Oddly enough, I have been motivated not by some insanely droolworthy dish but rather, I have been inspired with a re-encounter with some amazing people who love what they do and are damn good at doing it. I admit that I tend to lose sight of what matters and what drives me. More often than not, I get easily distracted and am pulled in to the regular 9-5 life of the average Vancouverite. Just working to live and end up living to work. It’s not always about limo rides up to Whistler and open bars at the 4 Seasons for this event planner. I forgot that there should be more to it than sitting in front of a computer all day and making phone calls to babysit clients. I will just have to blame my recent lack of passion to the lack of stamps in my passport which acts as my little reminder to breathe.
Taking a step back in time to wanderlust on the tasty streets of Taipei with Sandina – of course, with the new EVA Airline Hello Kitty Terminal, it will be quite some time before I visit Sandina again…
First stop, some famous place Sandina brought me to that was actually famous! Ay Chung Flour Rice Noodle 阿宗麵線 has been around since 1975 and is still kicking about with numerous street stalls and actual restaurants. Sandina brought me to the original street stall and I did doubt her for a minute but this stuff was really good! The mein-xian is a silky smooth and super thin noodle which is stewed in this huge pot of creamy broth. Sandy told me that it is stewed with large intestines, bonito, bamboo shoots, and a variety of other ingredients – I wonder if she got this all off the website? I of course had no idea that intestines were in there, all I knew was that this stuff was great to cure my oncoming cold. It was perfect for that cold Taipei night and extra tasty when you add a little bit of vinegar and Ay Chung’s special chili sauce to your bowl.
Next up: Meat-on-a-stick. No matter where you are in Taipei, no matter what night market you are at or what street you are standing on, you will no doubt encounter carts with meat on a stick. Deep fried, bbQ, cooked in tea/soy sauce, you name it, they have it. And hey, if you’re feeling a bit home sick, they even have corndogs for you!
Personally, my favorite is the deep fried chicken on a stick, also known as “crispy salty peppery fried chicken nuggets” in our local bbT places. In Taiwan though, you can also get the jumbo deep fried thigh in a bag as well!
Also loved the bbQ quail eggs on a stick! These are lightly dusted with some of that secret 5 spice salty peppery goodness and since the shelled eggs are kept warm on a charcoal grill, there is a nice smoky flavor.
Can’t forget the deep fried tempura. Also comes in bite sized deep fried pieces and dusted with the salty peppery seasoning. Tempura in the Taiwan sense is fishcake. These are a processed seafood item probably a blend of real fish with flour and steamed (same as that used in oden). The name “Tempura” for fishcakes in Taiwan came about because of the sweet and slightly spicy sauce that usually comes with it – literally translates to sweet not spicy – 甜不辣 tián bù là. I learned this from Brother Yu many moons ago when Japanese and Taiwanese food was first making its way in to Vancouver. Of course you can’t fully trust a man who tags his little sister in random food photos just to make her hungry.. so don’t quote me on this. In any case, as time went on, we non-cultured folk have learned that “tempura” meant something completely different. I still call it tempura though..
Water-pan-fried-buns was also a favorite of mine (hmm it seems like I had a lot of favorites during this trip…). The buns are freshly made and are packed with juices from the fatty ground meat. Similar to how you make potstickers, these buns sit on a greased up flaming hot pan and water is then used to submerge the little packets of delightfulness halfway. This not only speeds up the cooking process but also keeps the suckers moist and juicy. Totally loved the sesame sprinkles too!
“It’s gotta be famous since it has a digital queue system!” – Sandina This “famous” stall is Hui Ji in the Shi Da market, it’s been awhile so I hope it’s still there!
My number one must-have in Taipei are the egg pancakes (蛋餅 dan bing). These are essentially a roti/crepe/green onion pancake thing with a fried egg on top. There are all sorts of different toppings you can get with your dan bing, I loved the cheese ones because they used kraft singles and it becomes super gooey! You can also get these with slices of ham, seaweed, kimchi, or even just have it on its own. I remember the best dan bing was from a stall just a few blocks off of Xi Men Ding where the pancake was flaky and soft but also had a nice crunchy exterior. The vendor added some mystery sauce (no not that type .. ) probably a mixture of oyster and spicy goodness, it went so well with the dan bing that I ate two before meeting Sandina for dinner.
Oh stinky tofu, how I can get over the smell of dirty socks and wet garbage is beyond me, but this stuff is killer. Wiki tells me that the tofu is semi fermented in a smelly brine to produce that god awful odor then, traditionally, it is deep fried. In Hong Kong you will only find these in a few random stalls in Kowloon, deep fried and smeared with sweet and spicy sauces placed in a brown paper bag with a stick. In Taiwan, there are plentiful vendors pumping these babies out. Rather than the sweet and spicy sauces though, the Taiwanese use pickled veggies and hot chili oil to balance off the greasy plate of stinky goodness. This is a great plate to go with some icy beers but is definitely a sit down meal (on fold out stools and mahjong tables shared amongst 6 other randoms). Because it is a hot commodity, you are almost always guaranteed freshly fried crispy tofu – remember not to burn your tongue. Get over the dirty sock smell, close your eyes and shove it in, you should trust the girl who gags at the idea of a simple construction site portable potty. This stuff is worth it.
Lastly, to wash down the deep fried heart attack snacks, cleanse your palate with a Taiwan Specialty Ice Dish. Super fluffy silky smooth shaved ice, fresh mango cubes, and condensed milk, you really can’t go wrong. You can however, make it super awesome by splurging and adding some ice cream to it. This is also a sit down snack but can be found on nearly every other street corner with a million different combinations of fresh fruit, jellies, and syrups. We had this every night after a long day of shopping.
Like soil settling in to the earth, life tends to solidify if you don’t do a bit of shuffling every once in a while. In our world where anything is possible, can living an ordinary life still be extrordinary? There are times when you need that spurt of fire to keep your focus, and times where simplicity is the key to keep you grounded. It’s not always about those Michelin stars, foie gras, and truffles. Sometimes you just gotta bring it back to the simple meat-on-a-stick.
Places to hit up for street side snacks:
– Xi Men Ding (where all the cools kids are)
– Shihlin Night Market (so popular that it has become somewhat of a tourist trap)
– Shi Da Night Market (located in the college/university area so there are tons of good eats at good prices)
– Huaxi Night Market (a little sketch if you ask me but you’ll find the rare snake soup and other rare delicacies.)
– For more markets…