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Food in Taipei September 27, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Food in Taipei” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Hx

When visiting Taipei, one must always think about food.  In fact when visiting any region, food is very important.  Coming from Canada, it isn’t as important to find a good restaurant or local food when travelling in North America as food tends to be very similar in each region.  When visiting Europe, we tend to think about food more so when visiting the continent versus England itself.  France is well known for its cheeses and Italy is well known for pasta.  Even each region of a country has its own specialties.  After moving to Japan, I slowly got into the food culture.  Japan is well known among Japanese people for being a place with various regional dishes.  Each city has its own local foods that have been around for either centuries or just a few decades.  Taiwan is well known for Xiao Long Bao, and beef noodle soup, among other foods.  It has always been important for me to try everything so I can get the full experience of any place I visit and food is definitely one of those things.

The most famous food to come from Taiwan is Xiao Long Bao.  Xiao Long Bao is a type of Chinese dumpling that is akin to the Cantonese dim sum dumplings.  It is meat, traditionally pork, wrapped in a dough wrapper.  It is steamed and served piping hot.  While Xiao Long Bao may have originated in Shanghai, it is still very famous in Taiwan and an integral part of their food culture.  When eating Xiao Long Bao, you have to be extremely careful as when you take a bite into it, the juices just squirt out burning the inside of your mouth if you aren’t careful.  The way I was taught to eat it “properly” is to pick it up by the top and dip it in vinegar.  Then place it in your spoon where you take a bite off the top.  The dumpling is wrapped in such a way that it is closed on the top and the top is the strongest part of the dumpling.  The top, where they seal the dumpling is where you take your first bite.  From the hole you just created, you can slurp out the soup created by the pork juices and fat.  Afterwards you can eat the rest of the Xiao Long Bao.  It doesn’t take much time but it ensures you don’t have a burnt mouth when you eat it.  Making the perfect Xiao Long Bao is very difficult and something I could never do.  The most famous shop in the world has to be Din Tai Fung.  It is one of the oldest in Taipei and touted as the best.  There are many branches but the top quality is said to be in their main branch on Xinyi Road.  It was a simple walk from my hotel to the main branch and even though we arrived around 3pm, there was still a line.  When you eat Xiao Long Bao often enough, you can tell the good from the bad.  The previous night we had Xiao Long Bao at another famous shop.  It was good but Din Tai Fung was much better.  The dough was pressed properly.  Thin enough so it wouldn’t interfere with the taste of the pork and thick enough so it wouldn’t break easily.  Of course they had other things on the menu but the Xiao Long Bao is the most famous.

The other famous food to eat, or rather drink, is Bubble Tea.  Bubble Tea is also known as Pearl Tea.  It is a drink that contains tapioca balls inside.  I had a few chances to try different varieties of Bubble Tea in Taiwan.  The first time was at one of the first, if not the first place to create Bubble Tea.  It was definitely a good experience.  Bubble Tea in Taiwan tends to be less sweet than Bubble Tea in Hong Kong as Taiwan uses milk and Hong Kong uses condensed milk.  Speaking to someone from Taiwan, they are very proud of Bubble Tea and find Hong Kong Bubble Tea to be too sweet and not good at all.  I disagree with the evaluation that it isn’t good, but rather I think it’s different.  Sometimes I’ll want a sweet Bubble Tea and sometimes I won’t.  I think it is all in a person’s preference.  I like both of them.  The simplicity of a milk tea with pearls and having it at the right sweetness is difficult.  Taiwan does a very good job with this and I could drink it almost daily.  Unfortunately having good ones can be a little difficult at times.  Finding a good shop can be difficult as I didn’t know if the main outdoor branches would sell good ones.  It doesn’t really matter as nothing really compared to the first one I had at one of the birth places of Bubble Tea.

Snow cones are another interesting food from Taiwan.  There is a somewhat famous shaved ice dessert that comes topped with syrup and fresh fruit.  I went to the best place in Taipei called FnB.  There was a long snaking line outside the shop and people jockeying for position to steal a table when it opened up.  We got lucky when we found a table but I ended up standing anyways.  The most typical version is a plain shaved ice with mangoes on top.  It is a delicious dessert and well worth the cost.  The ice is shaved fresh and they poured a little brown syrup on top of the ice.  On top of that they added mangoes with lots of juice and topped all of that with a scoop of mango sherbet.  They do have other fruit varieties including a mixed fruit that typically comes with mango, strawberry, and kiwi.  For a city like Taipei, the need for fresh desserts is a necessity due to the humidity.  There is one variation where they use ice milk rather than regular ice.  This is just as good but the flavour is slightly different.  It’s difficult to explain and something you can easily find out by trying it yourself.  The main difference between the milk ice and plain ice would have to be the texture.  Milk ice tends to be a little silky while plain ice has a bit of a crunch to it.  That’s not to say that the plain ice is hard as it was surprisingly very soft.

The night markets are one of the best places to find food.  It can be a little scary as it’s hard to decide what to eat.  They have everything you can imagine that comes deep fried.  One of the most common things to eat is the Chinese sausage.  You can get these in many places but the night markets are the easiest.  A Chinese sausage is not your typical European style.  They tend to be a little sweet and chewy.  It’s hard to explain but it is similar around China but different enough due to the local ingredients used.  It’s similar to asking someone to explain barbecue sauce.  You know it when you taste it and it tastes different in each region.  The other main food I had to try was the chou dofu, or stinky tofu.  It is a fermented tofu that is deep fried.  In the night market, they deep fry bite sized pieces of stinky tofu and put a bunch of pickled cabbage on top.  It’s similar to sauerkraut but in a Chinese style.  The smell of the stinky tofu wasn’t bad at first.  I enjoy the smell as it reminds me of night markets.  I’m not sure if I ate it before as my parents often give me food and tell me that its good but never tell me what it is.  As I smelt the stinky tofu, my feelings about eating it went up and down.  I went from wanting to enjoy it to getting scared as the smell went from pungent to gross to pungent again.  When I did eat it, the first few bites were fine and it was like normal deep fried tofu.  After my saliva started to engulf the tofu, the smells were released and I had a tough time swallowing it.  It went from having no smell to having a terrible smell in under a second.  While I found the smell to be terrible as I chewed the stinky tofu, it is a food that I could get used to.  It would take a while to get used to it but I’m sure I can.  It’s similar to natto in Japan yet the smell is very different.  I find the smell of natto to be unbearable yet the smell of stinky tofu is no problem, for the most part.  I don’t recommend buying it but if someone wants to try it, by all means give it a try.  A group of 8-10 people can share one order and everyone can get a bite.

Of course there are tons of other foods you can try but these are the main things that I ate.  You should try the beef noodle soup, tea, fried chicken, and so on.  It’s hard to keep things down to just one post and I could probably write a few more posts on the food alone.  I only went to Taiwan for 5 days and in that time I ate a lot of different things.  If you do go, you can satiate yourself for a good 3 days before things start to get repetitive.  Be sure to try as much as possible and be adventurous.

Food in Taiwan is part of a multi part series of my trip to Taiwan.  Please continue reading about  Taipei and Danshui, Taiwan.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Danshui, Taiwan September 20, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Danshui, Taiwan” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Hu

Danshui is a small resort town north of central Taipei.  It’s roughly 40 minutes north by train on the Danshui line.  It is pretty easy to get to Danshui but it does take a bit of time.  It’s a nice day trip to get out of the city and enjoy the coast.  Spending an entire trip in only Taipei itself can be a little daunting as city life can get a little stressful.  Danshui is the opposite.  It is a relatively tranquil area where life seems to slow down.  Danshui is known as a place for couples and it’s more famous at night.  It is also famous for being the hot spring town of Taipei.

The first area people will explore from Danshui station is the waterfront.  There is a long coastal road that is lined with various little shops.  As you walk from the station you will see the mouth of the river as it begins to open up to the sea.  The road is pretty small and only local traffic uses it.  There are several shops with various amusement park style games such as basketball.  The entire waterfront is not complete as they were doing construction in many areas.  My guess is that they are trying to create a walkway from the station all the way to the Fisherman’s Wharf which is about 3km away from the station.  About 500m from the station is a small ferry pier which has ferries taking people across the river to “Bali” or up the river to the Fisherman’s Wharf.  I suggest taking the ferry to go up but we decided to walk so we could see more things.

About a third of the way to the Fisherman’s Wharf is an old fort called Fort San Domingo.  It was constructed by the Dutch but from what I was reading, it was controlled mostly by the Portuguese.  I could easily be wrong as there was little information in English.  The actual fort itself was pretty interesting.  It is built on a small hill and the fortifications were simple.  The main fort was a simple castle like structure that housed a few rooms.  Within the complex, there were a few other buildings, constructed of brick.  You can freely walk around the complex and enter the various buildings.  There is a lot of information in English but very little was of interest to me.  It was mostly historical and from my memory, little explained the nature of each room we visited.  When I visited, they also had a special exhibition on Canada which was a little nostalgic for me.  I’m sure they switch the exhibitions from time to time.  It wasn’t a big exhibition but large enough to give people a glimpse into Canada.

The other area of interest is the Fisherman’s Wharf.  It is located roughly 3km north of the station and it is a long walk.  I would highly recommend taking either a bus, the passenger ferry, or to rent a bicycle.  The entire wharf area is a big tourist trap.  It is popular among couples as it is a very romantic setting.  In the daytime, families are more prevalent, as are tourists.  It is more famous at night due to the lights.  The focal point of Fisherman’s Wharf is the Valentine Bridge.  It is a pastel pink bridge that is lit up at night and reminiscent of many other standard bridges in Eastern Asia.  While it is just a pedestrian bridge, it is fairly large for a pedestrian bridge.  You will see dozens of couples taking pictures in the area.  There are even several restaurants and bars on the main floor of the wharf for people to enjoy themselves.  If the noise is too much for you, it isn’t hard to walk a minute away and see an empty area.  It is a remote area of Danshui so other than the main central areas, there aren’t many people.

I mentioned that Danshui is a famous hot spring area of Taipei.  There are several hot spring hotels where you can relax and enjoy the hot spring water in your own hotel room.  From what I saw, there aren’t many onsen like bath houses.  Instead, they have expensive resort hotels with beautiful rooms and private baths.  If you have the time, I think it is a great place to visit.  Unfortunately I didn’t visit the resort hotels, but a friend of mine did.  She said the water was great and she enjoyed multiple baths during her one night stay.  From the pictures of the hotel, I think it was a great location and if I get a second chance to visit, I will probably try to stay a night or two in Danshui.

Danshui, Taiwan is part of a multi part series of my trip to Taiwan.  Please continue reading about  Taipei and Food in Taiwan.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Taipei September 13, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Taipei” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-taipei

In June 2011, I embarked on what has become an annual adventure.  Every year, I head out with a couple friends and go on an adventure.  In 2009, I went to Hong Kong.  In 2010, I went to Shimane.  This year we decided to go to Taiwan.  It is a small island where, to be honest, I wasn’t very interested in visiting.  My family is originally from Hong Kong which meant that I grew up eating Cantonese food and hearing Cantonese wherever I went.  I love to eat Chinese food, but specifically Cantonese food.  I had no real images of Taiwan except for the image that it was a cross between China and Japan, culturally.  Little did I know that Taiwan was more Japanese than I could have expected.

Living in Japan means flying to Taipei is very easy.  I was able to fly directly from Haneda Airport to Songshan Airport.  Both airports are located in the downtown cores.  When leaving Tokyo, I could enjoy the view of Tokyo as we departed and on approach I could see Taipei 101.  It is a very convenient flight and one that makes visiting Taipei much easier.  When I researched Taipei, I learned about Taoyuan Airport which is similar to Narita Airport in Tokyo.  There are no direct trains to the Taoyuan Airport and I’d have to take a bus if I flew there.  I was relieved when I found out I could fly to Songshan and just take the train in.  Songshan airport itself is pretty simple.  There are only a few gates as most flights are designed for domestic travel only.  In fact, Songshan Airport is a little ghetto but they are undergoing renovations to improve the facilities a little.  Upon my arrival at Songshan Airport, I was greeted by a wall of heat and humidity.  It was a little difficult to survive as Tokyo was still in the process of heating up to summer temperatures and summer humidity.  The heat an humidity at this time made it a little difficult to get around but thankfully my hotel was located in a central location.  It was close to the electronics area and a short walk to an area near Daan Park with great food.

One of the first places I visited was Ximen.  It is a bustling commercial district with lots of trendy shops.  It is akin to walking around Shibuya in Tokyo.  Lots of young people walking around, but to my surprise there was a lot of Japanese shops.  Everywhere I walked there was a Japanese shop somewhere.  I couldn’t get past it.  I found a lot of famous Japanese shops but mostly Japanese restaurants.  It wasn’t all Japanese as I saw a lot of Taiwanese shops and restaurants too.  Being a commercial district, there was a large karaoke shop nearby where people gather to enjoy singing but from what I heard they enjoy the food a lot more.  Walking around Ximen will eventually bring you to the cinema district where you can enjoy movies at a relatively cheap rate.  Compared to Tokyo, the movies were dirt cheap.  On the other side of the commercial district was a red brick square.  I forget the name of the area but I found out that it was the gay area of Taipei.  It was supposed to be like going to Nichome in Shinjuku, but I found it to be just a simple bar area.  Since I visited the area on a weeknight, there were very few people there but the drinks were fairly priced and the atmosphere was relaxing.

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, or CKS Memorial for short, is one of the few tourist areas that I visited in Taipei.  I spent a lot of time enjoying the food and seeing the city.  The CKS Memorial is a huge complex with 2 large halls, a huge gate, and the memorial itself.  All of this is nestled within a large park.  I never got the chance to visit every corner of this park but I did see all of the main points.  The two halls were not so special but unfortunately I only visited one of them.  The exteriors of the two halls were more interesting than the interiors.  I’m not too sure on the completion date of the halls but the interior of the hall I visited was very modern.  If I’m not mistaken, it also served as a theatre which made it less interesting for tourists.  The main gate is a famous point for tourists and can be difficult to get good photos depending on the time of day.  The main gate usually has tourists passing in and out of it at all times making it difficult to get the perfect shot.  Pictures can never put the size into scope.  It is much larger than any picture could have conveyed to me.  The memorial hall itself is where all the action is.  During the day, they open the doors and have a ceremonial changing of the guard every hour on the hour.  It is a slow 15 minute ceremony where the guards change from their platforms and show their ceremonial guns.  I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing the ceremony but I just happened to be there as they started.  I would recommend taking in the ceremony if you happen to be there during the ceremony.  The night view at the CKS Memorial is also very interesting.  I highly recommend bringing a tripod if you want to take pictures at night.  It is popular for young couples to just hang out and make out around the complex.  It can look romantic but there really isn’t enough privacy for couples.

Taipei 101 is currently the second tallest building in the world.  It is a popular area with many high end shops.  The building complex itself is not that great but the trip up to the top is a must for any typical tourist.  It is a little expensive but the trip up is very quick.  It takes less than a minute to get to the top thanks to the world’s second fastest elevators, conveniently built by Toshiba.  The view from the top is a typical observation deck view.  In reality, I find that when going to observation decks around the world, the view is very similar.  The vantage point is different but the appeal quickly goes away.  You get up there and look out the windows and within a few minutes you feel as if it isn’t special anymore.  Taipei 101 is not immune to that feeling but I don’t regret going up.  My only regret is that the outdoor observation deck was closed when I visited and I couldn’t go outside to the roof.  The observation deck can get very crowded at times and extremely noisy.  When I visited, I saw waves of tour groups go past listening to their guided tour devices.  I also happened to see a group of Chinese models visiting and doing a promotional photo shoot and video.  It was interesting but more annoying than anything.  There are 3 areas of the observation area.  The main area is where you can take pictures of the surrounding areas.  You can go upstairs to the 91st floor which has the outdoor observation deck.  Going down a floor takes you to the exit.  Before you leave you go through the Tuned Mass Damper which is the largest in the world.  It is designed to reduce swaying of the building during earthquakes and strong winds.  After a visit to the damper you must walk your way through a sales area that specializes in coral sculptures and jewelry.  It is your typical rich person money grab and I’m sure they do enough business to get by.

Of course this is just the surface of places to visit within Taipei.  It’s difficult to see and do everything in a few days but I’d say it’s sufficient to get a feel of the city.  Personally, I can’t see myself spending more than a few days in Taipei itself.  If I spent more time there, I’d have to get out a lot more and do a lot more outside the city.  If you plan to only visit the city, you’ll only need a few days at most.  After that things tend to get boring or repetitive.  This is especially true if you have visited other East Asian cities such as Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Taipei is part of a multi part series of my trip to Taiwan.  Please continue reading about Danshui, Taiwan and Food in Taiwan.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

2011 – Hanshin Tigers VS Yakult Swallows September 6, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Sports, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2011 – Hanshin Tigers VS Yakult Swallows” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Il

It has been a few years since I had last been to a baseball game in Japan.  I had always wanted to watch another game, and in fact I enjoy going to these games every year if possible.  It is not an easy task to get to a game and the two times that I did visit, they were different games.  The first time, I went to Chiba Marine Stadium in Chiba to watch the Chiba Lotte Marines.  That time I was somewhat behind home plate.  The next game was at Meiji Jingu where I watched the iconic Hanshin Tigers take on the Yakult Swallows.  I was sitting in the Tigers reserved seating near third base.  Both of those games were fun and exciting and I was able to enjoy the game as well as the fans.  On August 14, 2011, I watched my third baseball game.  It was the same game as before, Hanshin Tigers versus Yakult Swallows.  I was at Meiji Jingu again, but this time I was sitting in the outfield.

The outfield area is an open area where people can sit anywhere they’d like.  You basically show up when the doors open and grab a seat anywhere that is available.  Being a Sunday game during obon, I decided to head there early, but it was not early enough.  I arrived about 10 minutes after the gates opened.  There were no lines but at the same time, there were no seats.  Lots of people reserved seats and the only seats available were singles.  I was lucky enough to find a couple seats open in the top corner of the outfield.  Since I was in Meiji Jingu, it didn’t really matter where you sat as almost all of the seats were good.  While my seats were a little far from the infield, it was a good vantage point as I nearly had the same view as the pitcher.  It was much easier for me to tell if the pitch was a strike or a ball.  This made analysing the throws much easier.

If you read any of my previous posts, you will know that the outfield is reserved for the hard core fans.  This is where people stand and jump all the time.  There is a small section for people to stand up in the back and there is usually a trumpet band as well.  This game was no exception.  It was literally standing room only.  The people around me were all crazy supporters.  A couple rows in front, we had a major Hanshin Tigers fan who would do a dance and help lead the cheers for each of the batters.  He constantly wore puppets on his hands.  These puppets were of the Tigers mascot and he would do a little dance with them.  Behind me, standing on the railing the entire game, was a typical Hanshin heckler.  He was hyper critical of the play.  He would shout crazy things and I think some of the kids shouldn’t have heard some of it.  To give an example, one of his more interesting rants was to tell the catcher to use his beautiful face to get a hit.  That way he would walk out to first base.  He taunted the Hanshin players when they made a bad play as well as the Swallows.  His “anger” was focused almost completely at the Hanshin players.  Hanshin is infamously known for having the most loyal, yet aggressive, fans in Japan.

While the hecklers are always present at the game, sitting in the cheering section was a brand new experience.  There is an energy that I can’t explain.  When I was in the reserved seats a few years ago, I was cheering with everyone but it wasn’t as loud.  The people weren’t really doing their best.  It was strange when we chanted for the ball to come as behind third base would have been a foul.  In the outfield, it was very natural to do it.  I learned a very valuable lesson as well.  For Japanese baseball, the fans carry plastic megaphones.  This isn’t so they can yell better, although this does happen.  It is so they can cheer and be noisy without clapping.  As I didn’t have my own set of megaphones, I had to clap only.  By the end of the game, my voice was raspy and my hands were red and in pain from all the clapping.  I highly recommend visiting the park and going to the fan section as you will get a completely different experience.

The game itself was very long.  It lasted over 4 hours to complete the standard 9 innings.  It started off well with Hanshin getting a 2-0 lead.  This eventually became 3-1 by the end of the first half of the game.  There were a lot of hits for both sides and a lot of misses.  Hanshin had capitalized on a few errors throughout the game but the final inning provided a lot of drama.  Hanshin had converted for 5 runs at the top of the 9th.  They were doing really well and all of the players were hitting well.  They had the game in the bag until the Swallows came up for the bottom of the 9th.  The crowd was ready to go home and call it a night but the Swallows had other ideas.  A couple of poor errors by the Tigers, along with 2 pitcher changes in one single inning lead the Swallows to come back.  For a tense 3 player run the score became 8-7 in favour of the Tigers.  The crowd were chanting “Only one more person”, then “Only one more pitch”.  It was heartbreaking to see Hanshin fail to get the necessary outs before they final player was finally struck out.  It was one of the tensest games of the night and Hanshin ended on top.

Watching baseball in Japan has always been fun for me.  I never expected it to be fun as I never enjoyed baseball, but going to a game has been fun since I went to my first game.  Sitting in each area is very different.  The “serious” people tend to sit behind home plate.  They don’t cheer so much but they are interested in the game.  Some of them are corporate seats/tickets, so the people aren’t as connected with the game or team as other fans are.  As you move to the reserved seats on the side, you have people cheering all the time.  They are also more serious but they are also fans of the teams they support.  Wearing the wrong colour in this area is a bad idea.  The outfield is where all the action is.  You will get the big fans wearing all of the crazy costumes.  You will see all of the flags being waved and be in the middle of the loudest cheering area in the stadium.  Each area is different and it is worth trying each area.  For a tourist just visiting Tokyo for a short time, I recommend getting reserved seats.  That way you can show up a few minutes before the first pitch and use the free time to do some sightseeing.  For others, the free seating area is great.  You can get there early, enjoy a few drinks, and just soak up the atmosphere.  Either way you will be entertained.

Japanese Baseball (Hanshin Tigers VS Yakult Swallows) (2011) is part of a series of posts on baseball in Japan and my experiences going to various games.  To read more about other games I have experienced, continue with the posts below:

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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