January 03, 2012

Maokong Mountain

Address: Lane 38, Section 3, Zhinan Road, Maokong Mountain (指南路三段38巷)
Pricing: $$

  Taking a trip up the Maokong Gondola, my friends and I were excited to go to the famous Maokong teahouses. At the top of the mountain there are many teahouses and the choices are a little overwhelming. If you follow Zhinan Road, past the initial restaurant outside the MRT station, you'll find two particular teahouses that offer a good view of Taipei. Take the stairs down from the main road and you'll walk into the first teahouse.
   This lovely (and nameless [unless you can read Chinese]) teahouse juts out from the mountain and has a great view of Taipei 101 and the surrounding area. You can sit in the sun or in the shade. We only drank tea here and it was $300 NT for a pot ("water fee" included). There were only two of us and the pot lasted about three hours.

The next teahouse is to the right of the fork and serves a variety of tea-infused food. 

 The group was unanimous in voting this teahouse the aesthetic favorite. The tables and chairs are slabs of stone and the atmosphere feels less Western. However, the taller people in our group found it difficult to sit comfortably in these seats as their legs were too long and they needed to constantly re-adjust themselves. People 5'8" and taller, beware.
 The woman at the teahouse taught us how to wash, steep, and change the tea leaves. After this quick tutorial, she took our food order and left us to our own tea-making devices. The tea was about $300 NT as well but the water fee was not included. It was an extra $20 NT per person.
 We ordered the tea leaf fried rice and tea leaf omelet. The tea leaf rice tasted just like regular fried rice (no one was really surprised), and the tea leaf omelet tasted just like a regular omelet (again, we weren't too shocked). The tea leaves are impossible to taste and don't add anything to the texture of either dish, so the consensus was that the food was overpriced. The omelet was about $200 NT and the fried rice was in a similar such category. Arguably, the principle reason to visit Maokong is to sample the tea and tea-infused food. I think that some restaurants should reconsider the dishes they prepare. Frying tea leaves is probably not the best way to infuse a dish with a tea taste. Tea-infused chocolate, cookies, hard-boiled eggs, etc. is definitely more of the fare we had in mind.
All in all, Maokong was a wonderful experience, but I would just stick to ordering the tea. Depending on who's working that day, you may or may not get someone who speaks English. Both teahouses had menus in Chinese and English, so if worse comes to worse, there's always pointing and grunting like a caveman? When making the trip up to Maokong again, I'll try a different teahouse just to compare quality and price. However, these two teahouses have very good, central locations for pictures.

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