Fragrant Wonton – Hualien, TW


Fragrant Wonton (Yishang Bienshi)
42 Sinyi Street
Hualien, Taiwan

(03) 832-6761

Hualien is a small city on the coast of Taiwan, known for some beautiful mountain scenery, and coastal waters. Nearby Taroko Gorge is a burgeoning tourist attraction, and with the completion of the gao-zi – the high speed rail connection, tourists are flooding in from Taipei on a near daily basis. However, scenery aside, culinarily they are famous for two very different dishes – fragrant wontons, and muaji, glutinous rice cakes.  Two must tries when you are in Hualien.

It’s interesting how celebrity endorsement can affect the image of a restaurant. There are two very well known wonton houses in Hualien. The aforementioned Fragrant Wonton, that have been in business for over 70 years, and Dai’s Bienshi, a 3rd generation wonton maker making bienshi (mandarin for wonton) since the Japanese occupation. Dai’s, as a result of being the favorite of a former President, is extremely well known. Foodies generally agree that Fragrant Wonton is better, but it doesn’t have the name recognition and insane lineups.

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The decor inside neither looks like it’s 70 years old, nor like it’s a top wonton place. Channeling the entire cafeteria vibe, you generally order first, grab a table, and sit and wait at one of many clean tables. Napkins are dispensed on the wall (took me a while to find this), and things are kept quite clean. Not surprisingly, it’s almost always busy.

When you go to order, you generally order a number. This represents the number of bowls of wontons you want. One order is pretty substantial for most people, but if you’re a wonton/bienshi  fiend like i am, i suggest two bowls.

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Fragrant wontons are renown for their skins, which are silky smooth, yet strong enough to hold in the succulent juices from the meat. Does 70 years teach you anything? Absolutely. The skins are silky, and wonderfully soft without breaking at all – a big no no and a trick i wish i knew. The pork filling is good – filling the mouth with a blast of warm pork flavour.They are generally filled with the meat from the legs – trotters and shank. This is because the leg meat is generally a bit firmer, leading to a nice texture with some bite without being rubbery, while staying lean. The stock they serve the wontons in are also made of pork bones, spare ribs, and pigs legs, a rich stock that is skimmed repeatedly to get rid of an oiliness. Served with celery leaves and fried onion tops, the result is a nice balance of fragrant, yet slightly neutral soup with a fantastic wonton flavour.

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Overall, these are some really nice wontons.  The cardboard serving vessels and plastic spoons feel a bit off, as i would prefer porcelain – it’s amazing what a difference in texture you feel using a plastic utensil, but that’s a very small quibble.  Im not sure they are good enough to make a special trip to Hualien for, but if you love wontons/bienshi, and you happen to be in the area, don’t leave town without trying Fragrant Wonton.

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Taste Good Baozi – Taipei, TW


Taste Good Baozi
Intersection of ChangChun Rd and Long Jian Rd
Taipei, Taiwan
(09) 2.203.9383

Open 9am-12:30pm, 6pm-9:30pm

“The best”. This is one of those phrases tossed around to emphasize that a place is good. Overused in many cases, everyone has an opinion on where the best breakfast is, the best soy milk, the best dumplings, the best everything. Especially in Taipei.  Arguments ensue over which establishments serve the best of everything. People will go to great lengths to prove their point – and really, who am I to argue. They sample hundreds of places, and determine which one is the best. I get to cherry pick their opinions, and avoid some less than stellar places. While there is generally no consensus on any of these establishments, sometimes, you come across a place that everyone grudgingly concedes is “very good”.  Taste Good Baozi is one of those places.

Next to a popular inner city vegetable market (tsai se), Taste Good Baozi serves up a wide variety of Baozi, better known as filled steam buns. In the middle of their sign, they prominently mention they are handmade. They definitely are. In addition to steam bums, they serve a variety of typical accompaniments, including a very sub-par soy milk.

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The location is very open – racks and racks of fresh made, unsteamed buns lie on racks, waiting to be steamed. A steady stream of people are typically lined up, waiting to patiently place their order. Each bun costs just a bit over standard – running between 15-25NT (60-90cents) each. Typically 25 NT. A variety of fillings are available.

The keys to a good steam bun are actually quite simple. A warm, light, fluffy steam bun, with a well balanced filling that combines the right quantity of meat, sauce, and veg. While it sounds simple, in actual fact, they can be quite difficult to make. The steam bun especially, often ends up quite rubbery, or too thick, or too hard. Not enough time to rise, too much kneading, not enough kneading, not enough sugar, there are an infinite number of variables that go into turning out a perfect steam bun. They also freeze very well, which while it only leads to a small degredation in quality, is noticeable when you’re talk about the “best”!

As for the filling, you need not only a flavourful, well balanced filling, but one that has the right proportion of steam bun to filling, and the right saltiness to counter act the sweetness of the bun.

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Proportionately, these are pretty good in terms of a filling to bun ratio.

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So are they the best? Well, that’s really a subjective thing. I can tell you that they are extremely good. The steam bun itself is fantastic. Light, airy, fluffy, moist, yet with a slightly dry interior that holds the structure, and soaks some of the sauce up. The filling is good too, well balanced, wonderful flavour, and just the right amount. I seldom use the term “the best”,  but i can wholeheartedly endorse these. They may not be the best i’ve had, but on any given day, they could be.  Give Good Taste Baozi a visit, and stroll down the vegetable market afterwards. It’s a great way to spend a morning.