On our second day in Taipei, my family and I, along with our three close family friends, set out on a journey in search for Taiwanese breakfast. A common Taiwanese breakfast consists of sweet or salty hot soymilk paired with some form of fried dough to dunk in it. That morning we gathered excitedly in the lobby and asked the hotel doorman to direct us to the nearest breakfast spot.
With a scribbled map at hand, we scaled the streets and alleyways near the hotel, but no Taiwanese breakfast was to be found. Stomachs were rumbling as the seven of us wandered desperately around what looked like the financial district, pulling aside locals and asking them where to find hot soymilk. Most were puzzled. Finally, Agnes made a quick decision for all of us. She shot her hand in the air to summon an approaching taxi.
“Where can we get hot soymilk?” she asked the driver.
“Oh, Soymilk King is very close”, he replied.
… Soymilk KING? Take us there, taxi driver!
The taxi driver’s “very close” translated into a city tour across Taiwan, through a tunnel and over a bridge. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived in a district even my dad had never been to, right in front of the famed Yong He Soymilk King (or just “Soymilk King” as I like to call it). Our eyes scanned the open air kitchen, and our ravenous expressions quickly changed to joy.
Instead of verbalizing orders, customers at Soymilk King fill out a checklist of menu items, a popular method of ordering food in East Asian restaurants. While Agnes read off the menu, my dad and Kelly checked off the orders. Meanwhile, I went around to the other side of the restaurant to see what was cooking in the kitchen.
Opening out into the street, the kitchen is where bread in varying shapes, sizes and degrees of flakiness is grilled and fried. These pipping hot, freshly fried goods are then whisked off into paper bags to be sold to hungry passerbyers or plated to be eaten by those ordering at the restaurant.
Hovering over a vat of hot oil and wielding a super long set of chopsticks, this unenthusiastic man nurses snaking strips of dough in the hot oil until they transform into properly puffed and golden you tiao (long, savory fried cruellers – a true art form).
Back at the table, our breakfast had arrived:
Kelly, Mom, Betty, and I ordered bowls of sweet soymilk, which consist of warm soymilk mixed in with sugar to create a soul-warming concoction just sweet enough to counterbalance the saltiness of the you tiao. Stirring is imperative to incorporate the sugar into the warm soymilk, and more sugar can be added as you please.
Agnes ordered the sweet soymilk with egg, the same as my sweetened soymilk, but enhanced with a frothy scrambled egg mixture. I prefer my eggs in salty dishes, but for those who who want a rich protein boost, this is the soymilk for you.
Dad and Zinnia got the salty soymilk, a mixture of salty soybean milk and cut-up bits of you tiao that sop up the flavorful milk, all topped with generous slivers of leek. Pour in a small dose of vinegar to taste and you’re set. This is a denser version of soymilk, which is a meal in and of itself, but like most things can always be accompanied by more fried stuff.
Sticky rice rolls are plump rolls of glutenous rice filled with a you tiao center and stuffed with dried meat floss. Dried meat floss — yeah, it sounds gross, but this Taiwanese specialty has a gentle sweet and salty flavor that goes wonderfully with any rice or dough. “Meat floss” is seasoned pork that has been dehydrated and shredded into fine, crumbly threads, creating a very distinct flavor-texture combination. Unfortunately, the King’s sticky rice rolls were a bit dry and bland.
You tiao wrapped with xiao bing is a double dose of fried carbohydrates. I never thought I’d say this, but double fried carbs might be a little too much fried carbs. Most of us ended up eating the you tiao, abandoning the denser surrounding xiao bing.
Freshly plucked from the cauldron of oil, this you tiao is too hot to handle, which is where the paper wrapping comes into play. Crisp on the outside, light and airy on the inside, this may be the best you tiao I’ve eaten yet.
Last but not least were the xiao long bao (soup dumplings). The doughy skin was thick and the pork inside moderately juicy, but not quite juicy enough to contend with some of the soup dumplings I’ve tasted. After discussing our food, we agreed that this style of xiao long bao would be better appreciated by Northern Chinese, who enjoy a good chewy dough, over us Southerners who prefer our xiao long bao with thin skin and gushing with molten soup. Speaking of molten soup dumplings, here are tips on how not to eat soup dumplings.
In short, if you find yourself at Soymilk King, stick to the breakfast basics: soymilk and you tiao. With the abundance of good food in Taipei, you’ll need to save some stomach room for all the other snacks you’ll see on the way.
Yong He Soymilk King
132 Fu Xing South Road Section 2
Taipei, Taiwan +886 (0)2 2702 1226