Saturday, January 07, 2012

Xian Jin Seafood, swimmin' down a Taipei lane

Point and cook
I've been to Taipei many times, but always for ridiculously short trips. This is probably the most ridiculous of all - one measly day. This time, it was just a stop enroute back home from Hualien. Being only an hour away by plane, Taiwan does make a very good Hong Konger's weekend jaunt. That said, I always leave feeling I need to stay longer. Now that I've explored a fair bit of the countryside, I think it'd be pretty cool to retire here too... Anyway, that's another story for another day.

Street stall-like kitchen out front
This time I was luckier than usual. I had friends of friends who are Taipei foodie locals and had booked a place for us for dinner. The taxi dropped us off on the corner of the darkish street, and soon we spotted the last worn-down fluoro sign, about three shops in - with Xian Jin Hai Can written in Chinese characters. Approaching the restaurant, all I saw at first were the street-stall-like stands of vegetables and seafood, spilling out onto the street. It wasn't until I was looking square at the tiny entrance that I spotted a dining room inside. We past the fish, walked through the kitchen, which also acts as an entrance hall and were led right into the back of the deep room, packed with people downing Taiwan Beer, dishes of stir-fried and bubbling hot pots. We sat for a while waiting for a menu. Then we realised there was probably no menu. Out we went to the produce stands to order. We asked one of the staff what she would recommend, and then we chose our prey. The staff would suggest a cooking method and we would choose. Like kids in a foreign candy store, we didn't really have much idea what we were getting ourselves into, but everything looked good.

Pork liver
This was pan-fried in a super-hot wok for crispy edges and finished off in a black vinegar, sugar (and probably soy sauce) glaze. In typical Chinese fashion, the pieces are cooked right through (bacteria etc.), but it was as lightly cooked as possible, leaving a buttery crumble that was neither too rubbery nor chalky.

Fried rice with chicken
The Taiwanese, probably due to their Japanese influence (it was a Japanese colony for the first half of the 20th Century), tend to eat short grain rice, hence the fat, pearly grains in this fried rice (as opposed to Cantonese fried rice, which uses medium grain). It was also a slightly "wetter" fried rice that Cantonese-style, but taste-wise, it had similar savoury and umami qualities to a Cantonese chicken and salted fish fried rice.

Thai-ish clams
I say "Thai-ish" because they used Thai sweet basil in this stir-fry, with a bit of garlic and chilli, though probably soy instead of fish sauce. I think this was the most expensive dish of the night, NT$280, which is like US$8-9. Bargain.

Grilled salmon head
There's a lot of good meat in a salmon head, and because it's wrapped up in so much skin, fat and all that other good stuff, the flesh stays moist, and I suspect the fat, if you're into it, is full of omega 3s.

Cheers to Taiwan Beer!
Chinese seafood should always be washed down with a nice cold beer, right?

Down the rabbit hole
The whole meal cost us less than US$25/head - and it was seafood! Can't wait to come back to the city and find more of these little gems.

Xian Jin Hai Can 先進海產
No. 5, Lane 23 Yanji Street
Songshan District
+886 02 2578 4397

View e_ting in Taipei in a larger map


  1. It looks great; so cheap too. That salmon head especially looks delicious.

  2. I still can't believe I haven't been to Taipei and it has been my number 1 destination to visit in Asia (apart from Penang) for over a year...