All About Food

I have had a few people back at home in the States ask me about the food in Taiwan. I feel that I could never capture the full nuance of food in Taiwan or even my little section of the island, Taibei (or taipei for some people). All that being said, I will be introducing you to a place called Shida Night Market. A place filled to the gills with a wide range of tastes, styles of cooking and smells.

You wake up from a short nap after touring around the city in the hot sun and swimming through a particularly humid afternoon. Let’s say you are staying at a wonderful little hostel called “The Chocolate Box Backpacker” located just around the corner from the night market. You turn down a narrow lane lined with scooters and walk towards Shida Rd. (師大路)You’re now standing in a constructed park with some strange kind of sculpture. Straight ahead you see a sign for Watson’s 24 hour store, known to some residents as the everything store. You get hit with a wave of different smells and decide to carefully cross the street, deftly dodging both cars and the numerous scooters flying down the road. You can’t read any of the signs and have no idea where to go so you start to wonder around trying to find something to eat.

Taiwan’s variety of food is literally without end. What’s even more beautiful about food here, you can eat on the absolutely tightest budget. Food, depending on where you eat, can cost you the equivalent of one maybe two USD, which is just glorious. Shida Night Market has small food stalls with certain unrecognizable meats and even well known American chain stores like Subway, Burger King, and Pizza Hut. You decide you want to at least avoid going to the “normal American” place. But do you really want to eat a traditional Taiwanese dish? Mimicking Western food has become a pretty popular thing here in Taibei. I’m only going to tell you about two of my preferred places that you could walk to. If you were say looking for some good western food. A great place to go would be a restaurant called “Grandma Nitti’s Kitchen” located on an alley kind of across from a 24 hour cafe and bar called Jr. Cafe (if you are wondering who the Sr. of that Jr. Cafe is, it would be a popular club called Roxy). Grandma Nitti’s offers two awesome things, cheap paperbacks for sale and solid Western style cooking. On their menu you’ll find waffles, omelettes, veggie burgers, and even quesadillas. If you pop in for dinner you can typically get a drink and piece of cake thrown into a full dinner package. I have only personally gone once, but have many friends who love to eat there. I personally vouch for their tasty veggie quesadillas which are made with a delicious sauce. When you are eating take a look around you. You’ll probably notice that there aren’t too many foreigns or even expats hanging around the place. Rather, it is packed full of Taibei residents…I take it as a very good sign.

But we all know what Western food tastes and smells like. You want to try something a bit different, more local food. Well you’re in luck. The traditional and “modern” cultures blend together in strange ways and produce situations where you have a 7-11 (just straight up called 7-11 by locals of xiao qi (little seven) close to the more traditional spot you’ve selected for your dinning experience in the heart of Shida Night Market. The food style is called Luwei. Quite simply, it’s a food stall with a wide arrangement of meats, veggies and styles of noodles. You pickup a pink basket and a set of tongs. No one is going to direct you so you stumble through the crowd and pick some meats…maybe a piece of tofu?, and definitely some broccoli. You also get the option of picking either rice noodles or the typically ramen noodle packet. You don’t have to get the noodles but it is a nice touch. The rice noodles are my favorite option, they tend to soak up the flavors around it and become awesomely delicious. Oh man, you are too slow!! “太慢!“ A woman with a large knife grabs the pink basket from you and starts to count out the food and chop everything off. A young man next to her yells the price to you…except you don’t speak Chinese and sort of stumble through trying to figure it out via holding fingers. You mange to only have to spend about 90 TWD (equivalent to less than 3 USD). In return you get a full, hefty plate of food cooked in delicious oils and sometimes made with a fair amount of kick if you say you want it “hen la” very (Not as strong as english very) spicy. The workers point you to the inside of a building and walk cautiously up a somewhat steep flight of stairs with your wonderful smelling dish. there’s lots of people (adults, teens, families) eating and talking loud with one another, when a woman comes up to you with a clipboard and a blue piece of paper with funny symbols. You look confused and she maybe says “Tea”. The paper is filled with different types and styles of tea both hot and cold, milk, red, or green teas. All of them are tasty. You figure since the dish is still hot that you’ll get something cold and pick a set of characters that seems to inspire something. She asks “hong haishi lu?” You look confused and just point to one…lucky you you picked red (my favorite!). You devour your meal with your newly acquired skills using chop sticks.

Taibei also has numerous amounts of bakeries along every single street. Even when running late for classes I can still quickly stop into a bakery and pick up a tasty morsel for my breakfast consumption. My favorite thing for breakfast however is the rice ball called “fan –an pronounced more like “on” –Tuan” You can get these rice balls for next to nothing and they will stuff it full of meats, or eggs and some spices. The balls are served hot and tightly packed together by a middle age guy who labors over each ball like it is his child. He’s an artist or the rice balls. You can typically pick up a cup of cold tea with the rice ball for around 45 TWD. That is a steal, I am telling you , for how delicious it is!

Even as I am writing this, I am at a small restaurant called the Red House which sells tea, breakfast, and Budweiser. All of their seating is located on a small open balcony level overlooking the night market. Tonight I picked up a pot of hot ginger milk tea and have been sipping on it as I wrote both blog posts for tonight. The tea here costs about 150 TWD a pot and each customer has to order a minimum of 150, but this isn’t really too bad considering you can stay how ever long you want and the place is open until 3AM. $150 is the equivalent of 4.50 in USD and the tea is rocking. Its also a great place to listen to Beatles music, which I think is the owner’s favorite band to listen to. Okay, well that’s enough writing for one night! Hope I’ve at least gotten you more interested in the food. Don’t worry if you are too scared by local food…there are tons of Mcdonalds and Starbucks everywhere! Not that I would step foot in any of those places : P

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