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If You Do Not Like Food, Do NOT Come To Taipei

Disclaimer: This is a long one, but with lots of pretty pictures (click on them for larger versions) for those of us with short attention spans…oooh, look at the kitty…what was I saying??…

Addiction… Webster’s defines it as:

1 : the quality or state of being addicted <addiction to reading>

2 : compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly : persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful

Addiction can come in many forms – sex, gambling, drugs, alcohol, money, people, etc. And while I am sure many of us have been addicted to one or all of the above, my current addiction stems around Taipei…and the FOOD!

A selection of goodies at a typical street market stall in a Taipei “non-tourist” neighborhood

I call this “Duck and Pork Belly Heaven.” Unreal – its funny since Pork Belly is fast becoming the “most overdone dish” at many restaurants and it is commanding high prices. It is basically uncured bacon and is considered a simple, almost peasant food in Taiwan. You can get a HEALTHY portion of it for about $3US – as opposed to $12-$16 in restaurants in USA.

Lobster and Fish Balls ready to be fried

A Crab about to become someone’s lunch

As the title says, Taipei – and Taiwan in general is not a place to visit if you do not like food. Eating is not just for sustenance here – it is the national pastime. The food here is some of the most amazing I have ever had. Every meal I eat seems to build on the other, yet I can never seem to get enough, and you never seem to get full until you have eaten the equivalent of two lunches or dinners at one sitting. And cheap? You can survive here and eat really well on less than $10-$15 per day – no joke.

CULTURE

So how to describe Taiwanese food? Most people here cannot describe it – but it basically boils down to somewhat of a Chinese regional cuisine. Culturally, Taiwan has influences from all over – Chinese with some Japanese (actually, a lot of Japanese influence), European, USA (lots of things are in English here) and some Malay peppered in. They have their dishes they are famous for such as stinky tofu, beef noodle soup, pork sung (think dried, shredded pork), oyster vermicelli soup, and many offally-inspired side dishes – but you can see the influence of the world in the food around the city. But like many Asian countries, it’s the condiments that get you – the fresh ginger, the red chilies, and the variety of sauces…oh, but the chilies, they are feeding my addiction.

Do not let the name “Stinky Tofu” fool you. This stuff is stone cold delicious – think fried, crispy aged cheese that is WAY healthier for you. This is a shot of the best I have had in a neighborhood near Guting MRT station – fried extra crispy with some of that red chili sauce and transport yourself to a better place – and btw, this was about $1.40 US.

A fresh meat stand in a Taipei neighborhood Street Market. Do not let the lack of plastic wrap or the occasional attached head or appendage scare you. This food is fresh and delicious (pork tastes like pork and chicken tastes like chicken in this country – as opposed to the mass-produced and literally watered down versions we eat in USA. Go watch Food, Inc. for further explanation) and we need to remember where our food comes from – and it’s not from the Shop Rite…

To get an understanding of the food here, you first need to think of the demographics…Taipei has about 3 Million people in the “city proper” – but probably more like 6 million people if you count the “near surrounding areas” of the city. Taipei has interesting contrasts (more on this later) and great diversity – both at the high-end (Michelin Star restaurants & nice places to go where foreigners frequent) but, for me and many others, Taipei is all about the street food and the night markets (Note: The Night Markets are so incredible, I think they will need their own post).

The scene at the Shilin Night Market – on a weeknight. There is no need to cook at home when food this good and this cheap is available. If only fast food in the USA had this price/quality ratio

An a-ha moment is when you see that most people eat every – and I mean every – meal out of the home. But the difference between here and say, NYC, is that you can eat every meal out and still save money (an average dish here costs about $2-$3 US) – whereas New Yorkers spend all their money on rent & eating out (this is one of the dichotomies of life I never understood – logic would dictate that if you spend a lot on housing, you would eat in to save – but New Yorkers DO NOT COOK ).

Sorry, my lack of attention span gets the best of me again…as I was saying, street food is the way to go here. It’s fast, cheap, and made with only the best ingredients. It’s depressing to think how crappy our fast food is back in the USA and see how fresh and (mostly) un-processed the food here is.

Skewered delights at a Night Market

I had a fantastic dinner at a “higher end” place here, but I have basically resolved to only dine at places that would not exist in the USA because of “health department” reasons. That is one of the misperceptions of the street stands/holes in the wall. Trust me, if they served bad or spoiled food or someone got sick, word would spread  faster than Chlamydia at Tiger Woods house through the neighborhood and those people would go out of business.

Food Stalls like this would not exist for “health concerns” – but thousands of happy people eat at places like this every day in Taiwan – the food is good and cheap

Prepping Tofu on the streets like this would definitely be “no bueno” in USA

Open air kitchen = great wonton soup. I have to eat it here since this would not exist in USA unless it was Grandma’s house

The most interesting thing for me is that many of the street stands, or even the small neighborhood places you can go in and sit down, do not sell beverages AT ALL (obviously, many places do sell drinks too, but…). So, most places are a literal BYOB! So, the drill is usually to place an order somewhere for food, then run to the corner to get a beer and bring it back to your seat!(usually at one of the 4,000+ 7-11’s here – more on that later, and that number is not a joke).  By the time you return, the food is there. High quality and high care. People do strange caring things here – they wipe bowls, they make sure you are comfortable. I had coffee beans ground from a bag – they re-sealed the bag and wiped off the outside of the bag – people REALLY care here…

A little shark, some wonton soup (note: The Wonton Soup in Taiwan is so much better than regular Chinese Wonton Soup – the wonton are so thin and light in this version, they melt in your mouth). Food was $3; Beer was $2 – experience was priceless

BREAKFAST

Ok, this is not the Starbucks breakfast with the zero-trans fat butter less (DO NOT GET ME STARTED) commissary gummy croissant (although Starbucks is here in Taipei – and always crowded). No, breakfast here can be anything – pastry, pork sung rice ball, soup  – anything. There are no set rules here – any food can be had at any time of the day, and no one will look strangely upon you. But, some typical shots are below.

Egg Pancake with Ham – very typical breakfast. Add sweet sauce and chili – and look out! About $1.50US. My favorite is this with Pork Sung

Grilled Daikon cake – so good with the chili sauce

The people of Taipei are fiendish about their coffee. I mean it is a real sickness here. For a country that has all but perfected tea, they are obsessed with coffee. There are some high-end shops here selling serious equipment (siphon coffee, drip coffee, etc.). Overall, the coffee here is good if they use the right machines

Lunch/Dinner/Anytime

Have I mentioned they like to eat in Taiwan? At all times of day, hunger will strike you. I will post the night market one on its own, but that is why the night markets are so popular – people are ALWAYS HUNGRY. Anyway, here are some random food shots – ENJOY!

Lard Rice – Yes, that’s what I said…it’s Taiwanese for “Fucking Good!”

The beef and pork jerky is too good here – this is some kind of crazy glazed bacon that is “blackout good”

The duck does not suck in Taiwan

Have I mentioned that the duck is good here?

Braised Pork Knuckle – fall off the bone good! About $3US

Chinese Medicine Soup – the broth is magical! Add noodles, ginger, duck, and beef and you will start to develop the same addiction I have. The soup is Dong Quai root based, but is darker than most I have seen here in US – I must find out the recipe…

El Raton with the proprietor of the Medicine Soup place – she was shocked that someone like me (aka whitey) would like the soups as most “like me” did not (the soup has a distinct flavor from Dong Quai root and lots of fresh ginger)…I got that a lot in Taiwan – everyone was concerned for my eating well-being, fearing that foods wold be too spicy or not to my palate. 

So…if you are not hungry – STAY HOME!!!!


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  • ximoon April 27, 2010, 12:08 pm

    Hi, thank you for your sharing…
    I’m a student and research about of the Taiwan’s Shilin Night Market, can you please help me to do a survey regarding on your view of Shilin Night Market, and the website as below as:
    http://www.my3q.com/home2/327/ximoon/72104.phtml
    Thank you for your helping, and wish you have a nice day. ^^