Apr 1, 2011

11th Street 十一街麵食館


Address: 竹北市光明一路275號
                 No. 275, GuāngMíng 1st Rd, Jhubei City
Phone #: 03-553-9368
Business Hours: 11:00-21:30
Price Range:   $$
Accepts Credit Cards: yes
Attire: casual
Good for kids: yes
Take out: yes
Waiter Service: no
Outdoor seating:  yes
Alcohol: yes


Food Quality: 4 out of 5
Decor:  4 out of 5
Service: 4 out of 5
Overall: 4 out of 5
Recommendation: Delicious Affordable Flour-based Eats


Chu-bei has an area where there is a concentration of many good restaurants that attract residents of Hsin-Chu to make the drive over just for a meal. Although most restaurants there may be chains like Chamonix, there are some local businesses that have emerged through offering delicious food with cheap price tags. 11st Street is just this kind of restaurant. They started in the busy traditional markets, onto a small hole in the wall restaurant, and then built its way up into being an impressive two-story operation selling dumpings. Now they offer all sorts of flour based dishes like dumplings, noodles, and beef wraps. Most of their menu items are under 120, making this a popular place for people craving quality traditional Chinese fare at reasonable prices. This is a local spot that is good enough to bring visitors for a taste of local food in a nice environment.

Once you walk in you arrive at the waiting area where they hand you the order forms while you wait for a vacant table. In this area, you can see urns of sauces for you to flavor up your dumplings. They have this garlic based thick sauce that is one of their original claims to fame. They also offer a more standard slick soy sauce based dumpling sauce. You are also allowed to be creative and mix up your own concotions with smaller urns containing raw ingredients like salt, red peppers, etc. On the side there is a wooden rack filled with appetizers where you can purchase whatever you fancy. The servers here are busy preparing food, bringing out food, and busting tables so there is no real waiter service, but more like an army of servers busying about. The restaurant is decorated with a lot of traditional Chinese artifacts, and it has an overarching wooden theme, which gives this place an air of classical Chinese glamour. There are a lot of seating in spacious wooden tables, and even the napkin holders are made with laminated bamboo. This place has above average decor and service, especially for their food demographic. Most dumpling places are small hole in the wall joints, and usually do not operate at a 2-story scale. Their service was fast and efficient.

We got two appetizers for this meal. The first appetizer was braised pig's ear. The flavoring was very typical soy sauce based marinade that would be familiar to anyone who has eaten Taiwanese style pig ears. However, what is notable about their pig ears is that the slices are a lot thicker and meatier. Most places cut the ears thinner so they lean toward being crunchy and crisp, but these thicker slices are chewier.

A more novel appetizer would be this plate of passion-fruit flavored pickled papaya slices. It seems like they sliced up a unripe papaya, and pickled it with some passion-fruit based juice. The byproduct are these yellow things. Since the papaya was not ripe, the slices are fairly hard and crunchy, but it was pickled in their special juice so the flavor is sour and sweet. The passion-fruit flavor dominated this, and you can barely detect any papaya at all. If they didn't say it was papaya I would have thought that they used daikon radish or something. This is a good appetizer if you are into sour and sweet things.

This restaurant owes is current success and popularity to the meticulous crafting of their dumplings. They are different than other places in that the ingredients they use are of good quality, and they don't scrimp on necessary costs. It is their continued devotion to providing quality food items like the gourd strip dumpling and the leek dumplings that captured the trust of their patrons, which gives them the faith to return to this spot to get that selfsame taste that is undeniably satisfying.
Their gourd-strip dumplings is an item that sets them apart in the dumpling arena. You might be able to get beef dumplings or leek dumplings elsewhere, but gourd-strip dumpings are much rarer. Basically its the pork meatball seasoned with their own formula with strips of gourd mixed in. The flavour and texture of the gourd add a hint of freshness to the dumpling. The skin thickness is a good amountm, and the meat to skin ratio is kept to where the meaty interior is more pronounced than the wrapping.
The leek dumpling is also a good item. Most places that offer leek dumpling serve it in a way where they mix up the leek and the pork into a meatball and wrap that up. 11th street has the pork and the leek separated in half which leads to a different texture where there is more crunch to the dumpling. This probably takes a little more time to prepare as well, because not only to you have to grab the right proportion of meat, you need to separately add in the appropriate amount of leek. I also enjoyed this dumpling and they were cooked just right. This is a safe spot to take people to try out local Taiwanese dumplings in terms of inherent food quality, and also the surroundings are quite neat and clean.
11th Street also offered a good rendition of the "red oil fryer". It's basically smaller mouth-sized dumplings served in a oily hot sauce. These dumplings where smaller than the regular sized ones, and with an even smaller skin to meat ratio. They made it so that each dumpling seems to pop in your mouth. Its a good idea that they are bite-sized, and that they are made with a generous portion of meat. There are some places where they make these dumpling look like babies wrapped in a oversized blanket. What you end up getting a mouthful of flour skin and a very unsatisfying taste of the meat filling. 11th Street is not afraid to be generous, and trusts that the savoy customer will choose to dine here even if it means a slightly higher price for a higher quality menu.

One of my favorite pairings with dumplings is the sour and spicy soup. This place serves a heck of a good bowl. For 50 NT, you can get a cup of this heavy flavored, but not overbearing sour and spicy soup. This was not so spicy as it was sour, so people who have a penchant for stronger flavors can add their own amount of ground white pepper for that extra kick. However, the ingredients they provided in the bowl was extremely hardy. Solid ingredients pretty much filled the whole bowl, about 60:40 ingredient to soup ratio. The ingredients where prepped with spoonability in mind, so each scoop seem to be an effortless whisking of diverse amounts of ingredients and soup. I did not have to watch a piece of indecently sized tofu snap into two while trying to scoop it up. I thoroughly enjoyed gulping this down.
Lastly, they make a mean bowl of Silky Chicken Noodles. They soak these very Q noodles into a chicken stock based soup, which is then topped with green onions, fried shallots, and silky strips of chicken. The noodles are 意麵 (Yi Mien), which I don't know how to translate. They kind of taste like cup a noodle type noodles, but they are a lot thicker and do not have that waxy flavor to them. The texture is very snappy and leans towards being soft. This is an easy bowl to slurp up in a couple of minutes because the rich flavor of the chicken stock pairs so well in flavor to the springy noodles. If you are in the Hsin-Chu area and have a hard time thinking about what to have for lunch or dinner, then give this place a visit for cheap and lip-smacking good traditional Chinese flour-based food.

Side Note/Free Chinese Lesson:

I think their little poem on their website aptly speaks well about their bistro.
It is written in Chinese: 巧意居家東西廚,戀戀眷村南北味.

In my amateurish attempt at translating this, the poem is basically promoting its international fused homestyle cooking with inter-Chinese military village fused flavors. Unpacking this poem, which is impregnated with ideas and cultural background would be hard for me to express, but I felt like these lines where worthy to point out. 巧意 is basically craftily or skillfully thought out. It may even be better said to be "smartly purposed" or cleverly willed-into-being. 居家東西廚 is a lump of words literally meaning homestyle east west cooking. I am guessing that it actually refers to east-west fusion influenced cooking. They probably took the carefully calculated food preparation and plating methods from the west and used it to create more impressive looking Chinese dishes. That is why each item here looks very classy, and the proportions to each item is very thoughtful. This reflects my experience with their food items, since it seems like a lot of work and heart was poured into even the smallest of dumplings.

 戀戀眷村南北味 is a lot harder to translate without explaining what a 眷村 is. Basically, when the KMT were forced to retreat to Taiwan, the military families and immigrants established themselves in little villages called 眷村. In these villages you find people from all over china concentrated together with one thing in common: homesickness. Most people miss the local flavors of their region's cuisine and try to reproduce it with whatever local resources they could find in Taiwan. So an interesting food culture emerged in Taiwan based on these ad hoc military villages. A lot of northen Chinese cuisine like noodles, dumplings and bao were whipped up in these villages and famous ones could come out and start small restaurants. Stereotypically, people from these villages are immigrants from the Mainland during the Chinese civil war.

With that being said, there is a particular flavor admist the broader Taiwanese palate linked to the 眷村, which mostly applys to items like dumplings, noodles, and all sorts of flour-based items (because most southern Chinese eat mainly rice based items). So the next line of the poem evokes a particular history and culture and promotes what they represent. 戀戀 can be translated as love, desire, or want.南北味 kind of describes the phenomenon of the unique fusion of Northern and Southern Chinese Cuisine that happend in Taiwan consequent to the mass immigration of the KMT to Taiwan. Literally, this line is Desire Desire Military Village's South North Flavor. Basically they are describing what they offer is a North-South Fusion style cooking found in military villages in a very modern and western influenced way. I might have just butchered their poem, and i'll make revisions to this translation after I learn more about the meaning of these lines.

Their poem translated into English:
Clever and thoughtful east west fusion cooking
military village's north south fusion taste wanting

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