Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Seaweed Noodles for Lunch

Lately, Taiwan has been on a health food craze. People are demanding fresher, higher quality food (even organic!)
This lady is an organic farmer. Her dog is named mochi, like the popular gummy rice cakes. Quick lesson on organic farming: growing vegetables without chemicals is hard if all your surrounding neighbors use some sort of chemicals. The water carries it from one plot to the other. Organic farming is basically doing things like people in the old days used to do (that's how people do it in Taiwan normally anyway), except people make TONS more money doing it now than they did before.

The noodle shop we went to for lunch was once such health place. This guy handmakes ALL of the noodles consumed in his shop, and let me tell you, there was a LINE at lunch time.
He measures out the proper amount for one serving...
...about this much.
They take it back in the kitchen and do magical things to the noodles so they taste just al dente enough, but not tough or chewy. By magical things I mean cook the noodle, mix it with some boiled bean sprouts, add one fish ball, and pour some spicy sesame sauce over it. SO good. I can't put in words just how fresh and cool the mouth feel was.
Before the noodle was this soup. It's simple: cook a mixture of land and sea leafy vegetation in a fruit juice/vegetable stock. As long as you have the flavors right, even such a "cheap" to make dish can be amazing in flavor.
Interesting vegetable. I don't believe I've ever seen it in America before. One suspects that it comes from the ocean, or someplace in the vicinity of the ocean. Taste-wise, it wasn't that great; but it does get a 9.2 in the category of "exotic vegetation".
If it weren't so hot in Taiwan, I would have gotten the nio ro mien (beef noodles) too. It is just as it is named: chunks of beef in a salty beef broth.
The equivalent of a roast beef in Chinese cuisine: tons of onions mixed in with beef over rice.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Grocery shopping

In Taiwan, you have the option of going to a grocery store similar to the ones in America or Europe (Carrfour, Kroger, Wholefoods, Harris Teeter, Piggly Wiggly...etc), but usually, stuff in the city markets are fresher and cheaper. Every city, town, village, small-conglomeration-of-people has such a market, selling everything from vegetables to meat to cheap underwear (US $1 per pair). The floors are usually dirty wet concrete, from the ice and random juices seeping from the various forms of meat sold, and there's a distinct old food smell that permeates the air. To the westerner, it might be appalling, but the truth of the matter is, without these markets, most of the photos on this blog would not exist. Here's a brief tour of the one in Taitung City.
I put the shocker first because I really love this picture. It reminds me of a Chardin still life, elegant but a little gruesome. Yes, children, this is what a plucked and beheaded chicken looks like. It looks like it lost something underneath the platform and is straining its neck to search for its lost possession. Beautiful.
This is the inside of the market, basically movable stands set up underneath the shelter of a large warehouse. It's a maze inside, and you just move around blindly until you find some light peering in from the outside. Of course, anybody who goes to this market can probably navigate the labyrinth of raw foods with both eyes covered.
Bamboo shoots are in season. The little black dots on them are flies. Pretty gross (the flies, not the bamboo)
The old man who sells the bamboo shoots peels them for you on the spot. The outside of the root is really tough and purple. If purchasing bamboo shoots, remember to pick the white, tender-looking ones.
Veggie-palooza! I like Taiwan because Chinese people have so much liberty in the ingredients they use. In America, it's broccoli, spinach, lettuce, and cabbage. If you're adventurous, you might try asparagus. In Taiwan, there are always new vegetables appearing that I've never seen before, despite being an expert eater with a large repertoire.
Brown eggs.
White eggs...that appear to be brown because they probably just left the chicken that morning.
Feeshy fish. There usually would be a lot more on the table but we went to the market sort of late, at 11am. The market is most lively between the hours of 6am and 8am.
I can just hear them:
Fish #1 - "hey! your fat gut is invading my personal space!"
Fish #2 - "why don't you tell those squid behind me to move their slimey tentacles!"
As promised, mango as big as my hand. There's no place like Taiwan. (except for other places that produce juicy juicy mangos) (5 points to anybody who gets that last movie reference)

Gratuitous Exotic Fruit Photo

Shoutout to Alannah for being such a supporter of my various WWW-ly endeavors.

Today's random fruit is the Jackfruit, a large prickly fruit that grows on trees. Basically, the jackfruit is a poser of durian, the infamous odorific king of fruits. The best way to eat jackfruit is frozen, cut into little pieces. Because I've never had jackfruit at the same time as durian, I don't know which one stinks the worst. BK's (man in photo) mom gave me some frozen jackfruit and it was palatable while frozen. I can't imagine how one could put that offensive yet tasty piece of yellow flesh into one's mouth without wanting to run into a wall to end one's misery.

Jackfruit grows in abundance on the side of the roads in any rural part of Taiwan. There's no way you could starve in Taiwan because all seasons, there are fruit growing on the side of the road. The only problem is that sometimes, the most abundant fruit is jackfruit, whose odor in turn makes you want to kill yourself.

Monday, July 17, 2006

After breakfast coffee

After breakfast we drove down the highway a bit, to a roadside reststop/lookout point/outdoor cafe. It had perfect views of the coastline, including the small island-connected-to-the-mainland (the mainland...which is actually an island also...). I had one of the best mochas, if not THE best of the 3 continents I've visited (sorry Taylor, this one was really really good). We sat on picnic benches drinking our coffee, reading newspaper, and looking out on the magnificent view. What a perfect life!Need I say anything about this photo?
The island-connected-to-the-mainland; or, "tidal island" in normal geographic terms.
Reading newspapers...
...and drinking what appears to be frozen guava juice or something of the like.
The foam was fantastic. It wasn't too runny or too sweet, but still had enough body to be able to scoop with the stirrer.
The non-caffeinated option was juice.
I'm very intrigued by these small green citrus fruits. They're not limes, nor lemons, nor oranges, nor tangerines. They're green on the outside and orange-yellow on the inside. Their seeds are white with a layer of light green around them. Such intriguing little fruits!

Sunday, July 16, 2006


The bed and breakfast where we stayed is run by one small woman. She is the one who makes the traditional Chinese breakfast you see here. Traditional Chinese breakfasts make rice porridge their main course, with smaller plates of salty foods to go with it. Typically, there is an egg dish, some sort of pickles, shredded meat, and anything else from stewed peanuts to yesterday's leftovers.
Clockwise from the left: yo tiao (oil sticks, basically fried strips of dough); spicy dry tofu with bits of meat; ro song (shredded meat); scrambled eggs with green onions (not my favorite). The rice porridge is in the bottom right.
Our first attempt to eat the wild mangos. They are quite small and soft; very difficult to cut the standard mango-eating way.
It wasn't good enough so I peeled one and ate it straight up with no cutting.
As promised, what the inside of a dragon fruit looks like. The two red fruits in previous post yield white and black pieces of fruit. It is barely sweet, even lightly salty. The texture is like kiwi, and the black seeds are crispy like kiwi seeds.

Gangsters Interrupted my dinner

We went out to a family style restaurant in Taitung for dinner. By family style restaurant, I mean owned by a family, opened for families. All of the servers were probably the sons and daughters, or at least cousins of the owner. The tables were big and round with a lazy susan on top to facilitate the sharing of large plates of food. In the middle of dinner, this big fat (literally) gangster dude comes in weilding a large metal stick, followed by two smaller gangster kids (probably in their early teens) with various sizes of baseball bats. They make a subtle entrance across the main dining floor of the restaurant until they reach the door that separates the kitchen from the dining room. The large bespeckled gangster smacks the side of the wall with his metal stick, not doing too much damage but making a VERY loud PING, and all three disappear into the back. From what we could make out, a deal gone sour was proceding upstairs, where another wife-beater-clad gangster was having dinner. The three that came in later were reinforcements.

While they were upstairs, one of the waitresses calls the cops, but the cop who arrived shortly after was basically useless. The two smaller gangsters hide their baseball bats in a corner and sneak out, leaving the restaurant owner frantically pointing in their direction to the cop, who just stood there looking stupid. The large gangster happened to come down behind the 2 small ones, and saw the owner pointing them out.

This resulted in the wife-beater-clad gangster putting his arms around the owner's shoulders and conveying what I imagined to be some saccrin friendly threats. He then proceded to sit down at the table across from ours, where the town vet was having dinner with his family. We quickly paid and left before any serious stuff happened.Bamboo shoot soup with what looks like mushrooms.
Battered and fried anchovies, eaten by first dipping in white pepper powder to the right.
Bamboo shoots were in season. One of many bamboo dishes this summer in Taiwan.
Heavily garlicked fish.
Not entirely sure what this vegetable dish was.
VERY interesting vegetable. It is a little bitter and looks like a prickly mini avacado. The textrue is sort of like steamed cabbage stalk.

These covert photos taken from behind the head of the lady sitting next to me. Horrible things probably would have happened had they caught me taking pictures of them. The red jacket and blue shirt by the door are the two smaller gangsters trying to escape.
The big red shirt is the large gangster who hit the wall with the metal stick. The person far away with the hat is the policeman. If he looks like he's running away, he is. The red jacket in the foreground is one of the smaller gangsters.


White mochi with ground peanut in the middle.
The rare "black" mochi, made with red bean paste so it looks black.


Nope, the way people sell candy on the side of the road.

Fruit on the side of the road

In Taitung, all sorts of fruit trees grow on the side of the road. Nearer the town, you can also get fruit that has been picked, at fruitstands on the side of the road.Bundles of lychee
Asian pears, so juicy and sweet.
Dragon fruit. I've never seen this before, but it is red on the outside, and white with black seeds on the inside.
Wild mango. The normal mangos that we all have in our memories are yellow or orange with a bit of red at one end. Wild mangos are ones that just grow by themselves without people coming by to check if their coloring is right. When people crave these green mangos, they sort of feel the firmness to see if it is ripe enough. Compared to the red/yellow mangos, these are much sweeter and much softer in texture. The reason they are so is because they truly ripen on the branch, not by manually pumping ethylene over picked, unripe green mangos.

Kids from the office

Faye's secretary brought her kids by to play with the dog, and the kids got this pudding. The things on top are caramelized bananas. I understand that caramelized means lots and lots of sugar, but all in all it was delicious.

Plan B

Sunday morning flight = no go, so we went to VVG to have lemonade and dessert.
They call this lemonade but it is actually lime-ade.
Chocolate cheesecake. In my opinion, the chocolate on top was a tad thick for non-chocolate lovers (good thing I am not one of those), and the cheesecake had too much cake and not enough cheese.