Tasty Taiwan Treats

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If you’re thinking of heading to Taipei, happy-snappy touristing, back-pack hipstering, or even (darn you, lucky thing) living in Taiwan currently, here’s my run down of the best best best things to eat in a 20min walking radius of the National Taiwan University.

I’m not in Taiwan anymore, let alone in the wonderful Gong Guan area of Taipei, but you’re just going to have to forgive me: it’s been a long first week of classes here in Shanghai. All I want to do right now is turn back the clock two and a half weeks, and head down the road to get some ice-cold Chen San Ding Bubble Tea

It can be hard jumping from one country to another, especially on the tummy, and for this week, I’m struggling not only to find what I am used to eating in Taiwan here in the sprawling metropolis of Shanghai, but to force myself to branch out from my small selection of known foods.
I’m still feeling pret-ty wary of the strange looking food here….

CHEN SHAN DING
BUBBLE TEA

陳三鼎黑糖粉圓專賣店
台北市中正區羅斯福路三段316巷8弄口

Take the MRT to Gongguan Station, Green Line

What you want:
No. 1 青蛙撞奶 (Qīngwā zhuàng nǎi) 30NT

Chen Shan Ding ((陳三鼎) Bubble Tea, Taiwan

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If you come to Taipei and miss out on this, I can only say, shame on you. This take-away store front in Gongguan Market sell bubble tea to a hectic queue of dedicated fans from Tuesday to Sunday. And, when I say their bubble tea is the best, I mean their “black-sugar-soaked-bubble” tea is the single most delicious, intoxicatingly sweet, 30NT-a-pop drink in all of Taiwan. Period.  My order is usually a “一杯一號, 少冰” (Yībēi yī hào, shǎo bīng)  or a No.1 with less ice, and it hits the spot.
Every. Time.

STEWED PORK RICE
滷肉飯 (Lǔ ròu fàn)

with a side of Chinese spinach – and if you’re lucky a tea egg or a fluorescent slice of crunchy sweet pickle!

Your treat for… ~30NT rice +  ~40NT vegetable dish
Try a side bowl of 餛飩湯 (Húntún tāng), commonly known as Wonton Soup in the West .

If nothing else is on my mind come dinner time our here in Shanghai, it’s this yummy little dish.There’s nothing simpler or more satisfying for me than a little bowl of the ol’ Lou Rou Fan after a day in the heat in Taipei. It’s cheap, it’s filling, and it’s available at nearly any standard noodle-and-dumpling store – usually the cheapest on the menu in my experience! It’s definitely worth trying the variation in different stores if you have the time, as the softness of the mean, the ratio of fat to lean, the type of meat (fine mince or chunks), and cheeky add-ons are different wherever you go.

For moments of laziness, longing, tired-and-homesickness, I like to know where my wee local is…

My favourite, all-circumstances appropriate dish.

lou rou fan, 滷肉飯 taiwan.

TAIWANESE HAMBURGER
藍家割包
(Lán jiā guà bāo)

No. 3, Alley 8, Lane 316, Roosevelt Rd., Sec. 3
TEL:+886 22 368 2060

If you’re at the Gongguan Nightmarket already and it’s night-time, don’t leave just yet!

From facing the obvious Chen San Ding store front, turn 90º anti-clockwise to 藍家割包 (Lán jiā guà bāo), which sell a delicious on-the-go treat:  割包 (guà bāo), otherwise known as the ‘Taiwanese Hamburger.’ These hot, little puffy white bread bundles are filled with braised pork (Options: lean, fatty, or half-and-half) with optional parsley and peanut powder for a neat 50NT.  While they claim to have other stalls over Taipei, nothing beats the original at Gongguan.

Not that I’m biased or anything.

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Copywrite Christopher Chen

 

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 LITTLE PLUM
LAN ZHOU BEEF NOODLE

小李子蘭州牛肉拉麵館
(Xiǎo lǐzǐ lánzhōu niúròu lāmiàn guǎn)
No.57, Lane 118, Section 2, Hépíng East Road, Daan District, Taiwan
Tel: +886 2 2736 9505

Top of the range 牛肉湯麵: 120~160NT

If you’re walking out the back gate at the 和平東路 exit of the National Taiwan University (about 20mins walk from Gongguan Station), step into Lane 118 for a taste of the best little Beef Noodle Restaurants in the area. It’s modestly sized and simply run, with a plastic seated interior and efficient service – but the right wall is plastered with foodie awards, photos of famous clientèle, and even a letter of recommendation from President. Fancy.  

For me, it’s the perfect rendition of the traditional Taiwan Beef Noodle dish: the noodles are made on the spot, the soup is light but packed with flavour, the beef is incredibly soft, with lovely marbling and a hint of sweetness and of course, there’s some winter gourd cooked in with the noodles. Parfait! If spicy is your thing, you may have to make use of the chilli flake oil provided, but for me, it’s got it just right.

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Taiwan Best: Beef Noodle Soup

Taiwan Best: Beef Noodle Soup

Winter Gourd and all... sob! It's delicious!!

Winter Gourd and all… sob! It’s delicious!!

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SHI DA NIGHTMARKET

Take the Red/Green Line to Taipower Building Station (台電大樓站), exit 3.
Turn right, then make another quick right to Shi-Da Road (師大路).
The market is located along both Shi-Da road and in the alleys off both sides.

If you’re looking for some proper, girly (or a manly) nightmarket shopping while you’re in the area, hop just one stop on the metro to Taipower Building Station to hit the hot, packed alleys of Shi Da Nightmarket.

Although it’s cracked down on what used to be a sprawling, noisy hubbub of food stalls and vendors, there’s arguably a better (read: less smelly and elbow-jarring) shopping environment at the Shi Da University’s local night-time stroller.

CLOTHES
It’s the main street if you want to exercise some haggling for those cheap bargains, but if you’ve got the cash to splash for Korean boutiques, try the cutesy decor, air-conned stores that are hidden in doorways or behind tinkling glass doors further out of the bustle.

FOOD
The 浦城街雲和接 crossroads for on-the-go food options from barley and green mung bean sweet soup, deep fried delights from yam to squid and, a personal favourite, don’t miss the freshly made winter gourd tea. If you need to rest those feet – there’s a  studen
t haunt ice cream parlour Anor Crêpes that serves a biscuit-esque crêpe that can be packed with different flavours of ice cream scoops towards the 浦城街 entrance to the market

Crepe

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I sure miss my Taiwanese food, but I’m learning my preferences out here in Shanghai. The drinks are heavenly, the street food outside the Guanghua Chinese Language Building is a guilty treat, and the University cafeteria is student-budget cheap: my kind of places!

Can’t wait to show y’all my meals out here in Yanugpu district of Shanghai!
.Charlotte xx.

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Taiwan: A Goodbye Snap-shot Round-up!

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So I’ve reached the end of my Taiwan summer for another year, and it’s been an incredible journey across the world and along the island. I’ve really relished the time with my family before I leave for Shanghai and a long year of studying abroad. For my last Taiwan post, here’s a snapshot round-up of all the things I wish I had more hours in the day to write to y’all about…

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Some crazy, questionable advertising…

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Some interesting snapshots of Taiwan transport.

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Food, of course, from the incredible hot-pot dinners, to the weird and wonderful items at the local bakery.

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And, as always, it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t have photos of flowers, and trees, and general random vegetation.

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As I’m about to head of into the city forest of Shanghai for a year’s study at Fudan University, you can keep following my adventures in Asia under the tab Year Abroad on the main home menu! Keep in touch, and don’t be a stranger!

That’s all for now, Taiwan,

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Taiwan: Fashion Houses 101

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We’ve done the Taipei 101 many a time on our travels here in Taiwan, but for this outing, it’s the Fashion Houses in the 509m, bamboo styled building that are doing the business of being breath-taking.

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There’s certainly no expense spared in this complex of 101 floors, and the Fashion Houses of Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, TODs and Burberry certainly take this to heart and I’m drooling over the lavish and intricate window displays of the stores on the third floor with delicate floral backdrops, lush green cactus landscapes and hot-pink, candy-stripe balloons… That is, until I see the bejewelled and sparkling exteriors of the displays on the fourth. It’s worth walking around to appreicate the stores: they’re works of art – as well as powerhouses generating billions of dollars per year purely in attire for us to prance around in a feel pretty (or so I assume it feels to own any of these brands…). But, all joking aside, it’s a delicious rendering of advertising, and if it weren’t for the hawk-like, black-suited attendants intimidating my little self in the doorways, I’d probably take a couple of shots inside with my phone… As it is, I’d probably better not…

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Third Floor Displays.

Dolce & Gabbana Taipei 101

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Louis Vuitton Taipei 101

TOD's Taipei 101

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Fourth Floor Giants.

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Louis Vuitton Taipei

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Dior Taipei 101

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Burberry Taipei 101

The Fourth Floor Taipei 101

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It’s not just me however, who’s got the iphone out to do some gorgeous building papping, the locals are definitely into it to, and as I stroll around the twisted floors of shop after shop, there are people everywhere, from all over the world – posing for their photos in front of the public image of these global brands. It’s a powerful message for the effect that this kind of advertising has, that within what was once the tallest building in the world is housed these commercial, luxury brands that inspire such reverence and desire that couples will pose in front of their gleaming doors – no half-naked models required, Abercrombie.

I mean, please, even the food court is fancy, with its clever, light-dispersing wine glass chandeliers.

A little pretty architectural and advertising planning sure goes a long way.

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Taiwan: Miaoli Hills and Fat Pomelos

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On our way back up to Taipei, and our overnight stop-off in Miaoli county, we take a small detour to walk in the cool hills above the town where there are fat pomelo fruit loaded on the branches in the roadside forests, the screeching of cicadas in the branches overhead, and the sharp bite of zebra-spotted mosquitoes in the air.

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Pomelo Fruit in Miaoli Hills.

Trees on the Walk

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Parched Earth on the Walk

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Pomelo Fruit au Natural

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Taking a trail that meanders across a ledge on cultivated mountainside, we wander upwards across the farmland, meeting nobody on the rugged path, slightly overgrown by plants sucking up any moisture in the ground and flourishing in the summer heat. I’m in shorts, which is a bad call for traipsing though the long-bladed grass, and, true to my suspicions I am completely covered in mosquito bites as we emerge from the greeny overgrowth onto the hot tarmac road at the end of the trail – much to the bafflement of two brightly vested roadworkers quietly fixing a roadside lamp. We traipse downhill again to meet our silver van parked in the shade of overhanging bamboo, teeth gritted against the swell of mozzie bites, attempting to enjoy the lush scenery.

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It’s a nice walk, but it’s the chubby fruit hanging on the roadside that makes it for me. Certainly no plain ol’ apples or oranges round here!

Loving this tropical holiday!

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Taiwan: Bypassed Towns

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Taiwan’s landscape is snaked with hundreds of interlinking highways that make traversing and travelling the tropical island very different to what the journeys some ten, twenty years ago used to be. The slick highways (高速公路, Gāosù gōnglù) overarch and tower over many of the once bustling valley towns and roadside villages that cluster around the heady traffic and it’s commerce, towns that as a result, have withered quietly. Journeying towards Miaoli town in Taiwan, we take the old roads, verges still trimmed, clipped, maintained for a ghost population of cars. We meet only heavy industrial trucks, rusted and creaking off the highway towards industrial plants, steel mills, dark, empty restaurants and indifferent beetle nut vendors.

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It’s after driving on these deserted mid-week roads for several hours that we pull in to rest at a small village, too small and empty and overshadowed by what is a monolithic structure, darkened by the presence of construction power beyond individual control. It’s quiet, and an old, gum-mouthed man watches out from a weathered face at our foreign intrusion into this silent, abandoned rest-stop; the overpass, high above, is silent also. We don’t stay long, and after a short walk along the struggling, polluted river that runs through the town, we also leave.

It’s a strange and unnerving result of progress.

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Taiwan: Changhua Industrial Windmills

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On our journey back up towards Taipei on the highway we pass these enormous windmills slicing slowly into the blue sky, and running cheerily off from their nearby plants are shoals of delicate black cables draped over towering pylons carrying what must be hundreds of volts of electricity towards the surrounding towns.

They’re a fantastic white against the blue sky; their colour cleverly does much to enhance the image of clean energy and makes me wonder if we’d like coal and oil more if they were white… Either way, their looming structures are definitely worth the close look we take.

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The roads in the industrial estate are wide and empty besides the odd window-tinted van and lumbering truck. Under the scorching sun, the heavy thrum of the passing blades is heady and magnificent as we squint into their giant faces. We wander along the dusty roadside towards the sea, basking in the mid-day heat. The beach adjacent is made up of strangely regular round stones and huge pieces of drift wood: an imported beach to facilitate the windmills is both beautiful and strange.

Despite the one or two lonely vans that trundle by this family trip to the industrial estate, no one questions our presence.

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Taiwan: Hilltops and Uphill Cycling

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We’ve arrived in Yuanlin, at a great hotel, named with typical Taiwanese bizarreness ‘Kindness Hotel‘: brilliant. And apart from fabulous free ice-cream in the lobby (with which we foreigners are demonstrating our love of free things, let alone ice-cream), strange selection of ‘toast and spreads’ – read strange slabs of soft sponge and a selection of dessicated coconut in sweet butter, tasteless ‘chocolate’ spread and smooth peanut butter (a sin in itself) – there are amazing fold-up bikes for free hire outside the front door. The family are on that like it’s out of fashion; and boy is it. The only time I’ve ever seen these weird looking contraptions-with-wheels was held by a running man two years ago, while heading out from work experience on the horrible on the London tube.

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We take the 148 road out of the dusty, but bustling city of Yuanlin out onto the hilltop and park on the deserted roadside to ride up along the small mountain ridge. And up is the right word; in less than five minutes I’m drenched in sweat and puffing as I count eight pushes until I pause in exhaustion, long bypassed by avid cyclists in their lycra, my brothers and the occasional tootling, phut-phutting open truck/bicycles driven by old farmers and field workers in well-worn, ninja-style, anti-sun layers who peer curiously at my red face (for which I blame genetics. But, I could probably be fitter…). Still, however hot and sweaty the escapade is, the tropical plants cultivated in alien rows and styles just off the roadside and their accompanying houses in two stories with an open bottom floor and courtyard are perhaps just as foreign as the bustling cities for the wandering Brit. For all the pain it causes, a cycle in the farmland wilderness above Yuanlin is a wonderful reminder of Taiwan’s sub-tropical delights, rural lifestyle and a different type of lush greenness to Northern Ireland – a different kind of beautiful.

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We have two very brief exchanges on the uphill as we pause to drench our heads in water as part of our desperate rehydration ritual. A small farmer lady turns suddenly out of a field as my red-faced family flop off our bikes on the road side and drink water: she stares, we stare. Until my Dad says “Hello!” and “熱 (Rè)” – Hot! She breaks into a wrinkly smile and ambles over to our side, bending nearly double to pull out mysterious weeds and flashing a similarly small, curved reaping knife strapped to her back. We all look at each other, and I’m thinking little old lady could do some serious damage with it. I snap a quick shot as her back is turned, and we continue – up, of course.

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Old Farmer and his Pride Vegetable!
Old Farmer and his Pride Vegetable!

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It’s hard to find a good view spot when we finally reach a lovely, lovely plateau (THANK YOU, NATURE) but we try a couple of lanes to the left and right of the main road to catch a glimpse of the towns below us – cycling past bemused tour groups who happily call out “Hello”s and “Have a good days”s and are equally bemused, if not more so, when they see us not five minutes later returning up the same route after failing to find a suitable vista. But our next proper exchange is on the death-defying descent to the car, as we stop to admire a huge, and strange fruit at the side of the road. As four five foot nine + foreigners stare at the large vegetable on the roadside, a large straw hat rises slowly from the grasses in the field behind. A wary farmer locks stony eyes; we gawk back. Again, it’s Dad who’s that practised millisecond faster and shouts “Big!” making the traditional spread-arms gesture – eliciting a broad, toothy grin and a thumbs up.

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Oh, and before I forget, one of the lanes led windily down towards a little pig farm! I’ve never seen one before, and it was a strange moment as I swivelled about looking for the source of the snuffling, before looking down at the sunken, concrete pens by the lane.

They looked frightening together grunting, but maybe even more so when they looked cutely, and humanly, up at us.
I’m not a vegetarian, but I certainly thought about it for a second.

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Get your cycle on in Taiwan, it’s really a brilliant way to explore the island no matter where you are!
Anyone else had funny cycling meetings? Oh! – and if you know what any of the names for the weird fruit we saw, let me know!

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Charlotte

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Taiwan: Sanzhi Mountain Driving

 

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For my first section of real hairpin-turns driving, I’m up above Yuanlin near the Sanzhi mountain park with a full van of eight family members in the back. No pressure. It helps that sections of the road that are plunged with mist (霧 – Wù) are conveniently also subject to large holes and mudslides after the past typhoon weather. As I crawl along the road, I’m overtaken by shiny black and silver BMWs and Toyotas, fearless to death apparently.

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The good news is, the temperature takes a sharp plunge as we head on this nauseatingly winding roads upwards into the mountain, bypassing tourist-and-SUV overcrowded spots at BaGua Shan. Instead, along the way, we stop in the surprisingly temperate, cool climate, nearly chilly in our shorts and t-shirts, to take a look at some stunning tea plantations that spring out of the sheer, dark forested mountain side along with small crowds, promotions women (of the late fifties, restaurant overall wearing type) and a sudden surge of cars parked along narrow road passes that accompanies it. Unlike hardy tea I’ve seen growing on parches hilltops and fields in Taiwan, these thick bushy lines of tea plant are rich and dark against the hill, and it’s something really gorgeous to behold.

For as long as you can stand crowds that is.

Back into the car after a short walk and on down the hill.

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On the way down the hill, we stop off at a Taiwan speciality: a roast chicken. We’re big fans of roast chicken back home, and this dramatic way of cooking a chicken is certainly entertaining – nearly as entertaining for me as the little mountain pigs (pets I’m assured) that try to eat my fingers outside the restaurant. The chicken, in a strange orange to match the chefs t-shirt (deliberate?), is strung on a wire with a small dish of oil beneath it and hung in the large kiln to get roasted, coming out a deep, glossy blackened colour. Dad, head of the table, has the honour of donning a pair of white industrial gloves, made dubiously sanitary by a thin, disposable plastic covering, and tearing up the roasted chicken for the rest of the family.

Messy and very yum.

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After lunch, we hop in the car on our way back to Yuanlin, making a short stop at Beitou’s city hall – but don’t quote me on it – and wander around it’s grounds watching a fantastic array of kites soar on the strings held by parents, as children scream and run wildly on the grass track in front of the blindingly white building.

It’s a long day of exciting driving, but boy am I glad to experience some cool weather here in Taiwan, even in the peak of summer. It’s good to know leaving the safety of air-con is not always like stepping into a pre-heated oven.

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