One iteration of Chinese cuisine that's rare in the metro is Taiwanese. True, a dozen or so milk tea places have surfaced just last year, but as for places that serve actual Taiwanese food, one can only name a few.
Shang Tsu, a newbie at the Tomas Morato dining scene, aims to introduce the simple flavors of Taiwan's street fare through their budget-friendly dishes. Milk tea has taken the country by storm. Will the rest of Taiwan's street food follow suit? My latest visit at Shang Tsu convinced me so.
I found myself at Shang Tsu one afternoon because I needed an alternative recommendation to Nian Gao (more popularly known as Tikoy) for a Chinese New Year article. A friend responded to my query and recommended a newly-opened hole in the wall in Quezon City. “They serve really sticky but yummy oyster omelets, does that count?” her message read. Desperate for extra sticky dishes, I went North despite heavy Friday traffic.
A bright red sign and a couple of tall congratulatory flower stands welcomed me at Shang Tsu. When my friend mentioned “newly-opened,” I was not expecting it to be that “new”. Apparently, they've just launched a couple of weeks earlier.
The resto was plain and small-- just enough to seat 25 people, I presume. To the left of the entrance is a tiny open kitchen. There, a pleasant faced man in his shirt and shorts was frying something in a skillet. I was told his name is Master Chang, a respected chef in Taiwan. “Bingo, a Taiwanese chef!” I beamed. But faster than I could say hello, I was told by the waitress that he spoke zero English. Bummer!
But luck was perhaps on my side that day and I spotted another Chinese guy-- a much younger one this time, isolated at the far end of the resto. He's Taiwanese by descent but grew up here and in the US so he spoke English. Kyle Yu, Shang Tsu's owner was warm enough to welcome me and my inquiries about the lucky foods during Chinese New Year.
“Basically, you need to put sticky food on the table for togetherness in the family,” he told me. “Will your Oyster Pancake count?” I asked him while I was browsing through their menu. “Definitely!” Kyle said-- a cue for me to order one.
Meals at Shang Tsu (even if it's not Chinese New Year) do include Taiwan Oyster Pancake (P95). Those who've been to Taipei might recognize this as Oyster Omelette-- proliferous at almost every corner in their night food market. I watched Master Chang prepare the dish from plain batter to a colorful scramble. He did everything precisely, as if he knew how many bubbles the batter should have until he drops and mixes the egg.
The end result was interesting. It hard to slice the slimy and sticky glob (the kind of texture you'd probably get if you eat Flubber) that was strange to my taste buds. It was savory with the familiar light spice of ketchup. Every so often, an oyster piece will burst and the refreshing taste of the ocean will flood your mouth.
Spicy Taiwan Beef Noodle Soup
For long life, Kyle recommended their Spicy Taiwan Beef Noodle Soup (P145). “My friends say that I'm being too generous with the prices,” Kyle told me. “I think so too and thank you,” I said-- forgetting my manners-- while my mouth was full with the beefy broth and soft home made noodles in my mouth. It was deep-flavored and gut-warming—I was sure at a sip that no shortcuts were made. If only they could lengthen the boiling time of the beef chunks (as it was quite tough), this dish would be flawless.
Milk Tea Float
Crispy Fried Tofu
And because no Taiwan food experience is complete without Crispy Fried Tofu (P70) and Milk Tea Float (P70), I had to get one of each. A fan of both, I ended my meal happily.
Pork Chop Set Meal
I took another look at Shang Tsu's menu. Not one item exceeded P165. Kyle tells me that their Fried Chicken Leg Set Meal (P145) and Pork Chop Set Meal (P145)-- rice sets complete with authentic Taiwanese sides, are bang for the buck and are good deals for those who want quick but heavy lunch or dinner. “And oh, no MSG in our dishes,” he added. That's supposedly the main difference between big momma China and little Taiwan's cooking methods.
Fried Chicken Leg Set Meal
Milk tea may be the big thing right now but I won't be surprised if the rest of Taiwan's street food follow its lead. Simple, balanced, and close to our preferred flavor palette, the oyster pancake, beef noodle soup, and fried tofu are good candidates for new foodie trends.
Have a taste of Taiwan without getting a visa and flying by plane. With an authentic Taiwanese chef at the helm of the kitchen, Shang Tsu is bound to be the closest taste of Taiwan you can get.
Photos by Harold Diolazo