Climbing Saint’s Alp 仙跡岩

In beverage, food on 02/08/2009 at 10:13 am

The closest approximation to being in the mode of a modern Taiwanese teenager is by patronizing the various manga-esque ‘teahouses’ that have sprung up in the city. I’m not talking about serious or hip places like the Tea Room at Takashimaya or Moby’s Teany, I’m writing only of Saint’s Alp Teahouse and its clones – bright, noisy, hip-hop blaring technicolor projections of some kid’s idea of what a place to have bubble tea is — Boba for you Californian etymologists.

Bubble tea is a phenomena unto itself. But add an establishment to drink this tea is to underscore in bold the type of person who would drink the beverage and in what setting they would want to drink it. Hong Kong, the mastermind behind the modern chain teahouse, inhabits a parallel hyper-universe where everything looks like, and moves in cartoon motion. Exhibit A: Wong-Kar Wai movies. I first drank bubble tea in high school on a trip to Taiwan to visit the motherland, when Brother and I were out on one of our four hour jaunts with Father, meandering around Tsin Tien, a suburb of Taipei. I remember it was incredible, sweet tea taken to another level, and Father saying, “It’s $3!” That was also the summer I overdosed on tapioca pearls, so now I usually order bubble-less tea.

Before discovering the more authentic Ten Ren’s bubble tea, I used to frequent Saint’s Alp’s for the tea (straight out of a package mix?) and toast with condensed milk. A classic Texan treat is strong white bread, buttered, then covered with a crunchy layer of white sugar. That’s basically what condensed milk on toast is, and it’s something I’ve eaten since I was a kid. At Saint’s Alp, the grammar police ain’t got nothing on the Chinese thick toast, slathered and dripping with the stuff. Chinese bakeries are expert at taking European desserts and putting their own special spin on them. Sponge cakes are bouncier, light as a feather, almost healthy, and bread has this texture like spun sugar, QQ string cheese-like strands, not so healthy.

On a trip to Chicago last year, we stumbled upon the largest Saint’s Alp we’d ever seen, complete with a wall of orange booths instead of lacquered red wood stools, across the street from the food court-esque strip mall that promised a Taiwanese dive opened by a doctor longing for the taste of home (It had recently closed, according to my local Ten Ren’s Tea source). By that time, we were starving, having traversed the non-walkable streets of that Chinatown. During this meal, a whole new world of Saint’s Alp’s menu opened itself to me, like a Chinese commercial with a guy holding the menu bursting with light, anime-style. Ah so! I sampled the minced pork bowl, topped with those crazy yellow pickled daikon, tea egg and bok choy. Even the savory items are loaded with sugar.

I was instantaneously transported to the massive full floor food court in the President Mall in Taipei where I ate many a bowl of snow ice  with simple sugar and condensed milk. The best thing about that mall besides the mind-boggling Taiwanese marché are the mini-rollercoasters and animatronic delights on the rooftop deck. No wonder the FOBs love Saint’s Alp; it’s food and a time warp in one! Our Mexican friend went for mayo-slathered fried shrimp and some satay, also good, but aimed for tourist-folk. Saint’s Alp saved the day. Unfortunately for New York, the menu is not as extensive here, nor is the food prepared as lovingly by the fringe-banged teenagers working the counter.

The honey green tea was so good
I’d live in the store room if I could.
Boba tea isn’t my style
But I’ll be sure to visit once in a while.

The decor is mediocre and so is the service
But tea is so simple neither made me nervous.
The steam, the taste, and even the mug
Made me savor and smile and feel quite snug.

The pot was filled to the brim with tea
And if I had the time I might have drank three.
The variety was quite astounding,
Though the honey green tea is what keeps my heart pounding.

Both hot and cold, iced and blended,
You’ll think into tea heaven you have ascended.
So stop by and relax at good ol’ tea shop
And it’s not expensive, so little money you’ll drop.

– Britton B., a fan

black tea (loose leaf is best)
cardamon pods (this is our twist to give it that chai kick)
tapioca pearls

condensed milk
texas toast Chinese-style

Cook tapioca pearls in boiling water, wait for water to boil again, then turn heat to low and simmer for 20 min, until pearls are just translucent. Turn off heat and keep covered for 15 min. Strain pearls into simple sugar.

Simple sugar: melt sugar in pot on medium until brown and toasty. Add water carefully just to cover and melt into liquid.

Brew tea. Steep to strength you like. Pour into mug. Break 1 or 2 fresh cardamon pods and add to mug. Top with milk. Spoon in tapioca pearls. Refrigerate tea if you want it iced.

Toast slice of bread, the thicker the better. Top with condensed milk.

Bonus Recipe

Mayo (Kewpie, if you have it)
Panko crumbs
Sugar, Salt & Pepper

Shell the shrimp, leaving the tail. Prepare a dredging mix of flour and water. Season with sugar, salt and pepper. Dip the shrimp in cornstarch, then dredge in flour mix, last dust with Panko. Fry up shrimp until golden brown, and tails are pink. Drizzle with Kewpie mayo.

Eat your shrimp with tea and toast. Sigh and get nostalgic.

st. alps

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