Finding Taiwanese food in Chinatown or anywhere in Chicago for that matter can be a challenge. Saints Alp Teahouse is one of the few this city has to offer. From what I understand, Taiwanese food is very similar to Mandarin food, but with a few regional variations. One of the most interesting dishes I tried was a pork and green bean dish. I was expecting chunks of tough, flavorless pork like most Chinese restaurants serve. Instead, me and my guest were served a lettuce leaf full of what looked to be greasy green beans. We wondered where the pork was until we each took a taste. The pork is so finely ground, it practically disappears into the beans, and the beans are cooked in the pork fat.
The crispy fried tofu with salt and peppers is one of my favorite Asian dishes I have had. The breading is very light and airy, and the tofu inside has very soft and has the texture of very tender chicken. The sorrano peppers and salt give it a really nice kick when combined with a light dipping of sriracha sauce.
Conch is one type of shellfish I had never tried before Saints Alp. For those of you that don’t know what it is, conch is a very large mussel that can grow to be one foot long in length. I was expecting it to taste like an oyster, but it actually had the same exact flavor as a zebra mussel with the texture of squid – kind of rubbery. It was pretty good, but I would prefer regular mussels over conch any day of the week.
Bubble tea is a wildly popular beverage all over Taiwan where it was invented. Saints Alp happens to have the best one I have sampled so far in Chinatown. The combination of milk and green tea with tapioca pebbles gives it a rich earthiness with a savory after-taste. If you haven’t tried one of these yet, give it a try. It’s very different from a smoothie, and much tastier.