Reflections on our time in Taiwan – and a gallery of food pics to whet any travellers’ appetites – 19th September, 2013
One of my biggest surprises while living in Taiwan for 5 months was the quality and diversity of food on offer. Whether fine dining or eating street food, Taiwan is a foodie paradise. And I, as you may know, am a big fat foodie.
From the legacies of Japanese occupation (sushi, sashimi and teppanyaki) to Pho from nearby Vietnam, or Sichuan and Hunanese specialties to Taiwanese beef noodle soup and spicy hotpot – the range of cuisines on offer is incredible.
You can opt for Michelin-standard dumplings at Din Tai Fung (try the sublime xiao long bao soup dumplings) or peppery pork buns at Raohe nightmarket in Taipei, which are baked on the sides of a hot tandoor oven.
Eating out is the norm – be it for breakfast, lunch or dinner – and we got to know the ladies in our local breakfast shop pretty well. They could dish up anything from taro cake, to paratha-type breads to rice pancakes, or even a bowl of steaming noodles with a fried egg on top!
Freshness is also a given – especially when you sample the seafood in coastal areas like Kenting. Whole fish are steamed; oysters grilled over charcoal make salty, smoky mouthfuls; and slippery seafood noodles slide down brilliantly with a cold Taiwan Beer.
Unusual offerings for our Western palates are not lacking if you are feeling adventurous: blood-cake (like black pudding), stinky tofu (smells more offensive than it tastes), chicken feet and ‘iron eggs’ in tbe port town of Danshui, which are cooked long and slow in soy sauce and spices, originally to help the eggs keep longer while sailors were at sea. Nightmarkets and street stalls up and down the land also offer a remarkably varied assortment of molluscs; watching snails being grilled slowly to death at a nightmarket stall was not one of my more enjoyable culinary experiences (I have not included a picture of this!)
But unexpected flavour revelations were commonplace – from the oyster pies in Taichung to the confusingly named ‘explosive slurry’ in Kenting. We never mustered the courage to eat deep fried Oreos, but hey – we’ll probably live longer.
I’ll miss many things about Taiwan, but the wonderful day to day eating experiences we enjoyed are among the most lamented.