The Asian Food Odyssey – Part 1: Taiwan

by Forager on December 15, 2008

About 1.5 months ago, I embarked on my culinary journey across Taiwan, China and Hong Kong with my folks and ate my way across the 3 countries. As always, Asia is a fantastic wonderland for foodies, with fantastic high-end fine dining fare, delicious and/or curious street market fare, and of course the best comfort foods. There’s so much emphasis on food in Chinese culture. It’s not just a source of sustenance or just another meal – it has the ability to bind like glue to bring people together or as I saw on my trip, it can bring out the inner homicidal maniac in you. Chinese people have an opinion on everything. Everything! Often an “expert” opinion too. And they feel like it’s their duty to tell you their opinion – I believe they think that it’s for your good that you know your flaws. There were many fine meals punctuated by comments like “this is crap – the texture is like rubber bands!”, “these guys don’t know how to cook!”, or “they should have done it in a ginger and shallot sauce – pah! Amateurs!”

But I digress. The food was really the highlight of my trip. I ate so much and took so many photos that the only way to make sense of it is to categorise the trip by country. First up, Taiwan!

I was in Taipei for only a short period of time – 3 days 2 nights in total and by far the best food experience I had there was going to the fantastic night markets. I stayed in the Songshan area so the RaoHe night markets were located conveniently nearby.

These markets were an assault on all the senses. You’ve got people yelling and waving at you selling their wares, the happy slurping of noodles and soups, people chatting and shuffling along the market jostling about and elbowing you in the ribs, the sizzle of food being tossed in woks, and of course the all pervasive smell of pungent stinky tofu. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of smelling or eating stinky tofu – it really smells offensive. Like fermented sewerage. Doesn’t taste of much. In fact, it doesn’t smell of much either by the time you’re standing in front of the stall. It seems to smell the worst 20m away from the source. I’ve had it before in HK many years ago – but that was a deep fried tofu puff. The Taiwanese stinky tofu is of the soupy variety – the liquid form seems to make it so much more pungent. Truly for experienced connoisseurs.

As you can imagine, night market food is mostly about snack foods. Small snack stuffs you can munch on the go. I was very impressed by the double fried Shanghai hairy crabs – crunchy and delicious with a light dusting of five spice powder. Worth returning to Taipei now just for another munch! Follow it up with some iced glutinous dumplings and skewered cherry tomato, mango and sweet prunes. Yum!

Traveller’s tip: The hotel I stayed in was in Songshan and smack-bang in the middle of Wu Fen Pu – an enormous clothing market. I really recommend the area – particularly for younger travellers who are partial to a day or 2 of wandering around alleys and lanes of one clothing store after another… Delicious snack food & plenty of cheap shopping – can it get any better?

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