including a Miki location on South University, both new and old Asian eateries must find ways to stand out in the crowded field. I recently checked out two of these specialty niches--Taiwanese snacks at Asian Legend and the new pho specials at the old China Gate (which we'll post at a later date).
The two-year-old Asian Legend on William is a long, narrow room. A stretch of mirrors and bright yellow paint don't quite counteract the closeness of the walls. The soundtrack is heavily orchestrated, hopelessly upbeat Chinese pop. At first glance the menu, with its long list of heavily sauced but well-priced dishes, looks an awful lot like most other Chinese places in town. What makes this place stand out is its focus on an uncommon specialty: Taiwanese snacks.
This sounded intriguing, but, never having been to Taiwan, I needed to get a better understanding of what I was getting into. I called the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Chicago and spoke with Charles Lee, head of the press division.
Leo explained that as an island in a strategic geographical position, Taiwan has come under the influence of many cultures beyond its indigenous ones. Japan, Korea, Thailand, and the West have influenced diet and cooking styles. But, according to Lee, mainland China has had the greatest influence: "We share the same food history on both sides of the strait." Along with foods from coastal Fujian province, Pekingese, Sichuanese, Hunanese, and Cantonese styles all show up in Taiwan. And snacking is practically a high art.