Thursday, May 3, 2012

Kunming Islamic Restaurant (昆明園)

Kunming Islamic Restaurant
No. 26, Lane 81
Fuxing North Road, Taipei
(02) 2751-6776

Map Here

One reason that I've started this blog is that it's an excuse to revisit some of my favorite places in Taipei, some of which I haven't been to in years.  The Kunming Islamic Restaurant is a little far from my house (although conveniently located by the Nanjing Dong Lu station on the brown line).  I got together a small group of friends and we went for dinner last night.

First, let me say that it's best to make reservations in advance.  The restaurant gets really packed on some nights and you can't get a table.  It's an interesting crowd.  There are groups of Taiwanese and western expats, of course, but I've also seen groups of Filipino Muslim women in headscarves, Indian and Pakistani men with their families, and small groups of Burmese folks chatting animatedly with the owner, Yacoob.  I think that part of the reason for the restaurant's popularity is the fact that it is Halal (清真), a rarity in Taipei.

Yacoob (standing, left) is a wonderfully friendly and hospitable man, and is comfortable speaking Chinese or English.  He is ethnically Chinese, but was born in Burma.  His father, he tells me, was fighting for the KMT against the Communists in the 1940's.  When the leaders of the KMT fled to Hong Kong and Taiwan, many of the ordinary soldiers were left behind.  Fearing for their lives, they fled across the border to Thailand and Burma.  Yacoob's family moved to Burma, but he decided to come to Taiwan to study in 1980.  Since that time, he has gained Taiwanese citizenship.  Still, he considers his ancestral home to be Kunming - hence the restaurant's name.

This unique story has shaped the cuisine offered at his restaurant.  Together with his wife, Fatimah, their cuisine is a kind of fusion between Chinese, Chinese muslim, and Burmese cuisine.  It's clear that a lot of love and effort goes into each dish.  Just look at this sweetly written preface to the menu:

The menu is fairly large, but you'll be well served by ordering a selection of curries, bread, and salads.  Yacoob is happy to help guide you through the menu.  On his recommendation, the four of us started with a Burmese Tea Salad and samosas.  The samosas were delicately fried and came with a light yoghurt and mint dip.  I usually don't like fried foods, but I ate two.

But OH! that tea salad.  It has a cabbage base with tomatoes, peanuts, cow peas, sesame, and cilantro.  Beyond that I can't say.  It's delicious.  One friend that is, perhaps, a bit prone to hyperbole stated that it was the best thing ever created by man.  It is highly recommended.

One of our friends came late, so our food came in waves.  The second wave was a selection of curries and delicious, fresh chapati.  I was partial to the spicy lamb, which was rich and just spicy enough to impart a degree of heat to the palate.  The dal, although slightly more liquid than I'm accustomed to, had an excellent flavor.  The okra was also a pleasant surprise, as this vegetable tends to get no love in East Asia.  It's characteristic gooeyness gave the curry the consistency of a melted mozzarella cheese.  Sure it sounds weird, but I liked it very much.
We also ordered the eggplant and ground beef to appease the quasi-vegetarian in the group, but this was just was OK.  The lightly fried eggplants were cooked very well, but the flavors weren't strong enough for my taste.

(dal left foreground, spicy lamb background, eggplant offscreen foreground right)

After this delicious assortment of curries, our Aussie friend decided that he was still hungry and got some hummus, which was excellent and disappeared before I remembered to take a photo.

It cost just under 2000 NT for the four of us, including drinks.  That's a great deal for such a wonderful meal prepared with such care.

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