Once the most important commerce centre for wholesale of local products such as rice, sugar, tea, and camphor in Northern Taiwan and the distribution centre for tea export to the rest of the world, pre-World War II Dadaocheng was a bustling, prosperous hub.
In the 1970s however, the district’s fortunes were reversed when Taipei’s commercial centre moved eastward, with many parts falling into disrepair up until 2010 when Dadaocheng’s cultural and creative soul was ignited. In the years that followed, the rise of historical groups ensured that the district and its iconic North Gate, or Cheng’en Gate, had its day in the sun once again.
Today, the western district of Taipei has transformed into a trendy neighbourhood, favoured by the young and foodies alike. The mix of independent boutiques, old time shops, delicious eateries and art establishments, both traditional and modern, have lent the area a unique charm and style.
At the lovingly restored Sin Hong Choon, or the Xinfangchun, Tea House, witness the prosperity of Taiwan’s tea trade before the Second World War. Established in 1930, Shizixuan Cake Shop is still beloved by many families in the historic district as they prepare gifts for the Lunar New Year.
On the other end of the spectrum, modern influences add colour to the old city and showcase a different facet of it. Housed in a historic building that was once the residence of the Chinese imperial envoy in the Qing Dynasty and rebuilt during the Japanese occupation, the new OrigInn Space hotel welcomes visitors through a cozy cafe and souvenir shop downstairs and offers a nostalgic stay in its vintage-decked rooms upstairs.
Scattered among the charming juxtaposition of old and new establishments in the district are several MICHELIN-listed eateries. From night market snacks to swanky starred restaurants, a trip to Dadaocheng is a treat for the senses.
Located in Palais de Chine Hotel on Chengde Road bordering the district is Le Palais, which has been recognised with three MICHELIN stars for four consecutive years. The acclaimed restaurant is helmed by two chefs, Ken Chen and Matt Chen, who both started life in the kitchen at a young age. While the former has a knack for reinventing traditional dishes, the latter is passionate about learning and applying new global cooking techniques to his dishes; both share an unwavering high standard for the quality of their cooking. Must-order dishes at Le Palais include the signature Cantonese-style crispy roast duck, white gourd stuffed with shrimp and crab meat, and deep-fried tofu cheese pastries.
Also located in Palais de Chine Hotel is Artbrosia, a collaboration between the hotel and celebrated chef Massimiliano Musso of one-MICHELIN-starred Ca’ Vittoria in Italy. The swanky Italian restaurant is helmed by the chef’s trusted aide, Czech executive chef Josef Pindur, who delivers classics from his hometown of Piedmont with innovative twists.
Mai Mien Yen Tsai on Anxi Street was founded during the Japanese occupation and boasts a rich history spanning more than 80 years. Long queues are a common sight outside the store which serves hand cut noodles with bean sprouts and chives along with side dishes like braised pork, pork liver, poached chicken slices, and smoked shark meat.
What The Inspectors Say: The chicken rice is irresistibly aromatic while the tofu in a spiced marinade is velvety beyond imagination.
Located at stalls 8 and 10 in Ningxia Night Market is 60-year-old Rong’s Pork Liver, which serves its signature umami pork liver soup and pork dumplings with a homemade sweet and spicy sauce that is worth ordering if you have room for more.
What The Inspectors Say: The stall has been making its tasty omelettes, with oysters from Tainan drizzled in homemade sweet hot sauce, since 1965.
What The Inspectors Say: Plain taro balls boast creamy mashed taro; those with salted egg yolk and pork floss have extra flavour.
Jinxi Street falls within wider Dadaocheng and is home to the relocated A Kuo Noodles, which is recognised with a Bib Gourmand distinction. Its sliced noodles served in pork bone broth are light and delicious, topped with fragrant homemade fried shallots. Many come just for the fried shallots, whose crisp and fragrant aroma elevate the shop’s lu rou fan (braised pork rice) to otherworldly standards. Other crowd-pleasers include dumplings in spicy vinegar sauce and noodles in homemade sweet sauce.
What The Inspectors Say: Simple but addictive, cabbage rice and clear pork rib radish soup are the comfort food everyone craves.
Shih Chia Big Rice Ball in Taipei’s Yansan Night Market offers savoury Hakka dumplings made from a recipe passed down from the 1960s to the current second generation of operators. Its taste remains the same: the skin of the dumplings are made with glutinous rice flour and filled with a mixture of fat and lean meat from the hock of black pigs. Celery, chives, and shallots add fresh fragrance to the soup.
A stalwart at Yansan Night Market for nearly half a century is Da-Qiao-Tou Tube Rice Pudding, now helmed by second generation owners. The sticky rice cakes feature perfectly chewy grains and can be topped with your preference of fatty or lean meat, with homemade sweet sauce and spicy radish sauce. Another popular item is pork liver soup.
This article was written by Lucie Chic Gourmet and originally published on MICHELIN Guide China’s WeChat.
Additional reporting by Hsieh Ming Ling and translation by Rachel Tan.
Header image courtesy of Lucie Chic Gourmet. The original article can be viewed here.