Knife-cut noodles (刀削麵), sour and spicy soup (酸辣湯) and beef rolls (牛肉捲餅) are among the staples that pop into mind when one thinks northern Chinese cuisine. Usually served at greasy and flour-smeared joints in alleys, this pleb’s fare is the Chinese equivalent of fast-food burgers — designed to fill the stomach, not please the senses.
Imagine this going corporate and you get Chu Chi Meat Pie and Millet Congee (朱記餡餅粥店). Standing on Renai Road (仁愛路), its two-floored flagship store calls out for attention with an imperial-flavored look and long lines of customers on weekends.
The 30-year-old establishment recently received a modern redesign and has an open kitchen. Its interior evokes Chinese chic with wooden pillars and vermilion beams, engraved doors and round tables modeled after antiques, and tastefully presented ink paintings hanging on the wall.
The reason behind Chu Chi’s popularity became apparent to me after my dining partners and I skimmed the menu. Dining at this smartly decorated place in an exclusive neighborhood surprisingly costs no more than it would at a greasy spoon in a less trendy part of town. The signature Chinese meat pie (餡餅) is NT$35. With each bite, the savory juice bursts inside the mouth but without the usual greasy taste.
A time-honored way to eat one of these meat pies is to dip it into the millet congee (小米粥, NT$25). The chopped corn and oats in this dish are welcome additions that add more layers of textures to what’s usually just a plain porridge.
We also ordered pork steamed dumplings (鮮肉蒸餃, NT$100), which received unanimous approval because of their hand-made dumpling pastry and juicy stuffing. The beef rolls (NT$100) appealed to the health-conscious as they contained sliced cucumber and the wrapping was significantly less unctuous than usual.
Address: 106, Renai Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市仁愛路三段106號)
Telephone: (02) 2702-9411
Open: Daily from 11am to 2pm; 5pm to 8:30pm
Average meal: NT$250
Details: Chinese menu; credit cards not accepted
Though machine made, Chu Chi’s knife-cut noodles retain the desired firm, al dente texture. However, one knife-cut item that was ambivalently received was the chicken cold noodle (北方雞絲涼麵, NT$100).
Quality control may be a major problem Chu Chi has to overcome on its way to a becoming a successful chain. According to reviews on several blogs, food quality varies significantly among the branches on Nanjing West Road (南京西路) and Baoqing Road (寶慶路) in Taipei City and Jhongshan Road (中山路) in Banciao (板橋), Taipei County. — Ho Yi