Taipei was so great… I could blog for much longer than this – but I’m going to refrain because there were simply too many good moments (food and non-food related) to go through. So, finally… here are some of the highlights from my Taipei trip!
Day 1: Hong Kong -> Taipei
Leaving Hong Kong on a Saturday morning after a night out calls for comfortable clothes, dark sunglasses and something to nibble on. My latest obsession are these grotesquely sugar-coated Ribena gummies in mixed fruit flavour.
After arriving in Taipei my friend and I stopped by Yuan Ze University on the way to the city. The afternoon had warmed up the weather and walking around the campus was a real pleasure. It was quite empty, as it was the weekend, so I felt very zen as I strolled the grounds: lush with completely intact grass, modern artwork and architecture.
You can tell that the students really respect the campus, which is something you don’t always see.
That evening, craving a delicious first meal in Taipei, we only made it 5 minutes down the street of our hotel because any longer and our hunger might have taken over completely!! Having said that, it’s not like we were forced into choosing a bad option. On the contrary, the street was bustling with many different restaurants. All were opened out to the pavements on the sides of the road as people ate outdoors talking and laughing loudly over the overall chatter.
It became clear to me that these kinds of eateries attracted families, their friends and people who wanted to get together, eat a hearty meal, drink a fair bit and share good times. I also learned about Taiwan’s somewhat D.I.Y. culture: customers are accustomed to standing up to walk over to the rice station to grab a bowl or rice; or the fridge for a beer, and then getting billed at the end of the meal.
In our restaurant, however, there were four or five Tsingtao beer girls dressed in adorable blue and white sailor inspired Tsingtao uniforms. Their job, as far as I observed, is to encourage customers to drink a Tsingtao beer by serving them and saving a tired soul a trip to the beer fridge :). It’s a great concept! And we certainly enjoyed chatting with our friendly beer girl, who shared tourist tips and recommendations with us. After ordering we were served with a plate of Edamame Beans! This was the first sign of Japanese influence that I encountered in Taiwan. But, by no means did the Taiwanese fail to add their own twist…
I really lost control eating these… they were delicious. In the top photo ^ you can get a sense of the marinade it was in. Sesame oil, ground pepper and star of anis all contributed to the always wonderful experience of popping the little beans into your mouth.
What enjoyment I had nibbling on the appetisers increased tenfold with the first dish: Fried Clams.
Wow…. I really wish I could go back and relive that dish again. Of course, this is only suitable for those seafood fans out there… but honestly, I think these clams could convince almost anyone to start eating shellfish. Cooked and served with coriander, chili and strips of ginger in a soy-based sauce, it was honest, real food at its best.
Next came our Frog dish, which was a little too salty for my liking but still saved to a certain extent by the great flavour and garnishes that supported it. Fried to that point where the sauce seeps in and it gets soft/crispy, the onions and greens kind of stole the show for me. In any case it’s definitely a fun dish to trick your anti-Frog eating friends into eating as it is quite impossible to tell what kind of mystery meat is on the menu with the naked eye.
Day 2: Arcades, Gaming, Bowling and more…
Day 2 was spent wandering the city’s popular shopping districts and checking out some local gaming arcades and internet cafes. Hong Kong pales in comparison when it comes to the kind of cyber-geek fantasy land that you can find in Taipei… I was lucky enough to have a great friend, Jon, to show me around with his cousin Colin.
That night we celebrated Jon’s girl cousin’s 23rd birthday at Strike, a club in Taipei. I’m starting to think that there are many things Taipei does better than Hong Kong cuz get this, Strike was a full-scale club with bar, dance floor, VIP, pool table, darts, SHARK TANK, and FOUR bowling alleys. Not to mention, about a dozen toilet cubicles in the lady’s room which were extremely clean and well lit – that really astounded me, clubs usually never give a crap about how many women are dying in a queue of drunk chicks in line to use a single toilet. Club from convenience and amenities heaven, one might say.
We had a blast and enjoyed some very fried and very MSG bar snacks to accompany a night of hearty drinking.
Day 3: Day turns into night at… SHILIN NIGHT MARKET
Speaking of MSG, our next high dosage came around 24 hours later at the Shilin Night Market. As I head out into the crowds with two almost-local Taiwanese (Jon and Colin both live in Taiwan and speak Mandarin but come from abroad) and another fellow tourist, the wafts of sweet… then totally nasty… then fried… then sweet again smells washed over all of us. It was very confusing to all senses and therefore a total thrill. Food everywhere. Shops everywhere… well you could say I could’t have chosen a better place to hang out!
Just moments after we arrived I turned around to find Colin, a pretty badass looking dude, standing very seriously and completely unphased… holding a skewer of caramelised strawberries that he just bought from a nearby stand. I asked him to pose for a portrait straight after, trying to suppress my smile.
Other nighttime treats included deep fried breaded chicken topped with sinfully good MSG, tortilla-esque wraps filled with chunks of chicken or beef in different sauces, little sweet dough puffs and slightly sour mandarin juice (you can actually choose between that and a sweeter variation at the stall! Awesome…).
One thing that must be said about fried food in Taiwan: it’s perfect. They really know how to cook it so that the outside is very cripsy, the breadcrumbs not too intense, and the meat inside is not only tender, but still juicy despite being nuked in a tub of searing hot oil.
The rest of that night, and the trip in general, was walking the streets, checking out local places, old-school karaoke bars, having fun, partying and getting to see Taipei the way I’m guessing most young people like me do. 🙂
Sad to leave but happy with the decision I’ve made to return to Taipei this summer for two months or so, I really am happy for my spur-of-the-moment choice to join my friend on his 4 day trip to Taipei. This summer I plan to work and get my Mandarin up to a better standard in Taipei so… the adventures aren’t over yet! But for the next few months, don’t worry – you can expect a lot more Hong Kong bites to be headed your way because HK will always be home.