For suburban aficionados of Chinese food, Quincy is a good destination for Hong Kong-style Cantonese cuisine. But there are other Chinese cooking styles that aren’t as well represented around the South Shore, including Taiwanese fare.
Thanks to Taipei Cuisine, which opened in July on Billings Street, those in the know can satisfy their cravings for bamboo fungus or deep-fried stinky tofu.
The restaurant, which seats about 50 people, is owned by Fen Zhi Chen, who’s from China, but her chef is from Taiwan. (North Quincy can be congested, but we didn’t have problems finding on-street parking, and there’s a parking lot right across the street.)
Taiwan is famous for its small bites
(xiaochi in Mandarin) found at snack stalls and night markets. Taipei Cuisine’s extensive menu includes 33 items listed under appetizers alone.
Stinky tofu (chou dofu) may be the most iconic of Taiwanese street fare, where tofu that’s been fermented in a special brine is deep-fried. Taipei Cuisine’s version is less smelly than those found in Asia (a good thing for the next table). The aroma is a subtle, good funk, akin to that of an odoriferous cheese. Served with pickled vegetables, these pungent slices ($7.75) are crispy outside, yet creamy inside.
For those who refuse to eat anything described as stinky, try the dumplings. Xiao long bao, or mini juicy dumplings with pork (eight for $6.50) on the menu, are called soup dumplings elsewhere. The skins here were appropriately tender, but the soup inside was a bit sour for my taste.
A better choice is the pan-fried pork buns (four for $5). The dough is more substantial and chewy, while the pork and vegetable filling is fragrant and satisfying.
Fans of scallion pancakes will love the restaurant’s roast beef version ($7.25). Thin slices of beef are rolled up in a crispy scallion pancake, then cut into bite-size pieces. Enhance the salty goodness with the accompanying ginger soy dipping sauce.
Another popular Taiwanese dish is three cups chicken ($11), so named because the sauce is purportedly made with a cup each of soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil. Bone-in chicken thighs are chopped into bite-size pieces and braised in a clay pot with basil, garlic, and ginger. Most of the liquids evaporate while cooking, and the remaining fragrant sauce is wonderful with steamed rice. (Be careful, however, of small shards of bone that remain hidden among the chicken chunks.)
English translations really don’t do justice to many Chinese dishes. A good example of this is bamboo fungus over luffa ($17). Bamboo fungus is a type of edible mushroom that resembles white spongy netting. Considered a delicacy, it has a soft yet crisp texture and a mild floral smell. Luffa is also called Chinese okra, and its mature version is indeed marketed as loofah sponges. At its tender, green stage, however, the vegetable is moist and delicious. This stir-fried combination is light and subtly sweet.
We sampled just a small portion of the huge menu and missed what Terry Gao, who works at the front desk, said was the most popular item among their Chinese customers: preserved veggies with shredded pork over stir-fried rice pasta ($8). Made with sliced glutinous rice cakes (chao nian gao), this salty and chewy dish is comfort food to Shanghai natives.
If you have less adventurous diners in your party, rest assured that popular Chinese-American dishes such as crab Rangoons and General Gau’s chicken are available. Do them a favor, however, and introduce them to some unfamiliar flavors and textures. After all, 1.35 billion Chinese can’t all be wrong.