I have a wonderful secret and I'm almost loath to tell you. But good things are meant to be shared, so I'm divulging the existence of Qǐng Zuò, my new-favourite Taiwanese stir-fry and 'fast food' joint. Now relocated to a patio area beside the Sai Ying Pun escalators, this new and much-better-presented spot is light and bright, with minimalistic decor and more seats than you ought to be able to fit into such a small shop space. Good – I like to be reminded of the dining atmosphere of Taipei street stalls, and also don't distract me with paintings on the wall. I'm here for the foodstuff and only the foodstuff – and the foodstuff exceeded our expectations.
Braised beef noodles in soup
Taiwanese braised pork rice
So unknown was this place at the time of our visit that the English menu was still in development. We snooped at what everyone else was having, asked the chef for his recommendations and jabbed at items on a menu that we could only partially decipher, what with our imperfect grasp of the language. So far, so good. The longan and ginger tea ($24) and yuzu tea ($23) came first, fresh and fruity, to accompany our orders of Taiwanese braised pork rice ($33) and braised beef noodles in soup ($68).
At first, we were sceptical about the portion of the pork rice, but we soon discovered that it was tightly packed, so much so that there was no room for us to safely navigate our cutlery, so we happily made a mess digging into it and, shamefully, didn't even manage to finish the whole thing. And the flavours weren't lacking, with moreish, salty pork morsels crowning soft, pearly rice and a bit of pickled veggies on the side. Shouldn't have judged, mea culpa. The beef noodles, on the other hand, we had no doubts about. Juicy and tender slices of beef brisket in an equally rich beef broth had us slurping away the whole bowl.
Read more: Recipe for Taiwanese braised pork rice
Fried cuttlefish balls and black pudding
Fried fish cakes
Oh, balls, glorious cuttlefish balls; your perfectly fried and golden demeanour had our tongues aching for a taste. We dug in like starved artists, scalding our lips on the crispy skin, and chewed slowly and mournfully to stretch out the fleeting bliss for as long as we could. I have rarely tasted fish balls this good – Qǐng Zuò's fried cuttlefish balls ($32) are exemplary. Seasoned and deep-fried to perfection, with a tender, chewy middle, this is what dreams are made of. Not to mention the sheer size of them. And the dreams didn't end there.
Next up, fried fish cakes ($28). Peppery, salty and with a seemingly infinite amount of umami, don't judge these tiny logs by their blistered bark; they are golden nuggets of satisfying flavour. We certainly didn't expect to come here and have the side dishes be our faves, but they effortlessly won us over.
The black pudding ($30), though well executed and seasoned, was not my cup of tea, but it landed a huge hit with my dining partner.
Chinese omelette with Thai basil and pork floss
We wrapped up our meal with wraps of a different kind: Qǐng Zuò's Chinese omelette with Thai basil and pork floss ($35). Usually available either with a filling of Thai basil or pork floss, the chef made an exception for us when we bleated about our indecisiveness. The egg omelette was impressively delicate and reliably held together a bulging filling of flaky pork floss and fragrant herbs, drizzled with a thick, sweet sauce. The flavours were rich and the filling just salty enough for our tastes.
Without a doubt, not the healthiest thing on the market, but by golly, these flavours and mouthfeels are second to none. We left Qǐng Zuò that night chattering like a pair of clucking hens, eagerly planning our next visit and lamenting the fact that we would most definitely have to queue for a table when we come back. Prices are reasonable, portions are satisfying and the kitchen staff have won over our hearts and our bellies with their skill and execution. We will be back for another taste of fuss-free Taiwanese fare without breaking the bank.
Shop 2–3, G/F, Wah Fai Court, 1–6 Ying Wa Terrace, Sai Ying Pun, 2677 2888
This write-up is based on an anonymous, independent tasting. No monetary compensation was provided in exchange. The opinions expressed here represent the author's; she's so stubborn, it's not like you could tell her otherwise anyway.