Café brings exotic cuisine home

Delicious and authentic Chinese food is served up at Taiwan Cafe. (credit: Hannah Rosen | Photo Staff) Delicious and authentic Chinese food is served up at Taiwan Cafe. (credit: Hannah Rosen | Photo Staff)

Taiwan Café, located on the corner of Forbes Avenue and Oakland Avenues, serves non-Americanized Chinese food. Being third generation Thai-born Chinese who grew up in Thailand, where there’s a massive Chinese population, I saw the street-side stir-fried dishes as ones my Cantonese speaking grandmother would make. At Taiwan Café, the foods are comforting and delicious.

Along the narrow hallway leading down to the café underground, various photos of dishes along with their names are shown. The pictures consist of an array of common dishes like General Tso’s chicken, which are served in many Chinese eateries, or dishes like stir-fried Chinese vegetables you rarely come across elsewhere.

Once you get into the café, you can place your order at the counter, which is usually staffed by the same woman. She is always willing to talk to you about whatever you want, and you can ask her about the dish without fear of making her mad, a refreshing gesture lacking in some Chinese places. If you are not sure about any dish, you can take a look at two full photo albums with the dishes and their names, reducing the chance of an unexpected surprise.

Beef tripe with ginger is probably not a dish you will find on a menu of your regular Chinese take-out place. For those who are curious, beef tripe is actually cow’s stomach. The idea of eating an animal’s stomach may seem exotic, but tripe is really about as exotic as bratwurst or pasta. Tripe dishes can be found from German or Italian cuisine to a Zimabwean kitchen, and everywhere in between.

Beef tripe with ginger is a hot stir-fried dish with strips of tripe, onion, ginger, and chilies. The dish can be made more or less spicy based on your personal preferences. Tripe itself doesn’t have any flavor, but it has a unique earthy aroma and crunchy texture, so it takes on the sweetness of onion and heat of chilies. Ginger binds everything together without overpowering the dish. Those who are not big fans of ginger can still enjoy the dish as long as they avoid the actual ginger strands. The mild spiciness of the dish can be tamed with your choice of milk tea or bubble tea.

If the dish is not very spicy, a hot black tea with milk and tapioca can warm you up. Just be careful while drinking a hot drink from a large straw.

For fans of seafood, Taiwan Café has mussels with black bean sauce, or salt and pepper shrimp with shell on, that will satisfy your craving. the latter is a deep-fried shrimp in pale batter lightly tossed with salt and black pepper. Coarse salt and pepper really bring out the simple seafood-esque flavor from the shrimp. And yes, the shrimp are not peeled; they are deep fried with shells as the name says. When properly done, the crispy batter goes well with the whole shrimp.

With two meaty dishes, our group chose stir-fried fresh oriental green. Here, the oriental green is Chinese broccoli, also known as Chinese kale or kai-lan. In Thai, they are called ka-nah. The Chinese broccoli is stir-fried with chopped garlic and either some soy sauce or salt. Here, the sauce is not the usual salty thick brown sauce, but rather a light, clean sauce with a soup-like consistency. The Chinese broccoli has a thick stem at the bottom and large, flat leaves with smaller stem — imagine large, flat leaves instead of tiny broccoli florets. In each plate of stir-fried Chinese broccoli, the large stems up to the smaller leaves and occasional flower are served on the same plate. That way, you get different textures and slightly different flavors in the same dish.

Each dish is served with rice. You serve yourself either cold water or hot black tea from the small corner next to the counter, which goes perfectly with every dish. Before leaving, make sure to order either hot milk tea or a red bean milkshake smoothie to warm you up or cool you down on your way home.