado Bubble Milk Tea - 3/5
    • Taiwanese Sausage Stall - 4/5
    • Onion Cake 抓葱饼 Stall - 4/5
    • Xiong Ben Ramen 熊本拉面 - 佐野拉面武昌店 - 2/5
    • Beihui papaya milk 北回木瓜牛奶 - 3/5
  • Food
    • Ay-Chung Mee Sua 阿宗豬腸麵線 - 5/5
    • Ochado Bubble Milk Tea - 4/5
    • Taiwanese Sausage Stall - 4/5
    • Onion Cake 抓葱饼 Stall - 2/5
    • Xiong Ben Ramen 熊本拉面 - 佐野拉面武昌店 - 2/5
    • Beihui papaya milk 北回木瓜牛奶 - 5/5
  • Verdict
    • Ay-Chung Mee Sua 阿宗豬腸麵線 - Best mee sua I had in Taiwan!
    • Ochado Bubble Milk Tea - Not a big fan of bubble but milk tea was great
    • Taiwanese Sausage Stall - Could be better but considered one of the better ones
    • Onion Cake 抓葱饼 Stall - Not too bad for first timer
    • Xiong Ben Ramen 熊本拉面 - 佐野拉面武昌店 - Definitely not something I would have picked for the price
    • Beihui papaya milk 北回木瓜牛奶 - So awesome that I wanted to have more!

My personal hotel/attractions verdicts for:
  • King Lei-Lei Hotel: Strategic location, spacious room but looked draped and aged
  • Ximending: Happening place where food and shopping are interchangeable
  • Red House Taipei: Signature building that you just couldn't miss

DINING INFO:

Ay-Chung Mee Sua 阿宗豬腸麵線
No. 8-1號, Emei St, Wanhua District, Taipei City, Taiwan 108
Operation Hours: 9am - 10.30pm (Mon to Thurs), 9am - 11pm (Fri to Sun)
Tel: +886 2 2388 8808
Credit Card: N/A (We paid cash)

Mar 1, 2017

Taiwan Travelogue: Rock-Seeing in Yehliu Geopark (10 Nov 2015)

Teochew porridge with pickles and peanuts, fried noodles, etc - such was the simple breakfast provided by Keelung Imperial Hotel 華國商務飯店. My mom was pleased with her hotel breakfast. Though I was not a big fan of hotel breakfast, it did certainly meet my basic requirements.

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View from Keelung Harbour
Our itinerary of the day was mainly to visit Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心, which is about 17km away from Keelung.

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View of Keelung from Starbucks
To go to Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心, you could take bus 790 that ran directly to Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心 entrance for TWD30 per pax. The pick up point was Keelung City Visitor's Center 基隆市旅遊服務中心.

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Taima Star Docking @ Keelung Harbour

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553 Docking @ Keelung Harbour
Bus 790 ran on a consistent schedule, so we had half an hour or so to wander around Keelung Harbour before queuing another 15 minutes or so (past its schedule) for it to arrive.

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Failed Selfie @ Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心
The journey from Keelung Harbour to Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心 took close to 2 hours but our bus ride was spacious and comfortable. The entrance fee to Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心 was TWD80 per pax.

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Entering Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心
Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心 is famous for its beautiful natural landscape sculpted by centuries of sea erosion. From the entrance of Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心 to the end of the cape, the distance is about 1.7km.

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Carp Rock, Candle Rock, and Ginger Rock (furthest to nearest)
Sharp-eyed visitors would definitely enjoy Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心. Did you spot the cute carp rock, candle rocks and ginger rocks in this picture?

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Mushroom Rocks @ Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心
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Elephant Rocks @ Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心
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Bear Paw Sea-Eroded Pot Hole @ Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心

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Fairy's Shoe @ Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心
The most distinct structure in Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心 was no doubt this fairy's shoe. It just seemed too good to be real.

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Marine Bird Rock @ Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心

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Honeycomb Weathering @ Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心

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Turtle-looking Rock @ Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心

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Statue of Lin Tianzhen @ Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心
Further into Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心, you would come across this statue of Lin Tianzhen, in memory of this local fisherman whom lost his life in his attempt to rescue a student in 1964 in Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心.

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Seal Couple  @ Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心

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Leopark-like @ Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心

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Queen's Head II @ Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心
The much revered structure in Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心 was none other than the Queen's Head. This Queen's Head II was an exact replica of the original Queen's Head. Better still, it had less crowd.

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Big Footprint @ Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心@
Before I left, I managed to leave my giant footprint behind.

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Random Noodle Shop @ Keelung
Our journey back to Keelung took us another 2 hours in the same bus we came here with. By the time we reached Keelung, we were famished. So we ended up in this random noodle shop.

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Loh Mian @ Random Noodle Shop
Being Malaysian, my mom ordered Loh Mian when she saw it on the signboard. Little do we know this was the unusual variant that we were not familiar with. That aside, my mom, whom is a cincai person when it comes to food, sang her complaint over her bowl of noodles.

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Pork Chop Noodle @ Random Noodle Shop
I, on the other hand, ordered a bowl of noodles, topped with pork chop. Though it was not horrible, it was not out of the world either.

Total damage for 2 pax = TWD115

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Shi Hua Dong Stall @ Miaokou Night Market 基隆廟口夜市
After 5 hours of nap and TV time post lunch, it was time again to explore the remainder of Miaokou Night Market. Our first stop was this unusual dessert stall selling Shi Hua Dong.

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Shi Hua Dong @ Miaokou Night Market 基隆廟口夜市
Firmer, denser and blander than jelly, it was tasteless in the absence of the powdery coat of shaven peanuts and sugar. It did not strike my fancy.

Total damage = TWD30

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Zheng Ji Sweet Potato Biscuit Stall @ Miaokou Night Market 基隆廟口夜市
Our second stop was this Zheng Ji Sweet Potato Biscuit Stall, which seems to share the roof of other stall's.

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Zheng Ji Sweet Potato Biscuit @ Miaokou Night Market 基隆廟口夜市
Look at the glorious sweet potato cakes sizzling away on the hotplate. Crispy, smooth and not coying sweet, it was a good bet.

Total damage = TWD25

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One Bite Hotdog Stall @ Miaokou Night Market 基隆廟口夜市
Our third stop was One Bite Hotdog stall. The size did make it easier to share and as all Taiwanese sausages go, it was packed with flavours in one bite.

Total damage = TWD21

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Stall 45 Keelung Miaokou Ai Yu Jelly @ Miaokou Night Market 基隆廟口夜市
Our fourth stop was Stall 45 Keelung Miaokou Ai Yu Jelly Stall for Ai Yu Jelly. Smooth and slurpy, it was also balanced in sweet and sour profile.

Total damage = TWD30

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Chicken Roll Stall @ Miaokou Night Market 基隆廟口夜市
Our final stop was for something savory from this Chicken Roll Stall, namely loh bak and braised pork rice.

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Loh Bak @ Chicken Roll Stall 
Personally I am not a big fan of loh bak but by Malaysian standard, this loh bak was not bad at all. The only complaint I had was this had way too much fat to my liking.

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Braised Pork Rice @ Chicken Roll Stall 
Their braised pork rice, on the other hand, had a better fat vs meat ratio. Perhaps the best meal my mom had for the day.

Total damage = TWD65


IN SUMMARY,

My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance
    • Keelung Imperial Hotel 華國商務飯店 - 3/5
    • Random Noodle Shop in Keelung - 2/5
    • Shi Hua Dong Stall - 2/5
    • Zheng Ji Sweet Potato Biscuit Stall - 2/5
    • One Bite Hotdog Stall - 2/5
    • Stall 45 Keelung Miaokou Ai Yu Jelly Stall - 2/5
    • Chicken Roll Stall - 2/5
  • Price
    • Keelung Imperial Hotel 華國商務飯店 - 4/5
    • Random Noodle Shop in Keelung - 2/5
    • Shi Hua Dong Stall - 2/5
    • Zheng Ji Sweet Potato Biscuit Stall - 4/5
    • One Bite Hotdog Stall - 4/5
    • Stall 45 Keelung Miaokou Ai Yu Jelly Stall - 3/5
    • Chicken Roll Stall - 5/5
  • Food
    • Keelung Imperial Hotel 華國商務飯店 - 4/5
    • Random Noodle Shop in Keelung - 1/5
    • Shi Hua Dong Stall - 1/5
    • Zheng Ji Sweet Potato Biscuit Stall - 5/5
    • One Bite Hotdog Stall - 5/5
    • Stall 45 Keelung Miaokou Ai Yu Jelly Stall - 4/5
    • Chicken Roll Stall - 5/5
  • Verdict
    • Keelung Imperial Hotel 華國商務飯店 - Decent basic Taiwanese breakfast for guests
    • Random Noodle Shop in Keelung - Won't bother trying again
    • Shi Hua Dong Stall - Done and dusted, won't order another
    • Zheng Ji Sweet Potato Biscuit Stall - Oily but so good! Grab one if you see it
    • One Bite Hotdog Stall - Can't say no to Taiwanese sausages
    • Stall 45 Keelung Miaokou Ai Yu Jelly Stall - Refreshing dessert 
    • Chicken Roll Stall - Bang for buck!

My personal hotel/attractions verdicts for:
  • Keelung Imperial Hotel 華國商務飯店 - The hotel was definitely beyond its 3-star rating
  • Keelung Harbour - Good for leisure walk when weather is good
  • Yehliu Geopark 野柳自然中心 - Beautiful rock formation that one must at least visit once
  • Miaokou Night Market 基隆廟口夜市 - Full galore of food and drinks that a tummy can barely stomach all

DINING INFO:

Miaokou Night Market 基隆廟口夜市
Rensan Rd, Ren’ai District, Keelung City, Taiwan 200
Operation Hours: 24 hours
Tel: +886 2 2428 7664
Credit Card: N/A (We paid cash)

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