The Wet Market

Ah, yes, the wet market.  Where else can you buy broccoli, apples, and a delicious array of meat chunks and innards? I’m all for sweetbreads, fois gras, and the occassional pork knuckle, but all those things seem a little less elegant when sold by the jin (2/3 of a kilogram – whatever a kilogram is) and flopped on a table next to a pig hoof still attached to its hindquarters. We haven’t purchased meat at the market.  Vendors are seen touching money and meat simultaneously.  I haven’t seen a rubber glove since we arrived. Why does putting meat in a plastic container, wrapping it in plastic wrap, and refridgerating it on a shelf seem so much better?  I guess few people want to see how the sausage is made. * So, why do we go? This bountiful harvest of veggies and fruits is all organic (whatever that means in Taiwan) and about half the cost of the imported stuff at the grocery store.  Also, it’s about the only place I can get enough veggies to make a decent hot pot at home.     Things you can buy at the local wet market: Beautiful flowers Pig chunks Fresh fruits Chicken feet Homemade noodles by weight Ugly shoes   Beautiful Bountiful Veggies. Blurry image of chicken chunks. Vendors aren’t too keen on people taking photos of their stands for some reason. View of the market. Bins of…stuff. Our favorite veggie stand. Tex wildly flails his arms to convey the amount of noodles he wants to purchase. A vendor helps Tex weigh out his noodles for hot pot. View of the market. Tex wields a knife. View from outside the market.   *I know someone who buys their meat at the wet market.  They are still alive at the time of this...

Hot Pot

Yes, another post about food.  Food is by far the easiest way to experience a new culture.  So, yes, another post about food. Hot Pot is my new favorite meal.  Our friends introduced us to a great all you can eat hot pot restaurant when we first arrived but we were still in a jet lag induced lethargy. It’s called huǒguō here.  (pronunciation)       火鍋 The first character above is the character for fire.   So, you order a soup or two, make a sauce of your choosing, pick up a bunch of fish and vegetables from the food bar, grab a beer and sit down.  Then, you wait for your hot pot to boil and start putting a bunch of food in.  As it cooks you pull it out with your chopsticks, dip it in your sauce, and eat it.  (Don’t dig too deep in the pot – last time we found coagulated pig blood – worst prize ever.) Tex takes advantage of some all you can drink San Miguel beer. We chose a pot with half miso and half spicy. The spicy was VERY spicy. They gave us this “nice cooker” to stir the pot and fish out the delicious morsels. Tex adds some miscellany to the pot. The best thing about this place, besides the free beer of course, is the delicious cotton candy! It looks like a peep!   Tex and I are pretty convinced that very few Americans know about the hot pot deal in Taipei.  For 2 hours you gorge yourself on meat, fish, vegetables, ALL YOU CAN DRINK BEER, and ALL YOU CAN EAT ICE CREAM!  Not to mention the cotton candy machine and the chocolate fountain they had at this place.  It costs about $20 per person.  What red-blooded American could pass that up? The only downside to going out for hot pot is that frequently it’s difficult to determine what exactly it is that you’re putting in your mouth. If things are labeled they are labeled with Chinese characters (which neither of us can read yet). Certain things are obvious.  “Ah, yes, cabbage!” Never did I think cabbage could be so comforting then when on a plate next to various gray colored balls.  Some of the dumplings are very good, some are suspicious, and some are downright disgusting.  Regardless, it’s a great adventure. SO!  After we had hot pot at our friend’s dinner party I learned that it’s possible to make this at home!  This way I can control the ingredients and experiment with flavors.  It still costs about the same since vegetables can be rather expensive but it’s worth it for a relaxing meal....

Water what?

My Chinese teacher and I were having an in-depth discussion about Taiwan fruit. By “in-depth” I mean I can say things like, “Taiwan fruit is sweet. I like Taiwan fruit.  Sometimes it is cheap but sometimes it is expensive.”  They are very proud of their fruit here and I haven’t really gotten anything that blows my mind (except this dragon fruit).  So, she gave me a fruit that blew my mind.         It’s called:                        Characters:                                                                                   Pīn​yīn:                                                               Língjiǎo  (pronunciation)     It’s a water caltrop.  Whatever that is.  It’s affectionately called a Jesuit nut, Ram Horn Nut, or a horned water chestnut. Some people buy them raw and cook them at home.  This one is pre-cooked and opened by the shopkeeper. It tastes like a water chestnut but nuttier and less crunchy so there isn’t a ton of flavor.   I’ve heard that some people use them to make soup, which I imagine that tastes a lot like hot water. It’s clear that, like lobster, a very brave person or a very hungry person first decided to eat one of these things. Regardless of taste the water caltrop certainly makes a great mustache.     You can learn more about this fruit on this helpful...

Olfactory Explanations

In huge cities like Taipei there are a plethora of … odors… shall we say?  In general there is a sweet smell to Taipei.  Almost all of the local  food is cooked with sweet spices and flavors.  However, once in a while there is a not so sweet smell that stops you dead in your tracks and makes you think, or in my case say aloud, “Oh dear lord!  What the hell is that smell?” The grocery store in particular has a very distinct smell.  For a while I thought there was produce rotting too close to the entrance of the store.  As it turns out, this is the culprit:   Durian.  I heard some people like it.  I find it smells like rotting onions if those rotting onions happen to be buried in a hot garbage pile. I was going to post an image of the inside but frankly it was just too gross looking. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is quite as offensive as stinky tofu. At first smell I thought something died, but growing up in the woods I’ve smelled a rotting animal before.  This was so much worse.  This is worse than the smell of Philadelphia streets in 95 degree heat, and the pungent rotting oysters (or were they clams?) that my sister and I cleaned out of a cooler.   Please consider the following a warning. Characters: Pīn​yīn: Chòudòufu Pronounce it: Chòu dòu fu​ This is pretty easy to pronounce.  It’s easiest if you listen here. Meaning: “stinky tofu” So, if you see one of these stands around Taiwan, it is probably in your best interests to stay as far away as possible.   So frequently the foods that help to characterize a culture are just so gross.  French snails?  Chinese century eggs?  English breakfast? Taiwan’s stinky tofu? I’ll stick with my Philly cheese steak, American apple pie, and New England clam chowder....

Organic?

I’m sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this:

Mysterious Morsels

I’m assuming that this will be a multi-part series judging from vast amounts of interesting food I’ve discovered here in only a few weeks.  This is by no means a food blog but it’s hard not to share these delightful finds. For starters, they put tiny fish in the rice snack mix.  I’m not kidding.  It looks like regular ol’ snack mix, and then, there is a fish.  A WHOLE, tiny fish. Tex said it was pretty gross.  Maybe he just needs to get used to eating little, salty, tiny, crunchy fish.  I don’t plan on getting used to it. I later discovered that there is, in fact, a tiny fish on the bag.  In my defense I was completely jet lagged when I purchased this snack.  Lesson learned. Now we can move on to the ever delicious Denmark Burger.  What is a Denmark Burger you ask? I still have no idea.  I Googled Denmark burger but I don’t think this is the same recipe: This multi-layered breakfast sandwich consists of egg, processed cheese, lettuce, tomato all on a croissant bun.  What could make this sandwich better? Yup, you guessed it, Thousand Island dressing. ? Tex and I were both hungry enough to enjoy it but we didn’t truly understand it.  I’m not sure what food shops in Taiwan think of Scandinavian cuisine, but it definitely involves Thousand Island dressing*. I might try something different next time. Last, but certainly not least, in this snack mix is the dragon fruit.  Taiwan has tons of interesting fruits and vegetables.  They have avocados and mangoes here the size of your head.  Out of the dozens of choices at the market the dragon fruit was the most difficult to resist. So, we bought one. Isn’t it beautiful and scary? The inside is even cooler. I found the flavor a bit lacking. I like stronger flavors.  It was sweet and the seeds are totally edible, kind of like a kiwi fruit.  It reminded me a lot of star fruit – a whole lot of buildup and then… meh.  Tex seemed to enjoy it.  I think I might just be an apple girl.   * Since starting this post I’ve found Thousand Island Dressing everywhere.  It’s on pre-made salads, there are three different brands at the grocery store, and they put it on sandwiches.  Feel free to enlighten me on this phenomenon. Wikipedia hasn’t given me any...