Dinner Party / Food Coma

ON THE MENUTaiwanese Dinner Yum

Just yesterday I caught myself starting a sentence with the phrase:
“When I was a teenager…”

😱 Cue internal screaming.

It’s probably because last Friday I turned the kind-of gross age of twenty-three that this feels particularly terrifying. Turning twenty-three is not an achievement. I’m not a sassy, Taylor Swift twenty-two anymore, and I don’t really want to celebrate the fact that I am now closer to twenty-five than my wild (not) teenage years.

The good news is, turning a new leaf and beginning my twenty-third year on the planet seems as good a reason as any to celebrate with a little dinner party with my lovely flatmates. Seeing as I’ve been thinking of heading back to Taipei this year, and I Iove any excuse to eat unholy amounts of Taiwanese food, we had a Saturday night feast of some of the easiest and nommiest Taiwanese dishes that you can whack together with a wok, minimal culinary skill, and a whole load of sticky rice.

Dishes 1-6

Taiwanese Dishes

One // Sticky Korean Sushi Rice
Two // Soy Sauce & Shiitake Mushroom Chicken
Three // Mangetout & Ginger Seafood (Kingshrimp + Scallops)
Four // Taiwanese Tomato+Egg
Five // TW BBQ Sauce Vegetables
Six // Stir-fry Broccoli

 I felt very mature and grown-up kicking my old age off with a dinner party (even if we voluntarily opted to have wine and red Schloer instead of wine). If you wanna make something like this, my cooking time in total was around 1&1/2 – 2 hours for a group of five guests, but boy is the result i.e. a mountain of steaming, delicious food, so totally worth it. Needless to say, if you live in a flat with said dinner guests, its almost impossible not to get help drafted in from all quarters.

Thank God.

PUDDING

Taiwanese Sago

I had the time to whip up a classic, super-easy Taiwanese dessert in the shape of Coconut Sago and Sweet Potato soup. It just requires a saucepan and those three ingredients – plus a healthy dose of sugar – which, according to my flatmates, is an exotic approximation of English rice pudding…. Though, if I’m honest, it wasn’t a real hit with the English.

But, I absolutely love this stuff. I think it’s even better after a night to stew to a thick porridge consistency, and the sweet potato has a lighter taste. I grew up with the stuff; folks you don’t know what you’re missing out on.

And, yes, I did eat it again for breakfast.

Nom.

TWENTY-THREE

How does it feel?
Different, actually.

I can feel the heady, impending threat and freedom of graduation just around the corner (yes, I’m one of those multiple gap/study abroad year oldies).  I know that real life, in all its delicious unemployment and assignmentlessness, calls with the summer sunshine.

Yes, I’m gut-wrenchingly sad that I think I’ll finally have to stop pretending be a hip (haha), baby-faced early twenty-something with a student loan… But maybe that means I get to level-up to a trendy, cool encroaching-on-my-mid-twenties-something who gets on with their parents and relishes the thought of starting a career.

But, I guess you’ll just have to watch this space and see how it turns out.

In the meantime,

Where’s that leftover dessert?

Signature

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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Year Abroad: Shanghai Touchdown

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Leaving Taipei is strange. I’m not sure what to make of the move I’m making to Shanghai – controversially thought of as the south capital of China – but making it with my entire family in tow manages to dull any would be panic. Having never lived in a city bigger than Taipei, I’ve no idea what to expect of life in a city sprawled across some 6,340 km², to Taipei’s mere 271.7 km², and that’s to say nothing of Exeter or Belfast.

However, it’s not the first time I’ve set foot in Shanghai: the family transited here at the end of July… for one of the hottest heatwaves that Shanghai has experienced. As we fled the mid-day heat that soared into the high 30s (Celsius), world news was transfixed by a news broadcast of bacon and eggs frying on pavement that was reaching searing temperatures of 60. Some serious hotel air-conditioning, and continental breakfast does much to ease our jet-lag, exhaustion and the shock of the temperature difference, still we brave the mid-day make a regrettably sweaty visit to the magnificent Yu Yuan Gardens (stopping off for a much needed McDonalds Taro Ice-Cream) and at night venture tentatively for an afternoon to Nanjing East Road and nightfall at The Chinese Bund.

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Like many a literature student, my only second-hand, preconception of Shanghai comes from reading J. G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun at seventeen: a 1940s city falling into the turmoil of World War II. As I approach The Chinese Bund, and gape at the looming structures of former foreign consulate and business buildings on the PuXi, side it’s the hoards of people, surging towards the black water of the Huang Pu River in the night that are the strongest presence around us. The water reflects the thousands upon thousands of lights that string up the towers on the PuDong bank in the night sky, making me think the “gaudy city”, as Ballard opens his novel, is still living up to it’s claim. It’s hot, sticky and as the throngs press around us, down the entirety of East Nanjing Road to and from the Bund, and rushing with blankly manic gestures towards the opening train doors on the metro (地鐵 – Dìtiě); queuing is a foreign concept, running for a free seat is not.

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Yet, the Bund makes a second appearance when we arrive in the Shanghai for the second time, and for a welcome to my home for a year, the family brave the humidity and heat of Nanjing East Road a second time, to see the skyline of the Bund by day. It’s well worth the baking concrete walk and overhead sun. The crowds are considerably less by daylight, and we wander up the banks strip, noting the spirited Chinese flags atop the Pu Xi buildings, and becoming more and more interesting to the local Chinese tourists. The blink of black lenses and unnecessary flashes on the sidewalk slowly turn towards our family of five, as we snap our own family photos, and as the pictures become ridiculously blatant, we make a quick exit off the Bund sidewalk. Nevertheless, I’m glad to be with my family for our first experience of the interesting social practice of  photographing foreigners.

I assumed that here in Shanghai, with an estimated population of 23.5 million, my dark hair, dark eyes and vaguely Asian features may have spared me the embarrassment, total invasion of privacy and complete bafflement  that comes with having a stranger blatantly take your photo.

Apparently not.

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Looking forward to the year ahead!

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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: 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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