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Exploring Taipei's halal tourist sites

Wening Gitomartoyo
Wening Gitomartoyo

The Jakarta Post

Taipei, Taiwan  /  Wed, August 1, 2018  /  06:47 pm
Exploring Taipei's halal tourist sites

The entry point to Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. (JP/Wening Gitomartoyo)

A group of journalists, including those from The Jakarta Post, was invited by the Taipei City government and Taipei's EVA Air to learn about the Taiwanese capital's flourishing halal tourist industry. Here is the report.

After arriving late at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in mid July, we found that traffic was mostly forgiving during our drive to a hotel in the Taipei city center. After a 40-minute drive past toll road lights, apartments and skyscrapers, we arrived to find a seemingly old-fashioned revolving entrance door at the Palais de Chine hotel in Datong district.

Little did we know that we would be greeted by a life-sized horse statue right in the middle of the lobby, made all the more grand with the plush dark red curtains that hung from the ceiling.

With the New Southbound Policy, Taiwan looks to boost relations with and attract more visitors from 16 South Asian and Southeast Asian countries as well as Australia and New Zealand. 

Catering to tourists from Muslim-majority countries such as Indonesia, the Taipei City government has ensured that the country’s capital is a Muslim-friendly destination. Below is a halal-friendly guide for travelers looking to explore the city:

Read also: The beauty of Taiwan ecotourism

What to see

The iconic and popular Taipei 101 boasts the fastest elevator in the world, reaching a top speed of 1,010 meters per minute, while the majestic Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall—built in 1972 as a tribute to the founder of the Republic of China—offers a look into Sun’s achievements during and after the fall of the Qing Dynasty. The vast park is a sight to behold, with an abundance of flowers that surround the hall and a tranquil lake where reflections of the Taipei 101 building can be seen on its surface.

Taipei Grand Mosque

The city’s mosque, built in 1947, is the largest in Taiwan. It has become a center of worship for the Muslim community in Taipei. According to one of its caretakers, Indonesian migrant workers flock to the mosque for Idul Fitri prayers. 

Taiwan Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in Taiwan.Taiwan Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in Taiwan. (JP/Wening Gitomartoyo)

The mosque was designed by renowned Taiwanese architect Yang Cho-cheng, who is known for designing Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and other buildings with Chinese-style architecture. The mosque has massive domes, prayer rooms on the first and second floors and minarets that stand tall atop its roof.

Lin An Tai Historical House and Museum

Tradesman Lin, Chin-Neng built a house for his family on what is now known as Siwei Road in Taipei. The main building was completed in 1785, while side buildings followed in 1823. As a result of a road expansion, in 1978, the house was moved and carefully reconstructed on Binjiang Street. In 2000, it was opened to the public. It is one of the oldest houses in Taipei.  

The entrance to the main hall of the Lin An Tai House and Historical Museum.The entrance to the main hall of the Lin An Tai House and Historical Museum. (JP/Wening Gitomartoyo)

The house is full of southern Fujian-style architecture that incorporates courtyards, wood and gardens to emphasize nature. It was also built with Chinese philosophy in mind, as every nook and cranny of the house adheres to Feng Shui and Taoism. For instance, a square field in front of the main hall resembles ancient Chinese coins with square holes in the middle. Its circles and squares are said to balance each other out. 

Walls at the Lin An Tai House and Historical Museum.Walls at the Lin An Tai House and Historical Museum. (JP/Wening Gitomartoyo)

Also, take time when looking at the house's beautiful decorative carvings, structure and walls, as they are shaped in such a way that they appear as paintings to passersby.

Songshan Cultural and Creative Park

A former tobacco factory that ceased operations in 1998 was transformed by the government into one of Taipei’s largest creative art spaces. In the past, the vast complex included facilities such as a nursery, dormitories and a hospital. After renovations in 2011, the site added a large public park and halls that host diverse cultural and creative exhibitions. 

A former tobacco factory (pictured) has been preserved and is now a hub of creative and cultural activities.A former tobacco factory (pictured) has been preserved and is now a hub of creative and cultural activities. (JP/Wening Gitomartoyo)

In another building, the four-story Eslite Spectrum Songyan Store, you can find modern artists that focus on quality craftmanship, offering goods that range from soap, clothing and footwear to food and custom-made jewelry. Several sellers hold small workshops on making goods such as wooden toys and leather accessories. 

Sellers at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park.Sellers at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. (JP/Wening Gitomartoyo)

The venue also houses a restaurant, the Baroque Garden, an ecology pond, the Taiwan Design Museum, warehouses that function as exhibition halls and a beautiful bookstore located on the former site of a nursery.

A book store at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park.A book store at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. (JP/Wening Gitomartoyo)

Street markets 

One of the most popular markets in the city is Raohe Night Market, accessible from TRA Songshan Station. Comprising two very long lanes, it gives you a good taste of what street markets in Taipei are all about. Endless rows of food are on display, including the popular stinky tofu, grilled scallops, fried egg rolls and manjoo (custard cream cakes). It gets very crowded on weekends, so prepare to walk slowly and take in the surrounding aromas.

Another market in Dadaocheng give you a glimpse into Taipei's past, with Baroque architecture of old shophouses, tea houses, fabric stores and red-brick western houses. Dominated by sellers of dried food, the area is also home to the Yongle traditional market and Xiahai City God Temple. 

Streets in Dadaocheng are often lively.Streets in Dadaocheng are often lively. (JP/Wening Gitomartoyo)

Read also: Michelin guide to launch in Taipei

What to eat

Taiwan as a whole is famous for its delicacies, ranging from bite-sized fried chicken, mochi and xiao long bao (steamed dumplings) to bubble tea. Taipei is no different, offering an endless stream of culinary delights at its lavish restaurants and on its vibrant streets.

Nowadays, one can find plenty of food and beverage joints registered as Muslim-friendly premises, with halal certificates on display.

Yongkang Street

If you are into serious desserts, head to the bustling Yongkang Street for the CNN-recommended dessert store Smoothie House. Their mango snowflake ice, containing shaved ice, mango chunks, panna cotta and mango sorbet, comes in a large portion that can be shared among two or three people. A new dish on the menu is Heart of the Ocean, which is similar to the mango snowflake ice but comes with tapioca pearls and brown sugar. 

The mango snowflake ice dessert at Smoothie House.The mango snowflake ice dessert at Smoothie House. (JP/Wening Gitomartoyo)

On the street, you will also find the first Din Tai Fung, named a top 10 restaurant in the world by The New York Times in 1993. In 2009, its Hong Kong branch was awarded one Michelin star. Not far from Din Tai Fung, Sunmerry bakery offers delectable Asian pastries and desserts. Highlights include nougat crackers with green onion and salted egg yolk nougat biscuits.

Chang’s Beef Noodle Shop

Where: No. 21, Yanping Sout Road, Zhongzheng district

In this humble eatery, a hearty bowl of tender beef meat and tendons with slightly chewy noodles in a rich, dark broth is perfect for any time of the day. It is an intoxicating combination of savory and mildly sweet, with springs onions giving it a freshness. 

Beef noodles at Chang's Beef Noodle Shop.Beef noodles at Chang's Beef Noodle Shop. (JP/Wening Gitomartoyo)

Side dishes include beef gyoza, spring onion pancakes and dumplings.

Yunus Halal Restaurant

Where: No. 36 Beining Road, Songshan District

You can find a wide variety of sumptuous Thai food in this family restaurant. With tom yum soup, steamed seabass, spicy fried chicken, Thai basil beef, Chinese cabbage stir fry and fish curry, it is the right place to dine and unwind. The restaurant is Wi-Fi enabled. 

Steamed seabass at Yunus Halal Restaurant.Steamed seabass at Yunus Halal Restaurant. (JP/Wening Gitomartoyo)

Read also: Finding little wonders in Taiwan

Where to stay

Providing halal cuisine, the following hotels each have their own trademark dishes.

Palais de Chine 

Where: No. 3, Section 1, Chengde Road

The luxury boutique hotel boasts the only restaurant with three Michelin stars in Taipei, Le Palais. It is said that the restaurant is always fully booked, so be sure to make a reservation at least two to three weeks in advance. 

A room at Palais de Chine hotel.A room at Palais de Chine hotel. (JP/Wening Gitomartoyo)

Decorated with a neo-classical European design, guest rooms are equipped with state-of-the-art facilities. There are six types of rooms, with prices starting at US$177. The hotel is in close proximity to Taipei Main Station, shopping malls and the Ximending and Shilin night markets.

amba Songshan 

Where: No. 8 Section 7, Civic Boulevard, Nangang District

The amba Songshan is relatively new and offers panoramic views of Taipei 101 and the Keelung River from its contemporary rooms. It is a short walk to Raohe Night Market and Wufenpu Shopping District, as well as Songshan MRT station. 

Room amenities include a wireless Bluetooth speaker, high-speed Wi-Fi and universal power outlets. The hotel is willing to go the extra mile to make one's stay more comfortable, as it provides a fitness ball, yoga mat or PlayStation upon request. Prices start at $111.

A loft king room with a view of a river at amba Songshan hotel.A loft king room with a view of a river at amba Songshan hotel. (amba hotel/-)

The hotel is also eco-friendly, providing bath amenities produced by socially responsible Taiwanese brand Two Acres. Eco-friendly hand-woven giant bamboo lanterns are found throughout the premises.

Atami Hotel 

Where: No. 258, Guangming Road, Beitou District

Located close to Xinbeitou MRT station, Atami Hotel is the place to go to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Located in Beitou district, the northernmost district in the city of Taipei, the hotel is famous for its hot springs. Just outside of it, you can hear water trickling down rocks of the natural hot springs.

Hot springs can be found at Atami Hotel.Hot springs can be found at Atami Hotel. (JP/Wening Gitomartoyo)

Certain rooms come with a private hot spring bath, while the public hot spring can be enjoyed by guests, with separate pools for men and women. Standard rooms are offered at $61 per night.

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