I was having a pretty rotten day/week/month so I decided to treat myself to some Northstar Cafe. Sandwich was great, the coffee was refreshing, and the "coleslaw" was unlike any I've ever had which is good because I don't like coleslaw. Northstar's version, however, was delicious.
We've been taking it easy the last couple of days in preparation for our 5-day road trip around the coast of Taiwan. That suits me fine. To be honest, I've been a bit worn out and starting to get a little homesick. I still love Taiwan and I'm glad to be here but I'll also be happy to be home in just about a week and a half.
After breakfast I went for a run/walk around the city. I got more than a little lost (somewhat deliberately) and I didn't bring my phone or any money so I had to rely on my wits and Chinese skills to find my way home. A nice little adventure to start the day as I got to explore the city as I wandered the streets for a couple of hours.
Lunch: Peanut Butter Beef Sandwich
For lunch, we decided to try the other cafe right under our flat. I was intrigued by the unorthodox combination of peanut butter and beef. Unfortunately, it wasn't very good. I think the flavor combination is fine but the execution of the sandwich was poor. The beef did not taste good and the lettuce was soggy. I can make a better sandwich.
Snack: Ice Cream Sundae Crepes
Breakfast: Luobo Gao (Turnip Cake)
Dinner: Mall Noodles
Lunch: Yingge Baozi Pt. 2
Made a trip to revisit the baozi shop from just a few days before. Unfortunately, they only had dessert buns left today. That's okay, still amazing.
Dinner: Mos Burger & Sushi Carousel
Mom, Pat, and I went into the city to watch the movie, Spy. One of the best comedies of the decade and a must-watch for 2015.
On the way home, we stopped at Banqiao to grab some Mos Burger, a popular burger joint in Taiwan.
Back in Zhongli, we ate at a one of those restaurants where the sushi travels around on a carousel. You just grab what you want and pay by the plate. It was my first time at this type of restaurant; quite a unique experience. Pat and I had about 8 plates each. At $1 USD per plate, it was a relatively expensive dinner by Taiwan standards.
Dropped mom off at class and took the MRT to Danshui. We were going to bike but the bike rental shop is only open on weekends. We walked along the pier for a while and visited an old fort (held by 9 different countries over its history). On the way back, we ate some a-gei (bean curd stuffed with rice noodles doused in a savory sauce) and Pat and I each got a TOWERING soft-serve ice cream cone. Other than that, it was a really chill day.
Lunch and Dinner: Home-Cooking
Today was all about getting to hang out with this truly delightful girl. The one and only little Lee.
Breakfast: Fried Daikon Bun
On the way to Daan Forest Park we spotted a long line. If people were willing line up to get this then it must be good right? We decided to find out. Unfortunately, it wasn't worth it. Not only was the line long, but it moved slow. By the time we got our food, it would have had to have been absolutely incredible just to meet my expectations. It was just okay. Honestly, I felt it was quite lacking in flavor and would have really benefited from some hot sauce and soy sauce to make it more tasty. It seemed like most people were buying a bunch of them and taking it home. Maybe they were adding their own sauces at home. Oh well, it was a slight hiccup in what was an altogether awesome day, foodwise.
Lunch: Yong Kang Beef Noodle and Strawberry, Kiwi, Mango Snowflake Ice
After visiting the park, we headed over to Yongkang St. for lunch. Specifically, Yong Kang Beef Noodle. The famous noodle joint is renowned for serving one the best bowls of beef noodle soup in Taipei, although, it's considered rather touristy now. But that's okay because we're tourists! And this was the best beef noodle soup I've ever had as far as I can remember. The beef was so tender, the broth was flavorful, and noodles were just right. I also enjoyed the free topping of pickled mustard greens.
For dessert, I made us stop and get some mango snowflake ice (like shaved ice but softer, fluffier, and creamier). Why haven't I had this sooner? Day 11 and this is the first time having this?! It was more expensive than I remember but sooo worth it. One of my all-time favorite foods for sure.
Xiangshan (Elephant Mountain)
Bellies full? Check. Now time for hiking! We took the MRT a couple stops to the base of Elephant Mountain and then proceeded to engage in Pat's 4th least favorite vacation activity.
The mountain "overlooks" Taipei 101 and its city. Although the mountain is not quite as tall as Taipei 101, the view was still spectacular and I'd take the free hike up Elephant Mountain over the expensive, touristy elevator ride up 101 nine times out of ten.
We did the O-H-I-O. We asked a passing hiker, we'll call him David, to take the picture for us. Taipei 101 is supposed to be our "I". He did his best.
Dinner: Raohe Night Market
After descending the mountain, it was time for dinner! On the way to the night market, we crossed paths with David again. Earlier I said "we'll call him David" because I think we all forgot his name about 30 seconds after he told us. A lot of times when I meet someone new, I get so bamboozled by the effort of trying to make small talk that I forget to remember the most essential thing: the name! For what it's worth, I remember his middle name (Alan), his hometown (San Francisco), his age (22), and his major (Computer Science).
Anyway, David was really friendly and he asked to come with us to the night market. Being white and unable to speak Chinese, I think he felt relieved being able to tag along with us for the night. Since I was the oldest of us, it fell to me to make most of the decisions and get us to where we needed to be and I feel like I held my own out there. I ordered food for Pat and David, got us on the right MRT trains, found each destination on our itinerary without too much problem, delivered Deborah home at a reasonable hour, and got Pat and myself back to Zhongli, safe and sound. I felt somewhat capable!
Between the four of us, we got:
- Seasoned grilled scallop skewers (buy 3, get 1 free!)
- Fried shrimp with mayo and sprinkles
- Pork leg noodle soup - The broth was really warm and savory. rejuvenating after a whole day of hiking and walking the city. David got some too and he bravely tried the cartilage for the first time.
- O-a-jian (Oyster Omelette)
- Peanut Ice Cream Wrap - Part 2 had 3 different kinds of ice cream. I got cilantro on mine this time and convinced David to do that same. He actually really liked it! I admire his adventurousness.
- Yan Su Ji (Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken) - 1 small bag to satisfy Deborah's craving
- Pat and Deborah got a box of macarons each just a little over $1
- David got many different flavors of mochi. The shop owner told me the flavors in the Chinese and I translated them for him.
- Pat got a beef cheese roll. He said it was good.
- I got 2 cups of lemon green tea with fig jelly. Possibly my favorite type of night market drink.
It was getting pretty late and I promised Deborah's grandma that we would walk her home (she was afraid that Deborah would get "stolen") so we got on the MRT and headed back.
I had A BLAST hanging out with the little-est Lee. #deborahintaiwan #ilovepasta
Breakfast: Sunny Hills Pineapple Shortcake
After last night's fun but tiring adventure to the Fengjia Night Market in central Taiwan, we decided a little rest and relaxation was in order. Pat got to stay home all day (his favorite) and I went with my uncle to get my first ever professional massage. It's not something I would do regularly but it did feel good. After the massage, Uncle took us to a buffet.
It was quite good. Sashimi, soups, dim sum, xiao cai, slushie machines, and many different flavored jellies. I had ALL the jellies.
A nice, relaxing day thanks to Uncle Lei.
Dinner: Fengjia Night Market
NIGHT MARKET! I've always loved trying a little bit of everything so night markets are perfect for me. Fengjia night market is the largest in Taiwan.
- Fried calamari with nori seasoning
- Cheesy baked potato stuffed with shrimp - the only choice of the night that I didn't like
- Duck sandwich
- 6-in-1 Combo Juice (grass jelly, almond jelly, fig jelly, lime juice, kumquat juice, and boba)
- Steak bites seared with a blow torch
- Fresh watermelon Juice
- Lazy man's crab bites (it's called that because they are breaded, seasoned, and fried and you can eat them whole, without bothering with the shell)
- Lazy man's shrimp skewers
- Chicken wing stuffed with rice
- Red tea stinky tofu
- Fried octopus bites
Everything was really good except for the baked potato. In particular, I think the 6-in-1 Combo Juice and the Watermelon Juice are my favorite drinks so far this trip. I also really enjoyed the duck sandwich and the lazy man's crab was quite memorable. It rained quite heavily which made handling things a little more difficult but the night market was quite beautiful in the rain.
Awesome food, great night, and another thing crossed off the must-do list.
Breakfast: Shao Bing, Luo Bo Gao, He Bao Dan
Dad took me for walk into Zhongli to get a good breakfast. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy Taiwanese breakfast?
Lunch: Mom's Cooking
It's nice to be able to eat with the family, like old times.
After lunch, we headed over the Yingge which is just a few train stops over from Zhongli (where we live). Taiwan is cool because it's compact enough that you can reach everything with its really convenient public transportation.
It was raining but I actually find summer rains quite enjoyable and the walk to the train station was rather pretty.
Yingge was nice. The town is famed for its ceramics. Every other shop was peddling finely crafted vases, tea pots, bowls, and the like.
The town was nice and the pottery was neat but I wasn't really in the market for ceramics.
Snack: Ode to Baozi
Once upon a time there was a young, sprightly lad by the name of Joshua. He could, on occasion, be seen stuffing baozi after baozi into his busy yet smiling mouth. No sooner had one bao been swallowed than the next had come to fill the brief vacancy. Baozi made Joshua happy.
But something happened. Years passed and, for some reason, Joshua found his love for baozi dwindling. It's not as if he was avoiding baozi. He would eat a baozi every now and then. But when was the last time he really enjoyed it? He couldn't remember. When was the last time he ate a baozi that was actually good? He would eat baozi at restarants- they all tasted the same, nothing special. He would buy baozi from Chinese bakeries- they were just okay. He would buy frozen bao from the grocery market- is this what bao has come to? He even tried to make his own bao- the filling was dry and tasted weird. Joshua began to question whether he really ever loved bao. Was it all just a glorified memory? A nostalgic fantasy? Joshua had lost hope in bao.
Until that day. That beautiful day. That glorious day when Bao returned into Joshua's life. Born of a recommendation from his uncle, love for baozi was restored. Soft, steamed buns filled with savory, succulent saucy meats and vegetables. The initial, deep bite releasing aromatic tendrils of steam trapped in the juicy center. After inhaling each and every one of the delectable pillows from heaven, a single tear fell from his left eye.
Seriously though, these were the best baozi I've ever eaten. they had about 15 different flavors (although the flavors they have on hand vary from day to day). We had the original (filled with juicy, saucy meat), jiu cai (a chive-like vegetable), pork kimchi, pepper steak, and black sesame. My mouth is watering typing this. Yingge is only two train stops from Zhongli where we live so I'll try to come back here whenever I get the opportunity.
Dinner: Not Baozi
We went to a restaurant for dinner. Actually, I had been to this restaurant before, 5 years ago with the STM team. The food was good but both my mind and stomach were full of the baozi from just a couple hours ago.
Breakfast: Fan Tuan w/ Lychee
Already a week! Not much else to say about fan tuan that I haven't already said. To be honest, I've gone a little overboard with it because it was my first taste of Taiwanese breakfast this trip. There's so many more wonderful Taiwanese breakfast foods to be had! So this will probably be my last fan tuan for a while.
However, I haven't said anything about lychee yet. My #3 fruit! Mom said that this lychee was a special kind called "Jade Purse Lychee" which is larger and juicier and has a smaller seed. It's more expensive but wow was it worth it.
Lunch: Ba-wan @ Banqiao
Pat and the parents felt like staying in today so I went with my Aunt and my cousin into Taipei. I took selfies while waiting for the train.
Second breakfast! While walking around the mall we happened upon a "Mr. Donut" and my cousin mentioned that it was her favorite. Sounds good to me! She was right, it was delicious. I loved how soft and chewy it was! Definitely a fan of donuts in Taiwan.
After the delightful snack and a black coffee (I was feeling a bit sleepy), we did a little more window shopping and then headed over to the food court. The first shop I saw, I knew it was the one. Aunt and cousin told me to make a circle around the food court to see what else there was but my heart was set. I wanted the Ba-wan.
Ba-wan. According to wikipedia: Ba-wan is a Taiwanese dim sum, consisting of a 6–8 cm diameter disk-shaped translucent dough filled with a savory stuffing and served with a sweet and savory sauce. According to me: delicious. This particular ba-wan was filled with meat, mushroom, and a quail egg. The dish also came with a soup and a side dish of my choosing. After eating, we headed over to Ximending.
Snack: Shaved Ice @ Modern Toilet
I would describe Ximending as the Times Square of Taiwan. My cousin took us to a restaurant called "Modern Toilet" and, as the name implies, the shindig was a shrine to the porcelain throne. The decorations were toilets, the light fixtures were in the shape of poo, the seats were toilets, the paintings featured toilets or poo, the bowls were toilets, the sink was a toilet, the toilet was a toilet.
We ordered shaved ice with kiwi sauce and, since there was a minimum order, we also ordered fries and popcorn chicken. As I feared, a place that relies so heavily on a toilet gimmick might be a bit lacking regarding food quality. Indeed, the place seemed to be nothing more than just a tourist attraction. The shaved ice wasn't great and the fries and chicken were standard American fare. But that's okay! It was the experience and novelty we paid for.
Dinner: Niu Rou Mian @ Taipei Main Station
More shopping. Saw some really cool stuff including a sizable Iron Man in Hulkbuster array. I wish I could buy everything but I think dropping so much cash on toys would be frowned upon (that Hulkbuster Iron Man was going for $120 USD).
We also stopped by an arcade (Taiwan arcades are awesome! - the games look way more interesting than the ones at Dave & Busters), visited a Scent Library (with interesting scents such as "Redhead in Bed", "Dirt", "Clean Skin", and "Fuzzy Navel"), and shared some pastries.
Finally, it was about time to go home. Aunt treated me to dinner at a Niu Rou Mian shop at Taipei Main Station. Apparently, the beef noodles at this shop had won a bunch of awards. The trophies were displayed proudly on the counter. Nice. Except... there were three other niu rou mian shops right beside this one and each of them had their own gallery of trophies. Oh well, not much you can do but squint suspiciously and enjoy your noodles. Which i did. And at the end of the day, that's pretty much all that matters.
When I got home, I was beat. I went right to bed. I had a great day in the city with my relatives.
Breakfast: Dan Bing w/ Pork Chops
It was raining so no fan tuan today. Instead, I went to the Tomato Cafe on the same block as our apartment. I ordered the egg pancake with pork chops and hot sauce. Tasty!
After breakfast, I cut myself some mango. With all the excitement of dragon fruit, I forgot about my #2, the mango. I also forgot how much better mangos are here. SO GOOD.
Lunch: Mom's Cooking
Mom's tofu is always really good!
We stayed in today because it was raining and because grandma was away in the city so we had to take care of grandpa and keep him company. This meant several hours of MahJong.
I got a little bored so mom subbed in for me and I went out to walk the streets of Neili in the rain. I found a rather robust farmer's market but I only had a $1000 bill on me so I stopped by an OK Mart to break it. I loaded up on Asian snacks and candy, stuff that you can't get back in the States.
With my newly acquired $100 bills, I returned to the market and ordered two large pieces of tofu. It was only $20 total. Whoops. I forgot how cheap food is here. On the way home, I stopped by Coco and got some bubble tea for me and Pat.
Dinner: Grandpa's Favorite Hang
For dinner, grandpa took us to his favorite eatery across the street. The food was simple, decent. Nothing to write home about, you know? (even though I'm writing about it now)
Overall, it was a real chill day which is fine because you can't be hustle and bustle all the time, you gotta find time to actually relax on vacation too!
Breakfast: Fan Tuan (Again!)
Woke up and decided it was time to go get another fan tuan and another dragon fruit. On the way to la tienda de fan tuan, I snapped a creeper pic of this cute little kid carrying his lunch and walking to school by himself (the lady in the picture isn't with him, they went in different directions after crossing the street). My uncle was kind enough to buy me a large, cold bottle of coconut water. I don't really like coconut water but I think this one was sweeter than the kinds I've had in the U.S.
Lunch: Mom's cooking
Let's see what we have here:
- Fish (I stayed away from that, I can't deal with fish bones)
- Zongzi (Taiwanese tamales)
- Some green vegetable (cannot identify Asian vegetables)
You're doing good mom! :)
Taiwanese-style cheesecake for dessert. American cheesecake has crust with a rich, creamy cheese layer. Taiwanese style is one layer throughout, it has a light and fluffy texture similar to sponge cake.
Afternoon Adventure: Guanyin Mountain
Time to explore Taiwan's great outdoors. I just really enjoy the lush, green mountains all around this island.
All in all, it was about a 2 kilometer hike to Yinghan Peak and about half a kilometer in elevation. The first 500 meters was hard. The humidity and elevation combined with the fact that I haven't run in a while made me feel really sluggish. I was dripping sweat. After that first leg though, I had warmed up and I started to feel really good and there was a heavenly breeze blowing through the trees on the mountain.
I realize that pictures of the mountain probably aren't all that interesting.You have to actually be there and climb it. It was so fun! I broke away a little from Dad and Pat and decided to take a detour on a different path towards Jianshan. I'm really glad that I did. The path I took was completely unpaved and the terrain became much more treacherous... Just how I like it! At one point, the trail was so steep that it was almost straight up and it was like actually climbing. No one else was there, it was just me and the mountain.
However, I didn't make it all the way to Jianshan. After about 20 minutes on the road less traveled, I had to turn back because I was afraid that Dad and Pat would be waiting for me on Yinghan Peak (our original route). If I had been alone, I would have continued on, but, alas, I must return to my comrades. Still, it was a wonderful adventure and a great experience and I'm glad I chose to go. Fortunately, by the time I had arrived at Yinghan Peak, Dad and Pat hadn't been waiting long.
The view was spectacular. It was really cool to be able to see the coast on the right, the river's mouth, and all the towns alongside the snaking water. Danshui, Wuhu, Beitou, Gongying, Bali- these towns were visible in their entirety. It was like one of those strategy games where you get a top down view of the cities laid out over a map. It was amazing to be high up enough to see where each town began and where it ended. Danshui's famous fisherman's wharf and Lover's bridge were easily identifiable from this distance. Taipei City was also visible on the horizon to the right. I just love how compact Taiwan is that you can actually see multiple landmarks from the peak of a mountain.
Snack: Milk Bars, Honey Water, and Coffee
After descending the mountain, soaked with sweat and exhausted, we headed to the town of Bali for a sugary pick-me-up.
We ducked into a bakery and nibbled on milk bars (4 for $100 NTD), tiramisu, coffee, honey water, and every possible free sample they were offering. I felt like an exhausted bee sipping on sugar water. I definitely felt an energy boost. By the way, the milk bars were amazing! I didn't think I would like them and I thought about giving mine to Pat but thank goodness I didn't! It was lightly sweet, crispy on the outside, and soft and chewy on the inside.
We also got to try a new fruit we bought from a lady selling them from the base of the mountain. They're called "yangmei" in Chinese and I found out that they're called "bayberries" in English. They taste like strawberries and they have a pit in the middle that's good for sucking on. Cool!
We picked up my mom from class (she has some kind of seminary class on Tuesdays) and then headed over to the grandparents' house in Neili. She looked cute with her backpack; she reminded me of that kid I saw earlier...
Dinner: Grandma outdoes herself
Back at the old folks' home, the sugar high was wearing off and I was starting to jelly again.
Food please. Finally, grandma announced that dinner was ready. "YAY", I shouted.
The food was worth shouting for. What a spread!
We had clams, fatty slices of pork and chicken (each with its own dipping sauce), duck (dipping sauce for that too), bean curd with pork belly, pickled cucumbers, green beans, and thick scallion flat bread. Pat said it was his favorite meal of the entire trip. Personally, I enjoyed the tastes and experiences of Jiufen Old Street the night before, but I really can't fault him for his preference, the meal was pretty dang good.
Climbing the mountain was the highlight of my day and Grandma's dinner was a comforting finish. When we got home around 8 PM, I showered and went straight to bed- out cold soon as my head hit the pillow.
Breakfast - Wu Pao Chun Bakery and Hard-Boiled Eggs
Morning came! I finally got to finish off yesterday's leftover bread! Toasted the bread. Peeled the eggs. Stuffed my face. Doesn't get much better than this for breakfast.
Lunch - Xiao Cai (side dishes), Cornmeal Porridge, Niu Rou Mien (Beef Noodle Soup), Niu Rou Juan Bing (Beef Wrapped w/ Scallion Pancake), Xiao Long Bao (Chinese Soup Dumplings)
My parents took us to a restaurant they like nearby. Good! I especially liked the side dishes (3 for $1) with the complimentary porridge. The porridge perfectly balanced out the saltiness of the side dishes. I picked them! We had bean curd, sardines, and pig neck. The niu rou mien was wholesome and satisfying. Was it the best in Taiwan? Probably not. But it was cheap and better than any I've had in the U.S. and that's plenty good enough for me.
On the walk home, we picked up some bubble tea. I like how, back home, getting bubble tea is almost like an event. It's a once-in-a-while type treat while here, because of how cheap it is, bubble tea can be more like just a casual beverage to us.
Pat got Sunkist Mango Tea with boba and I got Rooibos Tea with "frog eggs" and coconut jelly.
Dinner - Spirited Away on Jiufen Old Street
YES. We drove about 40 minutes east to Jiufen, the inspiration for the setting of Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. The town was enchanting and the view of the surrounding mountains and coast was gorgeous. I'm so grateful to my parents for taking us to this lovely village. And besides the charm of the town and the captivating scenery, my craving for Taiwanese street food would finally be satisfied.
Beautiful. But I can't eat mountains and trees so let's get to the food.
A list of tonight's snacks in order of appearance:
- Hong Zhao Rou Wan (Red wine pork wrapped in a pocket of translucent rice served with a savory sauce and a cilantro garnish) - loved it.
- Snail - First time trying it. It was more interesting than it was tasty.
- Taro Balls - Served in a chilled soup consisting of sweet red and green beans. The taro balls had the flavor and consistency of mochi. Cool and refreshing.
- King Mushrooms - Grilled or Fried and seasoned with salt and pepper. Like the snail, it was more amusing to eat than it was tasty.
- Fish Cake - Cut from a giant block and served with bonito flakes and a salty sauce. My dad's fav.
- Peanut Ice Cream Wraps - Vanilla ice cream in a light rice wrap with crunchy peanut powder. Cilantro garnish optional. Possibly the best thing I've had in Taiwan, and that's saying A LOT. SO. GOOD.
- Stuffed Tofu - Fried tofu stuffed with fish cake and pork. Totally my thing. Perfect.
Of these, my favorite would have to be the peanut ice cream wrap. I'll be dreaming of it from now until the next time I can get my hands (or mouth) on one. The Hong Zhao Rou Wan and stuffed tofu were also excellent runner-ups. I didn't get to have the pearl sausages of stinky tofu tonight, but there will be plenty of other opportunities for those. Pat also got curry and cheddar flavored rice crackers, fish balls on a skewer, and a sausage hot dog wrapped in a rice bun instead of bread.
All in all, it was an amazing day and my favorite destination and dinner so far this trip.
Breakfast - Pork Cutlet Sandwich w/ Dou Jiang
I was really looking forward to getting another Fan Tuan but the lady seemed to be taking the day off. That's fine, I'll be back another day. I "settled" for a sandwich and sweet soy milk in the cafe under the apartment. Satisfied :)
Another day, another dragon fruit. :))
Lunch - Wu Pao Chun Bakery
For lunch, mom took us to the famous Wu Pao Chun Bakery in Taipei. I was overwhelmed by the gorgeous selection. Everything looked SO good. I really love the soft, not-overly-sweet style of Taiwanese breads and pastries.
Eventually, I settled on a giant loaf of the famous, award winning Taiwan Litchi Rose Champion Bread. Pat got an assortment of more savory breads to share including curry-filled naan, a Margherita roll, a loaf stuffed with warm cheese curds, and toasted french bread with bacon. I was practically drooling in the checkout line. It was so hard to choose, and it took all my willpower not to duck out of line and grab a dozen more morsels from the shelves.
So good. Willpower broken. Pat and I ran back into the store and each grabbed a couple more loaves for the road.
Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall
While in the city, we also visited the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall where we watched the hourly changing of the guard. However, I was far more interested in the dozens of students dance groups all around building perimeter practicing hip hop choreography. Some were using the reflective windows of the building as mirrors. Was there a dance competition coming up? Or was this just a known hangout for teenagers to chill and dance? Either way it was really cool to get a little peak into the local youth culture.
LIULI GONG FANG Glass Gallery
After, we stumbled upon a Liuli Gong Fang glass art gallery. It was stunning. I think Elean would have really liked it!
Our final destination for the day was Taipei 101. In general, we're pretty casual, relaxed travelers so we decided to keep the itinerary light and save Ximending for another day. We didn't feel it necessary to go up to the top, the mall and galleries were cool enough. I forgot to take pictures of the really fancy shops. I thought I wuldn't enjoy Taipei 101 but it was cooler than I thought. I like how Taiwan is a really neat mix of old and new, rural and urban, traditional and modern.
Before getting on the bus home, we got some CoCo. Pat's mind was blown at how cheap boba tea is here. Just about $1 USD. I could easily see the same drink costing at least $4 in the US.
Dinner - Mom's Paigu Luobo Tang (Pork Ribs & Daikon Soup) & Hard-Boiled Tea Eggs
We had a lot of bread for lunch so I requested protein for dinner. Mom delivered. I've always loved her soups and stews! The paigu luobo tang really hit the spot and the tea eggs were a welcome side dish.
The bakery was the highlight of the day but this home-cooked meal was a delightful bookend.
Breakfast (7:00 AM) - Fantuan
Woke up early in the morning and went with my mom to the farmer's market literally across the street.
Then I saw it. The fantuan stand. I had been waiting for this moment. Sliced pork with cabbage, rousong (sort of like a pork flavored dry seasoning/filling), pickled radish, picked mustard greens, youtiao (Chinese fried donut), with the option to add egg (boiled or fried), pork chops, or beef. If you don't know what a "fantuan" is, it's like a Taiwanese burrito except, instead of a tortilla, you get Asian fillings wrapped in rice. All this plus a drink- cool, refreshing doujiang (soy milk) or hongcha (red tea)- for just about $2 USD. I will definitely be back. Often.
Had another dragon fruit a little later :D
Lunch (12:00 PM) - Banquet with relatives
Had lunch with my grandma and her siblings. She's the oldest of 10. They reunite every other month and go out for a meal. I think that's really cool and Taiwan is small enough to make it feasible.
As to be expected, Pat and I endured a lot of small talk accompanied by a lot of sheepish nodding along. Finally, it was time to eat. The food was okay. I only really enjoyed one dish in particular- the bbq spare ribs, tender and glazed in a delicious sweet sauce. Other than that, I much preferred my grandma's home-cooked meal. And that fantuan.
Dinner (7:00 PM) - Mom's cooking
Um. I honestly forget what we ate. I was tired.
Afterwards, I played MahJong with Pat, my cousin, and my uncle. I won. Beginner's luck.
Midnight Snack - onigiri, pudding, oolong milk tea, and pea chips
Much love for Taiwanese convenience stores.
Woke up around 8:00 am feeling good. Jet lag don't phase me. Had a great night of sleep and ready to start my culinary adventure.
Breakfast (~8:00 AM) - Cantaloupe Pomelo Protein Shake
My parents are really into eating healthy and losing weight right now. They enrolled in a health club about a block away from their flat and go there every morning for about an hour to sit, chat, relax, and drink their daily breakfast shake. They are quite excited about the place and insisted that I come- I obliged them. I was craving more traditional Taiwanese breakfast foods but "losing" just one meal wouldn't be the worst thing. Plus, it's cute to see them so excited about something and comforting that they want to include me in it.
I have to say, the place was really nice and comfortable. I can see why my parents enjoy it so much. The owners are a young couple, the guy is 25- just a few years older than me and he owns and operates his own shop! Even better, they are Christian and play Hillsong concerts on their tv all morning.
The parents insisted I drink a shake so I ordered the Pomelo Cantaloupe flavor. Simple, clean, and healthy and tasted decent for a protein shake. They also have a really fancy scale in their shop that measures body fat % (10.3% - I've always been curious) and a padded corner dedicated for stretching.
Also, a lady came in to bake her cookies. The owners were letting her use their oven since hers was broken. A tiny, little act of kindness that warmed my heart. The cookie lady insisted that I take a few for free (they were green tea cookies with nuts). Such friendliness :)
Lunch (1:00 PM) - Grandma's home cooking
For lunch, we headed over from my parents' place in Taoyuan to my grandparents' home in Neili. Grandma was cooking us up a feast.
Unfortunately, my less-than-amateurish photos don't do the food justice.
- Pork belly w/ basil and bamboo
- Shrimp w/ broccoli
- Squid w/ a celery-like vegetable
- Sliced pork w/ a vegetable
- Another vegetable dish cooked with garlic
- A delicious bean curd dish
As you can tell, I'm bad at identifying Asian vegetables. The bean curd dish was especially good and Pat (who doesn't typically eat bean curd) felt bad for eating most of it. The meal was excellent. I was really happy to have the opportunity to eat grandma's cooking again because when I was younger I really didn't appreciate her food. When she visited the U.S. around the time that I was in middle school/high school I was so concerned with the things that I wanted to eat and failed to recognize her effort or her expertise. Part of the reason I can appreciate it more now is that I just grew up, and I think another part is that cooking for myself at home almost every day has made me appreciate food more in general.
For dessert we were treated to fresh cut Papaya (probably the sweetest that I've ever had) and cool, crisp Asian pear.
Washed it down with a delightful cup of Oolong tea. Grandma broke out the "good stuff" for us. Mentioning that she doesn't let anyone else have it but her grandsons were worthy.
We wrapped up lunch by watching the second half of Rockets/Clippers Game 6 (what an incredible choke), some small talk with the grandparents (small in both subject and in vocabulary), and I played Mah Jong for the first time.
Snack (4:30 PM) - Candy, bread samples, and Choco-bean manto
We went to Carrefour (a Taiwanese department store/grocery market) where we browsed some clothing shops and did some grocery shopping. I was a bit overwhelmed by the selection. I wanted to eat EVERYTHING. As a result, I was indecisive and hesitant to get anything. I ended up wandering back and forth from one store corner to the other. I couldn't decide. Everything looked SO good.
Eventually, I settled on a bag full of assorted candy and some Choco-bean mantos (soft and gooey- 3 for $1 USD). I must have eaten a dozen bread samples. I will be back.
Dinner (8:00 PM) - Mom's cooking & Dragon Fruit
Felt a bit beat from the day's activities so I went hope a took a nap for a couple hours. When I woke, the rest of the family had already eaten so I heated up some leftovers. Turkey wing, salmon, bbq pork, purple rice w/ black beans, seasoned edamame. For dessert, dragon fruit- my favorite and one of the things I was most looking forward to. I'll eat one everyday if I can. Satisfied.
We ended the day lounging on the couch and watching the 2nd half of a movie called Desperado starring Antonio Banderas. I enjoyed the family time and the movie was unintentionally hilarious.
Midnight Snack (12:00 PM) - (onigiri, Taiwanese sandwich, and apple milk)
I LOVE Taiwanese convenience stores. I could probably eat for a week at a 7-11. Snuck out and got myself some onigiri, a sandwich, and apple milk- all for just under $2 USD. I'm including the price in there because I love good value. It's like a seasoning that makes the food taste even better. I don't mind paying for quality food, but cheap is a cherry on top. Just another reason why I love Taiwan.
All in all, a delightful first day with great food and quality family time.
Here begins the documentation of all the wonderful deliciousness that I'll get to enjoy over the next month. But first, I thought I'd start the adventure with the plane food for the niche audience who might be interested in that sort of thing (alright, very niche).
Food makes almost everything better, even a daunting 25-hour itinerary.
Breakfast (5:45 AM) - I slept through my alarm so I scrambled out of bed, showered hastily, and did some last-minute packing (quite literally). By the time I got all my luggage down from my room, Pastor Victor had arrived to take us to the airport. I quickly microwaved a plate of last night's leftovers, apologizing for the delay as the food reheated. Hamburger with crispy garlic cheddar broccoli tots.
Lunch (~2:00 PM) - A couple hours into the flight from Chicago to Tokyo, the magic moment had arrived. Is it weird that I got excited for plane food? Probably. But, if nothing else, food was a welcome distraction.
The stewardess asked, "hamburger or fish?" Naturally I went with the fish while Pat opted for the hamburger. We were both pleased with our selections. Afterwards, we were given vanilla ice cream and a choice of black or green tea (I chose both since Pat didn't want tea).
Dinner (~10:00 PM) - Almost there... this second meal gave us nourishment we needed to hold us over for the final 3 hours. Chicken or Beef? Me beef, Pat chicken.
Not bad, although I had no interest in eating the bok choy. I also thought it was amusing that I once again chose the more Asian option while Pat ended up with the more Western-style dish.
Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? (~2:00 PM Tokyo time) - It's hard to keep track of time at this point, let alone what meal we are technically on. I was just happy to have landed. Leg 2 of 3 complete.
Ahhhhhhh yes. Finally. My dad hooked us up with United "VIP" Lounge passes so we headed over to take full advantage. After popping a squat, we took a gander at their unlimited food and drink selection.
Brains addled by the euphoria of trading the risen plane for the Rising Sun, we put a little too much emphasis on the "unlimited" part of the deal. We gorged ourselves on cheap sushi which, though the filling was a bit on the meager side, was nevertheless palatable. Besides, I'm much more a fan of simple sushi and it was certainly a step above some that I've had Stateside. Also available were various Japanese-style crackers and a rather impressive drink selection complete with free alcoholic beverages including beer served in tall, chilled beer glasses and beautiful, perfectly-shaped ice cubes. However, neither Pat nor I drink so he stuck with ginger ale while I selected Oolong tea. Pat cleverly determined to house his ale in one of the chilled beer glasses while I couldn't resist spiffing up my tea with a few of those handsome cubes.
After resting for a bit, we set out to explore the airport. I had some USD on me so we decided to play a game. We would scour the airport shops and get the coolest thing(s) we could find for $20 (~2500 yen). Our haul: 1 Ebi Filet-O, 1 Teriyaki Burger, and 1 Sakura Shake (all from Japanese McDonald's), and a Samurai lunch box featuring 3 different food compartments including a bowl for a head. Not bad, I think. We also saw a $900 (USD) rice cooker that had me seriously second-guessing whether the exchange rate was what I thought it was. Who goes to the airport and thinks, "you know what I need? A 100,000 ¥ rice cooker."
We rushed back to the lounge to charge our electronics and take a quick rest before boarding our final flight.
Dinner (~7:00 PM Tokyo time) - Wasn't expecting to be served a meal on this flight. Truthfully, I was still stuffed from the adventures of just a couple hours ago but far be it from me to refuse free food! Seafood or pork? Pat selected the former, and I the latter.
I don't think it was bad but I wasn't really feeling food at this point. I was, however, amused to note that I happened to select noodles for the 4th consecutive meal.
Overall, not a bad day, food wise ("free" is a curious little seasoning that makes everything taste better). However, I'm sooo ready to get the next chapter underway. TAIWAN SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT.
Fox in the Snow Café. It's as good as they say. On a lazy spring break afternoon, the atmosphere was relaxed rather than rowdy, hakuna matata rather than hustle bustle. It didn't feel pretentious, it felt organic: the decor was decidedly clean and plain rather than posh- an aesthetic evident even in the dozen or so potted plants that, while lively and beautiful, were in no way gaudy.
Simple. Yes, simple yet elegant; a haiku of cafes and bakeries. Every single item offered at Fox in the Snow Café- from "espresso" to "egg sandwich", "hot chocolate" to "hand-pie"- fits on a single, modest board: 10 or so beverages in one column and 10 or so food items in the other, written in large, unimposing letters. From the modest labels and the complete lack of even the simplest of adjectives (even neglecting to place "blueberry" in front of "hand-pie"), it is clear that the baristas and pastry chefs at Fox in the Snow Café feel it far better that food and drink should taste good, not sound good. No frills, just flavor.
In honor of this rustic motif, I'll let my words be few:
Egg sandwich: superb.
Hand-pie: blueberry. (and delightful)
Scallops pan-seared in butter and a squeeze of lemon, pressed tofu baked to crispness and tossed in a honey-garlic sauce with toasted sesame seeds, and avocado slices over a bed of jasmine rice and topped with a soft-boiled egg.
Simple and wonderful :)
Washed it down with Mango Green Tea.