Nestled on quiet Pucheng Street (浦城街) near Standard Bookstore (水準書店), Zabu looks and feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby Shida night market and the area’s mushrooming youth-fashion shops. Deriving its name from two Japanese words zakka (many goods) and burokku (block), the cafe-cum-bistro has a definite zakka feel to it with each nook and cranny adorned with everyday objects, offering patrons a seemingly disorderly but snug haven where they can read, surf the Net or relax.
Zabu is home to two laid-back house cats, whose favorite resting spot seems to be on top of its large fish tank. Retaining much of the original structure of an old apartment house, the space is outfitted with vintage wooden tables, chairs and leather sofas. Christmas lights, pencil sketches, drawings, Polaroid photos, and posters and flyers for exhibitions, movies and performances decorate the walls.
The palette of light grays, olive greens and grayish blues is soothing. Yellowish, subdued lighting adds an almost fairy-tale-like aura to the cafe. A white wooden cabinet that stands on one corner sports handmade goods for sale. (Patrons interested in selling their own art and design items can contact the store directly.)
Zabu serves a decent selection of coffees, organic teas, fruit or milk teas, and drinks including cinnamon milk (NT$150) and black sesame milk (NT$150). Alcoholic beverages on offer include plum wine, sake and various Japanese, Belgian and Scottish beers.
The desserts are no disappointment, either. The banana cake (NT$100) is warm and moist and comes served with either whipped cream or syrup.
Unfortunately, Zabu’s savory food is not a strength. The menu consists of mostly simple Japanese-style meals and appetizers such as salmon ochatsuke (rice with tea) (鮭魚茶泡飯, NT$160), beef with sweet sauce and egg on rice (牛丼蛋飯, NT$170) and wasabi fried chicken (芥末唐揚雞, NT$220).
The Japanese fried eggs (玉子燒, NT$120), however, met expectations with a tasty fusion of egg, mayonnaise, dried kelp, katsuobushi (smoked skipjack tuna) shavings, mustard and honey sauce.
Another signature dish is Zabu’s handmade onigiri, or rice ball, a surprisingly filling item with a pleasantly crunchy texture on the outside that comes in several flavors, including miso (NT$130), cheese and katsuobushi (NT$140) and pomelo and salmon (NT$150).
Zabu offers free WiFi access but charges NT$50 to plug in your laptop to the electricity. Shelves and cabinets are lined with manga, novels and Japanese design books and magazines.
The ambient music is a touch louder than what you’d expect from a neighborhood cafe, but that’s no problem if you’re into the likes of Cat Power, The Cure, Radiohead, Joy Division, PJ Harvey and Arcade Fire.
Zabu closes tomorrow for the Lunar New Year and reopens on Feb. 21.
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