Country 015 – Taiwan (Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine)

mama
Location
: 324 Highway 7 East, Richmond Hill
Website: http://www.mamabeartaiwanesecuisine.ca

Unlike most of the countries I’ve written about so far for this blog, I’ve actually been to Taiwan.  While I was there, one of the dishes I was looking forward to trying was minced pork rice.  But when I got to the restaurant, it was packed, there was a surly-looking man behind the counter and a total lack of any pictures for me to point to.  I wound up loitering for a couple of minutes before finally losing my nerve and leaving sad and pork-and-rice-less.   Yes, trying to order food when you don’t speak a word of the language can be a challenge.

And now I’m sad all over again, because the version of this dish at Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine was pretty damn good — so I can only imagine how good the real deal in Taiwan must have been.

It doesn’t look like much, but with a surfeit of tender, perfectly cooked fatty pork in a richly flavourful, sweet sauce (served on a heaping mound of rice), it’s easy enough to see why it’s such a treasured dish in Taiwan.

We also ordered the Taiwanese-style popcorn chicken, which was crispy, juicy and well seasoned, and easily on par with the fried chicken I had in that country.

The oyster omelette, sadly, was like it came from a different kitchen altogether.

This was another dish that I tried in Taiwan, and the one I had there was almost transcendentally good, with super fresh, perfectly cooked oysters melding with the eggs in a way that was downright magical.   Those eggs, which were lightly crispy on the outside (thanks to a judicious amount of starch mixed in) and soft and creamy on the inside, were among the best I’ve ever had. Served with some sweet sauce on the side to cut the briny richness of the oysters and the eggs, it was pretty much perfect.

I knew this omelette wasn’t going to be as good as that one, but man was it bad.

More starch than egg, the omelette was chewy, gummy, and crammed with overcooked oysters that tasted fishy and canned. And it was absolutely doused in a gloppy sauce — though in this case, the abundance of sauce was probably necessary to disguise the off taste of those oysters.

Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - the restaurant Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - minced pork rice Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - popcorn chicken Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - Oyster Omelette

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Country 010 – China (Magic Noodle)

magic
Location
1383 16th Ave, Unit 4, Richmond Hill
Websitehttp://www.magicnoodle.ca/

I’m going to paraphrase a quote from The Social Network here: you know what’s better than noodles?  Hand-pulled noodles.

There’s something about the addictively chewy texture of freshly-made noodles that really can’t be beat.

That’s not to mention the novelty of seeing them get made, which is on full display at Magic Noodle: stretching the dough, slamming it on the table, more stretching, more slamming, and the final, impressive act of noodlification.   The dough is pulled, folded over, and then pulled again and again, until a fat lump of dough has been turned into one long noodle strand, seemingly by magic.

This makes hand-pulled noodles impossible to eat daintily; because you’re essentially dealing with one absurdly long noodle bunched up in a bowl, the only thing you can do is bring a bunch of noodles to your face, cram as much as you can into your mouth, and then bite down to allow the rest to fall back into the bowl.  It’s a mess, but a delicious mess.

I ordered the House Special Hand Pulled Noodles, which featured a tasty, not overly salty broth (which was made even better when kicked up with the provided chili oil), a really generous amount of meat (a couple of different cuts of beef — both quite tender — as well as some tripe), cilantro and green onion, and a fried egg (which was way overcooked and easily the weak spot of the bowl).

And of course, those amazingly chewy noodles.  You can tell they’re made by hand because they’re not quite uniformly thick throughout, which only adds to their unique texture and intensifies their appeal.

Expect to wait, too; I came on a Friday night, and the wait was long enough to necessitate one of those pagers that buzzes and lights up when your table is ready, like at a chain restaurant.  I think it was about a twenty minute wait, which seems like a long time until you get your first taste of those noodles.

Magic Noodle - House Special Noodles Magic Noodle - Lamb Kebab