Hand made noodles

Food is everything and everywhere in Taiwan. Breakfast shops open at inhumane hours. Then there are late night markets and even later night joints. The street food scene is insane. And it get even more insane when you stumble into one of the many night markets: a concentration of food stalls that is bound to make you regret all the snack later on. If this was not enough - add the colourful traditional markets - a Mecca for taste buds and photography. An eclectic mix of fresh produce, traditional ingredients, cheap plastic ware and some of the most colorful characters to come across. Then are thousands of cheap, small joints with sticky, plastic tables where you eat and get out. These are not places to spend time contemplating the recent politics or having a relaxing drink with friends. As a matter of fact - you probably won't be offered any drink.

You here for the dumplings, noodle or whatever is served. The whole experience will take 30 minutes before you feel the pressure to vacant the table again. You also likely to enjoy the company of strangers since sharing a table is pretty normal. Sometimes it's one dish only on the menu. Sometimes it is THE place for that particular dish: THE soup or THE dumpling...

If you with Taiwanese friends expect quite some (unreasonable and unexplainable) effort involved in tasting THE stuff. In many cases it might feel a little bit bewildering - why did we drive for an hour to have a (simple) wonton soup? Am I missing something here? Your company would probably be ecstatic about THE wonton soup. Even though it tastes pretty much like the one you had before. Even though it is just a wonton soup, served with a plastic spoon on a plastic table. Even though the whole affair lasted about a quarter of the driving time...When it comes to these eateries, some taste great, some are nasty. Some look good - some might make you a little nauseous at time. You get used to appreciate the good ones - and avoid the others. Most of these cheap foods are not places you want to take the camera out. Served in plastic, with plastic everything. Taiwanese LOVE plastic. It is everywhere. Even the plastic plate might be wrapped in a plastic bag... Convenience. Saves time on washing up apparently. But it is the way these are prepared that opens a whole new world of photo opportunities.The characters who care about the tradition and the food - not the ambience. Often second or third generation of owners with hard work written on their faces and stories to tell. The real taste of Taiwan. Food is prepared in front of you, ingredients flying around and dough being flung around like a lasso. Then there are the mid-range places: hand made noodle in what looks and feels like a bistro or a restaurant. Proper tableware and cutlery. Hot pots, noodles, sushi and sashimi. Often Japanese-themed. Food starts becoming more photogenic while the staff less so. And then there are the the places that food becomes an art. The Japanese influence. Aesthetics. Balance. Pricey but worth it. Most of the time. The senses are now engaged.

So, 食飽未?

The ubiquitous Hot Pot

Hot pot (火鍋) is ubiquitous in Taiwan. No visit is complete without at least a few of these to try. They range in styles and prices: from eat-all buffets to carefully selected ingredients that are matched with your soup base. Electric, gas, coal or real fire powered. Perfect for family gatherings of some quality time with friends. Cook and eat is the main idea.

The place was dim and filled with the smell of charcoal and spices of the soup. Add some quirky deco, fresh selection of ingredients to cook and slightly mad owner and you have a perfect recipe for a traditional Taiwanese hotpot. Although most hot pot (火鍋) places seem to be powered by gas, a few are still using charcoal. The real thing. As it should be.

魯旦川鍋 https://goo.gl/maps/nx2xFWNVGkS2

Lei cha (擂茶) or Hakka tea

A mixture of some green or oolong tea and various raw seeds that are ground into a uniform paste. Then add some water and serve with roast rice and other flavourings. In the past the tea was savoury and often was consumed instead of a dinner. The sweeter version that you can find now is more recent development. The ready-made powdered Hakka Tea is an excellent choice for a hike or as a healthy breakfast option.

Sticky taro cake (芋粿巧)

Home made sticky taro cake (芋粿巧) to respect the elderly. It took quite some time to make and, with the amount that somehow happened on the day, quite some time to eat. Usually eaten for breakfast - or as a handy and tasty snack that you can slip into a bag for lunch later in the day. Or for snacking in the car when you driving down south for that traditional Southern wedding.

Wheel Cake (車輪餅)

Some more wheelcake, please!

It must be one of the most common - and the best - snacks in Taiwan. No doubt about that. Being absolutely hooked on them I am now on a quest to find the best one. What makes a good wheel cake? Crispy skin with a little extra skin at the joints, just about the right amount of filling which, of course, should also be just right: not too sweet, not too runny or too dry. Traditionally filled with chunky red bean paste or some type of custard cream. Sometimes you find them with peanut or sesame paste. And last but not least they also sometimes come in a savoury version. Referred to simply as  'red bean (azuki) cake' (紅豆餅) and, in Taipei mostly, wheel cake (車輪餅).

Wuxing Street market

So far it is my number 1: super crispy skin, the amount of filling was just right. The fillings - savoury, red bean or custard cream - all were all absolutely spot on. Three generations in business means some clever innovations to the way these are made - like cutting the corners of the paper bag so the cakes stay crispy.

Xinpu (新埔) market

Pretty good cakes and a very good model to photograph. Two generations in the business. Unfortunately the third generation does not seem to be too excited to carry the family tradition. Would this be the last generation of a great snack? Hope not :(

Teas of Taiwan

Sweeten your tea

Oolong, black or green. Milk tea - or the 'famed' bubble tea. Tea scene in Taiwan is large and varied. There are quick and cheap tea shops on many corners. Milk tea and bubble tea seems to be everywhere. But the real jewel in Taiwan is the more traditional and proper tea, served ceremonially in old style tea houses. This is a large topic that could make a whole website, a book and probably still have some material left...

If you in Taiwan you should try some good tea, maybe visit a plantation and definitely get some tea on the way back. Sometimes referred to as Formosa Teas, some of these leaves that you might find are of top quality. Some cost a small fortune. Generally, good Taiwanese is little more expensive - but worth the money. The depths of flavour can be pretty amazing, as can be a relaxing afternoon in one of the atmospheric tea houses. Some teas are quite unique and you won't find them in a regular shop. Some were presented as a gift to the heads of state (at least those who did not succumb to China's pressure and recognised Taiwanese qualities and sovereignty). 

Tea farms are great places to visit - with Alishan being one of the best places to head to. Have a look at a short story of the visit here

There are two great ways to savour teas in Taiwan. One is to visit one of the many tea-houses, spending a few hours tasting different types of tea accompanied by small, traditional treats. These places are amazing and offer a wide range of teas: oolongs, green, black. Two teas that are a must to try are famed number 18 Assam tea from the area of Sun Moon Lake and the Dongfang meiren (青心大冇), sometimes referred to as Oriental Beauty Oolong.

The other way is to get friendly with some of the older folks who know they tea and have stories to tell.

White Tip Oolong tea

Silver Tip Oriental Beauty (東方美人)

The sweetness of the Dongfang meiren (東方美人), also known as the Oriental Bueaty, comes form the bites of green leafhopper, an insect that encourages oxidation and causes the tips to turn silver. To encourage the insect, these are often grown without the use of pesticides.

For great way to visit traditional, old style tea houses is a weekend in Jiufen (九份).
In Taipei a tea house located in the Zhongshan Hall (原台北公會堂) offers some great selection of tea and fantastic atmosphere.

Some of the best of the tea farms still pick leaves by hand rather than machine, despite the cost of the process. This ensures the freshest (apparently only the top three)  leaves only being picked during the early morning, when the air remains cool and moist.

Some of the farms offer B&B accommodation, tasting sessions and, if you lucky, you might catch some of the action as well: whether the picturesque morning tea picking scene, drying or processing the precious leaves. 

More from the visit here.

Quick fried seafood

This one deserves a place here - for no other reason but consistently scoring 5* on Google reviews. If you looking for a perfect fried fish or squid snack - this is it. Super fresh, the coating is just perfect and crispy with the flavourous fish inside. Add some spices for an extra kick and a friendly service and you found a perfect snack stand. 

During our brief stay in Chenggong (成功鎮) - mostly known for the Sansiantai Bridge (三仙台跨海步橋) and the most Chrismasy atmosphere in the whole Taiwan - we could not help it but visit every day. It beat the seafood restaurants that we tried. It beats almost every other stall so far. Hope to come back soon! 

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王記 成功鬼頭刀魚排; Chenggong (成功鎮) Taitung county (臺東縣); 


The spring boiled eggs

Though self-explanatory, the special arrangements for boiling eggs in hot springs can be quite amusing. Designated boiling station, rent-a-sif, water temperature being measured every few hours and so you know how long would it take...

No hot spring holiday can be ever complete without some boiled eggs!

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