Valencia Eats: Casa Tafu, Taiwanese in da House!
Casa Tafu, perhaps Valencia's only Taiwanese restaurant, is also Valencia's best place for Asian food, and one of the best for an affordable meal of any cuisine. It's a place I can return to again and again.
And thank goodness for that, because once my friends decide they like a place, they want to go SO OFTEN. For a while it was the old standby Bar Frenazo (oddly in Chinese it is 温州面馆, translating as Wenzhou Noodle House), very popular with Spanish people (an old review here). It's pretty good, but sometimes my friends wanted to go not once but TWICE a week. That got a bit tiresome. And then there was that "Thai" place, one of those places run by Chinese people where you first choose the vegetables, meat, and then one of the sickeningly salty, sweet gloppy sauce for them to stir fry with. I never liked that place, so even once was too much for me, yet somehow we ended up there a lot.
This all goes back to my hypothesis that when Valencia people eat out, they rarely choose Spanish or Valencian food, instead preferring hamburgers or Asian food (something I touched on in this post).
So back to Casa Tafu, what makes it so great?
It starts with the food, of course. They specialize in Taiwanese braised pork lurou fan 滷肉飯, something they put right in their Chinese name, 大福滷肉飯. It's minced pork belly (and here their mince is quite large), braised until meltingly soft in soy, wine, and spices. Paired with white rice and some spoonfuls of the braising sauce, it's the definition of comfort sauce.
What's even better is that they serve the pork and rice in a "bento," meaning that they also include a wonderful, diversity of vegetables to make a complete meal on one plate.
This is their Lurou fan bento (魯肉飯便當, Bento de casa (luróu, huevo guisado, verduras)), which includes that lurou fan pork and rice, a hard-boiled egg cooked in that same sauce, and on this day, sides of pressed tofu strips, broccoli, shredded potatoes, snow peas, and cabbage. And by the way, this all costs just 6€, and this super value is another aspect of what makes Casa Tafu so excellent. (In fact, if the were to increase their prices by 50 cents or 1€, I think it would still be an excellent value).
Another meat that's probably braised in the same liquid is their chicken drumstick (滷雞腿便當, Bento de muslo de pollo). The meat gets tender, falling apart at the bone, and is a great partner with the rice. On this day, the vegetable sides included an eggplant (my Spanish friends rave about the eggplant), zucchini, and cauliflower, along with the tofu and cabbage which make another appearance.
Here is their fried chicken strips bento (香酥雞塊便當, Bento de pechuga estilo taiwanés (frito)). The quality of fried meat here is just excellent. The batter is light and delicate, with not a trace of oiliness. The meat remains moist, and it's all covered in an addictive pepper blend, probably a combination of salt, black pepper, and white pepper. The fried chicken strips can also be ordered a la carte, which is a nice option if you want something to share with a group.
That same frying technique also does wonders with pork loin (炸豬排, lomo estilo taiwanés (frito)), especially since they put a bit of that luroufan sauce on them. This I ordered as a "pork two ways" bento, with both the fried pork and the luroufan in one. I haven't seen it on the Spanish menu, but in Chinese it is 雙味豬排便當.
Another standout at Casa Tafu is their dumplings (水餃, empanadillas). They make and roll their own dumpling skins! And the fillings are always juicy and generous. They make three kinds, pork and leek, pork and cabbage, and vegetarian, but because of the labor intensiveness of making the dumplings from scratch, they often only have one available at a time, or sometimes none at all. I've tried all three dumplings, and all of them rank as the best in Valencia, but my favorite would have to be the pork and leek.
You can also order this in soup (湯餃), which is perfect for the colder days.
And I love that you can also order them frozen to make at home (冷凍手工水餃外帶): 22 for 9€. Here I pan fried my pork and cabbage dumplings to make potstickers. I think the dough is perhaps a bit better for boiling, the way they make in the restaurant, because the thickness of the dough made the bottoms a bit too crunchy.
Before Fallas this year, they told me that they were considering discontinuing their dumplings. This made me so sad! They told me it was just super time consuming since they make it all from scratch, and it's a menu item which all of the other Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood also made. I told them, "But yours are the best!" I'm glad to say that I still see it on their menu a couple months after Fallas, and I sincerely hope the dumplings stay.
Besides the luroufan and the fried chicken and pork, which I kind of consider to be their signature items, they also make a bunch of other homestyle dishes.
I tried their kung pao chicken once, (宮保雞丁, Pollo con verduras estilo gongbao (con arroz)), and it was decent - a bit saucy and missing the peanuts, for me.
I saw a ton of people ordering the shacha beef, 沙茶牛肉, which you can order either as fried rice (沙茶牛肉蛋炒飯, Arroz frito con ternera y salsa sha-cha), or on top of rice in a bento. Shacha sauce is a slightly spicy sauce made with dried seafood, and quite typical of Taiwan and the regions of China across the Straits. I ordered it as fried rice, and it was enjoyable, but not as strongly flavored as I expected.
A better choice, for me, is their red-braised beef, hongshao niurou (紅燒牛肉, Ternera guisada) which comes in a bento. The beef was so tender, and the sauce was savory with a hint of spiciness, so delicious that I could have drunk it as a soup.
Maybe my favorite of the dishes outside of the luroufan and fried chicken and pork, is the stir-fried strips of pressed bean curd and pork (豆干炒肉絲, Tofu curado salteado con lomo). Also a bit spicy, these had just the right amount of sauce to bring together the different textures of firm tofu, toothsome pork, and crisp vegetables. I remember I had ordered this very dish at one or two other Chinese restaurants nearby, and the pork and tofu would be crudely cut in wide strips, and all would be sitting in a puddle of one-dimensional sauce.
Besides the amazing food, another reason why I love Casa Tafu is that they provide water for free. I know that doesn't sound revolutionary if you come from the US or Northern Europe, or even Madrid where you can get tap water for free. But in Valencia, where the tap water is unpalatable, people are accustomed to buying bottled water. I even went to a restaurant where filtered tap water wasn't free. And that invariably raises the cost of the meal. At Casa Tafu, they have large bottles of Aquarel brand water that you can help yourself to. Not only is it economical for the patrons, to me it's just the decent thing to do.
In addition to the complimentary water, they also offer homemade iced tea, lemon iced tea, hot and iced milk tea, and coffee. I tried the lemon iced tea, and it was delicious - strongly brewed tea mixed with fresh lemon juice. Plus, you can customize your sugar level! I chose 50% sugar, to get more of the tea and lemon flavor come through. There is such a dearth of iced tea options in Spain besides canned Nestea; Casa Tafu really steps up to the plate here.
The last, but certainly not the least, aspect that sets Casa Tafu apart, is the wonderful service by the two ladies who run the place. There's the Taiwanese lady who can be found in the kitchen, but also runs around helping with the cash register and cleaning and serving! She told me that her family immigrated from Taiwan many years ago (maybe 20?). And then there's her friend, originally from Shanghai, who has the main waitressing duties. Both are always smiling and laughing, giving a warm welcome like they are genuinely happy to see you.
These ladies set the standard for excellent food and service. They opened their doors in the spring of 2017, taking over the space of the Peruvian restaurant Jofemar next to the Valencia Nord train station. It's not a big, and I've seen them turn away people because it fills to capacity with hungry Chinese and Taiwanese people. Sometimes when I visit places like Milan Chinatown and get jealous that they have things like taro balls and roujiamo, I remind myself that we have places like Casa Tafu in Valencia.
Carrer de Julio Antonio, 26