Christine Welch and Min-Hsiung Lin have missed the flavors of Taiwan since they moved to Madison a year ago.
Welch, a Ph.D. student in Chinese literature, Lin, her husband of two years and a native of Taiwan, have decided to remedy that with a new restaurant on State Street.
"Taiwanese food in general is not spicy, though some people like to add spicy stuff to it," said Welch. "It's more salty and sweet together, like southern Chinese coastal cuisine."
Welch is from New Mexico and met Lin, who's trained in theatrical lighting design, in Taiwan. Welch was there as a Fulbright scholar and taught English, and Lin had had a restaurant in Taipei with other friends.
Lin developed the concept of Taiwan Little Eats with chef Cheng, a former middle school classmate of his.
The menu will focus on food found at a Taiwanese night market, like gua bao (pork or beef buns), fried chicken and braised pork belly over rice.
"They are hoping to recreate traditional food that is sold in street carts from Tainan in southern Taiwan," Welch said. "It's similar to Chinese but has a lot of Japanese influences as well."
Items on the proposed menu may yet change, but will likely include bento boxes and a mix of "nibbles," "little eats" and "big bites." Among them are a spring onion pancake ($4.75), tempura fish cakes (tian bu la, $5), and a sticky rice cake with marinated pork, pickles, peanuts and a soy-stewed egg ($6.50).
There's a Taiwanese chicken pot pie called coffin toast, filled with hot corn chowder ($6.50), and curried chicken with coconut milk, potatoes, carrots and onion ($7.50).
Welch said the restaurant plans to import boba, or bubble tea, from Taiwan via a source in Chicago. The restaurant plans to be open for lunch and dinner daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., have counter service and offer delivery.
Inside should have seating for 42. And unlike the previous tenant, Mad City Frites, Taiwan Little Eats has no plans to apply for a liquor license.
"They want to make it a hipster Taiwanese feel in there," Welch said.
Welch said both she and Lin are happy to have some familiar tastes in their new home.
"When the chef came from New York, he made me the dishes and I was so happy," Welch said, praising Cheng's braised pork belly with an egg on top. "They use spices that are mimicking a famous night market in Taipei. The taste pops out in your mouth.
"They're trying to get that taste of home, that Taiwanese taste."