Eating My Way Through Taipei

Fresh off the plane, checking in to my hotel, I turn around after a tap on the shoulder and I’m delighted to see Pia and Stacy, two of my employees from last summer, come to steal me away for dinner.  After dropping my stuff in my room, we make our way to the restaurant where Angela is waiting for us.  Three of my favorite people from summer 2014 – life is good.

They order multiple dishes.  My only request – no shrimp.  Let the food porn games begin!  After a lesson in chopstick use – I have always been hopeless and long ago gave up – I take my first bite.  And moan.  Pork dumpling.  A transcendent morsel of savory deliciousness that I can’t really describe.  The fun continues.  Crab dumplings.  A rice dish.  Steamed greens.  Ginger.  I’m in heaven.  My only frustration?  My hopelessness with chopsticks, though I get better during the meal.

The next day, I meet Elsa and Rose, my hosts for the business portion of the trip.  After our meeting, I spend the afternoon with Rose, who turns out to be an excellent guide.  We make our way through Taipei.

Rose starts our walk by navigating us to a tiny 2 table restaurant hidden in an alley off an alley.  The kind of place most western travelers would never touch, but a completely authentic experience.  On the menu, a sour brothy soup with pig blood.  The blood solidifies in the soup, looking like dark tiny noodles, or perhaps worms.  For me, just OK.  I’m neutral on it.  

Next, Longshan Temple.  Primarily Buddhist, but with Taoist elements as well.  Beautiful.  Huge.  Crowded.  And certainly not a place for quiet contemplation.   But fascinating.  I’m entranced, and observe, photograph, and shoot video for an hour.  Rose is a patient host.  

I watched this man for several minutes. He was thoroughly focused and ‘in the moment.’ It was a pleasure observing him.

More wandering on the streets.  We make our way down one of the night market streets.  It’s early still so vendors are just beginning to set up.  But already my senses are overwhelmed with the scents and sights.

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Craving a sweet, I spy something promising.  The long line at the cart tells me I’m not alone.  Three flavor choices for fillings – red bean, taro, or cream.  Rose goes for taro, I choose cream.  Yum.  Filled with a bit of sweet deliciousness, we visit the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial as the sun drops lower in the sky.

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Time to meet Elsa.  We make our way to the restaurant – the same one I ate at last night.  Elsa seems thrown when she finds out I already ate there, but I assure her that I enjoyed the food and am delighted to eat there again.  She proceeds to order enough food for 6 people, though we are only three.  

I request the pork dumplings again.  Just like before, they are divine.

I’m stuffed, and I don’t remember half of what I ate, just that it was outstanding.

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The next day, work.  The students are excellent, and will make great employees.  Elsa and Rose have done an great job recruiting.  It’s a shame I can’t hire them all.  Decisions are tough.

Dinner at a classic Chinese restaurant in a basement near Taipei 101 – the second tallest building on the planet.  Once again, Elsa orders far too much food.  And once again, the food is fabulous and the company great.  Hot pot with more items than I can possibly remember.  Delicious.  I love their way of eating meals, of sharing lots of dishes.  Way more fun than the US custom of each person just having one dish.

Taiwanese restaurants are very different from the US.  Loud and very social, it’s a bit chaotic to my ears but I love every minute of it.  It would drive me nuts in the US, but on this trip, it’s fun.  More, please?

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I never did figure out why Taiwan students make these finger gestures in nearly every photo. Perhaps I’m just getting old.

Taipei 101.  World's tallest building from 2004-2010, now in second place behind the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.  I suppose now I need to go to Dubai since I have seen the 3rd and 2nd tallest buildings in the world.

Taipei 101. World’s tallest building from 2004-2010, now in second place behind the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. I suppose now I need to go to Dubai since I have seen the 3rd and 2nd tallest buildings in the world.

Back at the hotel, stuffed.  I sleep well.

Morning.  A day that has been planned for quite some time – spending the day with 7 of our Taiwanese student employees from 2014.  First stop – food.  Of course.  Pia introduces me to a juice stand.  I try a juice of some fruit I have never seen before.  Why not?  Second stop, a locally famous eatery, where we have soupy noodles with beef.

Don't ask me what it was I drank.  Not a clue.

Don’t ask me what it was I drank. Not a clue.

We meet up with Randy and Jennifer, the last of the group.  I’m impressed and flattered that they have traveled quite a distance by high speed rail to spend the day, especially since Randy just had surgery one week prior.

The rest of the day is spent exploring, talking, shooting photos, laughing, and of course – eating.

Community foot soaking hot springs in the north of Taipei.  Completely free and open to the public.

Community foot soaking hot springs in the north of Taipei. Completely free and open to the public.

Squid, anyone?

Squid, anyone?

How about a pig blood popsicle, coated in crushed peanuts?  I ate a few bites.  Not good, not bad.  Just OK.

How about a pig blood popsicle, coated in crushed peanuts? I ate a few bites. Not good, not bad. Just OK.

At sunset, we say goodbye to Randy and Jennifer, who have another long train ride.  The rest of us make our way to the night market.  More food.  Because, apparently we haven’t had enough food yet.

Taipei’s night markets are quite famous and I have been eagerly to experience them.  Crowded, loud, and not lacking for excitement, all kinds of food and manufactured goods are available.  Many of the stands have several small tables.  The food is cheap, varied, and delicious.

Walk down the alley, see something, try it.  Continue down the alley, repeat until full.  Then repeat again.

Stinky tofu.  If I never again smell or eat this food again,  life is good.

Stinky tofu. If I never again smell or eat this food again, life is good.

My reaction to stinky tofu.

My reaction to stinky tofu.

Finally, we call it a night.  I’m stuffed, and worn out.

(Thank you so much to Pia, Angela, Stacy, Olivia, Randy, Jennifer, Jack, Elsa, and Rose for making my time in Taipei so amazing!  Taiwanese hospitality is incredible, and I hope to experience it again).

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