Our flight to Taiwan from Xi’An was around 10am, which meant we had to leave the hotel somewhere around 7:30. The buffet opened at 6; all of us who had early flights rushed through the doors as soon as they were open. It was really such a shame that we couldn’t sit down and enjoy the buffet–it was so good!
Literally straight-from-the-oven goodies! Muffins. Jelly donuts. Hot, crusty french breads. Giant pagodas made from chocolate and macaroon towers to marvel at. Cereal bar. Cereal is always good. Food heaven.
But wait there’s more! Fancy fresh fruit like Xinjiang pears, dragon fruit, mangoes, guava…it goes on. So many mangoes. Hands-down my favorite fruit. A salad bar with cold cut meats and imported cheeses. Endless bowls of sauces and dressings, Chinese and Western. Pretty much anything you could think of. A life-sized bread-cotta warrior. An egg-tree. There were a ton of things that weren’t even out yet because it was so early. After about 45-minutes of stuffing our faces, we shuffled back to our rooms, finished packing, and waved 再見 [zai jian] to China.
Some 5 hours later, we were in Taipei.
First stop: the 7-Eleven right around the corner from our apartment. The 7-Elevens in Taiwan the Asian person’s dream convenience store. Plenty of pretty bento box lunches, onigiri, fresh congee/rice porridge, fried rice and noodles…it’s essentially like a fast food restaurant. My favorite part of the Taiwanese 7-Elevens is the tea leaf eggs, or “茶葉蛋” [cha yie dan]. They’re stewed for hours in some magical combination broth of soy sauce, Chinese 5-spice (star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns, and fennel seeds), and tea leaves.
My mom and I continued down the streets to 通化街夜市 [tong hua jie yie shi]–one of the many famous night markets in Taiwan. This had become our tradition since we started making almost annual trips to Taiwan after I started high school. If you want to talk about places with awesome nightlife, Taiwan is definitely one of those places. I always feel safe eating in Taiwan since all of the places are open-kitchen, so you can see exactly how your food is made.
What we always do in Taiwan the first night, without fail, is go to a small stinky tofu place by the name of 得記 [de ji]. This is one of the very few places left in Taiwan that serves 脆皮臭豆腐 [chuei pi chou do fu]: deep-fried stinky tofu. People who are unfamiliar with stinky tofu cringe at the idea of it, but good stinky tofu doesn’t actually smell stinky. Merely slightly pungent and fermented.
And what makes deep-fried stinky tofu the best is because the fried outer-skin makes this loud crunch every time you bite in, whilst the inside remains soft and meaty. There’s also this brilliant trick of cutting into the tofu and injecting each tofu square with their special house-made sauce. Throw in some pickled cabbage and shredded carrots on the side, and you have the perfect midnight snack. “宵夜” [xiao yie] in Chinese. Their hot pots are also good; we got the spicy tofu pot.
Also this is my favorite yogurt drink ever. Only found in Taiwan. A lassi and Greek yogurt hybrid. Very thick and creamy, but not to the point where it’s undrinkable.
Another place we never miss whenever we go to Taiwan is 東區紛圓 [dong qu feng yuan]. This is actually a must-go place for anyone who goes to Taiwan and is in Taipei. Just look at the line from both sides of the shop! Crazy. There are outdoor seating and 2 rooms of indoor seating. All the tables are always taken and full, all day, every day. A lot of people just end up standing and eating their shaved ice.
東區紛圓 is so popular because it makes the best taro and yam glutinous rice balls, “芋圓” [yu yuan in Mandarin, o-een in Taiwanese] and “地瓜圓” [di gua yuan in Mandarin, not sure about Taiwanese]. The rice balls are just part of the 20-something list of ingredients you can choose to put into your bowl of shaved ice. You can choose just 2 ingredients, or a whole bunch. What makes this place so great is that the ratio of ingredients to shaved ice is like 5:1. Not skimpy at all.
My mom and I always choose the taro and yam balls, grass jelly, fresh chunks of real taro, mung bean, and aiyu jelly. The fresh taro is killer. Sometimes we add red bean too, but not always. But there are tons of other things to choose from, and however you mix and match them, it always tastes awesome. When it’s 90-degrees and something like 70% humidity, a bowl of icy, sweet goods really hits the spot. Most of all, a giant bowl comes out to be $2!