I don't usually like Taiwanese food (with the notable exception of holy Din Tai Fung, which in my opinion is God's gift to human being), but I'm slowly adapting to the Taiwanese tastebuds. I have to admit, Taiwanese xiao chi (street food, literally translated as "little eats") is rich in variety and most of them are in fact very good. I guess my dislike of Taiwanese food started when I visited Taipei and Kaohsiung years ago, while all I ate was beef noodle soup. I hate those beef noodle soup. I thought that that's all the Taiwanese eat. I vowed never to eat Taiwanese food again.
Then, I discovered Din Tai Fung when I was 17 or 18. That's when I started my xiao long bao addiction. I don't care what people say (wink wink, Cla), Din Tai Fung's xiao long bao is STILL the BEST I've ever tasted.
There's this Taiwanese restaurant in North Jakarta called "Iton" in the Muara Karang area, which sparked my interest in Taiwanese xiao chi, particularly the xiao cai (literally means, "small vegetables"). Xiao cai are basically variety of cold dishes served in tiny plates, and can consist of vinegared tofu, sweet tofu, stewed pork belly, jellyfish, seaweed, etc. Flavors range from just plain sour to spicy and fragrant.
"Iton" is quite a specialized restaurant - you either like their food or not. Taiwanese food is not really popular in Jakarta, therefore there aren't many Taiwanese restaurants that serve real Taiwanese food in Jakarta. Most Taiwanese restaurants (like the ubiquitous Eaton Restaurant & Bakery) even have to resort to changing their menu dramatically - from beef noodle and xiao cai to the more popular Singaporean dishes such as char kway teow and hokkien mee. Indeed, Singaporean food is far more familiar to Indonesian tastebuds compared to Taiwanese food.
In Sydney, things are slightly different.
With the number of Chinese students, migrants, and holiday workers in Sydney, there's always reasons to open up Taiwanese eateries around town. Places like Mother Chu's (Dixon st) and the newly opened Ten Ren Tea come up to mind. They always enjoy good business from predominantly Chinese customers.
This restaurant, Cho Dumpling King, can probably be venerated as an institution in Sydney.
Ever since they opened years ago, it's nearly impossible to get a table straight away - no matter what time of the day. Well, given, the restaurant only has around 6 tables seating less than 20 people, but still, queues are horrendous - sometimes up to 30 customers at a time. That's why many people prefer to take-out.
It's funny - even though the place is called "Cho Dumpling King", in fact, they don't serve dumplings. Ironic. Well, they USED to serve dumplings, but those dumplings just take too damn long to prepare - and with the horrendous queue of hungry diners, they'll never be able to cater to that much people. Dumplings take quite a long time to prepare and serve, and unless you have facilities like Din Tai Fung, you'll never be able to manage orders from huge crowds.
Dumplings aside, I quite like their food, especially the xiao cai.
(Minced pork over rice)
-> I love it I love it I love it. Quintessential Taiwanese dish. The aroma...it's spicy, garlicky, with a hint of star anise, and topped with pickled daikon (obviously a Japanese influence). You're supposed to mix the pork mince and the rice evenly before eating. This dish is very substantial - even though the portion seems rather small, you'll get full. (or, you can order the large size - they have 2 sizes).
-> It's good. A little bit too sweet, in my opinion - but good nevertheless. I have no idea what's the real name of this dish - but it's basically a xiao cai variety made of tofu soaked in sweet soy-based sauce and enoki mushroom. This method of cooking tofu is actually quite common in Asia - even in Indonesia, there's this Hakka-Shandong-Indonesian food commonly known as "Usiang niuju" (not to be confused with Chinese "wu xiang niu rou"), which is basically a dish consisting of stewed tripes, tofu, and eggs. The tofu in "Usiang niuju" is similar to this Taiwanese sweet tofu. The sauce is reminiscent of those fried gluten in cans (also a common Taiwanese food product).