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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Chargrilled Mistakes & Chicken Masterpiece

What’s that… burning smell?

I have an interesting history of burning things in the oven. It’s so ridiculously simple: you pop it in, you twiddle your thumbs, you take it out. Easy-peasy.  Unfortunately, one of my less admirable traits is my forgetfulness… And needless to say, forgetfulness and ovens do not mix. I’ve burnt cakes, chicken, vegetables, tea-towels – you name it. But sometimes, with strong emphasis on the >1% change of this happening, it turns into something quite lovely!

Trial by burning is not a cooking method I advocate. Do not try it at home.

Chicken edit

This is a super quick recipe I threw together during essay-crisis for a gruelling stint in the campus library.  Needless to say, the housemates were more than a little perturbed to smell singed vegetables at 730AM. However, lightly char-grilled veg works a treat in this sticky, sweet roasted potato salad.

Ingredients
6 baby new potatoes
2 chicken legs/thighs
1 pepper
1 /2 sweet potato
1/2 carrot
spring onions
1 clove garlic
sunflower oil

Seasoning
1&1/2 tbs clear honey
1 tbs mayonnaise
salt and black pepper

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1. Pre-heat fan oven to 200°C, set on fan + grill if possible.

2. Dice carrots, pepper and sweet pepper, douse in oil and place in oven on tray with whole, unpeeled garlic clove

3. Score chicken meat and and place on tray in oven: approx. 30mins

4. Boil baby potatoes with dash of salt: approx. 20mins

5. CHECK THE OVEN!!!

A light charring on the veg and nicely browned chicken means you’re good to go!

6. Drain and dice potatoes, take chicken off the bone,  peel and chop garlic clove, finely chop a bit of rosemary (without stalk)

6. Tip potatoes, pepper, sweet potato, carrot, garlic and rosemary into a bowl

7. Add mayonnaise, honey, a twist of salt and black pepper, a few snips of spring onion – mix

8. Eat warm or box for later!

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As always, comment if you’ve any queries and let me know how you get on!

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China: The Everyday Life

The Rickety Bus Lottery

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I love Chinese buses.

The rickety thrill of not knowing where you are, or if you’re going to end up where you think you’re going.

There’s something to be said for doing things the way the Chinese do. All the way across the world, the thing that gets me the most is the chance to experience how other people live their daily lives. I love the terrifying, ramshackle confusion of indecipherable bus timetables, of minuscule print stop names, the hurly-burly locals bustle for seats.

The lurch and groan of the buses in Chengdu screech of ancient machinery, and the rattle of tin-trap assures me the metal contraption has never seen a safe test, let alone heard of one.

Who knows where I’ll end up.
I’m sure it’ll be exciting.

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The Chengdu Noodle Man.

Time for lunch and I’m sitting in a Xingjiang Muslim noodle restaurant that’s at most the size of a small bedroom. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a mattress hiding somewhere amongst the cupboards at the back.

I manage to smile politely enough to let the suspicious young chef kindly allow me video him literally pulling the noodles for my lunch, even though he clearly thought I was batty.

 He’s got serious skills, and is extremely polite.

You sure don’t get noodles like this in your ramen-pack folks.

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Thanks Noodle Man!

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Chengdu:

Buses
The Noodle Man

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Beijing, TUESC: Food Time Cacophony

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FOOD TIME

Everyone’s rushing to get lunch in a technicolour of student cycling madness. Driven by hunger. Ruthless in traffic.

It’s lunch-time at Tsinghua University Summer Camp and we can barely keep our students in their seats till the last minute.
And with good reason.

There are at least six canteens over campus, best travelled by bicycle, each serving variations of Chinese food in building ranging from high-class, lazy-suzan and lace rooms to three floor mess halls of university appropriate din – and you want to get there fast (it’s blood-curdlingly hot), chain up your bike, bag a table and enjoy a hot plate of Asian food goodness. With students coming to Tsinghua from all over the continent, there are dishes to cater for every province and taste and with the excessive RMB on our dinner cards courtesy of Tsinghua Camp organisers, I’m aiming to try everything.

Having been in Taiwan a lot over my lifetime, I was expecting food to be a walk in the park, but even for me it was at times a frustrating trial of experimentation and error, and at others, absolute delight.

It’s saltier here than I’m used to, some dishes are particularly oily and the service is entirely English-speaking free. Forget the lack of English, the canteen staff barely have time to speak in Chinese.

It’s a nippy task of tense queue waiting (with much spectator curiosity from your Chinese queue-buddies), and random pointing at  dishes with an internal monologue that mostly consists of tense exclamation (at the contents of previously tame looking vats) , prayer (that the dish you choose is edible and non-spicy), expletives (when they refuse to ladle from the dish you want) and resignation (when you get your finished tray of food).

It’s a swift in-out of the ol’ meal card – it’s never more than around 5-6RMB per meal out here, including drinks – and you can get back to your table and heave a relieved sigh with your fellow volunteers.

Oh, and of course, it’s chopsticks and spoons only.

chopsticks.

“Everyone goes to Qing Qing Burger.”

I never went to Qing Qing Burger.

But then again, I was able to stick out the vast array of dazzling (and sometimes disarming) food on offer. For some of the volunteers, it had to be Western food, and that is on offer here too. Although word of warning – it’s easily four times the price of the chinese meal equivalent, and lots of Qing Qing Burger-goers soon ran out of their Tsinghua given cash.

My solid favourites remained the aubergine and mince, egg fried tomato and rice combo dipping in and out of various meat and veg sides, with an iced black tea.

Meal-times with an element of risk makes every good choice taste better.

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