Years ago on an episode of the TV show Frasier, the father was offered Chinese leftovers; he made a face and asked “who has Chinese food for breakfast?” The answer came back “about a billion Chinese people”.
I remember that line particularly because so many times, I’ve asked friends out to dinner and heard “can we try something different, we just had Chinese food yesterday”. The answer is always “of course”, but I quietly fight the urge to explain that within “Chinese food” there can be a world of difference.
I’ve been lucky to have tried authentic; Hunan, Shanghai style, Cantonese standards, Dim Sum, and Beijing styles and found that each experience could be distinct, but in the interest of harmony, we opt for Japanese.
To the above list, we can add a good representative of Taiwanese cuisine here in Austin.
Coco’s Café in north Austin was opened in 2000 by second generation restaurateur Joyce Yang. Her parents, I-Chien and Tammy Yang were the owners of Hunan Palace on north Burnet Road many years ago. Joyce started her experience at her parent’s restaurant and developed a good sense of what kept customers coming back.
Though my first experience with Coco’s Café was many years ago, I’ve only recently begun to appreciate that in the details, Taiwanese food can be different from its mainland cousins.
One unique and popular appetizer at Coco’s is the Green Onion pie. It is a kind of thin fried flat bread with chopped green onion in the batter. It is served with a great spicy, garlicky soy sauce. The flavor is intense and I’m beginning to suspect, habit forming.
Inspired by southern Chinese styles like Fujian, Taiwanese dishes can be recognized by their use of rich stocks. These tend to be incorporated into a wide variety of thin and thick soups. At Coco’s, one such soup is the popular Spicy Beef Soup.
Made with a generous amount of fresh made noodles, this soup contains slow cooked beef, onions, baby bok choi , and is topped with traditional Taiwanese preserved (sweet) sour pickles. With a good amount of heat from various peppers and oils, this soup will make you sweat in the summer and keep you warm in the winter. I took a friend recently who is a big fan of spicy food and he quickly ate his way to the bottom of the bowl in sweaty happiness.
A large portion of Coco’s business is in teas, juices, smoothies and shaved ices. Coco’s has nearly one hundred varieties on their menu, with virtually hundreds of combinations. A uniquely Taiwanese touch is the addition of “pearls”, large beads of tapioca that can be added to any of the teas, milk teas, juices or smoothies. In the 1990’s Joyce and her family were the first to sell pearl or Boba teas in Austin.
Personal favorites are the lychee, cocoanut, and almond milk drinks, but from listening to the orders over the counter, Taro, strawberry, banana and mocha are pretty popular.
It is worth noting that the Café on Research is a ‘cash only’ establishment.
Coco’s has two locations in Austin; one near the U.T. Campus and one on Research Boulevard.
Check one out the next time you want to try something other than the usual “Chinese food”.
By Richard Arebalo
Austin Times Staff