Thursday, February 17, 2011

Green Island, I serenade you!

(There is a wonderful folk song about Taiwan called Green Island Serenade. Lyrics here)

Here are my five must-sees in Taipei:

1) Yingge District: This is the ceramic-making center in Taiwan and where many local craftsmen come to sell their wares.  The pottery stores were incredible - there were so many beautiful pots that used material unique to the region.  It's a good thing most of those pots were too big for me to take home, or I would have spent all my money that first day!  I liked this area because you can find many handmade items - especially the clothes, which are unique in design and beautifully tailored - that don't feel like generic souvenirs.  The streets were also beautifully laid out and like many other market areas, there were a lot of food vendors selling meats and fruits (love fresh guava!) and candy.

my grand-aunt and I in front of the market

Yingge at dusk

 2)  Beitou Thermal Springs:  It is strange to find such a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city.  I felt like I had walked into a haiku when I stepped off of the path and saw the springs in front of me.  The smell of sulphur is quite strong, but with the cool breeze that was blowing that day, I didn't mind it so much.
The area was actually built by the Japanese when they occupied Taiwan for them to bathe and soak in (the area used to be the red light district for soldiers), and it is still used today for the water's therapeutic and healing powers.  I wish we would have had time to enjoy the baths and the spa services.  The hotels were pretty much all booked up as it was the holiday season. 

Check out an article written last year by the NYT.

3)  BinHai Ocean Drive on the East side of the island:  This is like the highway 101 of Taiwan.  I am not sure if that is the official name of the road, but it is the main highway along the shore.  Along this shore you will find many different kinds of scenery along the shore - you've got the gorgeous cliffs and blue waters: 

view from Beito

but there are also fascinating land formations caused by erosion (Nanya Beach),
Nanya Beach
 great views of Turtle Island, 

it was foggy when we got to viewing place, but you can still see the shape

and some great fishing towns (we went to Wushi) where you can see the fishermen bringing in the fish and hawking them right along the harbour. 
fish market at Wushi

selling their wares at 3 pm

old wooden fishing boats - I can't even
imagine how old these are
We started our drive from Bitou and drove down to Jiaoxi (another town famous for hot springs and ginormous green onions - they put these green onions in everything!).

these green onions were at least 3 ft tall
The drive is doable in a day and I loved how I saw so many different sides of Taiwan.

4) Taipei Riverside Bike Trail:  I would highly recommend renting a bike and riding along all the bike trails.  I only did a little bit of it at night, so I don't have any pictures, but Taipei did an amazing job of building a beautiful bike path along the river that allows you to visit many places that you might not see by car. 

5) Yangmingshan:   This is probably one of the more famous national parks in Taiwan, and I have come here several times in the past, and each time I go I am amazed by the views from Mt. Datun - and also by the skills of the drivers as they maneuver up the mountain!  If you can time it, try to make it up to the highest peak on Mt. Datun when there is no fog.  You can see the city of Taipei to the river.  We couldn't avoid the fog, but the view was still incredible.  There is also a hot springs area in the park.

hot springs in the park - they are building
areas around it for people to relax in

view from Datun

glimmer of Taipei and the river

I was pretty impressed by the variety of things that you can see and do on such a tiny little island!  Next trip: central and southern Taiwan!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Taipei - where glorious eating awaits!

In the past, when I've gone to back to visit Taipei, my days are usually filled with visiting family, and I never got the chance to explore the city.  I couldn't tell you much about Taipei - the flavor of the city, places to visit, what the people are like.  This time, my mom and I decided that we were going to save all the family visits for the last two days, and take some time to explore Taipei.  Luckily, my mom's cousin took some time off and (more importantly) had a car, and offered to show us around for four days.  And wow, am I so glad we did this!  I really began to see what Taiwan is like and was amazed at how beautiful Taiwan is.  Taipei is often overlooked as a destination and skipped over for other major Asian cities, but I strongly urge you all to take the time to visit!  You won't regret it.  Hopefully the pictures of food below will convince you......

Famous Keelung Night Market

When I think Taiwan, I think FOOD!  You can't talk about Taiwan without mentioning the night markets and the variety of food - a-ma-zing!  There is so much to try - noodles, rice, meats, seafood, fruits, desserts - and all very reasonably priced - usually around 100 NT (roughly 3 USD) or less.   As soon as we landed the first night, even though it was late, my uncle and grand-aunt insisted that we could not go to bed hungry.  I was not about to disagree!  They took us to the Ling Sha night food market, which for 11:30 at night, was packed with people.  Perhaps they were eating a second dinner?


foodstalls at Ling Sha night food market

all sorts of sweets and fresh guava in the back

cooking noodles at the market
The Taiwanese never have to cook - ever!  In addition to these night markets, the streets are filled with a variety of food stalls - one of my favorites is the bao zi (or steamed buns) that are filled with all sorts of ingredients.  Our favorite breakfast in the morning: a cup of fresh soy milk (15 TWD) and steamed buns (15-25 TWD each). 

Also, I discovered that there is no such thing as a leisurely meal in Taipai - you sit down, order, and within a few minutes the food comes out.  Most of the time I haven't even settled into my seat and the food is on the table.  My uncle tells me that people don't want to waste time over waiting for food - they want to get in and get out.  As I am the slowest eater on the planet, I found this a bit hard to get used to.  However, it's great for moving on to the next yummy place! 

Some of the more interesting things we ate:

Shredded taro balls (left) and
rice sausage (right)
- great flavor, strange texture

rice and egg soup in sake
with sesame balls -
I was not a fan, but it is
one of my mom's favorites

very traditional Taiwanese dish -
made of glutonous rice flour (I think?) and meat and red sauce

Below are some of my favorite eats - wish I could list them all, but I would run out of space!  A must try I did not get a picture of - stinky tofu.  They might not smell good, but they are delicious!

Beef noodle soup - they give
you the option to have all tendons,
which is my favorite!
preparing another noodle soup with seafood

Bottom: rice dish with
shitake mushrooms
 (traditionally eaten after
 birth to give nutrients to mothers)
Top: crab and noodle dish

"xiaolongbao"- pork and ginger dumplings.
 These are amazing - dip in vinegar
and soy sauce and eat whole.
Don't let the skin break. 
All the juices will meld
together in your mouth. 
When I get these in SF, they cost me
10 dollars for 6!

And finally, I must show pictures of what was my three favorite desserts of the trip: tapioca soup, grass jelly soup, and sweet tofu soup.
Tapioca soup and grassy jelly soup:

Very popular dessert place now -
features tapioca and grass jelly
combinations.  We waited
30 minutes in line to get ours.
Of course, we got one of each. 
The tapioca on the left had red beans
and the grass jelly on the right
had taro root

Sweet Tofu soups:

sweet tofu with sweet potato balls = perfection

you can get them with other
additions as well -
 barley, red beans, peanuts

I miss all the food already and can't wait to go back and try some different things!  Coming soon: places to visit.