Food was something we all had to come to terms with fairly quickly. You eat, or you starve. You eat, or in the case of Priscila, you get sent home. Absolutely nothing could have prepared us for what REAL chinese food looks and tastes like. Directly from our yearbook: Name the most memorable food moment in Taiwan, and explain why. (Before you make fun of language or spelling, please remember that English is not their first language! (for the majority, anyway)) “Ok, I remember when I had to eat stinky tofu, century rotten eggs, fish eyes, japonese fish dryed into sugar (yokeee, but you know Natacha like it…), snake (that’s was good!), shark skin (I realy didn’t like it), chicken feet (it was not so bad!)(no really!), shark fin (that’s was good too!), and I am sure I am forgetting so many other strange stuff…” – Mathilde, France “THE GREEN EGG WHO WAS 3 MONTH OLD!!! For those who have already eaten this famous taiwanese egg, I don’t have to explain why it’s a memorable moment. For the other, just try it! It’s delicious, everybody can tell you! Try, try, try and never forget how good this egg was!” – Jerome, Belgium “When I had to eat at school for the first time, because every taiwanese f*cker was looking at me!” – Eduardo, Paraguay (Note: They really do stare at us like zoo animals. I think they expected us to secretly attempt to feed a second head hidden under our shirts.) “When I eat Muli oups…I should not tell you but she is hen hao tche.” – Audrey, France (Note: Referring to Muriel, another student there on exchange. Hen hao tche = very delicious) “The first time I ate tofu ’cause I felt like I have to go throw up.” – Eva, Germany “Probably on my first day here, when I ate one small octopus completely and discovered that one of its eyes stuck between my teeth, damn, that was disgusting!” – Lukas, Germany “Watermelons. I looooove watermelons….hey, I’d love a photograph of someone with a watermelon on their head…hey, I wonder if we can get someone to put this watermelon shell on their head…hey, I wonder who’s drunk and impressionable…hey, *Beth*” – Nina, Australia (Note: Yes, this happened. Yes, it was awesome. No, I don’t have a copy of the picture.) “The fight with chicken feet on michael’s house!” – Priscila, Brazil “There have actually been quite a few considering my eating habits: *Eating a plateful of fried bees because I was told they would make me beautiful. *Cho-Dofu –need I say more? *Eating every imaginable animal and body part. *Having a doctor yell at me because I don’t know the Chinese for ‘I have food poisoning as nobody seems to know the principles of basic hygiene.'” – Natalie, Australia In the US, our food is disguised. Chopped up, de-skinned, de-boned, beheaded…it’s almost as if meat falls onto your plate like magical meaty manna. In Taiwan, food is very in your face. “Look at me, I am a duck. Here are my feet, and here is my beak.” “Look at me, I am a fish, here are my scales and here are my cheeks.” Oftentimes, it’s looking back at you while you are looking at it. The Good
Shabu-Shabu restaurants were absolutely everywhere. (Although, come to think of it, I believe it’s Japanese in origin.) Each person has a pot of boiling water in front of them, and a plate of thinly-sliced meat and tofu and vegetables and fishballs and noodles. These things you dump into your pot, cook as desired, and then consume with various spicy sauces. Delicious. I wish that there were a few Shabu-Shabu restaurants interspersed among the approximately one bazillion teriyaki and pho restaurants in the Redmond area alone. This is one of the only times I think I ever saw Priscila attempt to eat something even remotely Taiwanese. Note that her prawn is still looking at her with sad little eyes. I could never eat my prawn–I couldn’t get past the eyes. Always looking at me. Always looking! “Pwease don’t eat me, look at this sad little tear that I am crying!” Zhen zhou nai chai, or bubble milk tea, was another favorite among exchange students. This comes in many different varieties–pudding milk tea, tea with chopped up bits of fruit in it instead of tapioca balls, tea and mangoes whipped up into some sort of delicious smoothie…it was always awesome. My favorite food memory would be when a large group of us gathered in a park, bought some bubble milk tea (with far far more bubbles than tea, in a very improper ratio) and sat in a circle and started shooting tapioca balls at one another through the giant straws. Raul dared me to try and shoot one in his mouth, from a good ten feet away. I loaded up three bubbles, took aim, and fired them with such deadly accuracy they hit him in the back of the throat, and he choked and fell over. Given one hundred chances, I could probably never pull that off again. Amazing. Dumplings, boiled, fried, juggled on the street…always good. Also good were the candied strawberries and tomatoes sold at night markets. They’d glaze them, impale them on a stick (more on usage of sticks further down), and sell ’em for the equivalent of $1 US.
Not much to say about this noodle advert but I rather like the flower that peeks up to cover his bumhole. Classy!
Dragon-Eye fruit is sold mostly around the time of the Lunar Festival, and you can get huge bunches on the cheap. They sell it here in specialty stores like Uwajimaya, but it’s not as fresh or as good.
Dragon Fruit, on the other hand, is just ok. It looks pretty fancy, but there’s not a whole lot of flavor to it. It’s quite mild. I suspect it’s named more for its appearance than for its taste.
Red bean cakes were surprisingly delicious. The beans are slightly sweetened, and made into a paste of sorts. Red beans are in EVERYTHING. Congee, cakes, popsicles, EVERYTHING. Taiwanese favor a hint of sweetness as opposed to the US’ “I DO NOT THINK WE CAN ADD ANY MORE SUGAR TO THIS WITHOUT YOUR TEETH INSTANTLY DYING, OH WHAT THE HELL, LET’S DO IT ANYWAY” method.
Dragon beard candy has a fluffy sugar outside, and a mixture of ground peanuts on the inside. This has to be eaten immediately, as the fluffy sugar will not be fluffy in a few hours. This is commonly found at night-markets as well.
Green onion pancakes aren’t really…pancakes, per se, more like onion tortillas. Especially delicious with cock sauce. Nio Lo Mien was a favorite of mine in Taiwan. It’s a spicy beef noodle soup, with super thick noodles and loaded with green onion and other veggies. Everything I’ve had in the US by the same name pales in comparison. Hongcouver has some stuff that comes close, but it’s still not exactly right. On days when my host family left me on my own, I’d go order it and bring it back to the apartment, tied up in a plastic baggie much in the same way that one would bring home a goldfish they won at the fair. On our way to a party, Beth and I were transferring aboveground at Taipei Main Station in front of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi where we were stopped by two men in Japanese kimono in front of a camera crew. They asked us to try some noodles that were in a cup, and then tell them what we thought, in Chinese.
The woman in the background was my cram school teacher Jennifer, the leader of Class C, whom we happened to bump into randomly there as well. Noodles were taste-tested, we exclaimed ‘hen hao tche, wo-men hun xiwan zrben ren!’ and voila! we were in a noodle commercial. Every single person in Taiwan saw this noodle commercial but us. I think I used up my 15 minutes of fame just in Taiwanese television appearances alone.
Raul eating his ‘delicious’ lunch. This is his ‘delicious’ face, wherein he attempts to portray that the food he is consuming borders on orgasmic. Beth and I always felt he looked constipated. This picture ALWAYS makes me laugh.
Cho Tofu (literally, ‘smell-bad tofu’) is a soft tofu that has been fermented in a unique vegetable and fish brine. The blocks of tofu smell rotten and fecal, especially when fried. Tracy 伯母 took me to a cho tofu stand once, as she called the taste ‘special’. We call retarded children ‘special’. I feel this terminology is strongly interconnected; possibly because only the retarded could get past the smell in the first place. I tried, OH HOW I TRIED TO PLEASE MY HOST MOTHER AND BE A GOOD EXCHANGE STUDENT AND NOT DISHONOR THE UNITED STATES, but I could not get more than one bite down. My pain, not even Bill Clinton felt it. Instead of an ice cream man, they have a cho tofu man. He walks up and down the streets in the evening with his fryer and his stinky vat of nastiness calling out “CHO! DOFU! CHO! DOFU!” The smell alone is enough to announce his presence. Really, the yelling is like punctuation to the scent. You can smell someone cooking cho tofu from blocks away.
The century egg is a Chinese food made by preserving duck or chicken eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice straw for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing. The yolk of the egg is concentrically variegated in pale and dark green colors while the egg white is dark brown and transparent like cola. It can also be made by soaking the egg in a brine of salt and lye for a few weeks (LYE!?!), or with lead oxide (would you like some poison with your food? mmmmm). It has been discovered that, once removed from the ‘white’, the yolk bounces like a rubber ball. Albeit, grosser.
Durian is just plain nasty. Some people think it smells like feces. I believe it smells more like vomit. Or death. Or death while vomiting. It’s the Janis Joplin of fruits. My third host family had durian in the house quite often…the whole place would REEK. Again, to please them, I tried some. It’s slimy. Somewhat vomitous. Bad, bad, bad. I can’t believe people risk their lives picking these things. This was the spread they laid out to us on the first day of the Taiwan Tour we took in March. That stuff along the bottom? Pig fat wrapped around bones. Just the fat. Mmmmmm.
Eva, Brittany, Beth, and Clelia chow down on some pig fat. The Taiwanese love food on sticks. Snacks on sticks, meals on sticks, everything is more delicious when impaled on some wood. Yes, those are starfish on sticks.
So much food on sticks! They’ve got… Grasshoppers on sticks… Fried silkworm pupae on sticks… and squid on sticks! Try your favorite food on a stick tonight, I guarantee it will be much more novel and even taste better! Words cannot describe the lovely lunch that Sylvie had packed for her. It’s a corn…something. Something plus vomit. Horrified by her lunch, Sylvie instead decided to go have a ‘snack’. The Ugly Priscila wasn’t ugly, not by far. Her attitude was, though. She wouldn’t try anything. ANYTHING. She lived at McDonalds, and even there she placed special orders because she would have nothing green on her burger. Her host family needed to make special food for her all the time, and eventually she got sent home because of it. That’s sad AND ugly. Chicken feet. I could never bring myself to try them. They were not nearly disguised enough for me. Far too…footy. Like, “Hi, just nibble around my claw, please!” But Mathilde liked them, so I’m putting them in this category instead of just plain BAD. When going to get dinner with Tracy 伯母 one evening, she explained to me that many stray dogs disappear during the winter as dog-meat is supposed to prevent colds. Strangely enough, only dogs with dark fur are supposed to have this mystical property. That’s UGLY. Not merely a sign advertising goat testicles for consumption, this is also an easy reference guide to check and see if the trendy asian tattoo you were planning on getting really means “Noble Spirit Dragon Warrior” or the far more common “Goat Testicle”. This was in the alley outside my second host family’s apartment. UGLY. Look at that shocked expression on his face. “I can’t believe they chopped my head off!” With as often as heads are left on in the majority of Taiwanese dishes, neither can I, Brother Rooster. Neither can I.