Taiwan: A Food Lover’s Paradise
Alex, my mom, and I went to Taiwan last weekend because we had heard such good things about the food. And, we were NOT disappointed! The food was amazing: delicious, abundant (good food everywhere), and cheap.
Alex and I met my mom at the airport and together, we took a bus to downtown Taipei. It was a little rainy (remnants of the typhoon moving through the area). Our hotel was in the old district, sandwiched between rows of Chinese herbal medicine shops. As soon as we checked in, we headed to Din Tai Fung, the world famous soup dumpling (xiao long bao, XLB, 小籠包) restaurant. Alex and I had only tried the Gangnam, Seoul location, and were very disappointed with the quality (the meat was too lean, and there wasn’t enough soup) and it was expensive (10,000 won for 10 pieces). In fact, our friends who have been to the Taipei location(s) refuse to go to the Seoul restaurant! We arrived at Din Tai Fung (the original shop in Taipei- there are many in Taipei) around 3 PM and there was still a line of people… a sign that the restaurant was good. We ordered while we waited, and were seated 10 minutes later (on the third floor). We walked by the soup dumpling kitchen, where 10 or so people were churning out the soup dumplings.
The vegetable dishes and meat buns were great, but the pork soup dumplings were AMAZING. 200 NTD (New Taiwanese Dollars, roughly $6.50) for 10. They came along with instructions on how to eat, but Alex and I are almost soup dumpling (eating) connoisseurs. 😀 The meat was melt-in-your-mouth. The wrappers were defyingly thin (I had read that it’s almost impossible to get such a thin wrapper because the soup dumpling tends to break if the wrapper is too thin, but if the wrapper is thick, it overpowers the taste of the meat). Alex and my only complaint is that they didn’t serve black rice vinegar (only brown, which was a little sweeter and not as pungent). Fred M- You will get a kick out of this: the Din Tai Fung was “cash only.” Just like Shanghai Cafe in NYC!
Having stuffed ourselves, we walked around and shared a scallion pancake (葱抓饼) as well as a watermelon juice and a mango juice. There were so many street food vendors and it all looked so good!
Friday night, we went to Longshan Temple. Even though it was pouring rain, there were hundreds of people there, chanting and worshipping. We walked around the night market next to the temple, before going to the night market that’s closer to our hotel. One smell we will never get used to is that of stinky tofu. It assaults my senses. I tried it once a long time ago in China, but I wasn’t willing to eat my own piece and Alex didn’t want to try. The locals swear by it- that it’s so delicious, you can overcome the bad smell. But, no thank you! We settled for dumplings and beef noodle soup (the street shop apparently won an award for best beef noodle soup in Taipei).
Saturday morning, we took the subway (so cheap! and clean!) to Chiang Kai Shek’s Memorial Hall. There’s a national theater and national concert hall on the same plaza. The rain held off long enough for us to walk around the grounds without having to take out our umbrellas. We arrived at the memorial hall in time to see the changing of the guard!
We walked around the surrounding area before taking a cab to Shin Yeh, a Taiwanese restaurant recommended by Alex’s coworker. (The taxis in Taipei were also very cheap… even cheaper than Seoul. And the taxi drivers were all very friendly and liked to tell us their life story, their political opinions, etc… in Chinese of course.) Alex and I ate some of the best fatty pork of our lives. So soft and delicious. We ate so much for lunch that the three of us walked around the National Palace Museum in a food coma-induced haze. That’s unfortunate, because the National Palace Museum has some of the best artifacts and pieces of art from China (spanning 10,000 years). When Chiang Kai Shek knew that he was going to lose the war to the Communists, he had the most valuable, easily-transportable pieces taken from the Beijing Forbidden Palace to Taipei. That’s why Chinese people say to bypass the Palace Museum in Beijing because all of the “good” pieces are now located in Taipei.
After we worked off our food comas, we of course, ate more. We went to the Sunnyhills, which is a small shop known for its pineapple cakes. As soon as we arrived, we were each given a cup of tea and a pineapple cake to sample. The shop was beautifully decorated, like a trendy furniture store. The cake was really good- tart but very tasty. We bought a sample box to give to our friends.
Then, we went to Taipei 101, which at 509 meters is the sixth tallest skyscraper in the world. Unfortunately, due to the rain, the 91st floor outside observatory was closed, so we had to settle for the indoor 89th floor observatory. We were taken up from the fifth floor to the 89th floor in 37 seconds! And the elevator was pressurized so that our ears didn’t pop! We were given audio guides, which were very informative. For Alex and me, the highlight of the Taipei 101 wasn’t the view (it was a rainy night anyway), but the tuned mass damper (which we could see from both the 89th and 88th floors)… What a bunch of nerds! We got so excited looking at the tuned mass damper, essentially a very large pendulum suspended to counterbalance the movement from high winds. The Taipei 101 has to withstand both strong winds from typhoons and earthquakes (it is designed to withstand the highest magnitude earthquake in a 2,500 year cycle!). So, Alex and I spent more time looking at the tuned mass damper than at the surrounding views!
Shi Lin is Taipei’s largest night market and that’s where we went after the Taipei 101 (we took one look at the 45 minute wait at the Din Tai Fung in the basement and decided we didn’t want to wait that long). We tried lamb skewers, fried ice cream, bubble tea, fried taro balls, more scallion pancake and more soup dumplings (not bad, but the wrappers were kind of thick). Most of the food at the night market is actually located underground (which was a nice refuge from the rain). (We still weren’t brave enough to try the stinky tofu.)
My mom wanted to get foot “massages” so we each got a 30 minute “massage.” The word “massage” is in quotes because Alex and I felt anything but relaxed during it. It was SO painful. The masseuses were digging into all of our pressure points on our feet and shins. There was a chart on the wall stating what body part (liver, heart, lungs) each section of the foot was linked to. So, I guess the “massage” was good for our bodies, but boy was it painful! While we were squirming in our seats, my mom was sipping tea, relaxed as can be!
Taipei was lovely. The people were very nice and friendly, and of course, the food was fantastic. It’s just a two hour flight from Seoul, so we may just take a trip if we are missing some good food!