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Easy, one-stop shopping for Chinese New Year festivities

Words and translated by Diva Yang
Photos by Andy Lin

DiHua Street, in Taipei's DaTong District, is the city's most famous shopping hub when it comes to lunar new year goodies. Every year just weeks before the Chinese New Year, tens of thousands of shoppers crowd this street. This year, the shopping season begins on January 9 and lasts 17 days.

While many people may feel a bit discouraged by media reports about chaotic crowds in such districts, we thankfully live in an era of easy convenience. This means that besides the legendary DiHua Street there are definitely places that can provide relaxing and comfortable, yet speedy, shopping. The goal is to search for somewhere that has it all--a one-stop shop. After some thorough investigation, Taiwan Fun came up with two modern shopping centers that not only offer a new form of shopping extragavance, but also will help you make smart use of your pre-Chinese New Year purchasing excursions and time.






City'super: Providing exceptional food & drink options
Chinese New Year's eve is as important to Chinese people as Christmas is to Americans, and usually sees an annual family reunion of relatives from near and far over a big dinner. I usually go to my grandparents' house for this dinner. My father has 13 siblings and each has a family of their own, meaning that two large, round tables are needed to seat the adults alone. For a decade or two, when I couldn't come return to Taiwan for the holiday, my parents would still always save me a seat with food in my bowl as if I was home.

Preparation of this most important annual dinner usually falls on housewives. It takes a lot of time, effort and planning, and some start shopping as early as two weeks in advance. Three days before Chinese New Year's Eve, they often are completely swamped, and wishing they could have started preparations even earlier. These days, when most women work nine to five and already have hectic schedules, there simply doesn't seem to be enough time.

City'super first opened in Taiwan in December, 2004 and now has two branches. The supermarket chain is designed as a one-stop shopping center and attracts higher-end consumers who appreciate the finer things in life. Before you start head to City'super for your Chinese New Year dinner shopping, it's best to have a game plan, so that you'll find everything you need within minutes.

First, consider hot pot as one of the most convenient Chinese New Year's eve dinner options. According to tradition, this reunion dinner should go on as long as possible and hot pot is very fitting because you only cook small amount each time. Each winter, City'super always has designated sections selling recommended hot pot ingredients. For soup stock there are five or six different flavors to choose from and, if you're more health-conscious, you can use fresh milk or soy bean milk as a substitute for regular soup stock. Other ingredients include a variety of fresh mushrooms, meatballs, seafood, vegetables and meat. There are also certain types of must-eat food for good luck. Fish balls and meatballs symbolize reunions, while soy bean curds represent promotions at work. Chicken points to a family of your own in the near future and for wealth you should eat won-tons because they are shaped like the gold pieces used as currency in ancient China.

City'super also has a full-service butchery and customers can order cuts to their liking, making it great for shoppers who have difficulty slicing meat at home. Whether you want short ribs, ribeye or tenderloin for the hotpot, your wish is their command.

city'super city'super

On Chinese New Year eve, the purpose of an all-night dinner is to stay up past midnight, a thousand-year-old tradition meant to bring longevity to a family's elderly members. Modern Chinese stay up all night to play mahjong, poker or dice, and late-night snacks are essential to making it through the night. City'super has a large section of exclusively imported Japanese candies and snacks. If you're a chocolate lover, there is an entire aisle dedicated to chocolates from around the world, including France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Venezuela, Australia, Japan and Russia. If you're heading home for the holiday, gifts are also a must. For your parents, healthy fruit is always popular and you can find both top-quality, locally-grown and high-end, imported fruit here.

Occasions like reunions may call for a few drinks, and City'super provides an extensive selection of fine liquor. The sales staff can provide professional advice and tasting is also available on site. For those, particularly the elderly, who appreciate sake, the supermarket has many exclusive brands to choose from. Port is another excellent after-dinner drink because it tastes like a sweet dessert. Portos Rozes reserve red bottle (NT$840) and Portos Rozes gold bottle 10 years (NT$1,680) both are popular gifts.

If you happen to invite Westerners to your house for Chinese New Year's eve dinner, cheese and cold cuts are great appetizers. You can go to Sogo Department Store's FuXin branch, where you'll find the largest selection of cheese and cold cuts in Taiwan, including 700 varieties of cheese alone! Best yet, sampling is provided to help you decide what to buy. Roasted German pig knuckles (NT$390 each) can be served cold or warm (3 minutes in microwave) and makes a great late-night snack, too.

Shinkong Mitsukoshi XinYi New Life Square A11





Shinkong Mitsukoshi XinYi New Life Square A11: Legendary pastry shops on one floor
This year's nine-day Chinese New Year holiday will last from January 24 to February 1. In recent years, many headed overseas for such a long holiday. However, the current economic crisis has taken a toll on the travel mood, and a good number of folks have decided to stay put for the lunar new year. That means you'll need to stock up on food for nine consecutive days of possibly entertaining guests at home, or visiting friends to wish them a happy new year, when you definitely don't want to show up empty-handed.

Take a walk around the B2 level Shinkong Mitsukoshi XinYi New Life Square A11 and not only will you discover many traditional pastry shops from all over Taiwan, but also plenty of snacks that you haven't enjoyed since childhood. This means you won't need to drive around the island for these tasty childhood memories.

According to Chinese tradition, on the 24th day of the 12th lunar month people must pay their respects to the Kitchen God with sweets so that he will only say good things when he reports back to the Jade Emperor. Thus, the Chinese saying, "Eat sweets and then speak sweetly for a prosperous year."

When it comes to Taiwanese pastries, the first place that comes to mind is Yu-Chen-Chai, established in 1877. Originally from the famous old town of Lukang, Yu-Chen-Chai has been making traditional sweets for the last 131 years. The Rice Senbei (NT$100), squash cake (NT$70), peanut brittle (NT$220), black sesame brittle (NT$220), dry plum candy (NT$150), sugar coated twists (NT$100) and caramelized twists (NT$100) are all crowd pleasers and treats that will conjure up childhood memories of Chinese New Year festivities.

Founded in 1890, Jiu-Zhen-Nan from Kaohsiung specializes in Taiwanese pastries. Sugar coated peanuts (NT$155), plum-flavored sticks (NT$140), sesame peanut brittle (NT$135), jujube walnut cake (NT$220) and assorted flavors of nougat are good omens in Chinese culture. Jiu-Zhen-Nan saleswoman Wu Hui-fen says that these traditional treats are only available during the Chinese New Year; the store mostly sells traditional wedding pastries the rest of the year. A limited-edition gift pack contains a variety of the most popular traditional treats and comes in a bowl shaped like a jewelry box, making it a very fitting, pleasing gift for your supervisors at work or your children's teachers.

Xin-Fu-Zhen started in 1898 and makes one of the top three Hsinchu specialties, together with rice noodles and meatballs. This store's Chu-Chan cake is a savory pastry with the same filling as a sticky bun. Therefore, it's also known as a Hsinchu meat cake. Minced pork steamed cake (NT$85) is a rare pastry and treat after having too many sweets. Tangerines are also a Hsinchu specialty, and Xin-Fu-Zhen makes a tangerine mochi (NT$16/each) plus a gift pack (NT$320/box of 20)--a good present for clients and friends who are planning on soon becoming entrepreneurs.

From Taichung comes the century-old Pao-Chuan pastry shop, famous for suncakes (NT$264/box of 12). It traditional to eat rice cakes for progress in the new year to come, and Pao-Chuan has three available flavors--red bean paste, jujube paste and longan tree fruit. Each comes in a half-kilogram gift pack. You can give this to those who work hard but seem underappreciated at work. The radish is also a good Chinese New Year omen, and you can give Hong Kong-style radish cake to friends who had a rough 2008 and can't wait for a brand-new start.

Min-Yue-Tang is the longest-running Japanese pastry shop in Taiwan. My personal favorite, strawberry red bean paste mochi (NT$45/each), is only available in the winter and makes a great gift for those you admire secretly, or any female who has worked diligently in the last year. Min-Yue-Tang peach pastries symbolize longevity, and anyone over the age of 60 will appreciate such a delicious treat.

I remember my father going to the flower market for tangerine plants, not only as home decorations but also for relatives. Tangerines from Yilan are juicy and sweet. Orange Country, a candied fruits shop, makes tangerine peanut brittle (NT$120), tangerine cake (NT$150) and tangerine concentrated juice (NT$200). This year's top recommended gift pack is tangerine preserved fruit (NT$800) because it is all-natural with no sugar or artificial colors added. It's low in calories, so your sweet enjoyment can be guilt-free.

Too much of a good thing isn't good. After indulging in nonstop eating, you might need some tea to wash away the oil. Hot tea in the winter is always an enjoyable item and Japanese tea specialty shop LUPICIA offers tea from all over the world. Imported from Japan, the momo oolong tea with white peach flavor gift pack (NT$668/regular; NT600/on promotion) comes with tea leaves, tea honey, and a silver serving spoon. If you're not sure what flavor to purchase, you can always ask the sales staff, which has an extensive knowledge in tea and may offer you free tasting to help you find the perfect tea set gift.

All-in-one indoor is the way to go
This year, the Chinese New Year falls exactly one month after Christmas. Some people may already be suffering from holiday-related anxiety, since there is little time left for Chinese New Year preparations, and very busy work schedules do not allow time to shop far in advance. If that's the case, stick to these one-stop-shopping locations to save time and energy. City'super and the B2 level of Shinkong Mitsukoshi XinYi New Life Square A11 are modern, indoor versions of the DiHua shopping district where you'll find everything you need for the holiday, from food and drink to decorations. However, DiHua visits mean fighting through crowds, lugging purchases, keeping an eye on your kids and grabbing free samples. By contrast, Shinkong Mitsukoshi XinYi New Life Square A11 provides complimentary delivery service for purchases over NT$2,000, while City'super offers home delivery to its e-card and e-gold card members. For details, check with the information desk at The Mall and Sogo FuXin store.

Overall, my shopping at these two places was very positive. The sales ladies at all the Taiwanese pastry shops were extremely friendly and extra helpful--warm and generous like neighborhood moms--and offered free samples while chitchatting. Thanks to this experience, I've finally discovered that Chinese New Year shopping can indeed be relaxing and stress-free!


The Mall
203, DunHua South Rd, Sec 2, B1/B2
Hours: 11 am-9:30 pm (open to 10 pm Sat/Sun/national holiday eves)

Sogo FuXing Store

300, ZhongXiao East Rd, Sec 3, B3
Hours: 9 am-9:30 pm (open to 10 pm Sat/Sun/national holiday eves)

Shinkong Mitsukoshi XinYi New Life Square A11, B2F

(02) 8780-1000
11, SongShou Rd
Hours: 11 am-9:30 pm (open to 10 pm national holiday eves)

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