After far too long I finally had a chance to return to Taiwan for three weeks following X-mas. It was a good trip and the weather was not bad, especially if you consider January in most places in the US. However, now that I am back in New England and very much snow bound I have time to wade though my holiday snaps and try to find the highlights regarding both food and travel.
Alas three weeks is not nearly long enough to eat everything I wanted to in Taiwan. But I did what I could, revisited some places, hit some places I meant to go to before but never got around to, and generally tried as many things as I could both old and new.
Out of necessity A trip to Taiwan starts and ends in Taipei (though should include much more of the island). So That is where I will start.
We got into Taipei a couple days before New Years and found our usual hotel, The Wing, booked up. Luckily we found a room at the Teachers Hostel. I was glad that we found someplace nearby. If for no other reason than for the sake of jet lag it is nice to be in familiar surroundings. Plus the location just a couple stops south of the main station makes navigating the city’s metro system easy, not to mention I rather like the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial area first thing in the morning.
First things first let’s get some breakfast. 早餐 (zao can), breakfast is probably my favorite meal in Taipei. You can get a very full for very little money and it gives you enough energy to start the day and with enough protein to stick with you. Taipei easily has the best breakfast selection on the island. Especially if you are looking for something a bit on the traditional side.
One of my old favorites is a little breakfast place, the sign outside simply says 豆漿 (Dou Jiang), on the corner of Nanhai Rd and Chongqing S Rd 3rd Section, opposite the Post Office. I have been going here since I first came to Taiwan. I am addicted to their soy milk (I prefer half sugar), radish cake, and their sticky rice roll (飯糰 fan tuan). They have the best sticky rice roll in the neighborhood and that and the soy milk keeps me coming back.
But there is also another place nearby that I have been meaning to try and this time I made a point of stopping in. A couple blocks closer to the the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial at #8 Nanhai Rd is one of the numerous locations for Yonghe Soy Milk King (永和豆漿大王 Yonghe Doujiang DaWang). Purveyors of traditional breakfasts throughout Taipei.
I walked by many times in the past. Even stopping once in a while to watch the workers in the front of the shop rolling, stretching, and frying youtiao which is enthralling in itself, but it is the salty soy milk that finally drew me in. It did not disappoint. A bit sour, salty and fragrant, excellent. I definitely recommend the place for both the salty soy milk and their youtiao, but I still think the sticky rice roll down the road at the aforementioned place is superior.
After you have had a hearty, soy soaked breakfast you can head over to the park surrounding the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. Where you can see all the old folks who will make you feel bad about not keeping up on that New Years resolution regarding daily exercise.
All this watching people exercise is bound to make a body hungry. So it could be time for a snack or even Second Breakfast. Either way stop by and grab a cong zhua bing 蔥抓餅. At the stall on Nanhai Rd just down from the Yonghe Soy Milk King location.
A cong zhua bing is a popular snack in Taiwan and should not be confused with the, possibly more familiar, “scallion pancake” or cong you bing 蔥油餅. Sort of close but not quite. Both have chopped green onions, or 蔥 (cong). Both are called pancakes, which maybe a little confusing of a term because while they are both fried, neither of them are batter pancakes. Rather both the cong zhua bing and the cong you bing are sort of a rough puff pastry filled with chopped green onions. Though a cong you bing is generally flatter and served by itself.
A cong zhua bing on the other hand is fluffier and lighter in texture. Due to both how it is rolled out, producing more layers, and the adept spatula work that is used in frying it up on a griddle. Sort of a spinning, beating, kung fu action that is mesmerizing in its own right. Beyond the texture a cong zhua bing is also usually served with a fried egg and other toppings of your choice and of course sauce. Then rolled up sort of like a shawarma or a loose burrito.
After that you may need to do a little more walking and just down Nanhai Rd a few blocks is the National History Museum and the Taipei Botanical Garden, where you can also find scores of old people exercising first thing in the morning.
Next up Elevensies.