I'll be upfront and admit my heart does not beat for Taiwanese food. It's blah. It's bland. It's puzzling (why something that tastes like this can be popular). But maybe that's just the variety in Singapore. I've not been to Taiwan but I've seen long, lovingly detailed reviews of Taiwanese snacks. So I'm still optimistic for the day I'll encounter something to change my mind about the dullness of Taiwanese food. Today, however, is not the day.
Peng Lai Ge has been at Joo Chiat for eight years. The owners hail from Taiwan and set up this eatery when they saw very little in the way of Taiwanese eats in Singapore. The food is quite authentic, says my friend, but in a homestyle manner. This isn't the wildly popular commercialised snacks you'll get from the night markets.
We tried the zha jiang mian (S$5) - noodles with mince in braised bean sauce. Technically this isn't Taiwanese, but a Northern Chinese dish. The noodles here were a bit too starchy for me, and tended to get tangled in stubborn, hot clumps. They failed to absorb much of the seasoning. The cucumber juliennes were also a bit old and fibrous. I think one can easily make tasty zha jiang mian at home. Check out didally's recipe.
Fried spiced chicken (S$5.50), which were unusually tender while retaining a crisp exterior. The owner claims they carefully remove all the fatty parts, so it tastes crispy and not greasy. Not unpleasant but I think I prefer Lai Lai's version which has a more complex flavour.
The owners also highly recommended their "seasonal Taiwanese vegetable" (S$7) - yes, the name is that generic. It's not on the menu and they only prepare it when they get can get stock of the vegetable. Although hesitant and unsure of the vegetable species, I took a gamble. Unfortunately for me, it's like a hybrid of chye sim and xiao bai chye, both of which are my most hated vegetables. But I have to say the stir-frying method is not bad - very clean-tasting, delicious in a simple manner.
I had to try their "Taiwanese rice dumpling" (S$3.50), billed as using only the finest Taiwanese glutinous rice. But as you can see from the photo, that rice is rather mushy. What was surprising was that the rice dumpling came doused with a funny brown gravy. It's like raw garlic puree flavoured with braising sauce. So pungent and spicy, it was like garlic wasabi. Oh man, dragonbreath +10.
Peng Lai Ge also boasts smelly tofu (fried fermented tofu) as a signature dish, something I did not want to try. They have quite a lot of other dishes too, like oyster mee sua (vermicelli), braised beef noodles, scallion pancakes, egg-wrapped meat floss, fried chitterlings, various soups and desserts.
Decor is spartan but clean. There are helpful photographs in the menu. These were taken by the couple's daughter. Peng Lai Ge has several outlets now, but the owners say there have been imitators who tried to replicate the entire name and menu without consent (notably one in Vivocity, which closed after the owners took issue with them). Wow. I'm still puzzled why anyone would want to copy this. Perhaps I need to try more dishes but I'm not sure when I'll be coming back.
PENG LAI GE 蓬莱阁台湾小吃
456 Joo Chiat Road
with branches at:
No. 82 Lau Pa Sat Festival Market
18 Raffles Quay
#B2-LF2 Changi Airport Terminal 3
Basement level 2 South