The seven comfortable booths at Jen's Chinese Restaurant in Gaithersburg are a prime spot for an authentic Taiwanese breakfast. On a recent Saturday morning every booth is occupied. Kids play in the aisle. Their parents read the Chinese-language World Journal newspaper until orders of start-the-day soups, Taiwan-style pancakes and pastries arrive.
The owners are chef Joe Lai and his wife, Su. The Lais sold their popular Joe's Noodles on Rockville Pike and opened Jen's three years ago. Jen, or Jennifer, is their 15-year-old daughter.
"[Customers] come from all over -- Potomac, Rockville -- because most restaurants don't make this food. It's too much trouble," says Su Lai.
She explains that the first 14 entries on the English version of the dim sum menu are typical Taiwanese breakfast fare. A Chinese edition of the menu offers 25 selections. "That's because American people, they won't eat the other things, like the squid soup," says Su Lai. Prices on both menus range from $1 for a bowl of warm and sweet peanut broth to $3.95 for three handmade yellow leek dumplings.
The most popular items include the slightly chewy, tube-shaped, doughnut-like jumbo fried noodle, which is best folded inside a mild-tasting sesame pancake. She recommends the moon cake -- a tall, airy wedge of egg bread. The crisp, fried turnip cake could be the Taiwanese version of French toast. Crystal ball -- a gelatinous, open-faced dumpling pocket filled with five-spice-flavored beef -- also has its fans.
Says Su Lai: "In Taiwan, everyone loves it. Put the crystal ball in a little bag. You can eat it while you ride your bike to school in the morning."
-- Walter Nicholls
Jen's Chinese Restaurant, Quince Orchard Plaza, 608 Quince Orchard Rd., Gaithersburg; call 301-977-0057. Taiwanese breakfast is available on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Regular hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).