Sunday, March 21, 2010

Taipei: Vegetable!

I now eat deep fried cauliflower on an almost daily basis. So beautiful and so delicious. I miss Casa de Luz so much. I have intense cravings for macrobiotic food... vegan food... raw food. I do actually eat a good deal of vegetables, most of my meals here have much smaller portions of meat than most Americans would be accustomed to, even when compared to chinese food in the states. Chinese style vegetables are delicious and often include cooked leafy greens, which I have a particular affinity for and yet generally can only find as part of a salad in the states. So far my apartment has been a raw-vegan space and I have aspirations of keeping my living / cooking space thus designated when I find a new apartment that actually has enough room in it to prepare food.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Taipei: My Fixed Gear vs. Crazy Taiwanese Scooter

So I was biking to school today and one of the many crazy Taiwanese scooter drivers decided to turn my ride into something more than a commute by bringing my heart rate to a level befitting a healthy cardio session. His method of doing so was to go from his location behind me and to my left side to around the front of me in order to turn right onto another street. This would have been fine had he not also decided to test my reflexes by aiming his scooter at the side of my front tire. I surprised myself by having sufficient agility to leap off my bike and onto my feet while directing my bike away from the impact so that the only evidence of any collision whatsoever is this light rubber skid mark going across my wheel.

Delicious deep fried street food is one of the few available late night options near my mrt stop.
I have become a regular at both of these place. I seriously wake up with intense cravings of these hollow tube tofu things with wrinkly outsides. I think it is a member of the tofu kingdom but I have no idea what it is called.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Taipei: Clay Pot Teaser

So I am currently searching for a new apartment and a fixed gear bicycle. I want those two things in that order but I have been more successful at finding the later. Self-restraint held out however and I walked away from the store a few stickers richer and having left nothing behind but the promise of my return. I will actually probably go back tomorrow because there is a ride happening on friday night that I want to participate in before leaving for the Megaport festival in Kaoshiung on Saturday morning. But anyway, I took the bus one stop too far on my way to BREAKBRAKE 17 and this ended up being extremely fortuitous because I found the most delicious smelling clay pot restaurant I have ever... smelled? The restaurant is evidently only open during the winter and is extremely popular. I am currently trying to rally some troops to return here and eat!

Fortune favors those who eat ripe bananas! Half off to buy them ready to eat!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Taipei: table for twenty, the meal my camera slept through

So most of my food experiences in Taiwan have happened while my camera was elsewhere, however the dinner below is special because I had my camera with me, but it had decided to take a siesta all day, refusing to take any pictures. After dinner I tried to turn my camera back on and was surprised to find it taking photos again, so I took a few pictures of the table mostly so that I would remember the epic meal that my camera missed. I love that when you show up to a restaurant at 1am here and say "table for twenty" the restaurant is excited to be able to seat you, at home I can hardly imagine the baleful glares that we would receive or the ire with which our food would be served. It does help that most restaurants here seem to be run by their owner and that food here is shared so that dishes can come out when they are ready, rather than all 20 at once.

Food that is cooked in front of you is fun. Especially when it costs less than 3 usd.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Taiwan: Some things about Taipei

Taipei 101 during the Lighting Fesitval
Taipei 101 can be seen standing tall over all the other buildings in Taipei
Lanterns near Taipei City Hall during the Lighting Festival

So Taipei is beautiful, in case you didn't notice from the pictures I just posted. I was talking to my Mandarin teacher about how I love Taipei and I mentioned how I am a big fan of the architecture here. She said to me that many people she had talked to had said to her something along the lines of "I really like Taipei, but the architecture here... eh..." I constantly strive to see beauty in everything and I rarely fail to be able to do so. I am taking classes at Tai-Da which was built by the Japanese while they occupied Taiwan. The entire campus is breathtakingly beautiful and, despite the hostility that any nation has for a foreign nation which decides to invade and occupy it, the Japanese aesthetic has been maintained and cared for since the campus was built. The palm-tree lined streets and red brick buildings of Tai-Da contrast sharply with most of the city which ranges from utilitarian apartment complexes to the bamboo-inspired Taipei 101.

Tripe, Knife Cut Noodles, Green Onion and Shaved Ginger
So I can't figure out why but I just can't get into ginger... I know! I eat snake, snails, organ meat, stinky tofu... you name it and I love it... but ginger... I know its good for you! It just doesn't work any sort of magic over my taste buds. None whatsoever. Its a shame really because the dish pictured above is just one of a slew of similar dishes I have had here with a liberal application of shaved ginger. I mean I still enjoy all of the dishes, if its food and in front of me I generally can't complain.

Stinky Tofu
So I'm starting to get stinky tofu. Maybe. I mean I like it better in Taiwan anyways. I don't know. I'll keep eating it until I figure out why I should go out of my way to get it instead of the million other types of tofu available here.

Thin Beef with Green Onion in Sweet Sesame Wheat Wrap
So... it's sweet... and cold... didn't really expect either of those. I'm definitely not complaining though because it was delicious.

Grape Jelly
The bottled beverages here are awesome. I totally thought I was buying grape juice and then I opened the bottle to find a super thick fluid that wouldn't even begin to flow out from the bottle. The viscosity of this fluid having temporarily stymied my attempt to quench my thirst, I stuck the bottle in my backpack and set back to my room to conquer this new substance. I have since found a plethora of jelly substances for sale in the 7-11s, family marts and O.K. convenient stores. A Taiwanese friend clued me in to the fact that the proper method to drink these beverages is with a straw, so I am now able to imbibe jelly drinks while walking around town.

niu ro xian bing - Beef Bun
Those of you who have ever eaten a sausage wrap are likely to have experienced the sensation of biting into a flour-wrapped-meat product only to be rewarded with the discovery that the meat inside is really just a host for projectile molten grease napalm (MGN). I stained many pairs of pants and many a shirt while in high school by attempting to consume sausage wraps from Rosie's to-go while driving only to repeatedly fall victim to MGN attacks. Both I and my Canadian friend Josh have fallen victim to MGN attacks while consuming niu ro xian bing here in Taipei. There is a surefire way to disarm the MGN trap however, which requires nothing more than puncturing the flour-wrapped-meat product with a fork or chopstick; or simply the resolve to break whatever flour-wrapped-meat product you are about to consume in half before biting into it. I know that flour-wrapped-meat products always look so delicious and inviting and that it is easy to forget the danger of the almost guaranteed MGN trap lurking inside, but only through constant vigilance can we be safe from MGN attacks.

Street Vendor
This is one of many street stands in Taipei where one may order food by grabbing a basket and tongs from atop the stand and then using the tongs to select the food which you want to consume and placing each item into the provided basket. You then hand the basket over to the chef who cooks your food and then hands you a delicious plate of food cooked to order. I have become a regular at one of these places that stays open until past midnight right outside of the Yongchun MRT station. Without needing to speak at all I can eat exactly what I want to eat, its amazing. I already get the feeling that I will miss this style of street food when I leave Taiwan in the hopefully distant future.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Taiwan: Huaxi Street

So my first night in Taipei I went to Longshan Temple with a Japanese and a Taiwanese friend. Longshan Temple is really beautiful, I don't have any pictures of it at the moment but I will probably go take some and then post about it again or something. The point of this post is not the awesome temple nor the really moving ceremony that was going on there as part of the Lunar New Year but is my going to Huaxi Street afterwards, also called snake street.

I looked for a link to post about Huaxi street and, humorously, when I google it, I get results for Snake Wine, which is what I imbibed on my first night here and what this post is really about.

Snake Wine on Huaxi Street
The red cup is a sorghum wine mixed with the blood of a cobra, the amber one to the left of it is cobra venom mixed with sorghum wine and the opaque white is cobra bile mixed with sorghum wine. The three on the left were different shots that I didn't quite understand the ingredients of. One involved traditional chinese medicinal herbs. The alcohol denatures the snake venom rendering it harmless. All of these shots were very sweet in the way that sorghum alcohol generally is. I really walked away from this experience without any particularly strong reaction, there was definitely a strange physical sensation that I hadn't ever experienced from alcohol before. Kind of like a tingling verging on feeling like my body was falling asleep but not so intense as that.
Snake Soup
Cross-Section of Snake Meat

Snake meat is really bony. It was way more work to eat than really anything else I can immediately think of, and the meat itself was really bland. The broth was very clean and robust which led me to think that it was more of a snake broth with some meat in there to prove that snakes were involved than anything else.

Prawns Roasted Alive on Huaxi Street
So these prawns were roasted alive, I also posted a video I took with my iPhone. They were also a lot of work to eat really. But they were good in a so fresh that I just saw them swimming and then wriggling around while roasting before I consumed them kind of way. I bet you all think I have gone insane... I haven't consumed insects yet... but that is only because I haven't found any to consume. Can anyone think of something else for me to eat or drink? I am running out of ideas for weird things.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Taiwan: Pingshi Sky Lantern Festival

So I've been in Taiwan for about a week and a half now, sorry to just now be posting my first blog about it but I arrived in Taiwan as a student trying to find lodging, friends and to figure out a new city where english is less than common rather than arriving in Hong Kong as a food tourist with a friend who speaks both Cantonese and Mandarin in a city that mostly speaks english. I'll slowly give some backstory to my past week and a half in the posts to follow this one.

Last night a few friends and I went to Pingshi to witness the Sky Lantern Festival. We travelled there by train despite the warnings not to do so due to overcrowding. I don't have a picture of how crowded the train was because there was no room for me to get out my camera. I am pretty sure that I was smaller when I got off the train than when I got onto it, I've never been so tightly compressed. This picture is a small sample of the people who poured off the train with us, it doesn't even begin to depict the massive crowd of people in Pingshi.

After wandering around a bit we stumbled upon a family who was sending off a lantern, after watching them complete the process they invited us to do likewise. They showed us what to do and gave us all the supplies, this is our lantern taking off.

This was meant to be a photo showing how densely crowded the festival which it does even better accompanied by my reassurance that this photo better serves to example a break in the crowd than it does to example how crowded this town was, we had absolutely no personal space for the next five hours after this photo was taken.

Night shooting, a jostly crowd and a lack of a tripod led to this blurry photo depicting a lantern with fireworks attached to the bottom. The small red dots in the background were other lanterns.

A Lantern released at the Pingshi Sky Lantern Festival. The tradition is to write your hopes for the new year on the lantern. The things which they told us to write were the exact kind of things which I hear many Christians say that they pray for.

another picture of the crowd in Pingshi

Another lantern with fireworks attached.

They released massive numbers of lanterns as a group every thirty minutes or so.

This is as close to the field where the mass release happens before we gave up getting any closer, it was a good decision because it took us over three hours to get from here onto a bus to Taipei.

A couple releasing their lantern. The method is to hold the paper open for long enough for the fire to start to bring it aloft, you can see here how they have just stopped holding it back.

Some lanterns got stuck in trees.

Others in power lines.

We finally made it onto a bus home. I don't think I had ever been so glad to sit down.