Thursday, March 5, 2015

Taipei Jan'15: Staying at W Taipei

Nothing comes close to truly luxurious as a stay in a five-star luxury hotel, especially when you're talking about one as swanky and urban as W Taipei!

The best kind of hotel is one that brings to mind the comforts of home but at the same time offers you the most indulgent living experience of a lifetime. YZ and I had an amazing stay at W Taipei and felt ridiculously pampered by the beautiful ambience, excellent service/hospitality, fantastic amenities and not to mention the incredibly cushy and comfortable king-sized bed in our Wonderful Room, we had such a good night's sleep that we wanted to stay in bed forever!

I was amazed to find out that W Taipei is literally around the corner from Taipei City Hall MRT station and it took barely ten steps to get to W Taipei from the station. Full marks for location and convenience!

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Sitting at the lobby area at the ground floor while I was waiting for Evonne and everyone else. I love the stylish and funky interior decor!

Being a 5-star hotel also means that W Taipei cares about your privacy/safety. Check-in counter is on the 10th floor which is accessible by the public, and all guest room levels can only be accessed if you have the relevant card keys. It makes me feel exclusive and special, as a guest.

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I also enjoyed how W Taipei is a boutique hotel and 5-star hotel, both in one! That made our stay such an enjoyable one. It's the coziness and stylishness of a boutique hotel and the professionalism and luxury of a 5-star hotel. Such a treat for the mind, body and soul!

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The main lobby that brings you up to the 10th level.

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The decor is super chic and inviting at the same time.

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There's so much beautiful decor in the hotel that every corner is as good-looking as the next! I love the huge windows that let in natural daylight, and the urban feel to W Taipei.

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Tiffany mint accents at the lounge area, just what I'm envisioning for my own bedroom.

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With my gorgeous Evonne!

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And the interior of our cozy Wonderful Room.

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Woodsy touches with red accents, that made our room setting so warm and intimate.

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Of course, our room was so well-stocked up with all sorts of amenities, snacks and drinks.

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The bathroom amenities.

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Did I mention that they only use Bliss toiletries as well? They smelled so good!

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A welcome platter courtesy of W Taipei.

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The beautiful night-scape from our window, captured with my fish eye lens on my Samsung Nx3000.

After a long day of activities (we went for hotpot buffet and KTV til late night, wheeee! More on that in future entry), it was a delight to return back to our comfortable room at W Taipei to rest for the night. We both slept sound as babies during our night at W Taipei, in fact, we slept so well we missed the breakfast buffet (which ends at 10am)! :(

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Travelling with the husband is always a joy for me. And I'm really glad we got to experience W Taipei together!

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Thank you for hosting us, W Taipei.
It was a wonderful time at W Taipei, and I hope to be back soon! 

Read the rest of my Taiwan travelogues below (to be updated with more!)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Taipei Jan'15: 寧夏夜市! Food Trail at Ningxia Night Market

Visiting Taipei's infamous night markets are a must when you go to Taiwan, and even though this was my first time in Taiwan, I'd already heard of various night markets, though not of Ningxia Night Market, the one that I'm about to introduce to you!

If you're talking about just food, and food alone, Ningxia Night Market (寧夏夜市) is the one that you have to visit, and Ningxia is also the one that's most popularly frequented by the locals. Two of our Taiwanese friends brought us there and they were insistent on Ningxia being the night market where you can find the best 小吃! Our Taiwanese friends also said that many of the other night markets are more commercialised and touristy as compared to Ningxia, which is more authentic. Who are we to argue with the locals, right?

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Ningxia Night Market 寧夏夜市
Ningxia Rd, Datong District (between Nanjing W. Rd. and Minsheng W. Rd.)
Opening Hours :1800-2400

How to get there by train:
1. From ZhongShan MRT Station Exit 1, walk approximately 10 minutes westwards along Nanjing West Road.
2. From Shuanglian MRT Station Exit 2, walk approximately 10 minutes westwards along Minsheng West Road.

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What's awesome about Ningxia is that it's a small and compact street chock full of many many different food stalls. It's not like Shilin or Raohe, which are huge and have lots of other shops where you can also do some shopping for clothes/random stuff. Ningxia is mostly just food so it's perfect for a fast and furious food hunt! Especially cos it's so compact, you don't have to walk far to experience and eat your way through Ningxia from one end to the other.

There is really a lot of food to try at Ningxia, so come prepared with an empty stomach!! If I had more stomach space, I'd definitely try even more food, but we had our limitations, so I'm just gonna share what we did manage to taste. Price-wise, most of these street side snacks are really affordable (Ranging from 40NT to 100 NT?) so I didn't take note of how much they cost. You'd probably be bursting at the seams before you even make a dent in your pocket!

One thing to note about the night markets is that they are generally much more crowded on the weekends, so try to plan your visits to the night markets on a weekday night instead to avoid the crazy weekend crowds. Other than Ningxia, we also visited Raohe Night Market and Keelung's Miaokou Night Market, which I'll cover in other upcoming posts!

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Our very first stop: 環记麻油鸡!

This place is an actual eatery and not a street stall, and it's just along Ningxia Night Market (right beside where the street stalls are). It's mostly patronised by locals so I think it must be pretty authentic!

The 麻油鸡 is very different from Singapore's version, and is much lighter and not as salty compared to our local version. The shop also sells meesua and 腰子 (yo-ji) and it was so much better compared to Singapore's version (aka Seng Kee meesua)! The 腰子 (pig's kidney) was actually palatable and not porky or smelly. It was like firm texture but melt-in-the-mouth! *hard to explain*

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The meesua was really yummy! I like the texture of the noodles, they're a little firmer and tastier than the kind we usually have in Singapore.

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And this chicken somehow almost tasted like pork in its texture and consistency. It's way chewier than the usual tender chicken meat that we're used to. Not too sure if I like it more or less, it's just different.

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The pig kidney that was surprising good! I stay away from 腰子 usually but had a few pieces of this. It was very fragrant and tasty!

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One of the rare photos we posed for before we got really busy with eating and couldn't be bothered to take photos hahaha.

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Devouring our first dinner... of many!

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I think YZ was rather pleased with the sesame oil chicken. It was very satisfying and kept our tummies nice and warm especially in the cool weather at night. Oh please remember to order single portions for sharing first so you can save on stomach space!

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We started exploring the street stalls, and the first stall we saw was this 发发东山鸭头 that looked very busy. 

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Our Taiwanese friends told us to dabao this back to our hotel to snack on with some beer but we ended up not buying any eventually because we were way too full by the time we finished our food expedition at Ningxia!

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One of my FAVOURITE street food has gotta be this: 大肠包小肠, AKA pork sausage sandwiched in a glutinous rice sausage!

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We picked the garlic version which comes with minced garlic, dried radish, egg, sauerkraut, cucumber and ginger. The sign also says "Healthy X New Concept, The more you eat the tastier it gets!"

I have to agree on how tasty this is, but it's definitely not healthy hahaha grilled sausage (unhealthy) enclosed in glutinous rice sausage (also unhealthy)?!

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It looks almost like a hotdog bun but tastes far better! I love glutinous rice snacks like ba zhang and lor mai kai, so maybe I'm biased.

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I've seen this at other night markets too so you should be able to find it else where. You have to try it!

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We didn't have to walk far until we found the next likely target.. "海宝贝"!

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It's a scallop in its shell that's been cut up and mixed with cheesy mentaiko and don't know what else filling before being grilled. The aroma of grilled cheese and mentaiko is incredibly mouth-watering!

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Mmmm, tasty! Especially when it's hot off the grill. Very cheesy and flavourful.

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For a palate refresher, we had some 爱玉冰 from 王记青蛙下蛋! I love ice jelly (the Singapore version) so I loved this too! You can add 粉圆 (tapioca pearls bubble tea style) but I recommend not adding the pearls because they put SO MUCH of those little tapioca balls that I had trouble drinking my aiyu. Every sip was just a mouthful of extremely chewy pearls.

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I swear the pearls filled half my cup! And made me damn full too ;(

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One of the stalls you REALLY, REALLY, REALLY have to try!
Yes, I liked it that much. It's 林记烧麻糬 and it's the most insanely chewy and soft mua chee that I have EVER tasted! There's two versions, one is the traditional hot sticky rice ball in sesame/peanut powder, and the other one is some kind of mua chee ice (which I didn't try!)

There was a queue for this and we waited about 10-15 minutes for our mua chee. Served fresh and piping hot on a plate and we proceeded to devour it at the little roadside tables at the stall.

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IT'S SO GOOD I CAN'T EVEN?? The sesame/peanut powder was SO fragrant and nutty, and the warm mua chee was incredibly soft and sticky.

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Here's the namecard I took a picture of cos I liked it that much.

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Another must-try Taiwanese food has got to be the oyster omelette, 蚵仔煎, "Er-Ah-Jian"!
It's not called Orh Lua or Orh Jian okay. There's more than one shop (it's a proper shop, not stall) selling oyster omelette along Ningxia so we picked the one that looked relatively crowded and had locals patronising it. Called 蚵仔煎大王!

I don't typically eat this in Singapore cos I don't like the raw fishy taste of oysters and I find our local version very oily and jelat.

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But for some reason I couldn't stop eating mouthful after mouthful of this one that we had! I loved the consistency of the egg (it's the slightly undercooked and still jiggly and soft kind) and I don't know what kind of flour they used but it was so QQ and soft. Also, the oysters were really big and fresh! They didn't have that fishy flavour that I dislike too, which surprised me.

Only thing I didn't enjoy was that there was too much sauce on the omelette which overwhelmed the entire dish. But I think you can ask for less sauce!

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Our Taiwanese friends say there are also good and bad "Er-Ah-Jian" in Taiwan, but the one that we had is considered pretty good! So here's the name card again for you to locate this yummy shop.

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Another recommendation by our local friends is something called "知高饭", which is rice with pig trotters!

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It's just a very comforting bowl of rice, toped with a generous portion of braised pork and an egg, plus pickled vegetables! For 75NT (3.2SGD), where to find?

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For the brave-hearted ones, go ahead and try their infamous 臭豆腐 (fermented stinky beancurd) if you dare!! Our Taiwanese friends urged us to try this adventurous dish and so we did! You'll find quite a few stinky tofu stalls at Ningxia too so just pick your poison, hahaha.

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Verdict? It wasn't half as bad as I expected it to be, and in fact I rather liked the hot crispy beancurd dipped in their special chilli sauce! The smell is rather strong, but once you put it in your mouth, it tastes just like normal fried tofu, really. Just abit more fermented? They also serve it with some pickled cabbage which was quite addictive.

Advice from the locals: Go for the fried beancurd instead of the one cooked 酸辣-style (in sour & spicy sauce)! And also, look for a stall that's crowded cos it means that the beancurd will be freshly cooked and served.

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Photo with our 热情的台湾朋友们! Photo-bombed by Mr. Stinky Tofu haha!

You can imagine how absolutely stuffed we were by the end of the night. And there were many more stalls that we didn't even get to try! Next time.. I'll be back at 寧夏夜市 for sure!

Lastly, if you happen to visit Ningxia, look out for this taro ball stall called "刘芋仔" that is reputedly super famous at Ningxia! It sells fried taro/yam balls that are supposed to be orgasmic. The stall wasn't around the night that I visited, but you might get lucky!

Read the rest of my Taiwan travelogues below (to be updated with more!)
TAIPEI JAN'15: 十分放天灯! RELEASING SKY LANTERNS AT SHIFEN

xoxo