Oops. Sorry to leave you hanging! But here’s the Taiwan part of my winter break trip to Asia! (Wow….that was a long time ago.)
Eating in Taiwan was a mind-and-stomach-boggling experience. I ate legendary beef noodle soup. I tried shaved ice for the first time. I snacked on pineapple cakes. Drank cheap boba. Life was stellar.
We flew in during the afternoon, an hour and a half flight from Hong Kong. Once we got settled, my dad couldn’t stop talking about his craving for beef noodle soup so we made a beeline for this apparently famous place. But it was unfortunately closed because…it ran out of beef.
So we decided to kill time and pacify our growling stomachs with a little snack. Wandering around the streets, we spotted a jank cart with a long line of people clamoring by it. Curious, we inched closer and realized that it was a food cart selling Taiwanese pancakes. My mom immediately snagged us a spot in line (I’ve never seen her walk so quickly). The line moved pretty quickly, and we all ordered one each. We watched the street vendor pound the dough, rub it flat, then hand the round disk to the next person for frying. Another person stuffed Taiwanese basil and egg with a smattering of oyster (hoisin) sauce inside the pancake so that it resembled a crepe.
Somehow, this memory of eating the pancake will be forever emblazoned in my mind. I was starving that day. And obviously anything would taste good. But I also learned that I have quite a soft spot for these Taiwanese pancakes–hot, delightfully greasy flaky pastry fried golden brown and bursting with basil flavor with a hint of hoisin. It was delicious.
Right after we ate our pancakes–like literally right after–we saw a shaved ice place next door. It was packed, and our eyes grew round as we watched people parading by with these giant platters heaped with snow and fruit. So of course, we wanted to try.
It was my first time eating shaved ice, and I loved it. We ordered two to share–a mango fruit one topped with mango sorbet and a fruit medley one with strawberries, kiwi, and mango, a scoop of strawberry sorbet plunked on top. Both shaved ices were drizzled liberally with streams of condensed milk that pooled around the fruit. Ugh. So good. I wouldn’t have minded less condensed milk, but I think it was definitely necessary to make the dish sweeter.
(At another place we went to–still good!)
And as if we weren’t full enough, the line opened again for the beef noodle soup place. So we went. For twelve dollars, I thought it was a little pricey, but it was supposedly famous so I just went along. The side dishes of Chinese vegetables were strangely salty, however. But I finished my food!
Personally I preferred a beef noodle place I ate at later on during the trip in Jiu Fun (and it was three dollars to boot, for crying out loud). That broth was rich and less oily while the noodles were beautifully chewy. Plus my mother also bought us freshly fried dumplings that were marvelous. They had a wonderful thin dough and a stuffing of pork and vegetables. I’m never looking at a Costco Ling Ling dumpling the same way ever again.
Another fun thing about Taiwan is the hot pot. My family and I went to Taipei 101, the colossal shopping mall with tons of floors, and we scoured the food court for a place to eat. There’s an individual hot pot place, where each person gets their own pot and can choose a meat with vegetables and rice included. And it’s so cheap. My mom and I could not stop thinking about it afterwards. Fortunately, we also had dinner one night at a similar hot pot place.
Taiwan is also iconic for its pineapple cakes. Those were the stuff of my childhood. I was crazy for pineapple; it was a pretty weird obsession. I created my usernames and email with the word “pineapple” included somewhere, I wanted pineapple print clothing, I loved eating pineapple. And these cakes are definitely stellar. Buttery, shortbread-like cookie covers a rectangular piece of pineapple chunks molded in a soft gel. It sort of has a consistency similar to Fig Newtons. And as you take the first bite, the buttery crust sort of breaks apart and dusts your mouth with crumbs as you savor that pineapple filling. We had free samples at many places, and one time the cakes were fresh out of the oven. Needless to say, we could not stop going back for more.
We also hit up Din Tai Fung for siu long bao and other dumplings. We picked porked dumplings and chicken, pork, and winter melon siu long bao. To be honest, siu long bao is not my favorite dim sum, but the Din Tai Fung was absolutely delicious. The service was great as well, and we feasted that afternoon despite waiting for an hour and a half.
Last of all–the night market noms. We spent a lot of evenings strolling the night markets, slurping on freshly pressed watermelon or kumquat juice and eating things like hot buns stuffed with pork and leeks. I would turn around and find my dad chomping on something new each time–from squid to corn to fruit. And then we’d go for boba tea, either at the chain store Coco (which is apparently rather expensive….even if it’s 1.50 US dollars) or at another place. Every night ended with a satisfied stomach, and we’d wake up in the morning salivating again.