Nestling near the top of the newly refurbished Eslite Wuchang Street Branch building in Ximending can be found the usual foodcourt suspects: a hotpot restaurant, a faux continental cuisine steak house, a Thai-style diner and the now ubiquitous Italian pasta joint.
Morita is no worse and no better than the rest. It has a range of set meals around the NT$300 mark and these are palatable, but you would not impress a date by going there. The surroundings are pleasant enough if you like pink lamps and wallpaper, which gives it a living room-type of ambiance. It has a great view of Ximending if rooftop apartments, water coolers, mired ceramic tile walls, streaked windows and corrugated iron roofs are your idea of an interesting panorama. The service was smart and friendly, without being anything to eulogize about.
It could be said that spaghetti has in the last few years become the noodle of choice for many Taiwanese. Both noodles and pasta are made from wheat flour and salt is added, which is mixed with water to make a paste, dried and folded, then pulled and cut into long strips. Additions to the basic recipe include eggs for some noodles and pasta dishes, rice flour for rice noodles and vermicelli, fillings for gnocci and dumplings. Flavorings and colorings are as numerous as the spectrum of the rainbow.
Those who are familiar with the history of China will not be surprised to hear that it was the Chinese who originally invented pasta, possibly 5,000 years ago. Marco Polo, they say, introduced it to the Italians in the 13th century(along with ice cream and the pinata) who then conquered the culinary world with it.
It's recent popularity in Taiwan should come as no surprise then, where restaurateurs have quickly realized that a portion of pasta costs NT$10 a plate tops and the sauce isn't much more. Hence, repackage the noodles as pasta and increase the profit margins.
At these spaghetti restaurants you typically get a couple of microwaved buns that are sweet, white and cotton-like; followed by what is called a salad but is no more than a couple of leaves and shredded cabbage, set off by halved cherry tomatoes smothered in 1,000 island dressing. Often enough, it is all washed down with an iced tea. This is the pattern at Morita, with the addition of a dessert afterwards to give the impression of a more upmarket affair.
It may be cheap and cheerful but it's rarely enjoyable. I have sampled spaghetti in Italy and elsewhere around the world and the Taiwanese version does not come close, unfortunately. The pasta is rarely freshly made and often has that off the shelf and out-of-the-packet taste that coats the palate. The sauce, which as you would expect is the key, is invariably under par. It's tempting to stick with the noodles.