Si Zhi Tang 四知堂 & TUA 灘 Are Taipei’s Shabby Chic Must-Eats

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You can’t even find this sorta gem in Portland, Brooklyn or San Francisco.

Last month, my mother said she was heading to a restaurant with her friends and wondered if I had ever been. “Si Zhi Tang,” she mentioned. Yes, I went there a few years ago and I remembered it well. The menu was written in Chinese calligraphy, the food was gracefully delicious. But the restaurant had a low-key profile, saved for the seen to be unseen. But you know if a group of wealthy middle-aged ladies who lunch are headed somewhere, not only is it a good spot, it is THE spot.

Calvin Chen 陳超文, creator of Si Zhi Tang 四知堂 has several restaurants in Taipei, each exudes a unique customer experience feeding the appetite of an artistic Taipei. Chen named the restaurant after a clinic he frequented during his childhood. Si Zhi Tang is hidden, so discrete that many may miss the main entrance. Though its obscurity seems almost intentional, as if whispering only to those who can appreciate a true vintage hideaway.

Without walk-ins or signage, the Si Zhi Tang’s shell was originally an architect’s private home (who was friends with the famous architect I.M. Pei.) After Chen’s meticulous renovation; from bookshelves in the corner, to old clocks and record players, Si Zhi Tang’s interior design is just as multicultural as the man in charge’s traveling past. The rustic, vintage ambiance wasn’t purposeful. He simply wanted to create a home, it just so happens to result in some sort of an old-school exclusivity.

Chen goes to local markets where he personally selects seasonal produce and ingredients, then execute creatively upon an ever-changing menu. Some may call it “Asian fusion,” but for Chen, it’s about a new way of looking at traditional Taiwanese cuisine. Taiwan itself contains a multicultural history mixing Japanese, Hakka and Chinese influences. Si Zhi Tang is a high-quality version of exactly that.

Imagine, if a local grandmother had a restaurant catered to hipsters who self-label as foodies. Try local dishes including: Clams Steamed with White Beans and Wine, Mountain Bitter Mellon Stir-Fried With Lamb, Steamed Kimchi Stinky Tofu, or Stir-Fried Bird’s-Nest Fern and Water Bamboo. For dessert, the Vanilla Soufflé is a must-have since this will probably be the most “Western fusion” part of the meal. If you’re satiated by State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, then Si Zhi Tang is your euphoria.

For Chen, it’s not about hiring the best chef in the city but more to do with hardwork and innovation. He explains,

Taiwan is full of amazing ingredients that naturally taste good. Unlike Chinese cuisine in the mainland that require more spices and flavors due to harsh climate, the multifaceted Taiwanese produce allows us to be even more creative. I may have brought influences from Spain or Japan into certain dishes, but in the end, they still need to taste authentically Taiwanese.

If you love Si Zhi Tang and are interested for more, Chen’s other restaurant TUA 灘 is another hidden gem. Situated in the luxurious urban area of Taipei, literally in midst of residential alleys, TUA was Chen’s solution for hosting larger international guests, many of whom happen to be jetsetting artists.

From White Pomfret Vermicelli Soup, Fish Skin Tofu, Vegetable Steamed Chicken Broth, to a delicious bowl of traditional Beef Noodle Soup; TUA delivers traditional Taiwanese dishes jam-packed with robust flavors. If Si Zhi Tang is for the introspective thinker, then TUA is for the bubbly artist punctuated with bold colors.

At the end of the day, it’s Chen who goes to the market. He designs the restaurants, welcomes guests, updates the websites, and travels further seeding for fresh ideas. Of course, such personal touch translates to a widespread appeal. He says,

For me, it’s not about being mainstream. But keeping it high-quality, doing it well.

Even if he doesn’t expect walk-ins, the buzz around his exclusive restaurants will keep the curios and culturatis intrigued and most importantly, fully satiated.

Photos: Calvin Chao

Wendy Hung


As the founder of Jetset Times, Wendy is an avid traveler and fluent in five languages. When she's not traveling, Wendy calls Paris and Taipei home. Her favorite countries so far from her travels have been: Bhutan, Iran, and Russia because they were all so different! St. Bart's was pretty amazing too (wink)!

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