Food Halls Around the World

11 02 2009

Whenever I am shopping while abroad, I inevitably find myself in a food hall. At the most basic level, a food hall is any indoor area that offers a variety of food for sampling and purchasing. They are often found in department stores, but can also operate independently.  A food hall is more than an indoor market or run of the mill mall food court, however.  A food hall is above all an exhibition of local and international artisinal food.


Harrod’s famous food hall
 
The most famous food hall in the world is arguably Harrod’s in London. While for many destinations I end up in a food hall by coincidence, Harrod’s Food Hall was a must-see for me even before my arrival in London. Harrod’s was founded in 1834 as a wholesale grocery with a specialty in tea.


Harrod’s has some of the fanciest groceries I have ever seen.


There are lots of stands to try out at Harrod’s Food Hall.

After arriving at Harrod’s, I bypassed all other departments and made a beeline for the food hall. There’s better shopping in the United States. I was here for the food hall. I was not disappointed. In room after themed room, attractive gourmet food was presented to me, the shopper, for my perusal. If you want seafood, there is an entire room dedicated to these delicious creatures under the sea.


You can eat fresh oysters in the seafood room at Harrod’s food hall.

Need gifts for loved ones? Harrod’s has quite a selection of packaged ready to gift gourmet food items. Perhaps some proper English tea would delight your grandmother, or lemon cookies for your best friend, or Turkish Delight for your unsuspecting brother!


Food gifts at Harrod’s


Indulge your sweet tooth at Harrod’s.

Before heading out, be sure to view the over the top escalators at Harrod’s. The escalators have an ancient Egyptian theme to honor the heritage of Mohamed al Fayed, the current owner of the department store. The escalator bay is also where you can find Princess Diana’s and Dodi al Fayed’s memorial.


The Egyptian decor is historically listed to protect against their removal and alteration.


Yep, that’s the actual face of Mohamed al Fayed on the Sphinx.

Despite Harrod’s fame, to many English residents the designation of best department store for gourmet food would belong to Fortnum & Mason, which has held royal warrants for 150 years. Harrod’s also holds some royal warrants, but Fortnum & Mason is more closely associated with British royalty and the peerage.


The circular stairway at Fortnum & Mason decorated for Christmas.

Although we had heard of Fortnum & Mason, it was by chance that we stumbled upon this establishment while shopping near Piccadilly Circus. I thought we had entered my version of department store heaven. Exquisitely decorated for Christmas, Fortnum and Mason offered all kinds of British foodstuffs, from minced pies to jars of ribbon candy to traditional china. Fortnum & Mason is most well known for its teas and luxury picnic hampers.


A selection of Fortnum and Mason’s gourmet products with its signature turquoise label on display.

Fortnum & Mason’s food hall is not to be missed for foodies the world over!


Inside Fortnum and Mason during the Christmas season.

These two luxurious food halls reminded me of my visit to the highly regarded Alois Dallmayr in Munich, Germany.  The Dallmayr is a famous luxury delicatessen and food hall that has served European royalty since the 17th century.  You can read about our day in Munich and see some more photos of Dallmayr here.  

 
Alois Dallmayr plaque proclaiming its status as a royal purveyor.


Window display at Alois Dallmayr.


Inside Alois Dallmayr delicatessen.

Inspired by these elaborate European food halls, the Japanese created their own twist on the concept with depachikas, department store basement food halls. Similar to the Harrod’s concept, depachikas seek to create a high end retail experience, but for food. Only the best brands are offered, from sushi to desserts to mochi to tea and other delicacies. However, depachikas have a larger selection of freshly prepared takeaway meals for shoppers. Many professional stop by and pick up bento boxes for lunch and dinner on a daily basis. Another major difference is that Japanese department stores often directly rent out the spaces on the store floor to bakeries and food businesses. As a result, the salespeople of these kiosks do not necessarily work for the department store. These businesses of course have to pass a rigorous test of quality and name. A third distinction is that Japanese food halls tend to emphasize trendy food over more traditional flavors.  You can read all about the depachika craze in this Food and Wine magazine article.  

The Dessert comes First blog has an excellent post on food in Japan, including an entire section on depachikas with fantastic pictures.  Here is the link to that specific post.  I have included two of her photos below for reference. 

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Photo of depachika by Desserts comes First

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Photo of depachika store display by Desserts comes First

I have visited the depachika in person at Isetan in Tokyo and Kaohsiung.  You can read my entire post about the Isetan department store in Kaohsiung here. These basement food halls are one of my favorite places to just relax and eat. I wish the US had places like these – I would be there every night!


One of the stores within a store in the basement food hall at Isetan in Kaohsiung.


A bakery in the basement food hall at Isetan





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!





Kaohsiung – A Local Temple

3 10 2007

While wandering around Kaohsiung, we saw this interesting temple and decided to explore it.  Given how elaborate the temple decorations look, it seems that this is primarily a Daoist temple.  The temple is called San Feng Gong.  I grabbed a brochure but I seemed to have misplaced it.  When I find it, I’ll post some more details.

 Kaohsiung Temple

KS Temple

KS Temple 3

KS Temple 2

Inside the Temple

Inside Temple

Temple Art and Architecture

Stone Carvings

Temple Ceiling

Wall Art

Besides being one of the larger working temples in the area, this temple is known mostly for the paintings of the guardians on the grand doors.

Temple Door

According to the temple worker who stopped to talk to us, temple artists from all over the island come to observe and copy these particular guardians because it is the finest example of this kind of art.  The wood is painted so that the guardians’ eyes and feet will follow you around and look like they are facing you from whatever you angle you view the doors.  We tested this and found it to be true!

Eyes

Shoes

In Taiwan, temples are everywhere since they are the Eastern equivalent of churches in the Western World.  As a result, it is easy to get “templed out” and have one start looking the same as the next.  So here’s a tip to travelers – try to spread out your temple exploring so that you can better remember the temples you do visit!





Kaohsiung – Shopping Mall

1 10 2007

After visiting Lotus Lake, we were very hot so we headed to Da Li / Isetan, the Japanese department store, to cool down.  My aunt had also heard that Din Tai Fung, the famous maker of xiao long bao (little steamed pork buns) from Taipei, was coming down to Kaohsiung for two days to offer these xiao long bao at Da Li.  These sounded like very good reasons to go to Da Li.

Isetan in Kaohsiung

When we arrived, Da Li was still closed so we waited outside for about 10 minutes. 

Doors of Isetan

Across the street were these two interesting shops right next door to each other.  Mos Burger is a Japanese burger chain.

Mos Burger in Kaohsiung

This store requires no explanation.

Interesting Shop

Finally, after the doors to Da Li opened, we headed down to the basement food level.  The workers from Din Tai Fung were already hard at work.

Din Tai Fung at Isetan

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung

Finally we received our order, and scarfed down all the food.  It was GREAT!  It was just as good as advertised – flavorful, delicate, yet satisfying.

Din Tai Fung

Afterwards, we explored the rest of the food hall.  The food and snack hall is one of my favorite parts of Asian shopping malls.  Picture an entire floor full of small stores featuring all different food specialties, all beautifully presented.  There is also a very nice grocery store.

Da Li Food Hall

Da Li Food Hall

Having been to the Isetan in Shinjuku, Tokyo, I have to say that one is obviously nicer.  However, the Isetan in Tokyo does not have the Taiwanese flavor and food choices!

We went shopping for a little bit after the food hall.  There are 7 or 8 floors at Isetan and, of course, the food hall in the basement.  I will not bore you with my shopping experience, which is standard the world over.  However, the next to top floor was an arcarde – a kids’ paradise!

Arcade

Arcade

This basketball game is very popular all over Taiwan.  In fact, it could be called an obsession.

Basketball Arcade

The roof of the shopping mall had a small amusement park for little kids.  I fondly remember taking all these rides more than 20 years ago with my sister and cousins.

Lucy and Amy, this picture is for you!

Rainbow Bridge

Amusement Park

Amusement Park

This mall really brought back memories for me.  It is one of the older malls in Kaohsiung, since it is about 20 years old – I remember when it first opened!

PS – The air conditioning was heavenly!





Kaohsiung – Lotus Lake

29 09 2007

On our first full day in Kaohsiung, we visited Lotus Lake, which is located near the Zuoying THSR station. I thought it was a delightful trip, although we weren’t entirely used to the weather yet. It was also a bit cloudy that day.

We started at the Dragon-Tiger Pavilion and worked our way down to the Confucius Temple.

Unfortunately, the Dragon-Tiger Pavilion was under renovation. For good luck, you are supposed to enter the dragon and exit the tiger.

Dragon-Tiger Pavilion

A view of the Dragon-Tiger Pavilion from the Wuli Pavilion.

Lotus Lake

Here we approach the Spring Autumn Pavilion and the Wuli Pavilion on the pier.

Wuli Pavilion

The Spring Autumn Pavilion consists of two towers surrounding a statue of Guanyin on top of a dragon.

Spring Autumn Pavilion

Turtles in the pool where the dragon sits.

Turtles

We saw this Chinese version of the fortune teller in a box that you often see at American carnivals. We had to try it. You put $NT10 in the machine and think of your question really hard.

Fortune Teller Machine

Then this lady comes out and drops your fortune that is rolled up in a tube in the slot.

Fortune Teller Machine 2

Apparently you are supposed to pick a topic for your fortune, and the paper you get is organized by topic. My aunt read my fortune and said it was good. Of course, every single fortune you get in this machine is good.

We entered the dragon, which goes into a tunnel where the walls are garishly painted with Chinese gods. Inside there were piles of religious books that were free of charge. There was even a comic book version. I should have took one just for fun, but the heat was getting in the way of my thinking.

Qiming Temple and the Spring Autumn Pavilion from the Wuli Pier

Spring Autumn Pavilion 2

Inside the Wuli Pavilion on the water – you can see the Beiji Xuantian Shang Di Pavilion

Inside Wuli Pavilion

A picture of the painted walls inside the Wuli Pavilion

Wuli Pavilion 2

The next stop around the lake was the Beiji Xuantian Shang Di Pavilion, which has a large painted statue of the Emperor of the Dark Heaven. We were getting really hot at this point, so we didn’t stay long.

Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heaven

My uncle was telling me the story of the Emperor of the Dark Heaven (Xuantian Shang Di), which is a very interesting tale. From what I can understand and what I remember, the Emperor of the Dark Heaven was once an ordinary butcher. He felt repentant for killing so many pigs, however, that he did good deeds to make up for it the rest of his life. When he died he was raised to the status of a god for his good deeds. At some point he was given a sword or maybe just a scabbard, which he used to banish the monster kings from the human world, which are represented by the snake and turtle under his feet. This god is able to control the elements, especially fire. I think I messed up the story a little there, so I am open to any corrections.

Our last stop at Lotus Lake was the Confucius Temple, which was the most impressive part of Lotus Lake, in my opinion. The Confucius Temple is one of Taiwan’s largest, and is an impressive complex of buildings. It is hard to describe so I will just post pictures.

Outside Confucius Temple

Gates of Confucius Temple

Approaching Confucius Temple

On Sundays, people gather on the grounds to dance with each other.

Dancing on temple grounds

A side gate

Side gate

Gate to the central temple complex

Confucius Temple Gate

The Confucius Temple on Lotus Lake

Confucius Temple

To the Right

To the Left

Inside the Confucius Temple

Inside Confucius Temple

Ceilings and Art

View from Temple toward the entrance from which we came

Opposite View

Another picture of the Temple complex

Another View of the Confucius Temple

All in all we really enjoyed this trip. Although some parts of the pavilions were rather garish and cheesy (like the fortune teller), it was a fun morning to poke around the different temples and pavilions. Charles and I especially liked the Confucius Temple, which was not cheesy at all.





Kaohsiung – Sightseeing

29 09 2007

Despite its status as Taiwan’s second city, there are some interesting places to explore in Kaohsiung in terms of sightseeing. You can stroll along the banks of the Love River (Ai He), window shop at the well represented big departments stores that include Hansen (next to the Grand Hi-Lai Hotel), Da Li / Isetan, and Da Tong / President, hike the trails and see the pagoda at Cheng Ching Lake, and eat at the Liu He 2nd Street night market. In the outskirts of the city, Lotus Lake is a small lake surrounded by temples that is fun to explore, including a magnificent Confucius Temple. In addition, the Foguangshan Buddhist monastery is not far and is a worthwhile visit if you are interested in Buddhism and exploring the grand temple complex. Plus, if you want to see rhesus monkeys, there are lots at Shoushan Nature Reserve.

We didn’t really follow a sightseeing itinerary since I was more interested in seeing family while we were in Kaohsiung. However, we did manage to squeeze in a tour of Lotus Lake, a drive by Cheng Ching Lake, a look at the San Feng Gong temple and enjoyed the air conditioned havens that the department stores represented.

Todd from the Daily Bubble Tea did a nice post on Kaohsiung a while ago. He visited a lot of places that I didn’t cover, so for the sake of visitors who are thinking of going to Kaohsiung, I am linking his post here.

Kaohsiung Map

Here’s a bigger version of the map. Click here!

The series of posts on Kaohsiung are linked below:

Kaohsiung – Lotus Lake

Kaohsiung – Shopping Mall

Kaohsiung – A Local Temple

Kaohsiung – Old School Taiwan

NEW!  Kaohsiung – Night Markets








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