>> Monday, October 31, 2011
Even before going to Taipei, I knew it was going to be a foodie’s heaven. Every site I visited online had endless lists of must try dishes, drinks and desserts. I couldn’t wait. One thing I didn’t count on was how remarkable and breathtaking the rest of the city was as well. Aside from the foodie scene, Taipei is an astounding city with the best of both worlds. Starting from its modern downtown core with the Taipei 101 tower appearing from all angles and housing all high end shopping to the amazing temples situated on the side of Maokong park. The urban sprawl of Taipei manages to mix chic modern whilst never loosing it’s innately Buddhist culture. Walking around the city you can see alcoves and cubbyholes made up as tiny altars with offerings to the gods while the across the street you can find a full fledge shopping mall.
Yes, it does sound similar to other cities in Asia, however the main difference with Taipei is everybody does style with grace, order and poise. I was utterly amazed at how clean the city was and how polite all the people were. My husband thought we stepped in to the twilight zone. The scenery was breathtaking. If you’re ever in Taipei, the Maokong area with little tea houses where you can enjoy locally grown tea, is not to be missed. It was one of the most relaxing portions of our Asia trip and will be forever etch in to our minds. Sitting a top the beautiful lush green canopy, having the experts teach you how to properly steep and pour tea. Then to slowly sip each cup overlooking the canopy along side some simple but tasty Taiwanese food was out of this world! If you’re unsure of which tea you’d like to try, they will instantly “pao cha” (steep tea in Mandarin), so you can try each flavour until you find one of your liking.
After you’re done enjoying cups and cups of delicious tea, you can take the gondola to either the Taipei Zoo or Zhinan Temple. We decided to stop by the temples, which is actually made up of 3 temples in total. A complete spiritual experience, each temple elaborate and unique in their own way, plus you would be silly to miss the amazing view of downtown Taipei. We were there during the sunset and what a sight indeed.
If you’d like to take on the modern aspects of Taipei, then shopping and dining in Taipei 101 is for you. The tower holds all the brand name stores and has a huge selection of fast food restaurants in the basement food court. It was amazing to see restaurant quality Chinese food being prepared in a mall food court. I had a fried oyster cake with fresh veggies and a nice comforting bowl of soup. My husband enjoyed his roasted chicken with a veggie rice bowl and fish ball soup. A complete meal in my mind, especially considering it was in the mall.
The food gets even better when you hit the streets of Shilin Night Market. There are many different markets all over Taipei (we ran in to a few of them not even expecting them) but the most famous one is the Shilin Night Market located right beside the Jiantian MTR station (very convenient). The locals were all lining up for the deep fried chicken, which reminded me of a weiner schnitzel, but we were their for the local Taiwanese street food like Stinky Tofu, Turnip Cakes, Beef Noodle Soup and Glutinous Dumplings. (Aside from the food, this night market also has a bunch of stalls selling consumer goods, which always makes for a fun time strolling up and down the streets, oh and they’re open late).
This wasn’t my first time trying stinky tofu since I already had my fill in Beijing, but everybody has told me that no other stinky tofu can rival the ones found in Taiwan and they were correct. They were stinky in a sense that it smelled like rotten fish (not the best thing to be thinking of when you’re hungry) but once you taste them, they are more akin to a crispy french fry with sweet and spicy soy sauce. Hard to explain, my recommendation is…you’ve got to try it on your own. I’ve had turnip cakes before and when we walked by the stall we didn’t really know what to expect. We thought they resembled a dessert cake due to its shape, but after the first bite, we immediately wanted another one. They were soft and flavourful, not gummy and gooey like the ones here. A must as well.
Finally you can’t go to the street market and not try the dessert there. The stalls don’t offer one type of dessert, instead the list is so long, they pretty much list the ingredients and you can mix and match what you want. I usually opted for the mung bean, red bean, sweet tofu and glutinous rice dumpling mix. I love beans, especially when they’re sweet and mixed in to dessert. My husband enjoys his grass jelly (a mild asian jelly which doesn’t have much flavour and you must add sugar to it, its suppose to be good for the lungs) along with glutinous dumplings and coconut. No matter how you mix the desserts together they’re a hit. We had more then our fair share during our time in Taipei at many different markets and they were each just as delicious as the one before it.
After a long night of eating, it’s hard to imagine that I’d think of food first thing when I wake up in the morning (well you don’t know me well enough). I had read online that there was a soymilk king right by our hotel and I had it in my mind that I was going to find it. So I dragged my poor husband up and down Fu Xing road to find Yong He Soymilk King. I’m sure he wasn’t that happy with me at the beginning but once the food hit his stomach, all was forgotten. The soymilk was fresh and their Yau Tiao (Chinese fried donut) was crispy with a nice doughy center. Just thinking about it now is making me hungry. They also have a wrap made with scrambled eggs, green onions, yau tiao all wrapped in a black sesame pita bread. Great for when you’re on the go.
So now that I’m nicely full, of course there is more food to be had. One must not miss the Taiwanese bakeries. The selection of freshly baked buns and tarts are to die for. Since these are eaten best when they’re warm and fresh out of the oven, I highly recommend that you do so, however, it’s not always that your stomach is willing. So pick up a few because they’re just as delicious when you need a snack. Honorable mentions include: Taiwanese Drunken Chicken, Sushi (very fresh), Taiwanese Beer and the amazing fresh fruit!
From sightseeing to eating to everything else that Taipei has to offer, I would do it over again in a heartbeat. The Taiwan travel slogan really does ring true. Taiwan – it touches your heart (and your stomach)!