Precision is required when meeting friends for a meal at Mei Wei Eatery. There are four restaurants operating under the same name in different parts of the capital. Each claims kinship with the original establishment on Shaoxing South Street (紹興南街) that had served Jiangzhe cuisine (江浙菜) for over three decades before being torn down several years ago.
A quick search on the Internet finds myriad comments and fierce debate over which Mei Wei Eatery is the most authentic. But as most foodie bloggers agree, the offshoot run by the eldest son of the original’s proprietor on Jinshan South Road (金山南路) doesn’t deviate from its precursor’s fare, and that was the one my dining companions and I visited on Sunday of last week.
Like its forbearer, this eatery is noted for its fish hot pot casserole (砂鍋魚頭, NT$750) and lion’s head meatballs (獅子頭), which can be ordered in a casserole (NT$750), a pot dish (NT$300) or individually (NT$130 each).
For the main course, we tried the fish casserole with two lion’s heads and were startled when the waitress delivered the dish. The meatballs were almost as big as a grown man’s fist. A giant chub fish head, deep-fried then simmered, was buried underneath layers of tofu, ham, Chinese cabbage, mushrooms and mung bean noodles (粉絲).
More than enough for a party of four, the casserole won unanimous approval. The cabbage, marinated with vinegar and pepper, delivered a sour and spicy tang that gave life to what could have been an overly heavy dish. Usually super-sensitive to the taste of seafood, I gladly found no fishiness in the pot.
The signature lion’s head also lived up to its reputation as ubertender.
Address: 95, Jinshan S Rd Sec 2, Taipei City
Telephone: (02) 2322-5780 Average meal: NT$450
Open: 11am to 2pm and 5pm to 9pm
Details: Chinese menu; credit cards not accepted
Other strongly flavored dishes, which go well with cold Taiwan beer, include dry-fried green beans (乾扁四季豆, NT$160) and garlic squid (香蒜中卷, NT$260), which is deep-fried, then stir-fried with garlic and spices. For a milder option, there’s shredded pork with lapi (肉絲拉皮, NT$120), which is a popular summer dish made from a mixture of wasabe and sesame paste and lapi, or mung bean flour noodles.
In keeping with its recipes, which adhere to traditional cooking techniques, the restaurant is a plain, family-style affair; while not for aesthetes, Mei Wei Eatery is a reasonable place to eat in the city if a sitting among middle-aged men playing traditional drinking games doesn’t grate.
The other three Mei Wei eateries are run by the restaurant founder’s daughter, former chef and neighbor.