Tag Archives: taipei

Five on Friday: Taiwan Street Food part 2

Taipei street food vendor

Taipei street food vendor | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/100, f8, ISO 400

There are a number of events this weekend celebrating the 100th anniversary of Taiwan (or the Republic of China, depending on what side of the fence you fall on). The Taiwanese American Cultural Festival takes place from 10am to 6pm tomorrow in San Francisco’s Union Square and it claims that visitors can “enjoy a sampling of the culinary culture of Taiwan and taste Taiwanese dishes such as bah-tzang (Taiwanese tamale), Taiwanese sausage and stir fried noodles. Food will be served ‘tapas’ style to parallel the common ‘nightmarket’ experience in Taiwan where people try different food items from street food carts. Arrive early and order quickly before the food runs out!” The festival layout diagram shows that only a small corner is earmarked for the food section, but it might be worth checking out. If I’m disappointed (which is highly possible), I may have to turn to 168 Restaurant in Pacific East Mall. It’s not the same, but close. Just stay away from their stinky tofu!

Even more intriguing is the Taiwanese Night Market Event at University of Washington in Seattle, also happening tomorrow. If the Bay Area can have food truck rallies (in fact, there’s one tonight at Fort Mason), is a Taiwanese night market event too far afield? Or how about a Taiwanese food truck? Anyone?

Oh, and San Diego is hosting a Taiwanese Food Fair tomorrow, too. Happy eating! By the way, if you’re interested or missed it the first time around, you can read my first post on Taiwan street food here.

taipei street food vendor

Taipei street food vendor | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/40, f4, ISO 200

Taipei street market vendor | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/50, f6.3, ISO 100

Taipei street market vendor | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/50, f6.3, ISO 100

Taipei braised food vendor

Taipei braised food vendor | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/60, f8, ISO 200

Taiwanese takeaway

Taiwanese takeaway | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/125, f8, ISO 200

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Five on Friday: Taiwan Street Food

Candied tomatoes and plums | Canon 5D, 84mm, 1/60 f4.5, ISO 100

When traveling to Taiwan, it’s a good idea to pack a bottomless stomach—the volume of cheap, tempting street food you’ll encounter will require it. Essentially, any comestible that can be purchased and consumed without setting foot into a brick-and-mortar building can be called “street food.” Hot dogs, pretzels, tacos, and ice cream, for instance, reign in large parts of the U.S.; the selection of portable foodstuffs increases dramatically when you go to a county fair or carnival, although at this point said foodstuffs are now termed “fair food.”

Carts and open-air food stalls are everywhere in Taiwan, hawking steamed buns, pillowy filled cakes, shaved ice, bowls of slippery noodles, and grilled or deep-fried goodies that you eat from a stick or out of a waxed paper bag. No need to decipher a menu or exchange words with the vendor—you can see and smell exactly what’s being offered. Just point at what you want and indicate how many.

Japanese food stall, Taipei | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/50 f5.6, ISO 250

Of course, just because you can see the food doesn’t mean you’ll know what it is. The vast array of Taiwanese street food can be overwhelming, especially if you didn’t grow up eating the stuff, don’t know the language, or haven’t dissected a fetal pig in years (internal organs are everywhere). This is when an adventurous palate comes in handy.

Fresh kidneys and liver (for soup) | Canon 5D, 73mm, 1/80 f5.6, ISO 400

Night-market kebabs: cuttlefish, pigeon, tofu, gizzards, hearts, livers | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/25 f4, ISO 400

Night markets offer the most street foods in one place. Stinky tofu is perennially popular, and lines snake around particularly pungent stalls. Other staples include runny oyster pancakes, pig’s blood cake (known in Western cultures as blood sausage) dusted with peanut powder, crispy scallion pancakes, fried duck tongues, sweet tofu pudding, grass jelly, and—my favorite—taro dough balls. The latter are squishy and chewy like tapioca balls, but denser. The Taiwanese have a word for this specific texture that I don’t believe exists in Mandarin: “cue cue.” These “cue cue” dough balls also come in yam, sweet potato, and black sesame varieties—they’re a real party in your mouth.

Now, if only some place in the Bay Area could fulfill my Taiwanese street food cravings….

Taro, yam, and sesame balls over shaved ice | Canon 5D, 60mm, 1/25 f4, ISO 800

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Subways, street markets, and stinky tofu: Taipei revisited

Festival of Lights (Year of the Ox) with Taipei 101 in the background | Canon 5D, 50mm, 1/25 f4, ISO 400

Two years ago today, C & I landed in Taipei, Taiwan. It was C’s second time out of the country and first time to Asia. I, on the other hand, had spent two miserable summers there as a teenager (you can read my journal entries from that tumultuous period here) and accumulated a handful of traumatic moments as a kid, but I’d soon discover that it was like I’d never been there before.

My last trip 15 years earlier was fraught with overprotective relatives, sexist uncles, and ravenous mosquitoes hellbent on turning me into the largest human welt ever. (The typhoon, earthquake, and power outages seemed mild in comparison.) The internet was still breastfeeding, and I had no idea travel guides existed (although I’ll hazard a guess that none about Taiwan existed at the time).

Basically, I was plopped into a foreign land with the speaking and comprehension skills of an eight-year-old, and my relatives treated me like one. I had no lifeline back to the States, except for occasional calls from my mom and letters from friends who were clever enough to xerox multiple copies of my address so that they didn’t have to try to recreate the squiggles and boxes themselves.

Nowadays, the idea of my parents footing the bill for a two-month trip abroad sounds awesome, but back then, I hated it. I was convinced that my parents were punishing me for being too independent and “Westernized.” I wanted nothing more than to spend the summer hanging out with my friends, going to shows, and not worrying about my belongings falling into the gaping maw of a squat toilet. If photography had been my friend back then, my sentence would’ve no doubt passed by more quickly. And perhaps I would’ve appreciated the whole situation from another level.

Unfortunately, I had few pleasant memories of Taiwan, and I was a little nervous about returning after all these years. As it turned out, all my trepidation evaporated the moment we checked into the Yomi Hotel and were not accosted by mosquitoes, flying cockroaches, or crass uncles sucking on unfiltered cigarettes. Instead, we were greeted by a comfy king-sized bed, a flat-screen TV, copious snacks, and a large, brightly lit bathroom with a Western toilet. Ahhh…freedom!

Although I had been completely disconnected from the city, I could tell that Taipei had changed a lot since 1994. The air quality, for one, had improved dramatically since the establishment of the MRT (metro/subway) in 1996. The MRT itself was clean and sleek, and featured signs in Chinese and English, making intracity travel a breeze. In fact, I was amazed by how tiny the city felt–at least compared to the sprawl that existed in my wholly unreliable memory.

Taipei MRT, reducing smog and traffic congestion since 1996 | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/30 f4.5, ISO 400

Other signs of modernization included quirky themed restaurants (such as Modern Toilet), recycling stations, tattoo/piercing parlors (in trendy Ximending), and Taipei 101 (erected in 2004 and the world’s tallest building until 2010). Even the teenagers, who were on the chaste, geeky side when I last visited, had updated their look, taking their cues from Toyko and Lady Gaga (the profusion of false eyelashes was particularly disturbing). They were, however, speaking the Taiwanese language again, unlike 15 years ago, when doing so was considered uncouth by anyone under the age of 35.

modern toilet

Modern Toilet restaurant (left), Ximending neighborhood | Canon 5D, 17mm, 1/40 f4, ISO 400

Recycling station | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/50 f8, ISO 200

Happily (if this is indeed the right adverb), some elements–such as the smell–were still the same. One thing that has stuck with me from an early age is Taipei’s smell, a swampy, putrid bouquet that brings to mind dead rats, sweaty socks, or garbage (some might say it’s a combination of the three). In fact, anytime, anywhere I pass by an aromatic sewer, I think of Taipei; I often even make an exclamation to that effect. In Taipei, you can encounter this smell anywhere, regardless of your proximity to a sewer or a garbage can. It’s especially pronounced at any of Taipei’s many night markets because they’re the setting for the country’s favorite snack: stinky tofu. This fermented delicacy and the aforementioned odor have one thing in common–can you guess what it is? We were too scarred by a bad batch of stinky tofu in the States to dare indulge in it again. Maybe next time.

Urban art and excess, Dihua Street | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/250 f8, ISO 100

Songshan Ci You Temple, near Raohe Street Night Market | Canon 5D, 67mm, 1/25 f4, ISO 500

Our week-long trip took in temples big and small, street markets galore, two vegetarian restaurants, several museums (historical and art), and a few natural areas. The National Palace Museum was much smaller than I remembered, but the tiny ships (complete with passengers) intricately carved from peach pits were no less amazing. The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial sat on one edge of vast Liberty Square, which I didn’t recall at all but was the site of art installations, wushu training, carp ponds, reflexology gardens, and other delights. I took about 750 photos, while C took over 1,000. Here’s a brief post about the street food.

Oh, and we spent time with my some of my relatives. Aside from one uncle, they were a nice, hospitable bunch. It’s said that you can never go home again, but sometimes that’s a very good thing.

Open-air pedicure | Canon 5D, 24mm, 1/200 f10, ISO 400

Open-air meat stall (with a ginormous tongue on the right) | Canon 5D, 32mm, 1/50 f6.3, ISO 200

National Palace Museum | Canon 5D, 28mm, 1/320 f8, ISO 100

Liberty Square at night | Canon 5D, 24mm, 13sec f10, ISO 100

Learning to pray. By Canderson

Dirty, nose-licking pomeranian. By Canderson

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