I finally had chance to visit Taipei after quite a few years. Xu Huai Ren Jia (徐淮人家) has been on my list for a long time since I first heard of it from the show Kang Xi Lai Le (康熙來了) in 2013. There are a lot of old and famous Chinese restaurants in Taipei, from the Southern to Northern provinces of China, you’ll definitely be able to find something. However, Xuzhou cuisine is actually quite rate. At least I’ve actually never heard of this city until I found this restaurant. It was definitely a very unique experience, especially when there’s no menu (very rare for Chinese food)!
Xuzhou cuisine is actually part of Su cuisine, which is one of the four most influential regional types of cuisines that dominate the culinary heritage of China, along with Cantonese cuisine, Shandong cuisine, and Sichuan cuisine. Though Xuzhou cuisine is part of the Su cuisine, but geographically, it’s closer to Shandong, therefore the flavors resembles the heavier Northern cuisine.
There are 2 locations, which are only a block away from each other, and I went to the Chang An location. There’s no fancy decors, just simple white walls, dark tables, and noises of people chatting away. The restaurant does not have a menu. As we were seated, the waiter asked if it’s our first time, and we said yes. Then, he said he’ll decide our menu based on our number of people, and briefly went through what’s going to be served with us.
First that came up was a cold appetizer. It’s century eggs (preserved duck eggs) topped with chopped garlic, fresh chilis, coriander, and bell peppers. A very appetizing dish as it has the sweet, savory, and sour taste! Lots of people are scared of the distinct taste of the century eggs, including me. However, these spices definitely masked the unique flavor of the century eggs, and they are quite piquant!
Another cold appetizer, the beef tripe mixed with red pepper, spring onions, coriander, garlic, ginger, and sauces. The beef tripe was quite chewy yet tender, and the spices added the heat and fragrance to the dish. Quite spicy, but you wouldn’t put down your chopsticks.
This is stir-fried vinegar shredded potatoes, which is a rather mild (as in spiciness) dish of the night. There’s a similar dish from Sichuan cuisine, but the flavors of the Xuzhou cuisine is different, which isn’t necessary spicy, but it makes your mouth/lips numb! Besides potatoes, there are green pepper, chili, and spring onions, and they were stir-fried on high heat. The sourness and very subtle spiciness made the entire dish very appetizing, as well as refreshing if it was served in the end of the meal. The key of this dish is the timing. It has to be quick and on high heat, otherwise the potatoes won’t be crispy, it’ll be mushy instead, which is not desirable.
These baby cabbages were one of my favorite dishes of the night. Normally they are cooked with dried shrimps, but they stir-fried it with salted eggs! It was absolutely delicious! Definitely a non-spicy dish, while it’s actually a bit sweet.
There are two main dishes that you have to have at Xu Huai Ren Jia, and sheep’s bone marrow is one of them! This is one of those complicated dishes that requires some skills. There are lots of spices in it, such as spring onions, garlic, onions, chili, Sichuan peppercorns etc, and finally topped with a handful of coriander. There aren’t a lot of meat on the bones. The essence is the bone marrows inside! They were braised till the meats can easily fell off the bone, and then stir-fried on high heat. The flavors are very complex, and the spices masked the gamey taste of the sheep. It’s a dish that goes well with beer!
After we were done with the bone marrows, they took the pot back into the kitchen, and made it into noodles soup! I wished it was just dry noodles instead of noodle soup, because these noodles became quite mushy. Nonetheless, the noodles soaked up the flavors of the spices, and the sweetness of the onions and vegetables!
The second main dish of the restaurant is the clay pot stewed chicken, and it was my favorite! In the sizzling pot, there are lots of daikons, pieces of chicken, and covered with flat doughs (a bit like the dumpling wrappers, but thicker). The soup was light and sweet thanks to the daikons, but also with a very light Sichuan peppercorn flavor, which warmed up the body after the soup is down the throat.
These flat doughs were not too thick, and not too thin as well. It acted like noodles, but just in different shapes. It soaked up the sweetness from the broth, and have a chewy/springy texture.
We were a group of 6 people, so the waiter recommended to have a fish. Honestly, the fish wasn’t that special and I would suggest to skip it. It was hard to tell whether the fish was fresh or not, because it was flavored with a lot of spices, and the meat was a bit quite tough.
Though we were quite full towards the end, I saw this dish coming out of the kitchen, and I just couldn’t resist on ordering it. I absolutely love chicken feet, and actually barely had it in any other forms others than dim sum. This is a braised dish, which there were also pork ribs. The chicken feet and pork ribs are braised in soy sauce with ginger, Sichuan peppercorn, and chili. It wasn’t too salty nor too sweet. The pork ribs were tender and flavorful, and the chicken feet were tender yet firm.
If you have not yet noticed, the seasoning of Xuzhou cuisine is pretty much the same for each dish. They use a lot of spices, mainly chili, garlic, and Sichuan peppercorn, and each dish was quite heavy yet not too salty. I would strongly recommend it if you are dining out with a group of more than 4 people! Perfect for family gatherings or reunions, but reservation is strongly recommended.
Xu Huai Ren Jia
7, Chang’an E Rd, Section 2, Lane 129, Zhongshan District, Taipei city, Taiwan
Tel: +886 953-809-100 (Reservation strongly recommended)