Started a blog as a way to document my food and travel adventure/experience is probably one of the things that I will never regret in my whole entire life. I like to look back at those scenes and moments that I have experienced. Most of the times, it manages to bring me back to that specific location and moment virtually!
It must have been more than 25 years ago, that my parents brought my sister and I on a guided tour to Taiwan. I barely remember what Taipei looked like. We probably spent only 1 night there. I have no memory of it! A few months back, we went to Taipei for a long weekend. It was a rainy day when we touched down at the airport and didn’t do much as it was in the late afternoon when we finally got to our hotel.
There is probably a close resemblance between Taipei and a town in Japan. Perhaps, a big town outside of Tokyo – not too many of high rise buildings; low rise or residential buildings have pretty traditional architecture; a lot of alleyways leading to residential areas. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the buzz that I have been experiencing in Hong Kong that made me feel like it was too slow and quiet in Taipei. It seemed to be less crowded and people were more relaxed. My immediate question was “where are all the people?”
A lot have said Taipei is famous for its night markets. I was slightly skeptical and was thinking if they are as nice as those night markets in SE Asia. Not trying to be bias, night markets in SE Asia usually have a lot going on and people are spoilt for choices when comes to food.
There is quite a number of night markets in Taipei. We chose to go to Shilin Night Market (士林夜市). There were many people and crowded. As we slowly approached, the smell of some fragrant fruits with stinky tofu was a bit off-putting. The combination just didn’t work!
There was a long queue in front of a stall. I took a closer look. It was a vendor who specialised in buns (in Mandarin it’s called 胡椒饼). They were handmade and baked in a tandoori-like oven. That looked interesting so we joined the queue. The bun turned out to be crispy on the outside, juicy in the inside with lots of pork and spring onions filling. It was pretty good!
If I have to be honest, I think I prefer night markets in SE Asia. Call me bias but I wasn’t blown away.
On the other side of the city, gigantic Taipei 101 looks so prominent. It still looks massive through the wall to ceiling windows at Yen Chinese restaurant at W Taipei. The decor at the restaurant is simple yet chic (well, you know the W style is never complicated – less is more).
Sampling some famous dishes by Chef Ken Yu was probably one of the highlights of my entire trip. Chef Yu is Hong Konger. I would say his food is modern infused with stylish presentation. One of my favourite dishes has to be deep -fried rice puff in superior braised lobster stock (西施泡飯) – the stock was amazingly flavourful, with the crispy rice puff that adds great texture to the whole dish. It may sound like a “rice soup” = congee but I think the crispy rice puff and the ultimate broth make a whole lot of difference and it has managed to bring this dish to somehow appear and taste posh.
Wok fried beef tenderloin, “Bi Fong Tang” style (避風塘牛柳) – simple yet very well executed with slightly complex flavours; the beef was of high quality that could almost melt in the mouth. Steamed sticky rice cake , red date, coconut cream (新疆棗皇糕), not only looks pretty served in little bamboo baskets, it’s probably one of those Chinese desserts that I don’t mind to have more! An afternoon spent at Yen was a great culinary experience. Of course, given a chance to chat with the chef himself was a bonus! Throughout our conversation, I could sense his passion and determination in food, which, no doubt, has put him where he is today.
I had a sudden flashback of myself – around 8 or 9 years old, stood right in the middle of the Liberty Square (also Freedom Square), posing for a photo where the background was the majestic looking Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. That was probably the only thing that reminded me I was there before. Well, that few seconds of memory is better than nothing, I guess.
I would have loved to spent a few more days in a few other cities as I believe Taiwan has got more to offer. Our long weekend spent in Taipei gave us the opportunity to peep through the window of this country which has a unique historical and geographical background; rich and varied culture composed of elements taken from many different ethnic groups.