A Taste of Taiwanese Delights

Foodies in the capital might be familiar with Chinese and Japanese delicacies, but how about Taiwanese cuisine?
Xi Men Ding has arrived in town introducing Taiwan’s culinary traditions to food lovers. 

It is quite easy to find Xi Men Ding as it is nestled in the corner of the fourth floor of South Jakarta’s Senayan City shopping mall, right beside one of the escalators. Beneath the eye-catching name board, two words spell out “Taiwan Cuisine”, in bright red. 

It turns out that Fransisca Tjong’s visits to Taiwan inspired her to manage this restaurant, which is part of the chain of restaurants already popular in Singapore. “We want to offer more dining options for food lovers; to let them know that Asian cuisine is not only about Cantonese food or series of dim sum,” says Fransisca, director of PT Tri Samudera Sentosa, the company that runs the Indonesian branch. 

Xi Men Ding is named after a famed culinary and shopping district in Taipei, often dubbed the Shinjuku of Taipei. Xi Men Ding’s dining area, which can accommodate 125 diners, is spacious and furnished with dark brown and tangerine-colored wooden chairs. 

Go deeper into the restaurant and you will find artsy mural lamps, featuring some iconic Taiwanese attractions, such as Taipei’s 101 Tower; the MRT (mass rapid transit) system – known as one of the best in the world – and plum blossoms. These are the only traditional elements found in the restaurant, while as a whole the dining area radiates an edgy ambiance. 

Now, let’s talk about the Taiwan food itself. Taiwanese cooking, Fransisca says, has many influences from Japanese gastronomy. “The cooking technique is simple. It uses three main ingredients: rice wine, sesame oil and soya sauce,” she goes on. Other key ingredients include seafood, tofu and vegetables. “It is healthy as it uses less oil,” Fransisca says, adding that the restaurant also offers a pork-free menu. 

Then we came to the fun part of sampling Xi Men Ding’s very own signature dishes. The waitress started to get busy by pouring out cups of hot Taiwanese tea. We were recommended to try the iced lychee green tea, served with unique bubbles, which crack when you bite them into them. 

For starters, we had the Lionhead Signature Meatball, served nicely with sweet sauce and sprinkles of shredded veggies on top. The meatball was succulent and went well with the sauce. Another starter, Deep Fried Oyster, was something new. The pieces of oyster were covered with blankets of crispy dough, making them crunchy on the outside yet soft on the inside, without leaving an aftertaste of oyster. 

The fluffy yet thick Radish and Egg Pancake is also worth a try. After all, it is not the kind of sweet pancake you usually have for breakfast. It is a savory Taiwanese omelet with chopped radish. One plate of the egg pancake can be divided into eight slices. 

For most Indonesians, a meal would not be complete without rice. So, the Radish Fried Rice was served to fulfill our need for rice. 

We later moved on to the main courses, starting with the San Bei Chicken, which was full of flavor. The meaty chunks of chicken pieces were cooked with soya sauce and rice wine and tossed with fresh basil, which added a pleasant aroma to the chicken.

Another Taiwanese classic is Spicy Braised Beef Noodle, a soupy combination of thin yellow noodles, pieces of beef, sliced radish and carrot. The stock was sweet – it may be a little too sweet for some – and the beef was tender. 

Need some veggies with your food? Diners can go for the Stir Fried Eggplant with Meat Sauce, French Beans with Sliced Beef, Asparagus with Conpoy and Stir Fried Sweet Potato Leaves. 

We ended our authentic Taiwanese dining experience on a sweet note with a serving of Deep-Fried Sweet Taro Balls, which would certainly be a delight for those who have a sweet tooth. The taro balls, which are soft and not greasy, are better enjoyed while they are still warm. Among other sweet courses include Mochi with Almond Soup and Beancurd with Ginger Sugar Syrup. 

After enjoying the scrumptious Taiwanese fare at Xi Men Ding, it seems fairly obvious that the restaurant is hoping to attract large groups, where a variety of dishes can be shared. Single diners or couples, however, can also enjoy many of the menu offerings that are served in smaller portions, ranging from seafood soups, like Clam Coup, plus an array of rice and porridge dishes, such as Taiwan-Style Braised Minced Chicken Rice, Seafood Porridge, and Taiwan-Style Sweet Potato Porridge, and noodles like Beef Knuckle Mee Sua. 

(Sources: The Jakarta Post July 15 2012)

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