Helloooo lovers! I have finally arrived back home and things are busy busy! I have at last found the time to organise my 1012 photos and cut them out to food photos alone so all you foodies can see what gastronomous wonders I ate on the other side of the hemisphere while I was away. I’m going to start with street food in Taiwan, and while I’m at it I’m going to convert the prices of the street food to Australian dollars so you can get an idea of exactly how ridiculously cheap it all was! For your knowledge, $1AU = $30 Taiwanese dollars.
As my friends know, my background is Taiwanese, and what Taiwan is most known for is their street food. The last time I went was before I began blogging, and only now do I understand the true passion towards food that all these people that sell their food on the streets must have. And truly, it must be a passion. You earn very little from each bowl of noodles or cup of drink, as you’ve got to set your prices low because you’re competing with so many other stalls selling the exact same thing.
So many food vendors like to put their own spin on your regular bowl of noodles. A lot of these businesses are run by families, and what you’re eating is a case of recipes being passed down through the family. It’s food with sentimental value, with history, and most importantly, it fills people’s bellies and keeps them going and happy.
I arrived at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport at 5.00 am on a January morning. Waited for dad to come and pick me up, outside was pretty cold, but not brrr freezing. Fell asleep as soon as I got home and woke up around lunchtime. Too tired to mix myself anything – let’s go right downstairs and get a bowl of noodles for $1.20 and a wonton soup for $1.35! The noodles were topped with a soy and black bean paste pork mince and shallot sauce, minced garlic and fresh bean sprouts. The wonton soup was filled with deliciously silky pork mince wontons in a relatively clear and light soup.
I was delighted to also see that down the block from me, there was a new vendor selling my favourite Taiwanese street food sweets, ‘Car Wheel Biscuits’ – I’ve adored these ever since I was a child.
What it is is two pieces of waffle-like batter sandwiching together a variety of ingredients. The most common flavours are vanilla custard, red bean paste, and a grated turnip salad, but at this stall I was interested to see they also had peanut butter. Absolutely delish! Four for a dollar, in a brown paper bag, still steaming every so slightly. When I bit into a peanut butter one, the warm peanut butter oozed out everywhere. Soooo good.
I had a walk around my part of the city later in the evening. I still can’t get used to how late things run there. I remember asking mum: “What night is shopping night here?”, only to have her say “Every night!’ All the shops and department stores in Taipei are open until 10.00 every night. So many bright lights so late still!
A lot of department stores have bakeries and food courts downstairs, and the bakeries in Taiwan are simply insane. Taiwanese people have an epic sweet tooth when it comes to bread and pastries, and all of the (white) breads have a lot of sugar and ingredients. No sourdough or soy and linseed loaves over here! Instead you’ll find lots of slices of beautifully presented cakes, danishes, chocolate-flavoured breads, and mini sponge rolls, just to name a few.
I’ll feature this in particular. This is a loaf of white bread that is wrapped in a sheet of cheese pastry. The inside is layered with slices of ham, dried shredded pork, and cheese. Each one of these loaves is approximately the size of three standard bricks placed alongside each other. Heart attack much?
If you’re getting around Taipei, they have an excellent metro system across the city which is ridiculously cheap to travel on compared to Sydney public transport. The underground of every metro stop also has a shopping arcade, areas in which you’ll find more bargains than up above the surface! There’s also a lot of food outlets and bakeries underground. On a trip down south, I had a quick dinner before I caught the High Speed Railway at a yum cha joint at the metro station – three steamers for $5 – absolute bargain.
The cost of your metro ride depends on your number of stops and is deducted off an electronic card with a chip when you scan it. Taiwan also has a regular long-distance train which goes all the way down the south end of Taiwan (which will take you four hours), or the newest High Speed Railway (which also goes the same way but which will take you two hours instead. Of course the HSR is more expensive. But, as they say, you cannot buy time.)
Buses are cheaper, although with the Taipei government continuously expanding the metro system, many of the roads are under construction and it’s a bumpy, noisy ride. There are so many bus numbers that stop in the smallest, most remote streets that I really wouldn’t recommend you take them unless you know a local or your Mandarin is excellent. And while I’m talking about construction, you’ll be interested to know that the Taipei government has a scheme where if you’re conducting a construction project, you are required under your contract to ‘beautify’ the area while you’re working on it.
Therefore, on the walls surrounding every construction site you will always see a variety of plants – whether it’s flowers or vines or mondo grass, there are actually prizes by each area’s local council as to the prettiest site. As my dad said, you can also get an indication of how long the construction project has been going on by the state of their plants!
Early the next morning, the folks wanted to do traditional Taiwanese breakfast and so I went along with them to take some snaps. It’s the most popular ‘breakfast shop’ around our part of town, and they sell the most common Taiwanese breakfast fare: Pan-fried water dumplings (garlic chive or cabbage), you taiow (a piece of fried baguette wrapped in either sesame pastry or omelette ), rice balls, and chilled or hot soy milk.
The pan-fried water buns have a skin that’s made out of wheat flour, before they are filled with a mixture of ingredients (garlic chive are my favourite), left to rest before being pan fried so that their bottoms are nicely brown and caramelised, before hot water is poured around the buns and a lid closed over them to allow them to slowly steam. The garlic chive ones were filled with a mixture of garlic chives, shredded pieces of dried tofu skin and transparent, glassy rice vermicelli noodles. The buns are 40 cents each.
The fried baguette wrapped in pastry has always been a favourite of mine, even though it is all essentially one big hunk of fried dough. But it’s so light, so crispy, so buttery and so nutty with its sprinkling of sesame seeds that it really is something amazing (45 cents). The rice ball is sort of like a wrapped up inside-out sushi roll, with the centre filled with a mixture of dried shredded pork, dried turnip pieces, and torn chunks of the fried baguette ($1).
If you’re looking for fresh steamed buns on the other hand, there are so many establishments around and you hear names being dropped as you live around the area. We have one of our favourite haunts for sweet buns in the suburb of Yuan Huan behind the Taipei Main Station, and a bag of mixed mini sweet buns (they come in plain, taro, and brown sugar) will set you back by $2.
There also was a store I went past on a trip down to Kaohsiung where they did excellent vegetable steamed buns – steamed wheat flour buns filled with leafy vegetables. It’s always amazing to witness the sheer scale of these small businesses and see the speed at which they work and the amount of product they churn out.
Time for a quick snack. Some spring onion roti for the princely sum of 85 cents, which I had lightly drizzled with a bit of soy sauce. The pastry is flaky, buttery, and simply delicious.
If you’re in Taiwan, you simply must spend at least one night at the night markets. I visited two while I was there – the very popular Shilin night markets (get to it by catching the metro to Jiantan station), and the very first night market there ever was, which isn’t so popular with tourists, the Keelung night markets. The lights, the variety of smells, the crowd, the noise… it’s truly a bombardment of the senses that you have never experienced!
Night markets sell a variety of things, from shoes to iPhone cases to food. While the markets are known mostly for their food, the bargains you can get through negotiating with the sellers of clothes and shoes are pretty amazing as well. There’s also arcade games (the usual shooting of balloons, etc), and the popular ‘fishing’ game of goldfish and turtles with a paper sieve, which is always popular with the little kids.
But the FOOD. OMG the food. If you live close by to a night market, you can quite comfortably come here and eat every single night for dinner under $3 and never cook in your life. Mind you, depending on what you eat, it’s probably not the healthiest lifestyle choice! But what the hell, I was here on holidays and when I went to the markets, I had my pockets jangling with change waiting to be spent. Here’s a sample of what I had:
Strawberries on a stick – $2. The fresh strawberries are coated in a layer of honey which crystallises, making it all teeth-shatteringly sweet when you eat it. The last thing you eat on a stick is in fact a cherry tomato, not a strawberry, so I felt a little cheated. And the nice taste of the strawberry in my mouth had all gone. The bastards.
Most of the time you eat standing up or while walking, although if you’re looking for a bowl of soup or noodles, people do understand that you can’t eat it while walking and do have tables and chairs of questionable hygeine – not that anyone there really cares about it.
FYI, the above store sells ‘smelly tofu’ – the most well-known (note I say ‘well-known’, not ‘popular’) street food in Taiwan. As its name indicates, it has a trademark smell that you can detect from 10 metres away… I’ve not yet been brave enough to try it. Apparently its quite delicious, if you can stand the smell.
Feel like some fried chicken? Shilin has the biggest chicken schnitzel you will ever see – it was the size of MY FACE. Half a chicken flattened into oblivion, before being marinated, battered and deep fried. You can have the option of the ‘hot seasoning’, which is a tongue-panting mixture of pepper, curry powder, and chilli powder. Hot Star is the most popular fried chicken vendor around the area, and whenever tourists are dropped off at the markets, they’re all directed here. One schnitzel will set you back by $1.85.
To cool down, I’d go for some shaved ice. When I went to Kaohsiung there was a whole street full of empty stores selling shaved ice, and one single store that was packed to the rafters. Well, we know which joint to go to then…
Shaved ice is what the name says. Shaved ice. I had the fruit one ($1.50), which was topped with fresh pieces of guava, mango, watermelon and pineapple, tinned peach, an drizzle of condensed milk and an odd spoonful of strawberry jam. Curiously tasty and very refreshing.
I found that I preferred a different iced sweet, which went by the funny name of Pao Pao Ice. It was a combination of established iced treats, which makes it so confusing to describe! It had the texture of a granita mixed with slushie and was dairy-based like a gelato or ice cream, and came in a variety of different flavours. I had a mango one.
Ooooh so much to write about! Going through all those photos and bringing my memory of the last month has already given me a headache. Stay tuned for my reviews on some of the individual restaurants I went to…!! xx