Friday, March 13, 2009

The eating island.

I can’t exactly say that it makes much sense. I’m from New Mexico, where I grew up on smoky red chili enchiladas and sopapillas drizzled with honey; I’ve lived in Bangkok, where the sois were lined with stands selling fiery curries and crispy grilled chicken; and I’ve traveled extensively in Vietnam, where I lived on rich avocado shakes and savoury pork and mushroom rolls. But the food I’m missing most lately—it’s all from Taiwan.

Lately small cravings have been nagging at me whenever I start to get hungry. I’ve been thinking about flaky scallion pancakes, steaming pork ball soup, or crispy Beijing duck dipped in hoisin sauce. And I’d love to wake up to dan bing rolled with tuna, soupy steamed dumplings, and a glass of warm soymilk; or end the day with smoky Szechwan style chicken and peanuts and spicy mapo dofo.

Taiwan gets a reputation among foreigners, particularly its resident ex-pats, as having terrible food. After two months of exploring local markets, food stands, and restaurants I have to say that the reputation is entirely undeserved. In reality, I think Taiwan is one of the most underrated food destinations in all of Asia. With a week spent circling the island, you can sample a wide range of regional Chinese cooking (even better than on the mainland, some say), graze among unusual delicacies at the teeming night markets, and search out local specialties—every city seems to have one or two dishes it’s ‘famous’ for. There are tea-houses, where you can select a few plates of traditional snacks to savor while you sip; vegetarian buffets where you can pile your plate with Buddhist-friendly stir-fries; roadside drink stands where you can get an icy mango slush or creamy milk tea to sip while zooming on your motorbike. The cuisine is a mix of Mainland, indigenous, Hakka, Japanese, and American traditions, remixed into something distinctly Taiwan.
Wherever on the island you find yourself, there is always something new, unexpected, and delicious to try.

So, if I’ve convinced anyone to go—mind airmailing me some dan bing?

5 comments:

Robyn said...

Gosh, I hate to be uncharitable, but those ex-pats you speak of must be dolts. Pretty much any Chinese you meet (outside of the mainland - they can be a bit chauvanistic) will say that Taiwan is No 1 for great food.

Henry Trotter said...

hey xander, keen to chat with you about your culinary observations and writings. i'm in cape town. pop me an email which you'll find at my website: www.henrytrotter.com. i'd appreciate it. thanks.
cheers, henry

jen laceda said...

I love Taiwanese cooking, because it reminds me of my grandma's cooking (we're Fukien, but many Fukiens live in Taiwan).

By the way, I just got back from Israel where i've been gorging on falafels and hummus!! It's good to be back home and reading catching up with all my fave bloggers (that's you!)

Carrie said...

I'd be happy to oblige if I knew it would keep! I just found your blog by chance and I'm so impressed by your writing and photography. I've lived in Taiwan for four years, and I'm always disturbed to hear expats knock the food here. I love the food here, and I wholeheartedly agree that Taiwan should be an Asian foodie destination.

Rest assured, I will be back for more. I had a hard time finding your RSS feed at first, but I've got it now. Cheers and greetings from a Canadian expat in Taiwan!

Anne said...

I've only heard good things about food in Taiwan. Funny, food in Taiwan is what we crave too when it comes to cravings. Cravings that can't be satisfied even here in Rowland Heights and Alhambra, Ca.

Dan bing, grilled cuttle fish, grilled corn, fruit and ice shops, Taiwan ten bu la, beer houses and their foods, all night breakfast buffets. Really any kinds of foods at any hour...