I think most of us have a story about trying to muddle our way through a conversation with a very apparent language barrier. Although cross-cultural language barriers can lead to a hilarious or humbling experience, sometimes they lead to frustration as well.
Particularly when it comes to food, it can be a real shame to miss out on more local eateries because you can’t read the menu, or there’s no one there who can really help translate it for you. Well, Taiwan’s second biggest city, Tainan, is trying to gradually change all that with the introduction of its English Friendly Stores.
Tainan’s English Friendly Stores
I was invited by a representative of the Tainan City Government to test out a couple of the 40+ English Friendly Stores in town. Read on, and I’ll show you just how friendly (and delicious) an experience these stores provide.
Tainan City Government recently introduced an “English Friendly Certification” and “English Friendly+ Certification” so that restaurants and attractions can better provide English service to foreigners. By encouraging restaurants to provide greater English service, it’s hoped that the distance between Taiwanese and foreigners can be shortened, and that Tainan can further its goal to become an international friendly city.
Fu Lou Restaurant | 福樓餐廳
Frequented by loyal locals who unfailing come to get their weekly fix, the occasional celebrity, and drop ins who hear word of what a “must eat” place it is, it’s safe to say that Fu Lou Restaurant is an institution in Tainan. It all started 25 years ago, with a simple vision to introduce an authentic seafood BBQ restaurant to Tainan’s culinary scene.
That same man, now a grandfather, is still at the helm of making sure the restaurant only serves the freshest seafood to its customers. Everyday, he goes to Bao’an Market (保安市場) to handpick each and every piece of seafood which enters Fu Lou’s doors.
The restaurant has continued to expand over the years, now spanning four floors which focus on Japanese cuisine, grilled seafood, large banquets and conferences respectively.
The menu spills across three separate menus to better serve customers’ differing needs.There’s an English menu developed specifically to further promote Fu Lou’s inclusion in the Michelin Guide, a standard Mandarin menu, and a menu mainly for sushi and grilled items. Vegetarians are well catered for with dozens of meat-free items, and are welcome to order a vegetarian set lunch if they please.
The aforementioned Michelin Guide menu is a prime example of how a restaurant can effectively cater to English-speaking customers. It’s clearly divided into sections like Taiwanese food, Tainan speciality dishes, and Japanese food. There’s even a Top 10 listing of customers’ favourite picks. To simplify the ordering process, all the dishes are clearly labeled in English with an accompanying photograph.
But I must admit, seeing all those mouth-watering pictures made it way more difficult to decide what to eat! Fortunately, the owner’s granddaughter, Amy, was on hand to offer me many helpful suggestions based on my preferences. Amy is there everyday, speaks fluent English, and is super lovely (so much so that we may have spoken for around two hours!), so if you head to Fu Lou you can expect exceptional service.
Handmade Shrimp Rolls | 手工自製蝦捲
Shrimp rolls are one of Tainan’s speciality foods. There are many restaurants and street stands which serve their own version of this Tainan favourite, and they often making their own mark on the classic version.
There are a couple of features which make Fu Lou’s version stand out. First, unlike some other restaurants which use caul fat (the lining of animal intestines), Fu Lou uses tofu skin. The benefit of using tofu skin is that it gives the exterior a unique crunch and bounciness to it.
As you can see, the rolls were stuffed generously with shrimp. Which is a relief, because I’m so sick eating rolls that are more air than substance!
They’re seasoned well with pepper, sesame oil and -don’t freak out- cilantro/coriander. But don’t worry, I checked, and you can definitely request for the rolls to be made without cilantro. That being said, unless you’re a die-hard hater, I’d urge you to stick to the original version. The taste of cilantro isn’t overpowering at all, and it adds an important element of flavour to the rolls.
Mingxia Prawn | 明蝦
One of Amy’s top recommendations was this mammoth prawn. It’s called a Mingxia Prawn (明蝦), and it’s around the length of a hand. Although it’s more expensive than a regular prawn, you can definitely taste the difference of this higher quality species. What’s more, the length means there’s significantly more prawn meat to devour.
The Mingxia Prawn is a seasonal item which is usually only available to order at Fu Lou in the colder months, when it’s most abundant. Although it’s possible to buy Mingxia Prawns in the markets in the warmer months, the market price is markedly higher, so Fu Lou doesn’t offer it then usually as the price is too prohibitive.
After you’re done ooing and its size, and taking a snap for Instagram, you can try peeling the beast yourself, or you can ask the staff to peel it for you.
You can even watch one of the chefs catch the prawn for you! As the prawn is charged by weight, just like all of the other seafood in the tanks, you can go up, select which one you want, and watch it being weighed. Or you can just leave it up to the pros- it’s up to you.
Roasted Fish Chin ｜烤魚下巴
The Roasted Fish Chin (烤魚下巴) is a wonderful cut for those who find it too finicky picking bones out of fish. It only has a few bigger bones which can be easily taken out.
The fish is slightly salted and can be eaten without adding anything else to it. Personally, I love the taste of fish with a spritz of lime or lemon, so I made use of the slice which came with the dish. Pictured on the left is a handmade mix of finely ground salt and pepper you can sprinkle on top if you like an even saltier taste.
Cold Tofu Strips
During dinner hours, there are a selection of small plates of simple Taiwanese home-style dishes for NT$30-50 you can bring to the table yourself. If they look familiar, you’ll find these Tofu Strips as a standard offering in many cheap and casual Taiwanese diners.
The tofu is mixed with stirfried shallots and carrot, and has a slightly orange colour comes from chili oil. I didn’t find it spicy at all though. Small plates of food like this are a nifty way to start the meal, as you can just go ahead and grab a plate to eat before the mains arrive.
Fried Taro and Sweet Potato ｜ 芋仔蕃薯
This is the restaurant’s most popular dish. I thought it was a bit peculiar that a dessert would be the most in-demand item, but once I tried it I could see why both kids and adults would adore it. It’s such a scrumptious way to end the meal- a sweet treat that’s not too heavy which can be shared by everyone. (Just don’t wait too long to eat it as all the pieces will stick together!)
The sweet potato and taro is covered in a sugar glaze that tastes like toffee. If you haven’t tried this flavour combination before, believe me when I say that the sticky coating and the natural sweetness of the starchy vegetables harmonize well. I used to eat sweet potatoes cooked like this as a kid during my trips to Japan, so it was quite nostalgic for me to eat it once more!
N.B. The usual serving size for the Handmade Shrimp Rolls and the Fried Taro and Sweet Potato is double the portions pictured.
Contact Information for Fu Lou Restaurant
Opening hours: 11:00-14:00 and 17:00-22:30 (Mon-Sun)
Address: No. 300, Section 1, Yonghua Rd, Tainan City
Phone number: 06 295 7777
Website: Fu Lou Restaurant’s website
Uncle A-Shui’s Steamed Bun Store | 阿水伯包子
If you head to Uncle A-Shui’s Steam, you’ll almost certainly meet Cloud, the owner’s son. He’s there without fail, seven days a week, working from 4 am to help prepare the buns, all the way ’til closing. Despite the endless long hours, he somehow manages to provide some of the most welcoming service I’ve ever encountered.
Maybe it’s the way he conveys such pure enthusiasm when talking about his father’s shop. Or the way he greets his customers like they’re old friends of his. It’s this type of service that’s been bringing people for the sixty plus years the business has been in operation.
Oh, and obviously the buns are a big draw card too. When you’re in a country that has an undying affection for buns, I’d imagine it’s quite a tricky operation to keep customers loyal in the face of countless competitors. Even the best service will only get you so far, so you have to have something special to hook people.
One factor that gives Uncle A-shui’s buns an edge over more recently established set ups is that the bun dough and fillings honor traditional techniques and flavours of the past. The dough and fillings remain just like the buns people enjoyed sixty years ago. The buns are preservative-free, and everything is handmade in the on-sight kitchen.
Cloud was kind enough to take me into the kitchen, where he demonstrated how to assemble a standard Pork Bun. Boy, was he fast- I actually had to ask him to slow down so I could take these photographs! He even let me have a go myself, but let’s just say my poor effort wasn’t quite worth documenting. I blame him for making bun preparation look so effortless– his fine-tuned skills and fast handiwork gave me false confidence that it would be easy!
Steamed Pork Buns with Egg Yolk ｜ 蛋黃香菇肉包
The Steamed Pork Bun with Egg Yolk (蛋黃香菇肉包) ($NT$20) is one of A-shui’s signature products. This bun, and its standard Pork Bun sibling (鮮肉包) are both best sellers, each selling around 200 a day. The key to the mixture is the use of fresh pork and Chinese herbs. It takes ten hours for the dough to be perfectly fermented, a process which results in a distinct chewy texture.
The handmade pork stuffing is rich and juicy, and doesn’t have any grizzle like many factory-made buns. If you’re observant, you may be wondering why there are two buns in the picture above which have black sesame on them. It’s the traditional way to differentiate the Steamed Pork Bun with Egg Yolk from the regular Pork Buns.
Steamed Cheese Bun ｜起司包
I know there’s a lot of you who’s eyes bulged when you saw the word “cheese”. I’m a total cheese addict myself, so I’ve got to say I was especially excited to try this cheesy offering in the form of a Steamed Cheese Bun (起司包) ($NT20). It ties with the Steamed Vegetable Bun (菜包) (NT$15) as the second most popular bun.
According to Cloud, this bun is particularly popular with young people (what a solid testament to my youth!). Anchor cheese is used to fill the insides, and the bun itself is a much more airy and light texture than that of the Pork Bun.
Please learn from my mistake- this bun is best eaten fresh. I waited a while to eat it (lest I’d have self imploded from a bun OD), and by the time I did it had already cooled down. It was very tasty, but I know it’d be even better freshly out of the bamboo basket, with the cheese still fantastically gooey and melted.
Peng Pastry / Tainan Brown Sugar Bun Cake | 府城香餅 (黑糖椪餅)
Peng Pastry (府城香餅／黑糖椪餅) ($NT15) is a traditional pastry also known as Tainan Brown Sugar Bun Cake, Fragrant Pastry and Round-top Pastry. While it may look quite bulbous, the inside is hollow, with a thin layer of brown sugar. There are only three main ingredients: flour, water, and brown sugar. When these ingredients are combined and put into the oven, the top of the pastry slowly rises like a bubble.
I’d describe the Peng Pastry as similar to a thin gingerbread, with a sweet and sticky toffee coating.
You can either it Peng Pastry as is, or with an egg like the photographs below show. Interestingly, this egg version is said to be particularly good for nourishing women who have just given birth! Better save that tidbit for the future…
How is the Peng Pastry with egg made? Firstly, the top is scooped out, and then a whole egg with ginger slices is fried in sesame oil and placed inside. Finally, the bun is smashed so both sides of the egg and pastry can be cooked on a low heat.
Sun Cake | 太陽餅
Sun Cake (太陽餅) (NT$10) is a traditional Taiwanese snack from Taichung city. By first appearances it may not look like much, but the Sun Cake is made up of many layers of flaky pastry, and in the middle awaits a layer of malt sugar.
The pastry of A-shui’s Sun Cake had quite a buttery taste, and a creamy and milky middle layer. Sun Cakes keep longer than buns, so you can pack some in your bag to eat later as a mid-afternoon pick up.
I also tried their soy milk (豆漿) ($NT15), which with minimal sweetness, paired well with the savoury and sweet offerings from the store. I had it cold (冰), but it also comes hot (熱).
Contact Information for Uncle A-Shui’s Steamed Bun Store
Opening hours: 6:00-18:30(Mon-Sun)
Address: No. 345, Yuping Rd, Anping District, Tainan City
Phone: 06 298 9586
Website: Uncle A-Shui’s homepage
The Milkfish Palace | 虱目魚主題館
It may seem like an unusual place to add to your Tainan itinerary, however, The Milkfish Palace is a surprisingly interesting place to visit. Well, at least I thought so after I was given a crash course in Milkfish 101.
The Milkfish Palace is a museum which glorifies everything about milkfish- the “fish of every Tainan household”. Claiming over 400 years of aquaculture history in Taiwan, the milkfish has both historical and cultural significance to both Tainan city and the country as a whole.
Although milkfish is a staple of the south and is shipped around the country to be eaten in many households and restaurants, many Taiwanese- especially the younger generations, do not know or care about the milkfish’s significance. That’s precisely why the owner opened up the museum in the first place.
What can you do at The Milkfish Palace?
While the museum is relatively small, there’s quite a bit to do: You can go on a free tour of the museum, sample and buy some milkfish food, health and beauty products, eat a milkfish lunch, or try a milkfish popsicle. Yes, milkfish popsicle.
Now, when someone offers you a milkfish popsicle (NT$30), your reaction will likely range from “hell no!” to “hell yes!” I was a little resistant at first as fish and dairy isn’t the first combination I think of when it comes to appetizing dessert flavours. But I’d like to report back that somehow it works! I’d go as far as saying it is just deeeelicious. (Hey, even CNN mentioned it as a must eat in Tainan!)
I assumed there would be an overly strong fishy taste to the popsicle, however it wasn’t fishy in the slightest. Maybe it’s just my tastebuds, but to me it had a chocolatey flavour!
Interspersed throughout the milky popsicle is the milkfish floss you can see pictured below. It’s really quite an enjoyable eat, and it undeniably makes for a winning entry in any future”what’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten” game.
Milk fish products (and samples!)
After you walk into the museum, you’ll see a number of products on your right-hand side. You can bet that every single one of them, from wafers, to health supplements, to moisturiser stars milkfish. There’s staff on hand to answer any questions you have and offer you samples. Needless to say I gladly accepted their offers!
I particularly liked the taste of the seaweed and milkfish wafers and, oddly enough, the milkfish supplements. As you’ll learn on the tour, milkfish has a number of desirable health benefits, not least of which is its relatively high level of collagen.
Tour of the Museum
As I first mentioned, you’ll learn a lot about this fish. There are many displays, but right now they’re only in Mandarin and Japanese. Not to worry- your guide will explain everything to you.
You’ll start the tour off learning about one well-known theory about the etymology of the Chinese word for milkfish, “Shimuyu”(虱目魚). The story goes that in 1662, the people of the Syuejia District in Tainan presented the Ming general Zheng Chenggong with a plate of milkfish after his victory against the Dutch colonialists who had occupied Taiwan for 38 years.
It’s said that the unusual fish sparked the General’s curiosity, so he asked the locals, “Shenme Yu?” (什麼魚？), which is Chinese for “What fish is this?”. They mistook him for saying “Shimuyu”, and henceforth the legend flourished.
There’s even a theory that the Dutch had a key role in the etymology of the name.
You’ll also learn some details about milkfish distribution, production, farming and cooking. For example, the above map shows the distribution of milkfish in the world. The milkfish is a warm water fish, and in addition to Taiwan it’s found in the waters of such countries like the Philippines and Indonesia.
If you’ve ever tried milkfish, you may be surprised to learn it’s quite a bony fish with 222 bones in total. Chefs serving milkfish are skilled in deboning the fish, and often the belly is served which has no bones.
One important message that it’s hoped visitors take from the museum is to better appreciate the work of milkfish farmers. Milkfish farming is an arduous and challenging business, that younger people are not eager to take up. Hearing about this made me draw parralels to the similar problems Penghu’s Nanliao Community face trying to retain their traditions and practices for future generations.
Feeling peckish? You can even just come to the museum for a milkfish feast. There’s all kinds of milkfish dishes to choose from at very reasonable prices like the fried milkfish belly ($NT150), milkfish dumplings (NT$130) and milkfish omelette (NT$280).
While the museum is popular with tourists from Japan, Hong Kong, and China it hasn’t yet captured Western tourist’s attention. If you have a bit of wiggle room in your itinerary, why don’t you pop in and give it a bit of love?
If you’re interested in the tour, it’s best to book ahead of time (it’s free) just to make sure there’s someone who speaks English.
Contact Information for The Milkfish Palace
Opening hours: 9:00-18:00 (Mon-Sun)
Address: No. 88, Guangzhou Road, Anping District, Tainan City
Phone: 06 293 1097
Want to book a tour or class? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Further info: The Milkfish Palace’s website
Tainan’s public transport is a bit lacking to say the least (especially compared to the ultra efficiency of Taipei’s). So to get around, it’s best to find an alternate means of transport. I bicycled around to get to each place, but later on in the day I rented this bright orange electric scooter from Oodo Bike.
I wish I’d rented it sooner as it would have saved me a lot of time and sweat! It was really easy to maneuver, which was a very handy feature given it was my first time riding a scooter! (Pretty crazy, but for this Nimo Scooter, you don’t need a license).
I was surprised how similar it was to riding a bike. I was a bit hesitant at first, as obviously I wanted to make sure I could ride it steadily, but it was honestly easy to get the hang of after a bit of test riding. Soon, I was whizzing around the streets of Tainan like nobody’s business.
Contact Information for Oodo Bike Rental
Opening hours: 9:00-18:00 (Mon-Sun)
Address: No. 658, Anping Road, Anping District, Tainan City
Phone number: 06 220 2718
Website: Oodo Bike Rental’s Facebook Page
What are some other recommended English Friendly Stores to visit?
While I didn’t get the chance to visit the following stores (my stomach can only fit so much in one day!), they come highly recommended to me.
Chicken Kitchen, Anping Store |廚房有雞安平店
Contrary to its name, Chicken Kitchen does not only serve chicken. Established in 2006, the restaurant offers Cantonese-style dishes with a traditional, old-style taste. The menu is broken up into three main sections: Hua Diao dishes, speciality hot pots, and speciality seafood dishes.
Authentic Hua Diao Chicken | 正宗花雕雞
The Hua Diao chicken (Small: NT$480; Large: NT$790) is a dish made with Chinese Hua Diao rice wine. The chicken pieces are left of the bone to help seal in the intense flavours, and the dish is topped with a mountain of coriander, celery, and onion.
There’s even a special chili sauce you can use if you’re partial to spicy dishes. The owners recommend using a 1:1:1 ratio of chili sauce, soy sauce, and vinegar.
Macanese Pork Bone Hot Pot | 澳門豬骨煲
There are a variety of speciality hot pots to choose from at Chicken Kitchen, but the one most people come for is the Macanese Pork Bone Hot Pot (Small: NT$490; Large: NT$830). The soup is that recognizably milky colour you’ll find in other pork bone based dishes like Tonkotsu Ramen. It’s loaded with fresh vegetables like shiitake mushroom, bok choy, cabbage, and corn.
For an optimal taste, it’s recommended you use a 1:1 ratio of garlic sauce and fermented tofu with sesame. The hotpot comes with one free refill, which if you’re a soup fiend like me, you’ll definitely take advantage of!
Contact information for Chicken Kitchen, Anping Store
Opening hours: 11:00 – 14:00 and 17:00 – 22:30 (Mon-Sun)
Address: No. 249, Wenping Rd, Anping District, Tainan City
Phone number: 06 293 1010
Website: Chicken Kitchen’s Homepage
Deely Kitchen (Afternoon Tea) | 迪利樂廚
Deely Kitchen is a family-style restaurant which serves homely Japanese dishes at very affordable prices. Affordable Japanese? Yep, most dishes are NT$180 or less, and the most expensive, the Grilled Norwegian Salmon, comes in at only NT$220. The diverse menu includes set menu items, udon noodle dishes, stir-fries, vegetarian options and a variety of desserts.
Handmade Mentaiko Chicken Fillet | 手工明太子雞肉排
First-time visitors will be directed to give the Mentaiko Chicken Fillet a try. The fillet is made from ground chicken thigh and the chef’s specially blended marinade and chicken cartilage. It’s topped with a special mentaiko sauce which is grilled until the fillet becomes tender.
Japanese-style Beef Stew | 日式香料燉牛肉
Another speciality of the restaurant is its Japanese-style Beef Stew. Japan’s take on beef stew is known for its delicious blend of soy, ginger, and a sweeter taste, usually provided by the Japanese cooking wine, mirin. If you’re after a meal that’s both filling and healthy, this dish is a good pick. And if you’re particularly hungry (or are after an additional carb hit!), you can order it with udon noodles.
Contact Information for Deely Kitchen (Afternoon Tea)
Opening hours: 11:00 – 17:00 and 17:30 – 21:00 (Mon-Sun)
Address: No. 185, Section 4, Mingquan Road, Anping District, Tainan City
Phone number: 06 358 9505
Website: Deely Kitchen’s Facebook page
Casalle Bread |卡莎兒
Since Casalle Bread opened three years ago in Anping District it has prided itself on using only the highest grade natural ingredients to produce its expansive collection of breads.
The style of bread leans more towards a more European-style than the breads typically found in Taiwanese bakeries. I know a lot of foreigners complain about how overly sweet Taiwanese bakeries are, so if you need a bread fix while you’re in Tainan, Casalle might be your ticket.
For those who like to try before you buy, there’s no shortage of free samples to make use of.
Contact Information for Casalle Bread
Opening hours: 10:30 – 22:30 (Mon-Sun)
Address: No. 593, Guoping Rd, Anping District, Tainan City
Phone number: 062983838
Website: Casalle Bread’s Facebook page
Want more information about Tainan’s English Friendly Stores?
- EFS’s official website
- The Office of English as the Second Official Language, Tainan City Government website
- EF’s Facebook group.You can read this article by The Liberty Times (in Mandarin) for a detailed coverage about EFS.
I hope you liked reading about my little food adventure in Tainan! It was honestly so amazing to eat all these foods that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise, and to also meet many lovely people along the way! Thanks Tainan City Government- I really appreciate the invite, and the efforts which are being made to welcome foreigners like myself to your city.
臺南市政府經濟發展局廣告 Advertisement from Bureau of Economic Development, Tainan City Government.
What was a memorable experience of cross-cultural miscommunication you’ve experienced abroad? What other restaurants do you recommend in Tainan? Let me know in the comments below!
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