Yong He Dou Jiang Da Wang / Yong He Soy Milk King / 永和豆浆大王
I know I may have written that I want to be Italian, but there is one other country I would happily claim some culture from – and that’s Taiwan. It all began with a fantastically fun trip to Taipei back in 2012, which was then followed by encountering someone who would become one my closest friends – and even get me into trouble for laughing too loudly. And that someone happens to be Taiwanese. We would joke that we were twins separated at birth. Except when I fervently photographed my food – at those times, she would sigh and say, “Why are you more Asian than me?!”
But if there were another a reason that I should be Taiwanese, it’s the fact that they take breakfast very seriously. There is a culture of crowding round street vendors or restaurants with street seating, buying all kinds of freshly fried and steamed treats. The news that I can stuff my face for under 80元 (~260 yen) whilst sitting on the street surrounded by all the sights and smells of breakfasting was a clear signal that Taiwan is a place where my stomach belongs. At least, in the mornings.
I had jumped on a flight at 3am on Saturday from Tokyo to Taipei to spend less than 48 hours with some friends. But you know that you have the best possible friends when they suggest taking you straight for a Taiwanese breakfast on your arrival – which, if I’m honest, I had already been secretly planning.
And so before 10am, I was drooling outside the Daan branch of Yong He Soy Milk King, one of the most famous breakfast places in Taipei.
A queue poked out the door. People were perched around tables popping dumplings and fried dough into their mouths, slurping on soy milk.
We grabbed a table, grabbed a menu and began selecting our options. Even though two out of the four of us were Taiwanese, this process was made vastly easier by the presence of pictures & English/Japanese translations. Once you choose your order, you find the corresponding item on a little paper pad and mark the number of items you want. There is a special tally system that is counted by drawing strokes for the character 正 but I am pretty sure you’ll get away with writing numbers too.
So without further ado, let me introduce a traditional Taiwanese breakfast.
First up, I got stuck into a shaobing youtiao (燒餅油條, 40元), which is basically two breakfasts in one… in one giant carb fest.
Shaobing (燒餅)is a sesame flatbread, firm enough to be satisfying to bite a bit off, but soft enough to make it easy to chew. At Yong He, you can see them rolling them out and making them fresh.
Also being made fresh are youtiao (油條), which are basically fried dough sticks. I was sceptical of these, having tried something similar at a breakfast stand in central China but I was wrong to be so! Neither oily or dry, I found the youtiao to have just the right fluffy texture inside and enjoyed dipping them in basically any sauce I had… and that included a pleasingly pungent chilli paste.
Inside the shaobing, you’ll find a thin omelette and two strips of youtiao – which was a little too much carbohydrate in one go for me. Hence why I discovered they lend themselves so well for dipping. However, you can balance out the carbs by ordering a spring onion omelette (10元) and shoving that in the shaobing youtiao if you feel like being extra indulgent. I definitely wouldn’t do anything as greedy as that. Nope.
Another traditional dish is xian dou jiang (鹹豆漿, 30元) or salty soy milk, which is more savoury than it is salty. Vinegar is added to soy milk to make it coagulate so the taste and texture is very similar to silken tofu. This is then topped with tiny shrimps, pickled veg and some sliced youtiao. Although strange, it was definitely not unpleasant… it just didn’t excite me as much as deep fried bread. Which, personally, I think, is fair enough.
However, Yong He is not only Yong He Soy Milk King for salty tofu. If you want a drink, it’s got to be soy milk too!
I chose a cold soy rice milk (25元), which was actually a lie. It was like drinking liquified peanut butter and it was basically a very rich love affair. Just don’t question the calorie content. My friend got the hot version (20元) which is served in a bowl and thick enough to eat with a spoon.
Finally, because we could, we sampled a radish cake or lo bak gou (? there seem to be many ways of transliterating 蘿蔔糕, 15元). This is giant white radish (daikon in Japanese) mixed with rice flour and steamed into a slightly stodgy cake. My friends said that this version lacked radish flavour and was a little powdery in its texture, but I very much enjoyed its stodginess and made sure I rubbed it at least twice against the plate to pick up the slightly sweet and lightly garlicky sauce.
On many tables, were pork dumplings known as xiao long bao (小笼包, 80元) but the word on the street is that they’re not particularly special. If I go back, I might have to eat them just once though.
What, no restraint in my eating? Perhaps not, but at Yong He’s prices, greed is shamefully affordable. We only paid around 200元 between three people! Much to my delight, the place is open 24/7 and so my dreams of all-day breakfasts can literally be realised at any time. The excitement this causes me is almost enough to steal my appetite. But not quite.
All of this made me forget three hours of broken sleep. And focus on enjoying time with three great friends instead…who enjoyed teaching me all about the food. A deliciously brilliant start to a day in Taipei.
I might’ve mentioned already, but I’m meant to be Taiwanese.
Yong He Dou Jiang Da Wang 永和豆浆大王 5/5 – All your breakfast dreams, available all the time.
Where: No. 102, Section 2, Fùxīng South Rd, Taiwan, 大安區台北市 Taiwan 106