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Taiwan | 14 January '19
Our favorite Taiwanese local expert tells us her favorite spots.
When you think “high fashion editor,” you don’t exactly picture the short and spunky Cindy Hsu. Instead of the requisite nonchalant, sleek all-black uniform you’d see in New York, London or Paris, she’s in patterns and brights to match the giggles that come easily.
Perhaps the biggest giveaway that this gal knows what’s up are her on-trend sneakers. Contagiously fun and unapologetically approachable, this former editor-in-chief Taiwan Elle is a fashion-turned-food expert, remixed Taiwanese.
“I'm kind of The Devil Wears Prada—but in a nice way of course,” she says.
She quit her career in fashion, because “the fashion people eat nothing. Ask the models.” (While we do know a few models who eat—take @luxeat, for instance—some would say to eat or drink anything at fashion events besides white wine and other clear beverages is a big faux pas.) Now, Cindy hosts her daily, hour-long food radio show and leads cooking classes and culinary tours. Her show is called “Ai Fan Tuan,” which is a pun in Mandarin. “Ai” means “love.” And “fan tuan” can either mean “rice ball” or “group of food people.”
“My father was a chef, and I was raised by him in a single parent family. I ate all the nice food from him—so I know food, and I'm not afraid of the kitchen.”
It didn’t stop there. “When I became a reporter and then editor-in-chief, I had the opportunity to go to all the nice restaurants. So, gourmet food is in my blood.”
How did she start interviewing chefs on the radio? “I just wanted to start a media company, and food is my passion.” While this combination of her personal and professional passions makes sense, it wasn’t totally figured out from the start: “I'd never been on radio, ever, before I became a host of a radio show.”
From a proper massage place to high-end sushi that’ll transport you to Tokyo, to the best neighborhood beef noodle soup, to the restaurant reviving ancient recipes (that Michelin missed this time around), she’s one of our favorite go-tos for local tips you won’t find anywhere else. (Request a Journy for your upcoming Taiwan trip and ask for Cindy’s recommendations—your trip designer will know who you mean!)
Cindy won’t reveal her age, and we won’t ask, but let’s just say she’s proudly not-millennial. What’s exciting about the Taiwanese food and fashion scene now—and a huge part of the cultural fabric—is how youthful and international it is. The Taiwanese people aren’t afraid to innovate and break the rules. That’s not to say that there isn’t an obsession with quality, design and attention to detail.
Cindy has stayed fiercely relevant, but with perspective from experience. She’s not swayed by the new. She takes trends and crazes into account, but is quick to remind us to think and taste for ourselves. Some of the best in Taipei are still old-school, mostly-local and lesser-known.
Cindy has been standing up for local identities as long ago as 2003, when she was quoted in the Wall Street Journal about Taiwanese designer Shiatzy Chen. "She reinforced the beauty of Chinese style...before the oriental look was really hot in the fashion arena…[her] style has influenced and increased the confidence of women to be dressed in Chinese and [still] be beautiful."
Today, she’s on the hunt for the best of what’s delicious, both new and old. Here’s where she took us (including her local spot that she frequents several times per week, she says, when she’s not ordering on Uber Eats—which, yes, is available in Taipei.)
There’s been an influx of the best chefs who’ve trained and traveled around the world opening up their fine dining spots here, but haute cuisine isn’t exactly new in Taiwan. Mountain & Sea House is reviving extinct recipes dating back to the early 20th century—served with modern flair, using (of course) the best ingredients, including all-organic produce from their own farm. The owner is Stephanie Ho Yi-chia, granddaughter of local media tech mogul Ho Chuan of the Yuen Foong Yu (YFY) conglomerate. It's located in a historic restored house with spectacular original art.
Pro tip: For a large group, secure the large private banquet room with a door to the garden.
This is Cindy’s pick for beef noodle soup, served in barebones surroundings, with the best hand-pulled noodles: wide, curly, springy in texture.
Cindy’s local spot. She says she lives “10 steps away.” She comes a whopping two times per week for that Taiwanese national dish: beef noodle soup. Make sure you order the rendition with duck blood cake in the aromatic, spicy broth. The ambiance is sleek and modern. Taiwan is known for its ramshackle hole-in-the-walls, and this place looks almost too clean-cut to be actually delicious. Fun fact: The strikingly handsome owner is a former actor-celebrity.
Gelato shop with some flavors you’ve never before seen, many flavored with local ingredients like cardamom & grapefruit and mango & passionfruit.
Taipei’s third-wave coffee culture is full-on nerdy and thriving. Depending on where in town you are, stop for a cup at Aura, Simple Kaffa or Fika Fika—all Cindy-approved.
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