When we travel from Columbia to California, we always look forward to enjoying the "authentic" Chinese foods in California. However, my relatives in California always told me that they prefer the “real” taste of Chinese dishes in China. But the unsurpassed champion of taste buds in our views has to be Taiwan
. The variety of tasty foods do not just exist in fancy restaurants in Taiwan but in hideaway alleys, in traditional markets or even the venders on the streets. What would have surprise most of Westerners is how good Taiwan’s bakery is. They produce many delightfully light, flaky and tasty breads – usually filled with nuts or dried fruits, sometimes with ham or cheese. Ray stops as often as he can at the bakeries and usually ends up buying some special treats for snack or dessert. Our first dinner in Taipei was the freshly made “layered green onion pancake” and a bowl of hot and spicy beef noodles near the Shilin Night Market. It cost us a grand total of $10. On the 2nd night, we were invited out by my good friends to the famous Peng’s Family style restaurant. This restaurant is famous for its “Dong Po Rou” – a chunk of pork belly meat that is cooked so slowly it melts in your mouth. This was descirbed by the author of “Chinas last chef” wrote that you would taste the flavor of “fat” in this dish but the meat is never “greasy”. We also took a picture in front of a famous giant Chinese brush painting of “Dragon Shrimp” (aka lobster).
We travelled to Hualian (the Flower Harbor) which is a 2 hour train ride from Taipei along the mountainous eastern coastline . We enjoyed the tapestry of the vibrant green colors of the vegetation on the mountain side
. That is the reason why Taiwan was nicknamed “Formosa” (beautiful island) by the early Dutch explorers. We met our Hualian friends Arina and Tony when they were students at William Woods in Missouri. They brought home not only their advanced degrees but also a bundle of joy name “Mia”. Mia is 3 years old now and as adorable as a China doll but lively and talkative. Hualian has many ethanic tribes and is famous for being the place that produces many of Taiwan’s greatest singers and dancers. It has more aboriginal populations than any other cities in Taiwan. Hualian alsos produce this beautiful “rose marble” stones. Mia warmed up to “Ye Ye” (grandpa) and “Na Na” (grandma) immediately but definitely showed her favorism of Ye Ye (Ray). She dances, sings and chatters with every person she met in the restaurants and markets. She constantly asks questions why and Arina is very patient with her. Since Tony and Arina live in an apartment complex with a lot of college students, Mia does not have too many playmates of her own age. Consequently she speaks whole sentences and sometimes making comments just like an adult. She amused us the whole time we were in Hualian. She told her mom that she is going to America to visit Ye Ye and Na Na. The community they live is surrounded by misty mountains and green and gold rice fields. The air is fresh and fragrant. We met a large group of bicycle riders on their 3-day rides through the area
. Taiwan people have caught the bicycle fever and the government has built a lot pathways for biking which is not only for great exercise but is an environmentally friendly transportation. In the evening, we went to a restaurant named “Moon House” which was located half way up the mountain. Their famous roast chicken is smoked slowly inside a metal pail basted with a plums and honey sauces. You have to reserve it a day ahead because it takes 8 hours to cook it. We also had the best tasting wild “bitter melon” and wild greens. The restaurant was built into the mountain and one wall was constructed with giant stones. The floor is Tatami (straw mat) and the table is big chuck of wood plank. The whole décor is natural and warm and makes the dinner experiences special. This is definitely one of the best restaurants we have ever been in Taiwan. After 1 night in such a beautiful and serene place, I might try to apply for a short term lecturer position at the University here so we can come back and stay for 3 months to enjoy this area. All I have to do now is to figure out how to persuade the University administrators to hire me – maybe a special perspective view of a globol tourist on Hualian.
We returned to Taipei just in time to join another good friends of ours for some Hong Kong style dining. Liying and Tsuakuo spent a few years in Columbia about 20 some years ago
. They still miss our little town and would like to come back for a visit. Columbia may be a beautiful place to live but we definitely not getting the delicious foods they enjoy in Taipei.
We are on the road again to Taichung – this time by bus – to visit Kuoyang. Many of our Columbia friends know Kuoyang as the famous “”Chef Philosopher”. He works on his PhD in sociology but enjoys cooking and has prepared many special dinners for his friends in Columbia. We can testify to that fact because Ray and I had tasted many delicious dishes at Kuo Yang’s house. Now that we are in his home town, Kuo Yang took us to some old restaurants where he enjoyed as a child. The lunch was at a local restaurant that is famous for goose meat and noodle soup. Goose is a very popular dish in Taiwan. Taiwan raised a lot of geese and ducks but most Taiwanese actually prefer goose meat. The goose usually is cooked slowly in a broth that may contained different Chinese herbs. The meat then is sliced thin and served with slivers of ginger and hot and sweet sauce. The goose is tender and juicy and the flavor subtle and tasty. The owners knows Kuo Yang personally since he used to come to eat with his father. The afternoon was spent touring around Taichung. Taichung is locates in the middle of Taiwan and used to be the seat of provincial government and has several famous public and private universities and colleges
. Since it is the homes of so many civic servants and university professors, it is well-known for people who know how to enjoy a leisurely life and have many interests in arts and culinary arts. Bubble tea which now is popular worldwide (even Columbia has a downtown store that sells them) originated from Taichung. Kuo Yang took us to the original store and there were a lot of people there. Freshly brewed tea with milk, sugar and tapioca pearls and drunk with a special wide straw is the essence of bubble tea. Amazing how it caught on even in the USA. We also stopped by the original “Sun cake” store. This is a famous Taichung dessert – flaky, light and with a sweet maltose filling in the middle. We bought some to take back to Taipei for gifts. At dinner time we met up with one of Kuo Yang’s childhood friend who is a physician. We dined at a local Japanese/Taiwanese restaurant called “Sun Moon Lake”. There are two special dishes I have never tasted before – one is grilled tender bamboo shoots and the other a tasty soup served in a small tea pot. While Ray drank beers with his old and new friends, I hardly put my chopsticks down. What a treat that meal was.
We hated to leave Taichung so quickly but the Taipei International Flore exhibition started on Nov. 6th and we had only 1 day and half day to visit it before we headed to Indonesia. On our return to Taipei, we first met up with Uncle Li – an old family friend - and his family. Uncle Li is 94 years old but still in excellent shape. After treating us to a traditional Chinese dumpling dinner, Uncle Li took us downtown by Metro to meet up with his friends for his Sunday afternoon coffee. Uncle Li has enjoyed coffee his whole life and loves to see his friends (all younger than him). At 94 years old, Uncle Li gets on and off Metro and taking the escalator without any hesitation
. We have to walk fast to keep up with him. The coffee shop is located in downtown Taipei and sells relatively cheap but good coffee. When we arrived, it was full of students who just finished their Sunday classes from private tutoring centers and they were doing their homework – a sight we don’t usually see in USA. Uncle Li’s regular friends all showed up even though they know that he is so deaf that he can’t hear anything they are saying nor can he join the conversation, they come faithfully every Sunday knowing that he is happy just being there with everyone. After several cups of coffee and some French fries, we excused ourselves to go visit the Floral Show.
The exhibition will last 6 months and consists of 6 large areas of gardens with different themes. We started by visiting the area along the river where there are large designs covered with colorful flowers like impatiens, salvia and petunia. All these are fairly common flowers that are easily raised and maintained and make great garden designs when planted enmas. Around 9PM we walked over to see the “Water Screen” - a man made waterfall coming down from a high way bridge where they projected lighted pictures and words o
n it. It is a great design but the light wasn’t too bright and it was hard to take pictures of it. There are performances in the auditorium but we decided to visit the “competitive flower arrangements” in the Expo Demo
. There are hundreds of large designs - all made of fresh flowers – from many countries. Not only the designs are impressive but the fresh flowers used in the design – especially the orchids, calla lily and other exotic flowers are breathtaking. I took many pictures but my favorites are a “dark satin purple” and a green “lady sleeper” orchids. When I squatted down to take pictures of these orchids, someone commented that very few people actually looking down to see the flowers on the low ground. Most people looking at them at eye level and really misses a lot of beautiful flowers. It is lucky we went to the Expo Demo this evening because there were not too many visitors yet. I bet the Dome will fill up with large crowds during the day time.
We came back the 2nd day to finishing visiting the Expo. Even though we went in right at 9 am to obtain reservation tickets, we were only able to get tickets to the Celebrity Hall but not any other popular venues. O well, the garden itself is beautiful so we walked around and took lots of pictures. Even though it is a Monday, with the sun shining and cool weather, there are a lot of visitors including school field trips and tourists bus from other parts of Taiwan, The exhibitions ticket price is reasonable at 300 NT (or about $10), Ray received a 50% discount due to his “senior” age
. The celebrity hall was dedicate to a famous Chinese singer Teresa Tang whose songs were popular in the 1960-90s but she died young at the age of 43 of asthma. We watched her performances on DVD and it brought back many fond memories for me. Even though we were only able to spend a day and half visiting the Expo, we really enjoyed it. I think if we come back in March and April when the spring flowers really blooming, it would be even prettier than now.
Our last day in Taiwan was spent with HM’s college classmates. We met up at a metro station and walked up to a country club about half way up the mountain. There are golfing and thermal spring available but HM is only interested in visiting with her friends. Of course, we ended up with another fantastic banquet which included many of HM’s favorite dishes but the friendship is even better than the food. Most of HM’s classmates are retired and thoroughly enjoying their lives by traveling around. However, none of them are as adventurous as HM. Their favorite vacation places are mostly in Japan. Some of them are planning going for the Cherry Blossom Festival in April or a climb up the Fuji mountain in August. Maybe HM can join them sometimes.
While we were in Taiwan, the Merapi volcano eruption caused a huge problem on our trip to Indonesia
. One of our first stop in Indonesia is Yogyakarta which is only about 40 km from the volcano. HM is on skype with contacts in Indonesia as well as friends in Beijing trying to decide what to do. After several tense moments, we decided to proceed to Jakarta (after all President Obama made it there) but skipped Yogyakarta and toured a resort area about 2 hours from Jakarta called Bandung. Thanks for my friend Chad in Singapore, at the last minute before we left Taipei, she was able to secure a 3N/4D tour to Bandung for us. Indonesia, volcano or not, here we come!
I hope you enjoy this segment of our “million miles of SE Asia tour!
Taiwan is one of Ray's favorite places because of the variety of foods available at every street corners. We are staying at my younger brother John’s apartment in Danshui (it means fresh water) which is on the outskirt of Taipei. I am truly blessed with loving and generous brothers and sister-in-laws who are so willing to share their vacation homes with us. Daintsui is on one of Taipei’s many metro lines and the public transportation in both China and Taiwan are cheap ad excellent. We can traverse the cities easily by bus, by train and by walking. The USA still has lots to learn from these countries.