Taipei obviously has no shortage of rice, but until recently it has been difficult to find creamy, sweet American-style rice pudding in the city. With the opening of Sweet Rice Dream (甜米夢) in April, however, you no longer have to stare forlornly at your bowl of eight treasures porridge (babao zhou, 八寶粥).
Located tauntingly near California Fitness on Zhongxiao East Road, the small restaurant offers two flavors of rice pudding (original or brown sugar), seven different pudding-and-topping combos, and the option to pick your own mix-ins.
Sweet Rice Dream is run by American Jonathan Gardner, who grew up in a family of rice pudding lovers and indulged in his grandmother's recipe at every family gathering. When Taiwanese friends came to visit him in New York City, Gardner, of course, treated them to the dessert.
"They thought it was amazing. They said, 'we eat rice all the time in Taiwan, why don't we have this here?'" says Gardner, who was a chef and restaurant manager in New York City before working in corporate consulting for 15 years. His toppings - including fruit, cream and chocolate - are all imported, while the pudding, based on his grandmother's recipe, is made from locally grown rice that Gardner selected to preserve that authentic American flavor and texture.
My dining companion and I picked the Wimbledon (strawberry, chocolate syrup and whipped cream, NT$80) with original-flavor rice pudding, and the mango madness, a limited-time combination of original-flavor rice pudding, mango chunks and mango sorbet (NT $85). Both were delicious - the tart sweetness of the mango chunks in the mango madness balanced well with the creaminess of the rice pudding, while the sorbet was a refreshing touch. The Wimbledon was definitely the standout, however - chocolate, strawberry and whipped cream is always a winning combination, and when mixed into rice pudding, definitely scores a Grand Slam.
Address: 1F, 37, Ln 177, Dunhua S Rd Sec 1, Taipei City
Telephone: (02) 8771-7221
Open: Daily from 2pm to 10pm. (The proprietors will be taking their annual vacation from tomorrow to Wednesday. Sweet Rice Dream reopens on Thursday)
Average meal: NT$80
Details: English and Chinese menu; credit cards not accepted
The star of the show, the rice pudding, would be quite delicious even without all of the fixings. The texture of the rice is well balanced - the individual kernels are satisfyingly firm without being hard and they don't clump. The pudding itself is decadently rich but not oily, with a combination of cream, egg and cinnamon flavors.
Other flavor combos at the restaurant include southern belle (sweet potato, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, NT$80), very berry (dried strawberries, blueberries and cherries, whipped cream, NT$75) and drunky monkey (banana, chocolate syrup, rum, whipped cream NT$85). The summer specials include the above-mentioned mango madness and The Obama: The Sweet Taste of Change for America and the World (brown sugar rice pudding, chocolate chips, Oreos, whipped cream, NT$85), which Gardner created in tribute to his favorite US presidential candidate. Gardner also designed T-shirts for fellow Barack Obama fans that spell out the Democratic presumptive nominee's surname in Chinese (歐巴馬) on the front and in English on the back; these are available for NT$400 each.