Until recently I hadn’t seen much of Asia, but Taipei was always high on the list of places I wanted to visit. My Taiwanese friends’ accounts and their epic love of food had long led me to believe that Taipei was a food paradise where continuous snacking was not only not frowned upon, but actively encouraged. In this I was certainly not disappointed. I felt like Alice nibbling her way through Wonderland, taking a tour through China’s best culinary achievements organised by region.*
Buns of every flavour – egg custard, vermicelli noodles with vegetables, red bean paste, mushrooms and spinach, black sesame paste (the kind that oozes like warmed Nutella and is so rich it acts as a tongue depressor), vegetable stew – they were innumerable to count. And then there were the pancakes! Spring onion pancake (the yum cha classic), and my new favourite post-pint treat: egg roti pancake. I think there is a similar dish to this in Singapore. You take a really thin roti pancake cooked with spring onion and fry it just a little on one side, then you flip it, crack an egg onto it and fry it till it is crisp and golden and so delicious it almost induces instant diabetes (insta-betes, if you will), then you serve the crispy buttery yolky mess with Sriracha sauce. And then you fight over it because you only got one between two and neither of you wants to wait in line for another one. Not that that happened…
But the most exciting part about discovering Taipei food culture was the dessert. Taiwanese dessert is genuinely amazing. Served hot or cold, your typical bowl involves taro, kidney beans, and jelly served in a rich red bean soup (and, one can only assume, a mountain of invisible sugar). And to wash it all down, there’s that Taiwanese export gem: bubble tea.
You never run the risk of being hungry in Taipei.
Of course, it wasn’t only the food that made the trip. Like most large Asian cities, Taipei boasts labyrinthine markets, vibrant neon-lit public spaces, amazing and diverse neighbourhoods, and an exciting nightlife.
Actually, Taipei’s nightlife has quite an interesting dynamic. Taipei has one of the lowest levels of alcohol consumption in the world (a result, it would seem, of the dual influences of an at times conservative culture and the exorbitant price of alcohol at bars). What this means is that nightlife happens in and around food markets, rather than bars, nightclubs or similar. And so you have families, groups of teenagers, business people, and tourists, all genuinely playing in the same sandpit, which makes for a very interesting – and quite wonderful and friendly – dynamic. Combined with a crime rate to rival Tokyo’s (both so low kindergarteners ride public buses to school by themselves) it also makes for an incredibly relaxed atmosphere.
And then there were the amazing day trips – visiting pandas, exploring temples, walking through all the neighbourhoods, discovering Taipei coffee culture, the amazing afternoon spent down at the converted docks (it’s now an art space for outdoor sculptures and indoor exhibition galleries), our accidental degustation dinner (it was so cheap we just thought it was a tapas style thing!), the attempt to visit all of the night markets which was very quickly deserted when we realised the actual scale of that project… The list is actually endless.
Sadly, the gallery below doesn’t adequately capture this. Regular readers (if they exist) may well have noticed that this post features a lot more description – and a lot less photos – than usual. There’s a reason for that.
We flew from Taipei to Seoul, landing at around the time locals would have been eating dinner. Somewhere between the airport and our hostel our camera – and all the memories it held – went missing. It was a horrible realisation and a bitter start to our time in Seoul.
But at least I have a valid excuse to head back to Taipei soon!
*Taiwan’s incredibly varied food culture is informed by a difficult history – something which I don’t think the tenor or length of this blog has any right to attempt to venture into. There are a number of amazing online resources which do this topic justice.