Philadining Home

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Taiwanese in Philly's Chinatown

Although I think Philly's Chinatown has some really great food, it's still a little tricky to find authentic regional specialties, outside of the common Cantonese norm. Szechuan Tasty House and Chung King Garden offer some serious Sichuan cooking, and Four Rivers offers some Sichuan and a few Shanghainese dishes too, and there are dishes lurking on other menus, even if the restaurant as a whole doesn't declare itself as devoted to a specific regional cuisine.

We'd heard rumors of Taiwanese food, but only recently tracked it down at Empress Garden on 10th street in Chinatown (NOT Golden Empress Garden on 5th street). The restaurant doesn't look like much from the outside, and the menu is filled with the routine Chinatown clichés. But in the back of the menu, in Chinese characters, there are more traditional offerings, including classics from Taiwan.

Most likely due to both geography and politics, there are some Taiwanese specialties that other regions claim as their own, and I'm not going to worry too much about who had what first. If someone wants to serve me a Lions Head Meatball, I'm unconcerned about whether it's supposedly from Shanghai or Taiwan.

With help from a few friends, we managed to get a few Taiwanese classics from Empress Garden. I was lucky enough to have a Mandarin speaker with me, who was familiar with many of these dishes, but I suspect that even flailing away in English, we could have managed to get many of these by just explaining that we wanted traditional Taiwanese food. The staff was very friendly and offered suggestions once they realized what we were looking for.

A few of the specialties we had were:

Beef Noodle Soup, with thick, chewy noodles, large cubes of tender, braised beef, and a slightly spicy broth.

Three-Cup Chicken, a little sweet, a little boozy, tingling with garlic and ginger. Apparently the name comes from the simple recipe, based around a cup of rice wine, a cup of sesame oil, and a cup of soy sauce.

Fried Pork Chops, with a light, crispy coating, almost like a tempura, over very juicy, small chops.

Pork and Pressed Tofu, featuring thin julienne of firm tofu, bamboo shoot and pork.

Lion's Head Meatballs, large tender ground pork, in a thick gravy, over celophane noodles and onions.

We also had a few more conventional dishes that complimented all the rich, porky things we ordered! Sautéed snow pea leaves were quite good, as were some other greens I forget the name of, and some dry-fried green beans with ground pork. A scallion pancake was especially well-executed, nicely crisp and not too greasy.

I'm eager to try some more, or even to just go back for some of these same dishes. The three cup chicken and the pork chops were especially thrilling.

No comments:

Post a Comment