Taiwan Shenanigans

Michael Karlo Lim

I KNOW just enough Mandarin to issue the disclaimer that I speak only very little and that I’m very bad at it, too. You can imagine how excited I was to flex that muscle. Taiwan, was nowhere near the top of my travel list but their street food, food market and food scene in general asked for attention.

Taoyuan International Airport

There’s no rest for the wicked especially when they’re maximizing company resources and flying red-eye. Taoyuan International Airport was a welcome sight for the weary with its dramatic louvered span – a contemporary homage to traditional Taiwanese tile roofing – and overall streamlined, functional beauty. A little hiccup at immigration with some e-VISA info input error on my end was quickly remedied by oh-stupid-me’s and smiles. The rest was a black Mercedes Benz E-class Sedan blur to the gorgeously modern Zen, City Inn Hotel.

Shu Cai Bao

Shu Cai Bao

The morning unfolded to a quiet Sunday and Shu Cai Bao’s, fried bun filled with vegetables and tofu, from a streetcorner shop. A train station was conveniently located two blocks away and we were off on the highly-recommended bus-and-train multipass. Five days flew by furiously ticking off to-dos. First order on the Taipei tourist starter pack is Taipei 101.

Muli He Dan Baozi

Muli He Dan Baozi

Oyters in eggs have always made great omelets but deep fried into a bun doubles the delicious fun in the Muli He Dan Baozi at Ningxa Night Market.

Taipei 101

Representative of a pagoda, bamboo, gold ingots or even a stack of takeout boxes, it is a beautiful building and an engineering marvel for its time. The visually underwhelming 660 ton tuned mass damper and the foggy view of the city from the observation deck only made it a rather expensive 37-second (each way) elevator ride at TWD600. A by-appointment only visit to the “secret” and highest Starbucks shop in the world to date at its 35th floor was a better bet with a clearer view of the city and the TWD200 purchase minimum, of course, consumable.

Peanut Ice Cream Roll

Peanut Ice Cream Roll

Just a few stalls into the narrow street was another popular tourist item. Blocks of peanuts in brown sugar are shaved with a hand plane and the powdery shavings spread on a thin flour wrap. Scoops of indiscernibly subtle ice cream flavors making up with the incredibly creamy taste and texture are wrapped up in it making a pretty tasty treat.

Juifen Lunch Surprise

Juifen Lunch Surprise

One joy of non-English picture menus is the element of surprise. We were sure what we ordered was the braised pork rice bowl and wonton noodles and the taste confirmed our selections. The guy at the counter motioned to the pot he was stirring and we nodded yes to what looked like an assortment of fish balls in a clear broth. Some were plain, some had some purple taro mixed in the base paste and some, inset, were filled with pork like a prank on pescatarians. An even better surprise were full bellies at only NT115, total.

Chuoduofu or Stinky Tofu

Chuoduofu or Stinky Tofu

As it was the purpose of the trip, research involved immersing ourselves in the night market scene. We had our own Taiwanese favorites back in the PI of which we were eager to try the real McChang of and other listed items. Topping that was the understatement called Stinky Tofu. While it doesn’t taste rotten, the association to the smell can be overwhelming and the mushy texture suggests that it is. Sour notes from the fermentation are dulled by the rather aggressive salt. This is something I can eat but rather won’t.

Xiaolongbao

Din Tai Fung is a prerequisite for the Taiwan experience.A meat aspic is enveloped in skeins precision-pinched by hand into (?) exact number of folds to seal the package .A steaming melts the gel into a fragrant and delicious soup that bursts into juicy bites. Tick off everything from the list of variants but I’d highly recommend the truffle one.

Frog Eggs

Frog Eggs

Qing Wa Xia Dan or Frog Eggs drink is a novelty so called because the cooled tapioca pearls in it are white in the middle giving it the appearance of frog eggs. Available in milk, green tea, black tea or lemonade in practically all night markets

Chasiu Bao

Chasiu Bao

Diced slow-roasted pork tenderloin — cha siu — seasoned with oyster sauce, hoisin, roasted sesame seed oil, rice vinegar, shaoxing wine soy sauce and sugar in dense, fluffy, steamed buns.

Huashan 1914 Creative Park

Huashan 1914 Creative Park reminded me much of Beijing’s 798 Art District but it is easily a more restrained and better-curated space. There is honesty in art as it can only either be good or bad. Perhaps it is only fitting for this creative space to rise from a former winery complex as “in wine, truth.”

Xiao Long. Farewell. I hate to say goodbye. And just like in that song of reference, we end with a high note. Rather juicy one, too.

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