Up next: Michelin guide to Taiwan's street food

TAIPEI • From streetside stalls dishing out bowls of braised pork rice to upscale eateries in quiet alleyways, Michelin inspectors are scouring the Taiwanese capital selecting restaurants for its first such guide due in the first quarter of next year.

Best-known for its vibrant night markets and fresh ingredients, Michelin said Taipei's street food could well make the grade alongside higher-end eateries, as it has in the Hong Kong and Singapore editions.

"You don't need to be in a wonderful place to have extreme quality of ingredients and a real personality of the chef," Michelin spokesman Bruno de Feraudy said.

Traditionally seen as a posh gourmet compass, budget eats are increasingly recognised by Michelin and have used the prestigious award to build big businesses.

Hong Kong's Tim Ho Wan went from hole-in-the-wall to successful chain while a Singapore hawker awarded a Michelin star last year has grown his soya sauce chicken stall into a franchise.

Taiwanese foodies are speculating that Jinfeng - a no-frills corner joint serving NT$30 (S$1.35) bowls of rice topped with braised minced fatty pork - could make the cut.

But shop manager Wu Su-yan said she is indifferent and the long queues of tourists and locals is confirmation enough. "We don't need it to be written on a piece of paper to know our lu rou fan is good."

Shin Yeh's five branches in Taipei are packed most nights and the 40-year-old institution hopes Michelin will spotlight the types of traditional dishes it serves.

Shin Yeh's brand director Cybie Fang believes the new guide might help rebrand Taiwanese cuisine for young domestic consumers, some of whom see the restaurant chain's menu as "too passe".

But others worry about the burden winning the stars could bring.

"I will be quite ecstatic for a moment, but there will be enormous pressure for me," said Mr Tony Wang, whose restaurant Niu Ba Ba (Beef Father) serves bowls of Taiwanese staple beef noodles for an eye-watering NT$10,000.

It also offers cheaper noodles starting at NT$500, but still manages to sell three of the expensive bowls daily on average.

Mr Wang said the price reflects the ingredients used. He said he spent NT$60 million and years researching different kinds of beef.

The Michelin guides, first published in France more than a century ago to promote automobile travel, made their first foray into Asia with a Tokyo edition in 2007.

Taiwan's most famous chef Andre Chiang was awarded two Michelin stars for his Singapore restaurant Andre. However, he recently announced he would close it in February and return the accolade to focus on his high-end Taipei restaurant Raw, which serves artistic versions of Taiwanese classics.

A set dinner there costs NT$1,850. Chiang does not want Raw listed in the new Michelin guide, characterising it instead as a training ground for young chefs.

Several French restaurateurs in the past have relinquished the distinction due to the high pressure of maintaining exacting standards.

But Mr de Feraudy said the guide will not exclude a restaurant just because a chef requests it. "If there is something exceptional (consumers) could enjoy, we should tell them," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2017, with the headline 'Up next: Michelin guide to Taiwan's street food'. Print Edition | Subscribe