Beautiful Taiwan: Part 2
“The Heart of Asia", a simple tourism slogan that soulfully and truthfully describes Taiwan. A tiny island which enticed more than 8 million visitors in 2013 and is expected to grow annually. Almost 1.5 million Japanese and almost 100,000 Filipino travelers account for that statistics.
For my family Taiwan was love at first taste, right when we first had our first huge, delicious bowl of noodle soup, for a little less than 100 yen. You will be surprised that when planning for your trip, you will come across a lot of features and travel materials talking about Taiwan’s culinary wonders. The first words that seemed to come out of people’s mouth, when ask about their trip to the island, were always how great their dining experiences were.
It is said that most Taiwanese people rarely cook at home but instead dine at street markets or buy take-away. Taiwan has redefined street food dining with its numerous night markets; it’s always easy to find one nearby. The popularity of street food among its locals has put a spin on traditional dishes, and has reinvented and introduced new dishes to suit the yearning for something new for the millions of people who come to the night markets. These markets had also contributed to the influx of international tourists who flock the island for its gastronomic treats. It was really the food that brings us to Taiwan rather than anything else. Our must to do list coming into the city consisted of more than 30 dishes to eat, 5 night markets to visit and 3 restaurants to dine in, that’s far much more than the natural and historical sights we actually wanted to see.
On top of my list was “lu rou fan”, rice topped with braised minced pork in rice wine, soy sauce, and five spice powder until it almost melts tenderly. You can also have another slab of braised pork belly as side to this already heavenly dish. I am also on a mission to taste Hot Star fried chicken at its famous “Shilin night market” location. This stall sells very tasty fried chicken cutlet the size of my face. And if fried chicken is not your thing, well there are a wide variety of food choices at Shilin, which is the largest tourist night market in Taiwan.
On my wife’s list was to dine at Din Tai Fung. This dumpling franchise even had a Michelin star and numerous international awards to brag. Well, awards and much hyped marketing can only mean, long lines and early reservations required. We hate falling in line in equal measure as we love our food. So we decided purchase a box of “xialongbao” (soup dumplings) at the restaurant’s take away counter instead. So does it deserve all the hype? Well the dumplings tasted good and quite juicy, but we’ve had far superior ones on the street market. But of course, dining-in might be a completely different and better experience.
As for my kids, color me happy, because finally a foreign destination wherein we didn’t get to eat at Mc Donald’s….. not even once. The last time we went for a family vacation in Korea, we’ve visited Mc. D’s one too many, since the spicy Korean food choices just didn’t jive well with the little ones. Taiwanese food has so much variety and very delicious, but also mildly flavored. The dishes were almost too perfect for my kids’ taste buds, nothing to sweet nor too spicy and definitely not oily. I usually encountered more difficulty feeding my kids every time we come home to the Philippines, with the lack of healthy option they have grown accustomed to here in Japan. On one of our dinners in Taipei, we bought a whole bunch of mixed sliced tropical and winter fruits all for the cheap price equivalent to 1,500 yen. It was a mouthwatering fruit galore. Not to mention that my kids get to drink tapioca and fruit smoothies on a daily basis. Large size drinks for the price of less than a hundred yen, whereas small size tapioca drink will set you back more than 350 yen at a convenient store here in Japan.
Once we even went to a Chinese restaurant to eat a full banquet 6-course meal for my family of four for only 2,000 yen. Restaurant dining is a great experience but nothing beats eating your way through the food alleys of the night markets. There is so much choices and innovative food presentation to be seen and tasted.
Taiwan is an amazing country with a rich history and wonderful people that will surely win your heart. But its amazing culinary and dining experience is enough to win every man’s tummy!!! The Heart of Asia is a place to eat your heart out without breaking the bank.