Taiwan: Food, Glorious Food

22 12 2008

Warning!  Gratuitous Food Pics Ahead!  One of the best things about Taiwan is undeniably the food.  From the 5 star restaurant to the local street stand, food is of utmost importance to the Taiwanese, and it shows.  Eating out is a national pastime in this island nation so when in Taiwan, you should do as the locals do!

First, let’s start with the famous xiao chi (small eats) of Taiwan. These traditional Taiwanese snacks are found in roadside stands and markets everywhere.

This is one of my favorite foods of all time.  Called bawan, it is a large rice dumpling stuffed with meat, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms that is steamed (or fried). This particular one comes from a street stand outside of Changhua.  I prefer the steamed version found in Central and Southern Taiwan.


Changhua style Bawan

Next we have sticky rice and peanuts stuffed in a sausage casing and eaten with a traditional Chinese sausage.  Sometimes people eat this with pickles and raw garlic.  This is not the best photo, but it is another one of my favorites.


Chinese Sausages in Taiwan

Here we have three dishes, two of which are probably familiar to those who like Chinese food.  In clockwise order starting from the left, we have steamed dumplings, hot and sour soup, and a selection of oden.  In this Taiwanese version of the Japanese hot pot (sans soup), we have sticky rice squares, tofu, and daikon radish.


Steamed dumplings, hot and sour soup, and Taiwanese oden.

Not all the good food in Taiwan in on the streets, however.  Taiwanese people, especially the younger generation, spend lots of time in the air conditioned malls found in the major cities.  For this reason, every mall in Taiwan features a large food hall / food court with all kinds of dining options.  For those who are wary of street food for sanitary reasons, food courts are a great option for trying Taiwanese food. Below are pictures of one of the fanciest food courts in Taiwan, found in Taipei 101.

Just like Japan, many eateries will display plasticized version of the dishes they serve.  This way you can see what you are getting.


Sushi bar in the food court at Taipei 101


Cafe in Taipei 101

We also went to the Shinkong Mitsukoshi basement food hall and ate at this Taiwanese eatery. Delicious!


Cold chicken appetizer


Handmade noodles topped with stir fried pork – so good!


Hot and sour soup


Fried flat dumpling stuffed with bamboo shoots, meat, mushrooms, and seasoning.

And of course we cannot forget the many eateries and restaurants. Most of the photos below are from restaurants in Kaohsiung.

Xinjiang style Hot Pot Restaurant:


Xinjiang style Hot Pot


Steamed Dumplings

A tea house that serves traditional Taiwanese food:


Chicken dish with stir fried Kingfish.


Dessert consisted of Chrysanthemum tea and tea infused gelatin.


Milk tea

7 course Japanese Hibachi:


Chef with his tools


Salad appetizer with miso ginger dressing


Steamed egg amuse bouche


Onion Soup

The main course was fried scallops and marinated pork, but I ate it before remembering to take some pictures. Sorry!


Fried Rice


Fried Taiwanese Caviar


Bananas Foster dessert

Everytime I visit Taiwan, I resolve to eat as much as I can.  I figure if I eat every two hours, I might be able to accomplish my goal.  This post has now made me hungry and I am going to eat lunch now.  Until next time!





Taiwan: Everyday Life

4 12 2008

Whenever I think of Taiwan, certain images pop up for me – people, places, scenes, and of course food. These memories all hold meaning for me and represent the essence of Taiwan in my eyes. Even though I only spent the first few years of my life there, Taiwan still draws me back time and again. It’s not the touristy must-sees that make Taiwan special to me, although I love seeing them too. From the bustling city to the crickets chirping in the countryside, the street stands to the corner convenience store, and my childhood to now, I love the experience of being in Taiwan.


A street in Tianwei, Taiwan.

In the picture above, an old house made in the traditional Chinese style stands in between two residences made from cement and corrugated metal in a tiny town outside of Changhua.  This kind of juxtaposition is played out in towns and cities all over Taiwan. While it’s obvious that no one lives in the house pictured above anymore, it’s not quite abandoned as evidenced by the plants decorating the front. Since this house is situated on the block that has been occupied by my extended family for hundreds of years, it probably belongs to a relative.

Below is another scene that is typical in the countryside in Central Taiwan.

A roadside scene in Central Taiwan.

A small truck sits next to a rusty shed surrounded by a field of crops and some tropical plants. At first glance, this is pretty ordinary. If you look more closely, however, you notice that the driver left the door to the truck open and there is wild dragonfruit growing all along the rusty shed.  You can also see a gutter running next to the shed.


The rusty shed.

To me, this scene is so Taiwanese in so many ways.  The driver was either in a hurry, or left his door open to air out the front of the truck since it’s so hot and humid.  Since everyone knows each other out here in the middle of nowhere, he is unconcerned about leaving his truck unlocked.  The shed is rusty because Taiwan is so wet that nothing that is metal remains pristine.  The phone numbers on the side of the shed are numbers you should call if something is wrong with the field or shed.  You have to be careful driving on the tiny narrow lanes in this town because they are surrounded on both sides by gutters for the rain.


Wild dragonfruit growing on the side of the shed.  It was close enough to the side of the road you could lean over the gutter and pluck it once it’s ripe.

From the countryside we move onto the big city. I am not talking about Taipei, the northern capital, but Kaohsiung, the second city in the south. Whenever I tell other Taiwanese that I am from Kaohsiung, they are usually quite surprised. You see, most Taiwanese who immigrate to the the US are from the richer, more westernized city of Taipei. It’s almost unheard of to be from anywhere outside of Taipei, even Kaohsiung. It is true that not many people can speak English in Kaohsiung and it’s full of independence minded citizens, but it is hardly as unsophisticated or backwater as some believe. In fact, over the last few years Kaohsiung has come into a renaissance with the reclamation and transformation of the Love River (Ai He), the building of its own Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, and the revitalization of many parts of downtown.

But I digress. Why do I love visiting Kaohsiung? Besides the fact that the other side of my family lives here, Kaohsiung has all the big city fun and convenience of Taipei without the glitz and pressure to impress. I love Asian cities and while I do appreciate the very largest cities like Taipei, Tokyo, and Singapore, sometimes I just want to experience a city without all the fuss.  In other cities, I am a tourist because of all the must-sees and must-dos.  In Kaohsiung, I get to be a local.

I can go out on a night on the town with my aunts.  A night out in Kaohsiung might include shopping, eating out, KTV, or a night market. There are fun things to do 24 hours a day.


Notice I sneaked a photo of KFC into this post.

What is Taiwan without my favorite cold treat – shaved ice!

This particular stand was as big as a movie theater. Air conditioned too!

I can go to the market with my aunt:


The fish at this stand were really fresh – they were still flapping around on the ice block!

I can go shopping for household goods with my other aunt.  Here we went to Hola, the Bed Bath & Beyond of Taiwan. This may not seem very exciting to some, but I love finding household gadgets that I cannot get in the US, like fold-able travel chopsticks, a chopstick stand, a cute soy sauce dispenser, and rice bowls. In the US, you have buy from the slim picking of the Asian grocery store.


A small shopping center for household goods and furniture in Kaohsiung.


As you can see, it looks exactly like a Bed Bath & Beyond or the soon to be defunct Linens N Things.

On the way home, we can stop by and buy some raw sugarcane to snack on. Here the old lady cuts off the hard shell of the sugarcane with a machete.

Finally, we get back to my aunt’s place and we can enjoy some the fruits of our labor at the market. My absolute favorite part of Taiwan is definitely the fresh fruit you cannot find anywhere else (outside of Asia).  This and chatting and catching up with my aunts and cousins are pretty much the best parts of visiting Taiwan.


Clockwise from top: Custard Fruit (shik kwia), Apple Pears (len mu), raw sugarcane (gum jia).  These are seasonal fruits that are found in October.


Green oranges, which are actually sweet.

What do I definitely not like about Taiwan?  The huge tropical insects.  I saw this gigantic spider in the bathroom of my grandparents’ house.  Luckily it was so huge I could keep an eye on it.  <shudder>

Despite my fondness of Taiwan, I know my view of daily life here is idealistic since I don’t actually live here.  I’m sure that if I did live in Taiwan, I would find plenty of things that annoy me.  It’s a fact that the standard of living in Taiwan is lower than the United States and I don’t know if I could actually deal with this in my adulthood, not to mention the pressures of living in a Taiwanese society.  Despite these thoughts, I will always have good memories of the visits to the country of my birth.





Taiwan: Kaohsiung Night Markets

2 12 2008

I stopped by Taiwan while on my Asia trip, primarily staying in Kaohsiung with my relatives.  While this time I didn’t do much sightseeing, I did get to experience all my favorite parts of Taiwan, including the night market.  For information and photos on sightseeing in Kaohsiung, click here for the series I did on this very topic last year.  For all my posts on Taiwan, click here.

No matter what town or city you are staying, there will inevitably be a night market (or several).  While they might not operate every night in smaller towns, in large cities the food hawkers, clothing salespeople, drink vendors, and trinket sellers come out en force nightly. I consider the night market a must-see in Taiwan. Not only will you be able to taste delicious street food, but you will also get to see a wonderful cross section of Taiwanese life. From the young to the old, the rich to the poor, everyone goes to the night market!


View of Liuho Night Market

In Kaohsiung, the best night market is Liuho Night Market (also spelled Liouhe or Liouho). Every night, the city closes down several blocks of busy Liuho 2nd Street in order to host this night market. This is primarily a food based night market, but it also has some clothing, games, and other miscellaneous stands. There was even a stand that specialized in selling clothes for your dog!


The Liuho Night Market in Kaohsiung runs from 5 PM to 5 AM.


A stand selling dried roasted caviar. This is one of my favorite foods but is an acquired taste.


Taiwanese mifen and duck egg hawker, specializing in flavors from Tainan city. This stand has been in operation for over 30 years.


This looks plain, but it was out of this world!

While most people just eat and walk, some vendors provide tiny tables where you can slurp up your food. Other food available at the night market include but are not limited to pearl milk tea, stinky tofu, bawan (pork stuffed in a rice ball and steamed or fried), oden (boiled or grilled tofu products), Taiwanese style sausage, mifen, and desserts such as puffed batter cake, shaved ice, fruit juices, and aiyu gelatin.


The beginning of the Liuho Night Market.

Another large night market in Kaohsiung is located near Zuoying. I’m not sure the exact location, but any local would know. This night market had a broader range of merchandise for sale and a large carnival game section in addition to the usual food. There was an entire row just for women’s clothing. While it was a fun night market to browse and play in, I cannot vouch for the food since our family prefers Liuho 2nd Street for our food fix.


The beginning of the food section.


I believe this guy sells ice cream or frozen drinks.


Meatballs


Mint tea gelatin and other cold desserts


Roasted vegetables and pickled fruit


Steamed roasted peanuts


A bank of low tech pachinko games


I think I won a piece of gum.


Darts and water balloons – actually really fun!


More games


Beebee guns


Ring toss

In Taiwan, the night market is a family affair.  A combination of supermarket, carnival, and night time hangout, the night market is there to amuse and to satisfy those night time cravings.  Even though it’s hard to stay up past 6 PM for visitors who are suffering from jet lag, I highly recommend making an effort.  It’s totally worth it!





Recipe: How to Make Zongzi, Part 2

6 06 2008

The hardest part of making traditional Chinese zongzi is the assembly. Each family has a slightly different way of making zongzi, which come in a handful of different shapes and sizes. In my family, we prefer to make zongzi in the triangular style popular in Taiwan.

This post is Part 2 of How to Make Zongzi. Click here for part 1.

ASSEMBLY

Below are all the ingredients we have prepared that will be wrapped into the zongzi I know and love.

First, you need to hook the looped end of the cotton string onto a hook where your zongzi will hang once assembled.

Now comes the actual assembly. I was going to take pictures of the process step by step, but it is so complicated it is much easier to just make a video.

My mom makes the assembly look easy, but it took me several tries before I could even make it to the string!

When you have used all the strings to make a dozen, steam for 45 minutes. Repeat for second batch.

Once the zongzi have finished steaming, you can FINALLY enjoy one of these delicious delicacies. Kai Fan!

In Taiwan, zongzi are traditionally eaten with mushroom oyster sauce and topped with ground peanuts.

Copyright (R) Travels with Sandy





Recipe: How to Make Zongzi, Part 1

4 06 2008

In honor of the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on June 8 this year, I am introducing my first ever recipe post. I am not sure if this will become a regular section of this blog, but thought it would be fun to try. Last month, when my parents came to visit, I asked my mom to teach me how to make Zongzi, a very traditional Chinese food. Since this is one of my favorite foods, I was very excited to learn how to make zongzi.

Zongzi

Zongzi are steamed rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves that are customarily eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival (Duanwu Jie). There is a very interesting legend behind this food. According to the story, the festival is held to honor Qu Yuan, a high official during the Chu Dynasty, who drowned himself after finding out his country lost a war. The locals thought him to be a good man who loved his country, and decided to throw food into the river so that they fish would not eat Qu Yuan’s body. They also scared the fish away by playing drums on long narrow boats called dragon boats. This evolved into the tradition of annual dragon boat races and zongzi eating that still continues today in Chinese communities around the world.

2008 Washington D.C. Dragon Boat Festival
Photo courtesy of CT Chen

Note: This recipe in its entirety takes quite a few hours to make from start to finish. Prep time alone will take approximately 2 hours, then about 45 minutes of assembly, then 45 minutes of steaming for each batch. However, it’s a great family activity!

WANG FAMILY ZONGZI RECIPE
by A. Wang
Makes approximately 24 zongzi (2 batches)

EQUIPMENT
Large steamer
Large pot (for boiling rice)
Wok or large stir fry pan
Chinese strainer with handle (see photo)
Cotton string

INGREDIENTS
Peanuts (1 bag)
Dried bamboo leaves (24X2)
Dried shitake mushrooms (12 whole)
2 lbs of pork shoulder butt
2.5 lbs of Sweet Rice
Salted, aged egg yolk (as many as desired, 1 per zongzi)
Spices, including 5 spice powder, white pepper
Oyster sauce or mushroom oyster sauce
Cooking wine
Cooking oil
Garlic
Sugar

PREPARATION

1) Soak peanuts for 30 minutes in water. Then cook peanuts in rice cooker with 2 pinches of salt. Make sure water covers all peanuts and that the water is below the max level.

2) Marinate meat, squeeze meat to mix and tenderize
2 lbs of pork shoulder, cut into ~¾ inch cubes
1 tps of 5 spice powder
1 tps of white pepper
4 Tbs oyster sauce
2 Tbs cooking wine
6 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
1 Tbs sugar

3) Soak bamboo leaves in hot water until soft (about 30 minutes). Then wash each leaf individually with sponge on both sides.

4) Soak dried shitake mushrooms in cold water until soft (about 1 hour)
Cut off stems, cut into quarters

5) Cut 6 strings about 4 feet long each. Fold in half and make a knot in the middle to create 12 2 feet long strings that hang from the knot.

6) Pick apart salted dried egg yolks from package. Set aside for assembly later.

PRE-COOKING

1) Cook mushrooms

2 Tbs of cooking oil
2 Tbs of soy sauce
½ Tbs of sugar

Using 2 Tbs of cooking oil, stir fry on high heat until fragrant. Then turn down heat to medium low and add 2 Tbs of soy sauce and ½ Tbs of sugar. Stir fry again and then set aside.

Gratuitous shot of stir fried shitake mushrooms.

2) Stir fry meat on high heat. When meat looks dry, turn to low until juices run out. Then turn to high heat again and stir fry until done. Remove meat and set aside in a bowl. Keep the gravy.

3) Start water boiling in large pot for rice. Add half of sweet rice when water begins to boil. Stir. Pour in other half of sweet rice.

4) In wok, pour in 2 tablespoons of cooking oil. Add 6 cloves of crushed garlic. Stir fry until brown then remove garlic, leaving the infused oil. Pour in gravy from the meat and 2 Tbs of soy sauce to taste.

5) After rice in large pot has reached the puffier shape shown in the photo (should only take a few minutes), drain with strainer tool and pour rice into wok. Mix, then pour some more. Mix thoroughly.

6) Rinse steamed peanuts. Soak strings in water.


Next: ASSEMBLY

TO BE CONTINUED…

How to Make Zongzi, Part 2

Copyright (R) Travels with Sandy





Shilin Night Market

16 12 2007

A trip to Taiwan would not be complete without a visit to one of the island’s ubiquitous night markets. Almost every night, food and merchandise vendors will line the streets in little pockets all over the city hawking their wares and snacks. Some larger markets will even include a section of low tech carnival games. The Taiwanese night market is a combination of medieval market, food bazaar, and carnival show all rolled into one. In Taiwan, everyone goes to the night market, from children to teenagers to adults and to grandparents. As you can see from the picture below, night markets are frequently packed, noisy, and full of excitement.

Night Market

On this visit, we decided to check out Shilin Night Market, the most popular night market in Taipei. The night market is located right off the Jiantan MRT stop on the red line, the station before the actual Shilin stop.

The night market is a showcase of Taiwanese street food.

Chinese Sausages

Yummy! Freshly grilled chinese sausages and luo mi chang, aka dua deng (rice stuffed in sausage casings) are among my favorite foods.

Night Market

Grilled corn on the cob

Night Market

I’m not really sure what these are. They look like candied tomatoes.

Night Market

The main food tent is located just across the street from the MRT stop. Inside are a bunch of food stands catering to every taste.

Stinky Tofu

Taiwan’s famous stinky tofu. This is an acquired taste, but I love it!

Night Market

Some boiled Oden, including my favorite Ah Hue and Di Hue, or gelatinous rice.

Night Market

There are also numerous fruit smoothie and dessert stands.

Night Market

There is a small clothing and merchandise area under the tent.

Outside the food stands is a game area filled with low tech carnival games.

Night Market Games

You can win cheap plastic toys that are made in Taiwan!

Night Market Games

After exploring the large tent area, you can walk across the street away from the MRT station and follow the street stands down a few blocks for more shops selling everything you would ever need to live in Taiwan, including clothes, CDs, housewares, electronics, and more. The things sold here are of the cheapest quality, so buyer beware. However, you can get some great bargains as long as you understand what you buying in terms of quality. Bargaining is expected.

Night Market

Although the food here is cheap, delicious, and plentiful, be aware that these street stands are not the most hygienic. Therefore as a general rule you should examine the stands and make sure they look clean and have lots of customers before trying the food. This is not to discourage trying the food here. You would be missing out on one of the best places to get authentic Taiwanese street food. Rather, there are many cleaner food stands out there and one should endeavor to eat there, even if they are more expensive. If you are unsure, don’t feel like you need to eat here. You can always go to the food court at Taipei 101, which serves many of the same Taiwanese dishes, albeit the more sanitized (and sometimes blander) versions.





Exploring Ximending

4 12 2007

Since Ximending was our home base while in Taipei, we were able to see a lot of this area. Ximending was actually set up by the Japanese during their occupation of Taiwan as an entertainment and business area. The Red House Theater (pictured below), built in 1908, is one of the few surviving buildings from that era. The theater started as a public market before becoming a venue for storytelling and Chinese opera. Today, the theater hosts art and history exhibits.

Red House Theatre

During the day, Ximending is much quieter and very much like any normal street in Taipei. Small mom-and-pop shops, cafes, and convenience stores line the street level entrances of each building, while residences are stacked on top. The street where our hotel was located had a lot of uniform and performance costume shops (i.e. dance, cheerleading, etc…).

One of our best finds in Ximending was a coffee shop called Fong Da Coffee, located at 42 Chengdu Road. Although there is a Starbucks at every corner in Taipei, we love exploring independent coffee shops and this place did not disappoint. Fong Da Coffee is an old fashioned coffee shop established in 1956 that also serves little Taiwanese treats such as almond brittle, temple sugar squares, and other small baked goods.

The coffee shop displays a variety of old fashioned coffee implements all over the shop, which only adds to the quaint atmosphere.

Fong Da Coffee

The shop roasts its own coffee beans with this old fashioned roaster.

Fong Da Coffee

Fong Da Coffee

The coffee itself was excellent. While in the shop, I had a cappuccino and Charles had an iced coffee. Apparently, Fong Da is well known for its delicious iced coffee.

Fong Da Coffee

We were so impressed with the coffee that we bought two bags to take home with us. Fong Da roasts almost 30 varieties of exotic coffees right in their store, including Peruvian, Panamanian, Ethiopian, Kenyan, Kona, and Mount Everest. We bought the coffee from Mount Everest (I don’t remember the exact name and we finished all of it) and the house roast. The Mount Everest coffee was very mild. My mom got the bag of the house roast and she loved it.








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