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Nishla

Taipei travel diary 2006

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I've just arrived home from my first trip to Taiwan (in fact, my first trip to anywhere in Asia). With me were my husband, Keith, and my parents. My mom grew up in Taipei and was a great guide for our trip. Also, my best friend's parents are currently living Taipei, so she was there for the holidays too. We went touring with her family one day and ate like royalty :smile:

The amount of food in Taipei is truly astounding. I don't think you can walk a single block without passing a food cart, restaurant or other food store. We got some great suggestions from eGullet, and our goal was to try as many things as possible. Some of the highlights were:

Markets (fruits, veggies, fish, etc.)

Dim sum

Spicy hot pot

Soup dumplings

Street snacks

We arrived late in the evening of Dec 24. My dad's actually teaching in Taipei this year, so we had a place to stay. He had some sandwiches from a bakery nearby, so we had midnight snack :wink:

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Chicken salad on the left, and egg salad with chopped ham on the right. The bread in Taiwan is usually soft buns...I don't think crusty european bread is popular there.

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Day 1

We decided to start off our first day with a traditional Taiwan breakfast of doujiang (soy milk soup) and shaobing youtiao (sesame bread with fried dough). My mom brought Keith and I to a place called ShiJie DouJiang DaWang (literally, world doujiang king :smile: ).

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There's a seating area with a number of tables, each with a menu card.

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Salty DouJiang. I've never liked sweetened soy milk, so I always get the salty version of this soup. It comes with pieces of fried dough and scallions.

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ShaoBing YouTiao and chive pies. These were really good.

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Turnip pancake with egg, and xiaolongbao (soup dumplings). The turnip pancake was very good...lots of turnip with a nice crispy bottom. The dumplings were just okay. I only ordered them because we had planned on going to DinTaiFung that evening, but those plans got cancelled and I was dying to try some soup dumplings in Asia. Oh well.

In case you're wondering, this great breakfast cost ~US$7 for three of us!


Edited by Nishla (log)

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Day 1 (cont.)

After breakfast we walked over to a nearby market (near the DingXi MRT station). The entrance didn't look like much, but once you walk it it goes on for at least half a mile of stands selling food, clothes, accessories, plants, chinese medicine, etc.

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Near the entrance

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All sorts of bamboo, ginger, fried things

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Fruits: guava, fresh dates, oranges

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Poultry, including black chicken

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PORK!!! Dried in various forms, fried and shredded. We got some of the thinly sliced dried pork. Sooooo good.

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Fish in the background, and a pile of frogs legs in the front. The fish was ridiculously fresh. Some of them were still moving :shock:

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More fruits: grapes, cherries, shijia (custard apple?), and HUGE persimmons. The variety of fruit was amazing. We bought a bunch to eat later :smile:

This was just the tip of the iceberg for this market. I really can't describe how huge this place was. There were numerous stands selling cooked foods too--pork belly, chicken feet, roast duck, pickled veggies, soups, on and on. Many of them offered tastes as we walked by.

ETA: spelling and photos


Edited by Nishla (log)

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Day 1 (cont.)

Yup, we're still on Day 1, not even lunch yet! After walking around the market for a while, we went back home for a snack. We tried some of the new fruits we picked up at the market.

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Fresh dates. I'm not sure if these are the same variety of fruit we get dried here. They're crisp like an apple, but more juicy with a mild flavor. Very refreshing.

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Soft guava. Again, I don't know if these are a different variety of guava or just extra ripe regular fruit. They're extremely pungent...stunk up the apartment for a whole day!

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LianWu (wax apple?) and dragon fruit. The wax apple is also a crisp, juicy fruit, slightly sweet.

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ShiJia (custard apple). This is a really interesting fruit. It's got soft, creamy white pods inside, each with a black seed, which you spit out. The flavor is like a cross between pineapple, peach, passion fruit, but not quite :wink: We must have eaten 5 or 6 over the whole week, they were so good.

Okay, I'm off to bed...I'll have more tomorrow. Hopefully this is interesting to someone other than myself :wink:

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... Hopefully this is interesting to someone other than myself  :wink:

Reading with intense interest. Thank you Nishla! Look forward to reading more installments.

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Yeah, most definitely interesting to people other than you!

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Wow, Nishla, what a treat. Thanks for sharing. Regarding the dates, the fresh dates we get here come on a branch, and are more yellow in color, and more oblong in shape than round. I'm not sure what variety you have there. From the photo it really looks like a green apple.

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Very exciting! My husband and I have Taipei on our (admittedly long) list of places we'd like to go teach. He wants to learn mandarin, and I want to save enough money for my MA TESOL. I'm watching to see what the food looks like (a major factor for me when choosing a place to live!), since we've only heard one report back from a friend who said he though the food was terrible. But he's allergic to wheat, so that may have coloured his experience.

I adore both Dragon Fruit, which looks so improbable; and custard apple. My husband loves the custard apple smoothie that Highland Coffee makes here...it does taste like peach, and something softer as well...

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gallery_45959_4070_147598.jpg

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PORK!!! Dried in various forms, fried and shredded. We got some of the thinly sliced dried pork. Sooooo good.

I have always thought the Taiwanese have done a superb job in making pork/beef jerkies (plus other snacks). They look really great!

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Thanks for all the responses!

Very exciting! My husband and I have Taipei on our (admittedly long) list of places we'd like to go teach. He wants to learn mandarin, and I want to save enough money for my MA TESOL. I'm watching to see what the food looks like (a major factor for me when choosing a place to live!), since we've only heard one report back from a friend who said he though the food was terrible. But he's allergic to wheat, so that may have coloured his experience.

I adore both Dragon Fruit, which looks so improbable; and custard apple. My husband loves the custard apple smoothie that Highland Coffee makes here...it does taste like peach, and something softer as well...

I can't imagine being in Taiwan with a wheat allergy. Probably 90% of what we ate would be off limits. Keith has a peanut allergy (not the most severe kind), and we definitely had to be careful with some of our food choices since a number of sauces contain peanut powder. I was the designated taster of all things before he ate them :smile: Often, when we asked if something contained peanuts, they thought we were looking for something WITH peanuts.

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Day 1 (cont.)

After our fruit snack, we headed over to the main train station area for lunch. There are several underground malls, and at the Station Front Mall there's a place for hand-pulled noodles.

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You can get thin or thick noodles, and they pull them to order. Keith got beef with tendon, I just got stewed beef. The version with tendon was far better. The thick noodles were slightly undercooked when my bowl arrived but were perfect after a few minutes in the hot broth. We also got some sides of garlic green beans, marinated cucumbers and seaweed salad.

At the mall, we also picked up some mochi. These were a bit different than regular mochi--the dough was made from some kind of root vegetable instead of rice. The fillings were mostly fruit/yogurt flavors.

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The label on the box had some excellent Engrish too :biggrin:

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With hand-pulled noodles, I wonder how they can control the noodle to come out as wide and flat? I would think when they pull the noodles by hand, the noodle will naturally form a round shape - law of physics.

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With hand-pulled noodles, I wonder how they can control the noodle to come out as wide and flat?  I would think when they pull the noodles by hand, the noodle will naturally form a round shape - law of physics.

Yeah, I'm not sure about that. Maybe they use a roller for them. When I was watching, it looked mostly like thin noodles being pulled.

------------------------------

After lunch (which ended up being around 3:30pm), we were pretty tired from jet lag and walking around all day. On the way home, we stopped by a market near our apartment to pick up some veggies, as well as a bakery.

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The produce available in the city is mind-boggling. I could spend entire days in the markets drooling over the fruits and veggies. We got some asparagus, scallions, white bitter melon (which I had never seen before...milder than the green version), and kongxincai (hollow stem vegetable--I'm sure someone knows a better name!). The people at the market are very nice. The woman my mom goes to gives her free ginger and scallions every time.

From the bakery:

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Flaky pastry with curry beef filling. Yum!

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Chocolate cake. Most of the cake in Taipei is of a sponge variety with cream instead of frosting. It's very tender and moist, and not too sweet. I :wub: this stuff.

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Oh yeah...more beef and pork jerky :biggrin:

From top left to bottom right: Spicy beef jerky with fruit juice, dried pork with almond slivers and sesame (like a pork cracker!), two packages of dried sliced pork, regular beef jerky, super spicy beef jerky, dried tofu (one with black sesame flavor, one with garlic).

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Nishla: Very much looking forward to the rest of your "Eats in Taipei"! :biggrin:

Will you be going to Taipei 101? A student of mine worked there a few years ago - probably as a busboy. I'd be interested in seeing and hearing about the food they serve. I think he said the restaurant was at the top?

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Fresh dates. I'm not sure if these are the same variety of fruit we get dried here. They're crisp like an apple, but more juicy with a mild flavor. Very refreshing.

omg, i love these so much! my mom called them "fresh dates" also. i did a little research online and saw they also might be called chinese jujubes, but couldn't find photos that looked just like these. holy crap, i'd kill for a bag of those right now.

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Nishla: Very much looking forward to the rest of your "Eats in Taipei"!  :biggrin:

Will you be going to Taipei 101? A student of mine worked there a few years ago - probably as a busboy. I'd be interested in seeing and hearing about the food they serve. I think he said the restaurant was at the top?

Dejah, we went to Taipei 101 later in the week, but didn't spend a lot of time there since it is extremely touristy. The mall is filled with high-end shops, and some of the restaurants didn't seem as interesting as what we could find elsewhere (and they were more expensive). I'm not sure you can get into the tower itself, other than the observation deck.

-------------------

Day 2

On the second day, we started off by snacking on some fruit, pork jerky and curry beef pastries for breakfast. For lunch, we went to a place called DaSiXi near the GongGuan MRT station. There's a selection of self-serve items, as well as some things ordered from a short menu. It's also quite inexpensive, and a decent place to grab a quick meal.

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Store front (on Roosevelt Rd.)

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All the self-serve plates as you walk in.

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Most of our food. I forgot to take a picture until after we started eating :hmmm:

From left to right, top to bottom:

Scallion pancake, pig ear salad (really good), tiny fish and peppers (a bit dry), tofu strips and vermicelli salad, eggplant hiding behind the bowl, some type of root vegetable (a bit like marinated bamboo, very tasty), hot pepper sauce, and noodles with meat sauce and veggies.

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Pan fried pork and vegetable buns. These were very good...not too doughy.

We also ordered hot and sour soup, which was much lighter than the versions served in the US.

After lunch, we took the MRT north to the Palace Museum:

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By chance, we arrived just before and English language tour was departing. The museum is huge, and we only saw a portion of the displays. We'll have to go back to see the rest another time!

For dinner, we went over to the ShiLin night market, the largest in Taipei. The market is separated into a food area and non-food area (clothes, shoes, jewelry, random stuff). Most of the food is in a large building, and I have to admit, it wasn't my favorite place. Partly because the space is enclosed, it smells of cooking fuel, and a million kinds of food mixed together. It's also pretty grimy looking. Unfortunately, I didn't get any good photos that night.

Many of the stalls have grease and dirt splattered everywhere, but that didn't stop us from trying a few things. First, we tried choudofu (stinky tofu). My mom insists the fried version is the way to go, so that's what we got. It was surprisingly un-stinky, but pretty good. There are tons of fruit juice/bubble tea stands, so we tried one out. I got iced green tea, Keith had pearl milk tea, and my mom got bitter melon juice, which was actually really good. They blended white bitter melon with pineapple juice and honey. Very refreshing.

After drinks, we went to another place to get oyster omelettes. Unfortunately, it came with a pool of peanut sauce on the side. Keith very carefully tried the portion that was un-tarnished with sauce. The pancake itself was great with really fresh-tasting oysters; the sauce, not so much (lukewarm and kind of slimy :wacko: ). We also got huazhigeng (squid/cuttlefish stew), which was very good. Finally, we got an order of sticky rice with meat. My mom specifically asked if the rice had peanuts, and the woman running the stand said "no", so we ordered it. Then, it came smothered in the same gross peanut sauce that came with the oyster pancake. Ugh.

I think I wouldn't mind going to a smaller night market, but the ShiLin experience was a bit much for me. Too crowded, too dirty, and let's just say it still wasn't agreeing with me for most of the night. Don't worry, though, the next day was our tour with my friend's family, and it was awesome :smile:

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...The bread in Taiwan is usually soft buns...I don't think crusty european bread is popular there.

Absolutely correct observation. I grew up in Hong Kong and had never seen a sour dough or French baguette until I came to the USA. Bread in HK, Taiwan, Mainland China are mostly soft crust.

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... and kongxincai (hollow stem vegetable--I'm sure someone knows a better name!). The people at the market are very nice. The woman my mom goes to gives her free ginger and scallions every time.

The "hollow stem vegetable" is called Ong Choy in Cantonese. Tung Cai in Mandarin.

Flaky pastry with curry beef filling. Yum!

If you like the bakery items in Taiwan, you are going to love the bakery items in Hong Kong. From my experiences in the USA, or perhaps they just didn't do it very well, the Taiwanese bakery items are not up to par. I am always disappointed. The breads are too dry, to hard, or something. Hopefully what you had in Taipei is better than those from the Taiwanese bakeries in the States.

Chocolate cake. Most of the cake in Taipei is of a sponge variety with cream instead of frosting. It's very tender and moist, and not too sweet. I  :wub:  this stuff.

That's what I am used to also: cakes that are not overly sweet. The cakes made in the US, in my taste, is way too sweet.

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Nishla - the hollow stem vegetable is called Kangkong in the Philippines and is great steamed and then topped with sauteed shrimp paste and sesame oil. The apple custard is called Atis in my language and is a family favorite (esp. my Dad). I am really loving your blog since my best friend (an American) is working there now.

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...The bread in Taiwan is usually soft buns...I don't think crusty european bread is popular there.

Absolutely correct observation. I grew up in Hong Kong and had never seen a sour dough or French baguette until I came to the USA. Bread in HK, Taiwan, Mainland China are mostly soft crust.

My uncle calls crusty bread "deng sei gou" (Cantonese) - literally "thrown at a dog can kill it".

I find HK bread too soft and bland, but the pastries and baus from the bakeries are 1st class.

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I'm in Taiwan right now, and I think haven't heard the hollow vegetable called anything but kong xin tsai (hollow heart vegetable). Maybe it has a different name in different places?

And here's some more Chingrish, courtesy of a strawberry cake received today. I'm not quite sure if Fragrance is the name of a bakery chain here, or whether they're just a wholesale distributer of Chingrish-laden bakery boxes.....

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Edited by stephenc (log)

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Flaky pastry with curry beef filling. Yum!

If you like the bakery items in Taiwan, you are going to love the bakery items in Hong Kong. From my experiences in the USA, or perhaps they just didn't do it very well, the Taiwanese bakery items are not up to par. I am always disappointed. The breads are too dry, to hard, or something. Hopefully what you had in Taipei is better than those from the Taiwanese bakeries in the States.

I found the quality of the bakeries to vary wildly. We tried the curry pastries at another place, and the pastry was hard, with dry filling. Another place had cake that was too dry. Luckily, the bakery we went to most often was very good. It's about one block up Roosevelt Rd. from the GongGuan MRT station. I'll have some photos of it later.

As a random aside, the MRT (subway) in Taipei is amazing. Most rides are less than US$1, it's clean, very new, and the longest we waited for a train was 6 minutes. There are also decent bathrooms in each station. Taipei is also pretty easy to navigate for non-Chinese speakers. Almost all road and MRT signs are in both Chinese and English, and a lot of restaurants have English or picture versions of menus. Even at the food carts, pointing works pretty well. :smile: I happen to speak Mandarin, but I feel like I could have done pretty well without it.

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Yimay, I do recall seeing something about the dates being called jujubes, but I'm not sure what that term means either!

CFT, your uncle's comment about the bread is hilarious. It's actually comical to watch some of my Chinese relatives eat crusty bread. The faces they make followed by something like, "what sort of bread IS this?" or "this will break your teeth".

Also, thanks for all the additional names for what I call kong xin cai. Does anyone know if it has a common name in English?

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Yimay, I do recall seeing something about the dates being called jujubes, but I'm not sure what that term means either!

CFT, your uncle's comment about the bread is hilarious. It's actually comical to watch some of my Chinese relatives eat crusty bread. The faces they make followed by something like, "what sort of bread IS this?" or "this will break your teeth".

Also, thanks for all the additional names for what I call kong xin cai. Does anyone know if it has a common name in English?

Water spinach.

Domestic Goddess, it's called kangkung/kangkong in Malay, too. I'm guessing perhaps that's a Hokkien or Hakka name?

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