If you like traditional Taiwanese food, you’ve probably heard of Formosa Chang (鬍鬚張). With more than 30 locations across greater Taipei, the restaurant chain has been in business since the late 1980s, and is one of the more successful ventures that have brought street food staples into the realm of mass production.
Part of that success has been the result of shrewd branding. Several years ago, Formosa Chang won cachet among Taiwanese hipsters when it teamed up with Pizza Cut Five, a boutique T-shirt design company, to create a series of T-shirts bearing the restaurant’s iconic logo, the bearded face of restaurant founder Chang Yan-chuan (張炎泉). The T-shirts, which featured Chang’s head refashioned in a variety of pop art styles, were a hit. To this day, black T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Formosa Chang Cut Five” in hot pink are the official staff uniform.
Fashion aside, hardcore foodies and penny-pinchers have reason to turn their noses up at Formosa Chang, which charges NT$30 for a small bowl of its specialty, braised pork rice (known in Mandarin as luroufan, 魯肉飯). You can get the same for NT$25 at a popular hole-in-the wall joint, Chinfeng Braised Pork Rice (金鋒魯肉飯), see page 14 of last Friday’s edition of the Taipei Times), and perhaps even cheaper at one of the countless mom-and-pop shops across the city serving similar fare.
But still, Formosa Chang’s braised pork rice is not bad at all. The restaurant’s version of this simple dish — bits of fatty pork stewed in sweet soy sauce and ladled on top of a bowl of rice — tastes fresh and homemade, and even won a voter’s choice award at Taipei City’s Traditional Food Carnival (台北市傳統美食嘉年華會) several years ago.
Address: 60, Xinglong Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市文山區興隆路三段60號)
Telephone: (02) 2930-2800
Open: 11am to 10pm
Average Meal: NT$100
Details: Cash only. The chain operates 36 locations in the Taipei area, see the restaurant’s Web site for a full listing (in Chinese only). Two easy-to-reach locations include a branch near Wanfang Hospital (萬芳醫院, address above) and one near Zhongshan Middle School MRT Station (中山國中捷運站), located at 439 Jinzhou Street, Taipei City (台北市錦州街439號)
On the Net: www.fmsc.com.tw
And here’s one plus to Formosa Chang’s chain restaurant approach: The food is consistent. You know what you’re going to get, and you know how it’s going to taste. In this light, a meal at Formosa Chang makes for a more nourishing alternative to a Big Mac and fries combo. A large bowl of braised pork rice, which comes with a slice of pickled ginger, costs NT$59. Have that with a side of boiled greens, (燙青菜, NT$40) — the restaurant serves whatever is in season — and a tea egg (NT$15), and you have a decent meal for just over NT$100.
Another simple yet classic dish on offer is chicken on rice (雞肉飯, NT$30 for a small bowl, NT$59 for a large bowl). You get shredded slices of boiled chicken topped with a spoonful of light gravy on rice. Another Taiwanese standard, pork ribs and bitter gourd soup (苦瓜排骨湯, NT$65), goes well with either rice dishes. If pig intestines suit your fancy, get the “four gods soup” (四神湯, NT$50), touted by the restaurant as a popular choice.
I’m not taken with all of Formosa Chang’s recommendations, which are trumpeted on stock promotional posters hanging on the walls of its restaurants. The roast salted pork (石板鹹豬肉, NT$60) is not nearly as appetizing as the photo suggests — in fact, it’s an utter disappointment.
For those on the go, Formosa Chang also sells lunchboxes, which are good value. Both the braised pork and chicken on rice lunchboxes are NT$79 and come with several veggie side dishes, a piece of tofu and a tea egg. The sliced beef and onions lunchbox (霜降牛丼便當, NT$79) is a nice and not-so-greasy option.
Formosa Chang’s atmosphere caters to the romantic idea of a traditional Taiwanese eatery, with wooden tables and stools. Relaxing jazz music is piped softly in the background, a la a Starbucks, and the waitstaff is clearly trained to be polite and efficient. A Formosa Chang branch might lack the down-home feel of your favorite street stand, but it’s a safe, reliable option if you’re in a hurry. And it beats McDonald’s any day.