“A fresh look on traditional Taiwanese rechao,” reads the Facebook page of Drunken Monkey, a recently opened restaurant five minutes by foot from Guting MRT Station’s (古亭捷運站) Exit 2.
Rechao (熱炒, literally hot-fry) restaurants are a common sight across Taiwan, serving up smallish dishes of everything from deep-fried seafood, stir-fried beef and pork to vegetable and tofu dishes — all of which are typically washed down with copious Taiwan Beer. But perhaps more than anything else, rechao is about community, getting together with friends, family or colleagues and sharing several dishes and a few laughs.
Drunken Monkey’s “fresh” take on rechao is Cantonese fusion.
Alex Holliday, Drunken Monkey’s talkative proprietor, learned to cook Cantonese-style food from his grandfather, who escaped the ravages of China’s Civil War and ended up in Vancouver, where he opened Capilano Heights Chinese Restaurant 37 years ago. Holliday first came to Taiwan in 2003 to learn Mandarin. He moved here in September of last year and opened the restaurant in November.
Drunken Monkey’s menu includes typical rechao fare — kungpao chicken (NT$100), fried clams with basil (NT$100), deep-fried oysters (NT$120) and deep-fried prawns with pineapple (NT$120) — as well as some “drunken munchies” — Western-style additions such as chicken nuggets (NT$100) and onion rings (NT$100).
I wanted to taste Holliday’s Cantonese favorites, and started off with the combat pork (NT$100), strips of pork dipped in batter, fried until crispy and topped with heaps of chopped garlic. Savory, crispy and garlicky, the robust combination went well with an order of slightly sweet fried cabbage (NT$80).
Address: 227, Dingzhou Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市汀州路二段227號) Telephone: (09) 8336-6452
Open: Sunday, Monday and Wednesday from noon to 2pm and Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5pm to 10pm
Average meal: NT$400 for two
Details: Menu in English and Chinese, no service charge, credit cards not accepted
On the Net: www.facebook.com/drunkenmonkeytw227
The explosive green onion, tofu and beef (NT$100) is a dish also worth ordering, both because of its tasty combination of ingredients as well as its light seasoning. But the green onion and tofu (NT$100) is the standout dish of the items that I tried. Large chunks of lightly seared tofu are drowned in a robust Cantonese-style stew. I’ve tried this dish at other restaurants, many charging double the price for similar sized portions, and this version wins hands down. It went well with a large bottle of Taiwan Gold Label beer (NT$80) and complimentary bowl of white rice.
While many of Drunken Monkey’s dishes offer a new twist on Taiwanese culinary standards, the decor has an old-style and homey rechao feel to it: black-and-white pictures of Capilano Heights Chinese Restaurant, stools and unadorned tables in buttery yellow, walls scribbled with customer comments and framed pictures showing scenes from Chinese mythology. There is even a small table at the front reserved for bottles of whisky, kaoliang and bourbon, which customers can “keep” at the restaurant. But even the interior has some interesting additions: boxing gear (Holliday hung up his muay Thai gloves to open the restaurant) hangs off large posters of monkeys in all manner of martial arts display. A Canadian flag adorns another wall, its maple leaf replaced by a marijuana leaf.
Though Drunken Monkey is no-frills, its inexpensive and tasty fare makes it worth a visit. And if you are like me and want to have at extra few beers on the weekend, Holliday says he’ll stay open until the last “drunken monkey” staggers out of the restaurant.