On the road to Berlin

Day 13, 07.06.2009

spree river sunset

Sunset by the Spree Fluß

As my Gastvater [“host father”] was chanting in anticipation of our trip to Berlin with the AATG group, “Berlin! Berlin! Wir fahren nach Berlin!”. Translation: “we’re going to Berlin!!!!!!!!!!!”. Our train was sometime after 10am, so Clara and I still had to go to school before we could head out. With all our luggage. Mine was especially cumbersome to be lugging up and down the 7 floors of the Gymnasium [“high school”]. It was a heavy, large, orange suitcase. Really quite silly in retrospect not to have brought a duffel bag or something collapsible for excursions. A wonderful friend of Clara’s helped carry both of our luggage while we were at school.

I would have hired him for the day’s help if I could. Needless to say, I had my first lesson in weight training heaving this monstrosity all over the streets of Nürnberg. Hungry from all the exercise and with the knowledge that no food would be sold on the train, I bought some fries at McDonald’s. Apparently condiments are sold separately in Europe, so I had to eat my fries dry and without ketchup. Ew.

ICE bahn

Double decker ICE!

It was an amazing experience to ride the ICE aka “Intercity Express” aka Germany’s bullet train. Frau Graunke, my high school German teacher, would always be singing praise about the ICE. And we did indeed ride in luxury. Really expensive, but I would do it again for the immense savings in time. It normally takes about 10 hours to travel from Nürnberg to Berlin, but with the ICE it’s only 3-4 hours.

The seats were big and comfy, and it was so clean and so new. The doors and bathroom facilities were automatic, which was simply mind-blowing 6 years ago. There were even tables for you to eat or do work on!

berlin train station

The Berlin Hauptbahnhof [“main train station”] was stunning

First thing my friends and I did was grab a table to play Kemps. I guess my beginner’s luck had run out since we lost miserably to the rest of our group. Our signals were all messed up and I couldn’t tell if she had Kemps and she couldn’t tell when I was signaling Kemps. Eventually we got tired of playing Kemps and our group broke up to do other stuff. I grew up without having played any card game other than “Go fish”: my time in Germany was like a class in card games, on steroids. Besides Kemps and Mao, I also learned “Spit” and “Egyptian Ratscrew”.

Then we started “Palace” and I legitimately had some curse on me for getting really terrible hands. So more losing. Then we started Mao again and I managed to win twice. However, I was unaware that the Chairman was allowed to make up ridiculous rules such as: requiring players to sing “Funkytown” and say “sandpeople eat little children” or “eat your cookies”. Kids are so weird, I know. That game lasted us until Berlin.

hotel ludwig van beethoven

Our hotel: Hotel Ludwig van Beethoven

After struggling up more flights of stairs to get out of the train station, we finally got on our bus to the hotel. And I realized I had lost my umbrella. Great.

Three of us snagged the triple-bed bedroom, which means none of us had to squeeze together on the same bed. We toasted ourselves with some Mineralwasser [“mineral water”] to a week of awesome that lay ahead. We all met at the lobby around 5pm for dinner. Herr Birkelbach took us to an Indian restaurant, which was…an interesting choice.

I don’t believe I ever had Indian before then and found it odd that they put cheese in curry. I absolutely love Indian food now, but I was not at a point in my life to try exotic things. Unsurprisingly, there was nothing for me to eat since I had cut cheese out of my diet (no paneer! :( ).

indian restaurant in berlinThe environment was nice and colorful, though. Service was helpful. I sat across from Jon and next to Mariette and Cory, near H. Birkelbach and to the left of the German kiddies. Everyone seemed to enjoy their meal, but I thoroughly did not. Herr Birkelbach ended up helping me finish, which made me feel like I was being too picky. But it was so incredibly salty and thick–like all they used was salt and corn starch.

The salad was good though, so I ate more of that. My dinner buddy and I started arguing about whether being vegetarian was hypocritical (because “plants and bacteria are living things too”), which escalated to politics and it got heated really quickly. We shockingly finished our meal still on good terms, but neither satisfied with the answers we had provided each other. I also desperately needed to use the restroom halfway through our debate. Even worse, everyone finished dinner and I never got the chance to use the restroom. The next 1.5 hours were spent in extreme discomfort. Luckily my experience in China has led me to develop an iron bladder.

berliner dom

We walked along the Spree River [“Fluß” in German] and I absolutely fell in love with the Berliner Dom. The sun was setting and cast a warm glow on its otherwise dramatic features. There was also a DDR [Deutsche Demokratische Republik, the state of East Germany] Museum on the way, which would have been a fascinating stop if we had the time.

What took me most by surprise on our walking tour was how conspicuous bong shops were. One store in particular was selling glow-in-the-dark bongs–which I guess is cool, but literally the most indiscreet accessory you could have for cannabis-smoking habits.

snapshots of berlin

So we finally arrived at the Fernsehturm [“TV tower”: Fernseh + Turm], at which point I was finally able to relieve myself. Possibly TMI, but that is a memory that shaped my first experience in Berlin.

ice creamWith 20 minutes to kill, it seemed like everyone suddenly had a craving for ice cream. Others of us rode up 207m to the observation tower of the Fernsehturm. I was surprisingly not the one freaking out about heights this time!

We went downstairs after maybe 15 minutes and waited for the others. The guy running the elevator smugly asked one of the guys in our group, “Wollen Sie hier sitzen, eh?” (do you want to sit here?) while patting his knee. Jokingly, of course, and all in good fun.

After we all reconvened, H. Birkelbach treated all 20 of us to two enormous scoops of ice cream!! I got mango and strawberry.

NÜRNBERG: GEMEINDEFEST (II)

Day 12, 07.05.2009: More potlucks!

good company at the festival

I love how frequently these Gemeindefest [“community festivals”] pop-up in Germany! Such a happy place to live. If the opportunity arises to join one, you definitely should! Lovely people, fun activities, and best of all, delicious Kartoffelsalat–potato salad. This time around, there was more Kartoffelsalat that was vegetarian than last time. So I really indulged myself and probably disgusted my host family and all their neighborhood friends with how many helpings I had…

tasty cherry crumbleNot to say that stopped me from additional servings of some Nachtisch [“dessert”]. There was an open bar of cakes, custards, cookies, crumbles, crisps, and all other forms of captivating culinary sweets. After about 15 minutes of indecisively hovering over the desserts table and making others uncomfortable, I finally settled on a cherry crumble and raspberry yellow cake.

deliciously soft raspberry yellow cakeOne of the most unexpected and most interesting activities was the option to operate a tractor(?!?). There was a plot of land that everyone who wanted to learn how to use a tractor could continuously dig into and backfill. Totally fun and definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of games at a festival. I undeniable struggled with operating the claw and am grateful no one was hurt in the process.

me driving a tractor

That’s me!

Clara introduced me to a fellow exchange student from London. Both of us were rather shy, and after making some small talk, simply sat next to each other awkwardly and ate our food in mostly silence. My young, girlish dreams of meeting a charming Englishman and escaping to the English countryside were kind of dashed at that point. Chemistry can be so disappointing. I ran into another exchange student while we were there. They’re everywhere! He was also from California, which was a good starting point for a much less awkward conversation.

The musical and dance performances provided a clean segue for us to turn our attention to other activities. We were treated to traditional Bavarian folk dance and music by dancers bravely dressed in Dirndl dresses (for women) and Trachten (for men) in searing heat. The dance is called Mühlradl [“Miller’s Dance”], where people dance in a sort of ring-around-the-rosy fashion and bounce off from partner to partner.bavarianfolk

The rest of the day was spent at home packing for Berlin–the highlight of our month in Germany. I was oozing excitement out of every pore and hardly slept a wink that night. Either thankfully or unfortunately–I can’t decide–my enthusiasm was tempered by some sober reading of Grapes of Wrath for my AP English class.

Also, this seems like such a silly thing to note, but I had a fried egg for the first time in two weeks. Do Germans eat a lot of fried eggs? I feel like I should know that answer having lived there for a month, but perhaps it was just my host family that wasn’t big on fried eggs. In any case, if you ever get a hankering for some fried eggs, the magical term is “Spiegelei” or “mirror egg”. Spiegel = mirror and Ei = egg. :)

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 2009

Day 11, 07.04.2009: Rothenburg

My Gastfamilie [host family] took me to Rothenburg: a quaint, medieval town along the Romantic Road. Or, as it arguably is better known as, the town that sells Christmas souvenirs 365 days a year. Since it was only an hour away from Roßtal, we took the train there instead of driving.

IMG_2242We had a 15 minute layover in Ansbach, which was enough time to check out the Hofgarten [court garden] there. There was a rather long building built by the prince so he could house his fruit trees, which I thought was awesome because I want my own orchard someday. My Gastmutter [host mum], who loves art, brought us to an art exhibit nearby and struck up a conversation with the artist herself. It was kind of mind-blowing how everyone in Germany is so amicable.

IMG_2230I feel like in America, it’s far and few in between that you meet, say, a cashier at the supermarket who’d be willing to make eye contact, let alone small talk. And everyone is so busy getting somewhere. My host mum, however, strikes up hearty conversations with any clerk or cashier she meets, all the time. Not a grumpy face since I left the U.S.  It’s actually pretty heart-warming to see people take the time to slow down and have a chat.

rothenburg-copyright-melody-linStepping into Rothenburg was like a walking into a pop-up fairytale book set in the Middle Ages. The city wall, if I remember correctly, is the only city wall in Germany that’s still standing and complete. And you get to climb the wall! Going up the stairs was slightly terrifying because the steps were so small and so steep. But I didn’t want to be a party pooper, so I muscled my way through.

We strolled along the skirts of Rothenburg before getting off the wall. The stairs down were even worse! They were slanted downwards at a 15-degree angle. How did people climb this in the winter?!

As our tummies started grumbling, we stumbled into this random cafe. The only thing vegetarian option was Spätzle…literally just the cooked noodles. Because meat gravy. Not going to lie, it was pretty damn bland. I probably had 3 days’ worth of salt just to bring out an inkling of flavor. After downing most of the salted noodles, Clara offered to finish it for me. She said it was good with the gravy. Welp.

rothenburg-apfel

Thankfully, we ordered dessert and I got ApfelStrudel mit Vanilla Eis [apple strudel with vanilla ice cream). Like wow. I don’t know if it was because my entree was so unsatisfying, but 6 years later, and I still salivate at the thought of that Apfelstrudel with ice cream–you can’t not have the ice cream. The strudel was warm and the apples still crispy but coated in ooey-gooey cinnamon and sugar. The vanilla ice cream was like eating a vanilla bean. So pure and creamy: slowly melting and flooding the nooks and crannies of my strudel.

IMG_2291

My host mother also convinced me to try a Schneeball [literally, “snowball”], which kind of looks like a yarn ball. Layers of flour, deep fried, and dipped in chocolate or sprinkled with powdered sugar, nuts…etc. It was pretty good but difficult to eat because I got one dipped in chocolate and the chocolate was melting as I ate it. Messy eater problems.

IMG_2292

No photos allowed, so I could only get the truck outside!

As my host mum went off to visit bookstores, Clara took me to the infamous, all-year round Christmas stores in Rothenburg. They have such tiny storefronts, but as you go deeper into the store it unfolds into a 2-3 story building! It’s bigger on the inside! (Doctor Who, anyone?)

Delicate and intricately handcrafted wooden ornaments. I wanted all the pretty things. And there was a huge, fully-decorated and lit Christmas tree in the middle of the store that reached all the way up to the ceiling. I wanted to take a picture so badly but it was prohibited and there were people watching.

There were also snowflakes made just from wood shavings (?!) and carved windmills that run on rising hot air from candles that you light from within it. Sooo cool. I bought this really cute ornament with a snowman, reindeer, and Christmas tree on it. It cost around €9, which was like USD $12 at the time, but who cares? I was in Germany!

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平溪 Pingxi, Taipei, 2012

sky lanternsThe famous host village of the Sky Lantern Festival–Pingxi 平溪. Another quaint village that developed during the Japanese Colonial Era. A typical recommendation is to stop and sightsee at all the towns along the Pingxi Railway as a day trip (such as Shifen 十分), but my mom and I unfortunately didn’t have time.

on the way to pingxiDaylight is short in the mountains, even in the summertime, so after spending some time at Houtong and taking the train, we had only an hour or two before dark to return to Taipei. Also, the weather was just not picking up. I would definitely advise going to any of these small towns in better weather and even maybe on the weekend–despite the fact that you would have to elbow your way through a thick forest of people. Most of the shops are closed on the weekday, and as soothing as the calm and quiet is, there’s not much to see.

Pingxi old streetWe did do our part as tourists and walk down 平溪老街 [ping xi lao jie], or Pingxi Old Street, though. Sparse sustenance for our rumbling bellies in these parts.

sky lantern shopAnd while our regrettably short visit left me feeling unfulfilled and with a lot of 遺憾 [yi han], or “regrets”, we did find a lonely sky lantern 天燈 [tian deng] shop! My mom wasn’t up for decorating a big one, so we bought a couple of souvenir sky lanterns to take home with good wishes on them. She was particularly interested in the one with 學業進步 [xue ye jing bu], or “may your studies improve”. Chinese parents, go figure.

Til next time, Pingxi!

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village, 2012

sleeping cat

If you’re not a cat person or are even slightly allergic to cats, this place is not for you. This is cat heaven and your worst nightmare.

Houtong train station greetingsBut I like cats. They’re derpy, sometimes jerks, and maybe even adorable. And there really is no better place to see them in their natural habitat than at Houtong  猴硐貓村 [hou dong mao cun]. 貓村 literally means “cat village”. Houtong is a tiny village in the Ruifang 瑞芳 District of Taipei nestled between the numerous mountain ranges of Taiwan; you can get there by the Mountain Line and it’s about an hour’s train ride from Taipei Main Station.

Houtong 猴硐 actually means “monkey cave” in Chinese. It was named so because there used to be a cave inhabited by monkeys. Houtong was a rich, small mining town during Japanese rule, and I’m guessing that it’s because of all the development in the area that there are no longer any monkeys left.

mountain line train

The mountain line

When the mining industry died out, a cat lover organized volunteers to provide abandoned cats in the village with a better life. The response from cat lovers all over Taiwan was so overwhelmingly positive, that Houtong has now developed into a cat haven and popular tourist destination.

No dogs signThe first sign you encounter stepping off the train is a map of the village, and cute cartoons of cats holding signs. A particularly prominent one is: “不建議帶狗來訪 [bu jian yi dai gou lai fang”, or “bringing dogs (狗 [gou] ) is not recommended”.

Houtong villageIt was a rainy weekday, so a lot of shops were shuttered close and the typically bustling place was rather deserted.

Did you say dog? Shhh....just go back to sleep.

Did you say dog? Shhh….just go back to sleep.

The entrance to the rest of the village was lazily guarded by security cats as well.

cat housesWe wandered onto a small platform overlooking the river, and found the local cat condo community. Cozy, wooden cat houses with aprons for doors, built on a brick platform. Luxury. They even had a great view of the railway bridge! The rain started to pour at this point, so we squatted in the center of the community, getting acquainted with our new hairy friends.

houtong_7But people live here too! We stopped at a food stall on wheels to browse through their wares.

Village lifeI was still battling a rather persistent stomach bug from our trip through China’s Silk Road, where we were a few days prior, but you only live once. So I shakily hiked up several flights of stairs in cold sweat with my mom to reach an overlook of the village and catch a glimpse of village life.

every town should have this

every town should have this

We probably didn’t spend any more than an hour at Houtong, unfortunately, since we had to hit the road and I needed to find some facilities to purge the bug (TMI? maybe). But I’d definitely visit again on a sunnier and busier day and spend more time exploring, just not with a  stomach bug.

永和豆漿, a journey through Taiwanese breakfast food

yonghe

before it closed down…

Whilst traveling through Taiwan, you’ll notice a ton of Taiwanese food stalls under the name “永和豆漿” [Yong He Dou Jiang]. I think–but could be utterly wrong–that the breakfast scene really picked up starting in the district of 永和 (near Taipei), which is why now all breakfast places use that name. Do you know the origins of  永和豆漿?

Every store is owned by a different family. The menu is generally the same, but the recipes can vary widely. Some stores make particularly good 飯糰 [fan tuan, or sticky rice roll], while others are better known for their 油條 [you tiao, or Chinese fried breadstick].

My mom and I tend to alternate between two specific 永和豆漿 locations, depending on how much time we have. The one on 光復南路 [guang fu nan lu, or Guangfu South Rd] at the intersection of 仁愛路 [ren ai lu, or Ren’ai Rd], right across from the 國父紀念館 [guo fu ji nian guan, or Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall], used to be one of our favorites. It has, unfortunately, been replaced by another store as of 2015. :'(

One of the more famous breakfast spots that doesn’t fall under the 永和豆漿 umbrella is 阜杭豆漿[fu hang dou jiang], which is located near Exit 6 from the Shandao Temple [善導寺 shan dao si] station, a couple blocks from the Huashan 1914 Creative Park. We tried out this place several years ago (in 2008-9?), waited in a decently long line to get our food, and thought it was good, but not spectacular. It’s definitely still hugely popular, though. So go check it out and let me know what you think of it! ;)

yonghe_2This brings me to our favorite 永和豆漿 place: the one on Fuxing South Rd, Section 2 [復興南路段 fuxing nan lu er duan]. Easy to remember, since it’s right next to the Taipei City Fire Department and Fuxing Rd has the Brown Metro Line running right over it. The cross-street is 瑞安街 [rui an jie, Rui’an St]. I cannot say this enough: get there early. The line is long, the seats few, and the food so damn delicious. Forget about sleeping in, because most Taiwanese breakfast places have sold out by 11am and tend to stop serving around then as well.

The sacrifices we make.

fuxingruian_4Breakfast item #1:  燒餅油條 [shao bing you tiao]. 燒餅 translated is “fire-roasted bun”–a flaky flatbread typically decorated with white sesame seeds on top. Traditional 燒餅 is baked in a tandoor-like oven: stuck to the sides of thick, metal cylinders and dug out with a long hook. They can be either savory or sweet, stuffed with anything from red bean paste to braised beef.

But in Taiwan, they are most commonly paired with a stick of 油條, literally meaning “oil stick”. 油條 is a 12-16″ long piece of dough, deep-fried. And we all know how tasty fried things are. The best 油條 is one that is not greasy (in spite of being deep-fried), crunches like Parmesan crisps, and slightly glutinous and chewy on the inside. Many places tend to fry it until it’s hollow on the inside. Big no-no. They taste delicious with soy milk or 稀飯 [xi fan, or congee], too.

fuxingruianBreakfast item #2: 鹹豆漿 [xian dou jiang]. “Salty soy milk”. Strange? Maybe. Yummy? Oh yes. 鹹豆漿 is served as a hot bowl of fresh soy milk with dried shrimp, pickled radish, sesame oil, green onion, and/or pork sung [肉鬆 rou song]. Thrown in with a dash of vinegar to balance the savory. Vegetarian versions are eaten with  油條 [fried breadstick] crumbs, veggie pork sung, sesame oil, and/or green onion. I love it, but I grew up on it. What were your first impressions of 鹹豆漿?

fuxingruian_3Breakfast item #3:  飯糰 [fan tuan], Chinese “sushi” or rice roll. 油條 [fried breadstick], 肉鬆 [pork sung], and 榨菜 [za cai, or pickled mustard] are tightly bundled in a sticky rice blanket. Mmm. Good 飯糰/rice rolls don’t have too thick a layer of rice–just like good sushi–and filled to the brim with tasty stuffing.

fuxingruian_2Breakfast item #4: 蛋餅 [dan bing] is a scallion-flavored Taiwanese pancake with scrambled egg. Taiwanese pancake is thin like a crepe, but its texture is closer to an ‘al dente’ tortilla. The best 蛋餅皮[dan bing pi, or egg pancake skin], is QQ: chewy, crispy, and tender all in one pancake. 義美 Yi-Mei makes pretty good frozen 蛋餅皮 (which you can usually find in the frozen aisles of your Chinese supermarket!), but local Taiwanese food stalls still do it best. 

The scrambled egg skin that is layered on top of the pancake is critical to a good 蛋餅 dish as well. It should be fluffy. Eat the egg pancake [蛋餅] with some thickened sweet soy sauce and Huy Fong “Rooster” chili garlic sauce, and I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

fuxingruian_5Breakfast item #5: 米漿 [mi jiang], sweet rice peanut milk. Also a strange-sounding food, but by golly, is it one of my favorite drinks to get in Taiwan. I’ve seen it very seldom in the US, so I drink gallons of this when I’m in Taiwan. It’s thick, still slightly granular, and has this toasty aroma from the roasted peanuts. Basically like a peanut smoothie. Mm.

Breakfast item #6: 黑豆漿 [hei dou jiang]. Black soybean milk. I don’t really have a clear picture of this, but a quick Google search gives a pretty good idea of what it looks like ;). Different kind of sweetness from regular soy milk. Just take my word that you’ll dig it. Mmm.

Did I miss any? These are just some of the foods I eat. What are your favorite Taiwanese breakfast foods? :)

穗科 Hoshina Udon, Taipei

hoshina_1

A cursory search of “Hoshina Taipei” yields a number of reviews for Hoshina by various bloggers, with the general consensus being that Hoshina makes some freakin’ amazing udon. While I am by no means as eloquent as other writers, I’m hoping that with the plethora of positive feedback on Hoshina’s food that ya’ll will go out and take some good slurps from their udon.

My mom and I discovered Hoshina [穗科 sui ke] while on our unforgiving search for vegetarian ramen in Taiwan–which has ultimately been unsuccessful. It wasn’t until our 3rd time eating at Hoshina that we realized how popular and well-known of a noodle place it is! Beginner’s luck was what we had when we walked into Hoshina the first two times and were seated immediately. The line moves relatively fast, but it is by no means short. There is limited seating in the waiting area: a few wooden benches by the  zen garden complete with bubbling brook, bonsai, and koi fish.

hoshinaThe front left of the restaurant is a giant glass enclosure in which udon masters stretch, roll, pound, pull, and slice udon dough like taffy machines. Watching induces salivation, making the wait all the more unbearable. And then you’re finally seated. Prompt and generally attentive service keeps your tea cup filled with Genmaicha [玄米茶 xun mi cha, or brown rice tea] the whole time.

A perfectly-sized menu of Japanese appetizers, entrees, and dessert, but with a modern Taiwanese twist. We start with the steamed kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) with toasted walnuts sprinkled on top, followed with some 龍鬚菜 [long xu cai, “dragon whisker vegetable” or chayote shoots] marinating in Japanese sesame sauce. My mom particularly likes the 卷 [bai yu fu pi tang juan, “white jade tofu roll in soup”]: soft napa cabbage leaves stewed in a light broth, wrapped around delicate layers of tofu skin. A pinch of shichimi togarashi [七味唐辛子, Japanese 7-spiced chili] to give the mellow flavors a kick.

hoshina_2Then the moment of truth: the udon. There truly is no better way to describe it other than saying “太Q了” [so Q!!]! In Taiwanese culture, achieving QQ texture is one of hallmarks of a great food establishment. Call it al dente, “chewy”, bite, or tender…that springiness of perfectly made noodle where the edges stick to your teeth for a fleeting nanosecond before snapping back onto your chopsticks. Perfection. 

hoshina_4You must try the 麵 [oo long leng mian, “udon cold noodles”]. I believe this is where you get a strong whiff of the finesse the udon chefs here have. Several whiskers of nori, a dash of sesame seeds, and a drizzle of dashi, but no more. Cold, glassy udon. Ecstasy.

hoshina_3The soup udon  龍湯麵 [oo long tang mian] is fantastic as well. There are no obvious weaknesses. Whether light, rich and thick, or spicy, the broth is almost as good as the udon (but a further almost). Toppings are a mix of aburaage [油揚げ, deep-fried tofu pouches], seaweed, and various vegetables. My recommended add-on item: the 蛋 [wen quan dan], soft-poached egg, to top off your udon. Break the yolk and good heavens–there is nothing more delicious than noodles coated in liquid gold. 

Still not full? Try the 腐 [hei zi ma dou fu, “black sesame tofu” for dessert. ごま豆腐 Goma tofu in Japanese. Goma tofu is not actually made from tofu; it’s made from kudzu powder, but has the silky texture of tofu when cooked. The kudzu is mixed with water and finely-ground black sesame. Envelope your taste buds in a velvet blanket of nutty and sweet flavors. 

You can find Hoshina not too far from the SOGO in Taipei. There are two branches, but I’ve only been to the one on Zhongxiao East Rd. Let me know how the other Hoshina is! :)

Hoshina Zhongxiao East:
Address: 台北市忠孝東路四段216巷27弄3號 // Zhongxiao East Road, Section 4, Lane 216, Alley 27 No. 3
Phone: 02-2778-3737
Hours: (Lunch) M-F 11:30 ~ 14:00, (Lunch)Sa-Su 11:30 ~ 15:00, (Dinner) 17:30 ~ 21:00

Hoshina Fuxing:
Address: 台北市復興北路313巷32號 // Fuxing North Road, Lane 313 No. 32
Phone: 02-27171518
Hours: same as above

楊媽媽素食, Mama Yang’s Vegetarian, Taipei

yangmamaDining in Taiwan can either be very expensive (but delicious) or unbelievably cheap (still delicious). In either case, you’ll leave the country spoiled and nothing will ever taste quite like it does at that tiny hole-in-the-wall, family-run eatery, off that big street and around the corner from that Ikari coffee and a couple blocks before Ellie bakery. The only way I’ve ever been able to navigate to this place for the past several years was, 1) by blindly following my mom and 2) taking mental pictures of the stores we pass on the way from my grandpa’s home. The beauty of this tiny veggie stand is that it was no more than a 5 minute walk from us. (Although we sold my grandpa’s home the year before :( ).

If you’re in any way familiar with the triangular park on 路135巷 [AnHe Rd, Lane 135] off of 信義 [Xinyi Rd]–which you might if you live in Taipei and shop at 哈肯舖手感烘焙 [Hogan Bakery,手感 shou gan meaning ‘handmade’ and  烘焙 hong pei meaning ‘baked’] in the mornings–Mama Yang’s is right in this area! Trace the back (aka non-pointy) end of the triangular park, and keep going along the same road until you hit the fork between 街 [Yanji St] and 愛路四段300巷 [Ren Ai Rd, Section 4, Lane 300]. Take Ren Ai Rd straight down. Mama Yang’s is one of the several food stands before you reach the main road/end of the lane. You’ll know when you’ve gone too far by seeing the Ikari Coffee shop. 

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On the off chance that you don’t want vegetarian food (and I’ve no clue why you wouldn’t), there’s plenty of selection on this section of Ren Ai Rd. You’ll pass an Ellie bakery, dumpling and ramen stands, teppanyaki, and a fresh juice stand. And if you’re like me–vegetarian and unable to eat anything from these other places–you’ll find yourself shoving elbows to get one of 3 tray tables at Mama Yang’s.

Word of advice: avoid the lunch hour rush. Don’t underestimate its appeal as a 100% vegetarian place, because it is busy and surprisingly popular for such a small place. The owners also tend to (not) be the friendliest. But damn, is their food good. This is a no frills, just-like-mom-used-to-make place. You could even argue that you could make these dishes yourself, but why bother? They do it so well for so cheap.

Look at those prices!

Look at those prices!

I don’t think my mom and I have spent more than $6 USD eating here, which is cheap considering we typically order 3-4 items. As creatures of habit, my mom and I don’t stray far from the usual. So I’ll leave it up to all of you to try the other stuff for me and let me know if it’s good or not ;). We always stick with getting the 飯 [pai gu fan], or “spare ribs” with rice. Perhaps you find fake meat strange, but I think it’s tasty. The spare ribs are deep fried til crispy like tonkatsu, and have fresh black pepper cracked over them. There’s an umami sort of taste to it that I enjoy. The spare ribs come with rice, Taiwanese cabbage, 雪菜毛豆[xue cai mao dou] pickled mustard greens with soy beans, and stewed bean curd with fresh bamboo shoots. 

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Taiwanese cabbage 菜 [gao li cai] is in its own league of delicious vegetable. They’re grown up in the high mountains of Taiwan, such as at 武陵農場[wu ling rong chang, or Wuling Farm], which sits by 雪山 [xue shan, or snow mountain]. Insert some plant chemistry–possibly something to do with cold mountain air and different minerals in the soil–and you have a species of cabbage exponentially more delicious than all other cabbage. The crunch of the cabbage rings as crystal an apple just picked off the tree. There is sweetness to match, too. What  I like about Mama Yang’s cabbage is that the cabbage is mostly untreated: lightly stir-fried with some carrots, salt, and oil. 

Dish #2: 關東煮 [guan dong zhu], or oden. Oden is essentially hot pot; it’s a Japanese winter dish where eggs, daikon, konjac, fishcakes, and other tasty delights are stewed together in a simmering pot. The 子 [wan zi], or fish balls made at Mama Yang’s are very QQ. Their vegetarian dashi broth is light and flavorful, perfect for hot summer days or cold winter nights. And they top it off with slices of 糕 [zhi cai gao, or seaweed rice cake], which is one of my favorite Taiwanese foods.

Dish #3: 乾&帶 [lu dou gan / lu hai dai], which are stewed bean curd and stewed seaweed. The bean curd and seaweed are slow-cooked in a soy sauce (+ other magical ingredients unbeknownst to me, otherwise I’d make this all the time) stew for hours until all the flavors are absorbed into every pore. We call this 入味 [ru wei] in Chinese: 入 meaning”into”, and 味 meaning “flavor”. When something is not 入味 enough, it means the flavors haven’t set in yet. 

All foodgasms aside, I implore you all to check this place out and support them so they can stay in business for more generations to come! And remember to let me know how the other menu items taste :P.

Nürnberg: Rock Konzert

Day 10, 07.03.2009: Rock Concert at Desi

My group met up with Herr Birkelbach to talk about our week in BERLIN! I was slightly worried that our meals were already planned out, since most people in my group didn’t know I was vegetarian, but H. Birkelbach told me not to worry because he’s vegetarian too! Score. Afterwards, we continued our class on war films in Deutsch. There was a huge debate about whether plot or music was more important to a film. At least a third of the people in my group voted on music. I voted for plot because it sets the environment from which music is developed. Trying to vocalize my argument comprehensibly in German was really difficult. Herr Besmens just stared at me with an incredibly puzzled look for at least 10 seconds before going, “…okay…?” Allow me to dissolve into my desk and chair in embarrassment now. We watched this movie called “Paths of Glory” and I thought it was okay. Pretty boring. The dialogue, situations, and characters’ actions were so ludicrous  sometimes that suspension of disbelief was not possible. But perhaps I missed the point because it was dubbed in German spoken too quickly.

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Lunch of the day–creamed broccoli with fettucine–paired with view of incoming storm.

I joined Clara in her Religion class later, and ended up reading Grapes of Wrath for my summer AP English homework instead of listening to the teacher. Clara and I went home, ate lunch, and watched this romance film called “Barfuß” (barefoot) and it was a cute romance flick. The story was basically about this girl who’s been sheltered by her mother all her life and is incapable of handling the outside world. After mother dies, she’s sent to a mental asylum, where she tried to commit suicide but was saved in time by this guy working there. She sees him as her savior and starts following him everywhere and he’s this punk who’s used to looking out for himself, yadayadayada.

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Dinner of the day–buttered squash with tomato sauce and rice–paired with lovely view of hail

Around 5pm, it started pouring and a couple minutes later it was hailing like crazy. Hail is forever exciting to a Californian. I opened the windows and tried to catch as many pieces as I could. They were so big! Later that night, Clara took me to a rock concert held at this Biergarten called Desi, where the local bands were holding an anti-Nazi event. AWESOME music. There was a steam punk band with an awesomesauce clarinetist. The music and crowd were pumpin’ so hard that my ears hurt half an hour into the show. I literally stuffed cotton balls into my ears to lessen some of the pounding. Stephanie (this girl I met from group 5) and I would occasionally go out and for some sweet silence. While we waited for our hearing to come back, we played foosball with Clara, this random dude, and Clara’s friend. Stephanie and I lost the first round,  but random dude and I won the other two.

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Clara and I had also gone to Desi the day before to meet her friends. Atmosphere was cozy and very hipster, with artsy, handwritten signs lining the steps up to the bar.  I tried regular beer at first, and we really did not click. So, Clara suggested a mix of Coke and beer, but the taste of beer was still way too strong for me. Same with the cocktails I tried from her friends. We spent a couple of hours there, just chilling and gossiping about high school things. On our way home, there were some absolutely wasted Americans in our boxcar. Drunk people are hilarious–I was a prudish high school kid and listening to such dirty talk made me feel more like a young adult than ever. The entire car was stuffy with beer vapor. Clara told me later that there’s an American military base about 20 minutes from Roßtal and that’s probably where they were from. When we got off at our stop, they asked me where I was from and I shouted “LAAAAAA!” and all of them went “WHOOP WHOOP! YEAAAAAH REPRESEEEEENTTTT! AMERICAAAA”. Our ride home after the concert, however, had no drunken Americans and was very quiet.

三六九素包子店, 369 Buns, Taipei

369baoziOne of my mom’s best friends in college recommended this place to us. It’s actually a chain, but she told us the one on 長春路 [Changchun Rd] and  遼寧街口 [Liaoning St] is the best. I haven’t been to any of the other stores, so I can’t say if that’s true. Regardless, they make the best 包子 [baozi, or bun] that I’ve ever had. You would walk right past it if you weren’t careful. My mom and I always get our haircuts right around the corner, and this is the place we go to afterwards for a quick, dirty, and delicious lunch. I’ve managed to figure out its location by looking for the 長春市場 [chang chun shi chang, or Changchun market]. I believe they’re diagonally across from each other (??). Feel free to correct me though. :) And since 2012/13, they’ve had a name change to 正饌素食 [zheng zhuan su shi]. However, the people who run the place haven’t changed, and neither has the quality of their food.

369baozi2The storefront is narrow and sits no more than 20 people at most. There are about 4 small tables inside. The menu is a short list of about 15 items, most of them buns. Go figure. It costs about 17 NTD/bun, which is about $0.50 USD! SO CHEAP! And they’re rather large buns too, which makes it all the more worth it.

369baozi3369baozi4There are 8 flavors of bun, some sweet and some savory. We tend get the savory buns. My favorites are the 香菇脆筍包 [xiang gu cui sun bao, or mushroom and bamboo shoot bun] and the 四季豆包 [si ji dou bao, or green bean bun]. I’m the kind of person who loves food with texture, e.g. chunky peanut butter and minestrone, and the filling made at 369 always fulfills this criterion. The mushrooms in the mushroom/bamboo bun are always tender and juicy; the bamboo is always crisp and fresh. The green beans are never mushy–I love the feeling of the beans popping out of the pod and into my mouth. And there’s always a dash of sesame oil in there. Mmm. :D All the other flavors are equally delicious too, so try them all!

369baozi5The filling is then lovingly wrapped in the most wonderfully springy wrapper a steamed bun could have. Upon breaking it open, warm steam powders your face. Fingers leave gentle grooves in the supple and slightly spongy dough, like a Tempur-Pedic mattress. Pair these buns with some 黑豆漿 [hei dou jiang, or black soybean milk] and you’re set. Their black soymilk is made in limited quantity, so beat the lunch rush to get it!

Venture outside of the buns and you will be rewarded with some of the tastiest dumplings outside of Din Tai Fung (in my humble opinion). The style is entirely different, but 369’s dumplings are like little bags of gold–so heavy and full with delicious mustard green filling. You get about  8-10 pieces for 50 NTD, or $1.50 USD.

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I also really, really like the 蘿蔔絲餅 [luo buo si bing, or sesame turnip pastry] they make there. Flaky pastry shell with sesame baked into it, and finely shredded turnip sauteed with white pepper. My mom never fails to get their 冬粉 [dong feng]. Vermicelli noodle soup with Chinese celery, daikon, shredded bamboo, A 菜 [Taiwanese chard], fried tofu, and some really tasty homemade bean curd roll-ups.

So if you want great, cheap food, go check 369 out at 台北市中山區遼寧街152號 [Taipei Zhongshan District Liaoning St, No. 152]!