Mon, Apr 30, 2018 - Page 8 News List

The Big Apple’s budding love for Taiwanese food

A new crop of restaurants looks beyond the city’s Chinatowns to introduce New Yorkers to the island’s cuisine

By Chris Fuchs  /  contributing reporter

Win Son attracts a diverse clientele, everyone from customers of Taiwanese and Chinese descent to people who know nothing about Taiwanese food.

Photo courtesy of Win Son

It was hard to find good Taiwanese food in New York City, recalled California native Richard Ho (何瑞運).

That was the now 33-year-old’s impression after moving to the Big Apple in 2007 and landing a job at Blue Ribbon Sushi.

Living in Brooklyn, Ho, who is Taiwanese American, would sometimes travel to the neighboring borough of Queens to get his fix. Communities like Elmhurst and Flushing, with pockets of Taiwanese still around, offered a number of reliable options.

But search in places like the hip East Village in Manhattan or Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and a foodie would find the pickings slim.

That shows signs of changing.

TAIWANESE DELICACIES

Ho joins a number of young restaurateurs introducing a wider cross-section of New Yorkers to such Taiwanese delights as beef noodle soup (牛肉麵), century egg and tofu (涼拌皮蛋豆腐), oyster omelette (蚵仔煎) and stinky tofu (臭豆腐).

His restaurant, Ho Foods (何家麵店), which specializes in beef noodle soup, just opened in January, fulfilling a lifelong dream.

“I always get the sense that it’s always been bubbling, kind of there,” Ho said, referring to people’s interest in Taiwanese food. “There’s always so many people talking about it, and for some reason everyone took action this year.”

Exact figures aren’t known on just how many Taiwanese restaurants operate in New York City today. Online searches in English and Chinese turn up at least a dozen or so, though the actual number could be higher. Some restaurants have closed and new ones opened as the city’s Taiwanese demographic has shifted.

Census estimates from 2016 show there were just over 11,000 Taiwanese living in New York City, whose total population is 8.6 million.

Brothers Eddie and Evan Huang helped blaze a trail for transporting Taiwanese food beyond the city’s Chinatowns when they opened up Baohaus in 2009 on Manhattan’s trendy Lower East Side. The eatery, known for its guabao (割包) steamed buns, has since moved to East 14th Street near Union Square.

Meanwhile, as New Yorkers were getting their fill of Asian noodle dishes like Japanese ramen and Vietnamese pho, Josh Ku (顧文宇) and Trigg Brown were forging a friendship that began at a cookout in Brooklyn.

That bond led to their opening a Taiwanese-American restaurant in May 2016 called Win Son, located in the borough’s hipster East Williamsburg section.

As 30-year-old Ku tells it, that was never their intention.

“We didn’t really have any object or goal besides just trying to eat,” said Ku, a Taiwanese American who grew up on Long Island.

Ku and 29-year-old Brown built up their friendship as they ate their way through parts of Queens. Brown, a chef from Virginia, said even though he didn’t have an expansive understanding of Taiwan, he was interested in the food.

“Each dish seemed to carry a unique historical significance,” Brown said. “Some of the significance had roots in different parts of China and some of them had roots that were very idiosyncratic to Taiwan. We were naturally learning a lot about the food just through our interest in eating.”

WIN SON

The idea to open Win Son came while Ku was managing the building that today houses their restaurant. As he was preparing to rent out the space, Ku said he noticed that the restaurateurs interested in it proposed paying below the landlord’s asking price.

“I knew some of these guys that had successful restaurants, and was like, if these guys can do it, why not us,” Ku explained.

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