Declaring any single eatery The best restaurant in Taiwan is ridiculous. (Though kudos to CNN.COM for doing their level best with this article about Chef André Chiang RAW. Taiwan has too many excellent restaurants to make any such proclamation a subjective crapshoot at best.
Naming Taiwan’s shittiest restaurant isn’t a problem.
Modern Toilet is a Taipei institution. It’s been featured on CNN, the Travel Channel and a thousand blogs and magazine articles written by writers in search of the bizarre. I’ve visited the place twice myself, once for Lonely Planet, and another time on a date. Not sure what I was thinking there.
I wasn’t impressed with the place either time.
When Pablo, a Spanish writer currently living in LA who I’d offered to act as guide on his last night in Taipei, tells me he had yet to fully complete his research for an article he’d been assigned on Taiwan’s weird theme eateries, I shudder. He’s already been to the Hello Kitty Cafe, and the only place I know of that can top that restaurant’s merely moderate awfulness is Modern Toilet.
Getting off the MRT at Ximending, I’m surprised to find out that Pablo hasn’t visited the neighborhood yet. Though my instinct as a tour guide is to start with a historical introduction, self preservation leads me to skip culture and try to sell Pablo on all the perfectly good dinner options we’d be missing out on should we actually go to Modern Toilet.
Blowtorch-cooked beef cubes…stellar fried chicken…Japanese restaurants dating back to the fifties.
But Pablo is a man on a mission, and having been on similar missions myself, I have to respect it.
Soon enough, past an alley consisting of tattoo shops and several perfectly acceptable dining choices we find ourselves standing beneath the ten-foot high toilet embedded in the front of Modern Toilet Restaurant.
Passing the colorful interior entrance toilet (placed there perhaps to dissuade any customers who might not be fully committed to the toilet restaurant experience), Pablo and I climb the stairs and are hustled to our seats, brightly colored plastic toilets (with thankfully closed lids) set on either side of a glass table. Sitting beneath the glass are two white porcelain bowls, each with its own neatly formed spiral of fake plastic shit.
A waitress hands us each a menu filled with mostly awful sounding food items, and I note with slight relief that Modern Toilet has added a few new dishes since my last visit, when a brown-sauce chicken curry served in a Keebler elf sized toilet bowl proved nigh-inedible.
Scanning the menu, Pablo looks as if he’s having second thoughts about the experience.
“You can take a few pictures and leave without ordering,” I say hopefully. “They’re used to that here.”
“No, I need to have a full meal. It’s my job.”
Of course I agree. After all, we are professional journalists.
Pablo orders spaghetti with meat sauce, and I settle on an odious-sounding Modern Toilet Chicken Cheese Steak.
First to arrive are the beverages, lukewarm green tea. Except for being served in urinal shaped mugs, they are unremarkable.
Next is the soup course. The bland, uninspired corn chowder clearly born of a powdered mix will turn out to be the highlight of both of our meals.
Entrees arrive before we’ve even finished with our soup.
“The speed at which the meals arrive is sure sign they are not freshly prepared,” notes Pablo, surveying a plate of limp noodles covered in a chunky beige sauce. A spiral poo-lump of mashed potato on which the same sauce is drizzled sits on one side of the plate. On the other side lays limply an iceberg lettuce leaf and three cherry tomatoes.
“Modern Toilet is efficient,” I reply. “What you put into your mouth is largely indistinguishable from what will come out the other end.”
I contemplate my own meal, chunks of light brown meat-like product floating in a pool of bright orange nacho sauce on a hoagie roll. My plate is garnished with the same “salad” and “spiral potato lump” (minus the beige sauce).
Pablo records a segment in Spanish for his followers. I recognize a few words: baño, urinario, mierda…toilet, urinal, shit.
I take out my phone and do the same in English. A meal this bad is worth sharing.
Pablo and I watch other diners as we attempt to pick out the less-unpalatable portions of our respective meals. While none are exactly tucking in, most seem to be having a memorable time.
Pablo has managed to finish perhaps 25% of his spaghetti, and there is a small dent in his beige slathered potato spiral. I am contemplating what sort of bowel obstruction my own consumption of roughly the same percentage of my Modern Toilet Chicken Cheese Steak will cause when our waitress returns unbidden.
“Are you ready for your ice cream?”
Not particularly, I think, but if it’ll get this plate away from me any faster I’ll modify my schedule.
Pablo and I smile and nod. “Satisfied customers” takes on a different meaning at Modern Toilet. The waitress whisks our plates away, clearly used to disposing (at least I assume they’re disposed) barely touched meals.
The ice cream – chocolate swirls, naturally, served in dishes shaped like traditional squat toilets – is about as acceptable as the soup. We each eat about half of it before getting up to pay the bill.
“It is funny,” Pablo says as we walk into the street. “The food is awful, but the restaurant is quite famous.”
“The restaurant is famous because the food is awful,” I reply.
And therein lies the secret to Modern Toilet’s success. From decor to food, the restaurant isn’t merely bad, but conspicuously, purposefully awful.
An unapologetic celebration of the absolutely terrible, Modern Toilet is to dining what John Waters is to cinema.
May Modern Toilet’s owners grow astoundingly wealthy.
May I never eat there again!
Special thanks to Pablo Ortega-Mateos – visit him online at Condé Nast Traveler.
Looking for an awful meal? Find a Modern Toilet branch through their website.
Looking for a sublime and educational culinary experience? Join MyTaiwanTour’s Taipei Culinary Experience Tour.
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