Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Most important meal of the day

My breakfast of choice has always been dry cereal. I love cereal. Unfortunately, and fortunately, cereal is in short supply here. I say fortunately because it has forced us to try some new things (good for Jeremiah who isn't in love with plain dry cereal like I am).  We both love these new things. As a result breakfast has recently become one of my favorite meals.

This first one we have had at home, but it took awhile before we found some we knew were not filled with meat: the steamed bun. There is a corner shop that sells them a block away from us and is on our way to school. As a bonus they also have fresh warm soy milk (dòu jiāng). I'm not sure what that other thing on the plate is called, but it was deep fried, greasy and delicious. Add some cinnamon sugar it would have been a churro.

The other breakfast item I have fallen in love with is turnip cake, or lo bao gao. It is made out of shredded daikon, rice flour and water - no turnip as the name indicates. It is pan fried, with plenty of oil, to make it a little crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Sometimes it has a sauce on it, sometimes it comes plain in a bag. This website shows it being made at home: http://hsustyle.travellerspoint.com/29/.

Picture from here

Here is what it looks like when you buy it at the store:

At home I've been making it thinner to cook it faster:

I have to try to limit my consumption of these good foods as they can't be very healthy for you, but at least they are super cheap.  Not sure I will be able to go back to dry cheerios.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Night market dessert

We're always up for trying something new. The last trip to the night market we tried a dessert of sorts. Desserts and candies have been a toss up so far. Some are good, but nothing oozing with sugary sweetness like home. These things we had at the market are not something I would probably have again, but I'm glad we gave it a go.

Our chef holding the wooden cone the dessert is briefly steamed in.

Starts as a powder; the base is white and then either brown or black is sprinkled on top. He then steamed it for a minute and popped it out of the wooden cone.

The final product. The brown ones tasted like peanut, the black ones like ash.

Later that night I ate a handful of the swedish fish we brought back from christmas. Much better.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Last Sunday, after spending Saturday in Yingge, we drove over to the hot-springs town of Guguan for another day of exploring with Brett. After orienting ourselves at the visitor center we went on a hike on the Siaolai (I also saw it spelled Shaolai) trail. The hike was short, and pretty steep, but we were rewarded at the top when we were invited (maybe we invited ourselves?) to sit with three men and share their tea and snacks.

After our fill of tea and peanuts we headed down to find some hot springs. There are many hotels with public access to their hot spring bathing pools; we chose Four Seasons after our new tea friends told us it was one of the cheapest (though still too expensive in their minds at $350NT). Swim caps are required in Taiwan so most of the other people had their own from home. Many of the women even had swim caps that matched their suits. We were not that prepared. "Luckily" the hotel gave us shower caps so we could enter the pools, as if we didn't stick out enough already. The pool area had multiple pools of varying temperatures. One man motioned that Jeremiah should follow him to another pool. We watched the man jump in, so Jeremiah did the same. The pool was freezing compared to the pool we had just come from and the man got a good chuckle to see Jeremiah's face as he popped out of the water.

I didn't take my camera into the pool area, but found the below shots from this site.

This pool had tiny fish that nibble the dead skin on your feet - gross but of course we tried it

We had a great meal and then headed back home, about a 1.5 to 2 hour drive to Taichung. Now that we have gotten out of the city a bit, we are looking forward to doing more exploring of Taiwan. And I'm sure we will find our way back to Guguan sometime soon.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tea-tastic in Yingge

I recently wrote about tea and the abundance of it in Taiwan. This weekend we expanded our horizons with a friend from Seattle who loves and knows tea. Brett of Black Dragon Tea Bar invited us to spend the day in Yingge with him on a search for really great tea. Before Saturday I thought I knew how to make tea. Boil water, steep, drink. Optional: add milk and/or sugar (I always drank black english tea, never green, hence the milk and sugar). In our house growing up we had a timer that 90% of the time was used to ensure tea was steeped for 5 minutes, because you can't just drop the tea in and start drinking right away.

In Yingge I learned that it can be so much more than that. Tea is poured into cups to rinse and warm them, then it is poured out. Tea leaves are steeped in a pot (the host decides how long), poured into another pot then served in cups to drink. In addition to drinking the tea you smell the leaves and the cups - Brett can pick up all sorts of differences and nuances, I cannot until it's pointed out. Tea overflows at every transfer between teapots and cups but the tray it is made on is meant to handle this and drains the excess. Because the teapots and cups are small there is a constant cycle of water and tea being boiled, steeped, poured by the host to keep everyone's cup full. I felt out of my league at our first tea-tasting stop and glad to have a pro sitting next to me. We sat with three different people for these tea tastings while in Yingge and all of them were helpful and friendly.
Steeping tea, ready to be spooned into the cup to the right and will then be served into our individual tea cups

Tea from two different elevations in the high mountains of Taiwan

Tea number 1

On to tea number 3

At another shop tasting 3 more types of tea

Yingge is a quaint little town well known for their ceramics; pottery making started here in 1804 with one man and has grown to be the number one producer of ceramics in Taiwan with over 800 pottery-based businesses in the area. Walking down the streets you see everything from useful day-to-day items such as teapots, bowls and plates to beautiful pieces of art. There is a museum in town that I have read is worthwhile, but with all our tea tasting and shopping "Old Street" we ran out of time for the museum. It was a fun day; Jeremiah and I have a new appreciation for Taiwan's hot tea and will sit more confidently next time we are served tea.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Snack time!

Lunch was pretty dull today - pb and j - so we've made up for it with a few snacks:

Seaweed - salted

Noodles, tofu, corn, turnip and assorted meats (we steered clear of these, though some of them could have very well been fake, it's hard to tell) in broth at the local Family Mart (like 7-11).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Market color

One of my favorite looking stalls at the "jade market" (I'm not sure if this is the name our staff gave this market or if it is actually known as the jade market). Ironically, not a lot of jade at this particular stall though still plenty of interesting things to peruse.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bell Fruit

Let me introduce you to a new fruit we just tried - the bell fruit (one website told me the pinyin for this fruit is lián wù). With many different names depending on what country you are in, wax apple seems to be the most common name, however it doesn't taste much like an apple. The inside is white and pretty juicy though still firm. In the center is a small seed surrounded by cotton candy looking fluff (I cut that part out because the texture weirds me out). If you run across one I recommend you try it. I cut it in quarters, remove the fluff and eat. Delicious.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Home sweet home?

First things first, Happy New Year all! We are back in Taiwan (home? seems I call both Taiwan and Oregon home now) and already looking forward to our next break - Chinese New Year. We had a wonderful trip back to Oregon, though there was not nearly enough time for all the people we wanted to see, the things we wanted to do, or the food we wanted to eat (we did get a chance try out this very cool new restaurant in portland called Slappy Cakes. With built-in griddles in the tables, you cook your pancakes yourself. Lots of fun - I recommend you try it if you are in the area). Highlights included lots of family time, snow, homemade cinnamon rolls and vegan cheesecake and of course the general perks of being on vacation - no work, sleeping in, no work, etc.

And on to other news: I wanted to share with you my recent Taiwan doctor experiences. In the last month I've gone to 2 different doctors; nothing serious, just check-ups. Going to the doctor always fills me with a general feeling of dread. Waiting, paying, dealing with insurance, more waiting, forms, trying to get an appointment after work... ug. Compounded with language, not knowing where to go and cultural differences suffice it to say I wasn't any more excited to go to the doctor here than I am in the states. But I sucked it up and went (with Jeremiah by my side as moral support), and am happy to report both experiences were fabulous. I walked in with no appointment, handed over my alien resident card (ARC), my national health card and $150NT (about $5 US) and not more than 5 minutes later I was talking to the doctor - in english no less. They put my health card into a scanner and recorded my information on the chip in the card. At the end, they handed me back my health card, gave me some medicine (no charge) and sent me on my way. Great system.