You haven't really tried classic, Taiwanese casual cuisine until you've had either the pork chop over rice (pai gu fan 排骨飯) or the salt and pepper basil fried chicken (sometimes referred to as popcorn chicken).
OK, perhaps I exaggerate, but these are very traditional, classic Taiwanese "bento" dishes that are very common throughout Taiwan. There's often a cult following for the places that make the best ones, and quality varies, a lot.
A traditional Taiwanese pork chop over rice consists of a deep fried pork chop, rice, Taiwanese meat sauce, and pickled mustard greens. Sometimes the vegetable may vary and you may get a soy sauce egg (or tea egg!), all-in-all, though, the basic premise is the same.
Simple, quick, convenient, and very very delicious.
I was thrilled to discover yet another Taiwanese casual place that has just opened up in Allston not too long ago. It looked promising full of all sort of classic Taiwanese dishes such as various boba teas, shaved ice, Taiwanese maki rolls, and, of course, the beloved pork chop over rice.
My mom was in town helping out with my sister's new baby. My brother-in-law was oh-so-kind to offer to watch the baby while my mom, sister, and I snuck out for a quick girls lunch.
The decor of Blue Asia Cafe really reminds me of Taiwan. It's bright, colorful, and one wall is filled with anime books. They are both a cafe and a restaurant, serving a strong assortment of boba tea, shaved ice, and other sweets while also offering classic, casual Taiwanese dishes.
For some reason, I always get sooo excited when I see an authentic Taiwanese menu. I have trouble deciding between all the fun dishes to try. This menu was pretty Taiwanese, although there were some weird fusion stuff thrown in there, like maki rolls made with hot dog, eggs and cheese (???), as well as popular dishes from other cuisines (bi bim bop or General Gau's chicken, anyone?). All in all, though, I was pleased to see dishes that reminded me of Taiwan.
We started out with an order of scallion pancakes, which were fine although nothing special. My mom kept saying they really reminded her of i-Mei (a well known Taiwanese packaged food brand) frozen pancakes (which,mind you, are quite good for frozen . . .). They were fine, but I wouldn't order them again. Many other places in Boston make a much better scallion pancake.
I was slightly tickled (and partly mortified) at the creative spin Blue Asia had taken on the humble make roll. Sure, we all know that the classic Taiwanese maki roll is very different from the Japanese type. Taiwanese people love to put pork sung (pork floss) in their maki rolls, as well as pickled vegetables, egg, and other cooked things. Honestly, it's quite flavorful and quite good, though different from any Japanese-style roll. However, I couldn't imagine how hot dogs and cheese would taste in a roll.
Anyway, no one at our table wanted to take that risk, so instead we took the conservative approach and went with the pork chop Taiwanese style roll.
This one, called the "Typhoon Rice Roll" had pork chop, fried egg, lettuce, pork sung, and some pickled gourd. It was pretty good and reminded me of the classic Taiwanese maki (although my mom never made it with pork chop! Just pork sung).
We ordered another classic - the salt and pepper chicken with basil over rice. This is a classic street dish in Taiwan that is often not served in a dish like this. Instead, you might get the fried chicken in a bag and you eat it with skewers. In fact, I believe Lollicup in Allston serves it this way and they call it popcorn chicken.
The pepper flavor was very distinctive, having hints of 5-spice (though I could not distinguish which one it was). We asked the server (or perhaps she was the owner?), who told us that they import the spice mix from Taiwan and it's the best one there. I can't remember the name, but it sounded something like "A-1" or something.
Like every classic Taiwanese rice dish, this one also came with the classic meat sauce, which is poured over the rice (and originally hidden under the egg!). The side of tofu (similar to mapo tofu) was unusual, but not bad at all.
The pork chop (pictured above), was also pretty good, but I think the one at Taiwan Cafe is still my favorite in Boston.
My sister was craving boba, so she tried a Thai iced tea. I actually thought it was pretty good, though (again), it may not be my favorite in Boston.
All-in-all, I had a fun time at Blue Asia Cafe. The fun, slightly schizophrenic menu is still very Taiwanese at its core and they deliver decently on all of their dishes. I wouldn't say they have the best of any particular dish (there are places in Boston that still do Taiwanese food better). However, they do an admirable job on most things, and I personally love the casual, very Taiwanese ambiance.
Bottom line is, it's a fun, casual place to visit that won't break your wallet.
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