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