First thing I noticed as the train pulled into Taichung (台中 tái-zhōng) was the massive construction project building a new train station. The first of many such projects along the rail line I was to later learn.
The second thing I noticed was the massive jump in hotel rates. Sure there is a new station going in. Sure there is a brand new expensive hotel across the street. Sure you look like you have put up a new LED sign. But really doubling the rates? It looks an awful lot like it is the same dive it use to be.
So we went a block further back off the main road and found a decent place, actually nicer for rates that seemed more Taichung appropriate.
Taichung is where we attended language school and therefor holds a lot of memories. So most of our time there is spent retracing old steps. Seeing what has stayed the same and what has changed.
The day after arriving we wandered over to our old neighborhood by the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art to walk down memory lane so to speak or at least the wonderful parkway adjoining the museum. Over all things there have not changed to much. Like the 向上市場 (Xiàng Shàng Shì Chǎng), the market I was “forced” to shop at before I could barely speak a word of Mandarin. Nor did I realize that pretty much every one there was speaking Taiyu anyway (I still can barely speak Mandarin, but at least I usually know when someone is speaking Chinese and when they are speaking Taiyu). The Market was and is busy, crowded, confusing, and completely awesome. Now however, I don’t find it nearly as intimidating as I did all those years ago.
Other things were refreshingly the same as well. Such as the line of customers still wraps around the block at 美村北平烤鴨 (Měi Cūn Běi Píng Kǎo Yā) the roast duck place on Mei Cun Rd, 1st Section #214 (台中市台中市西區美村路一段214號). It really is as good as the line suggests. But it is strictly take away so no chance to indulge this trip.
All this wandering around the old haunts was specifically devised to put us in the right place at lunch time. Just so I could visit a place I have not been to in years. The 黑肉麵 Hēi Ròu Miàn at ＃462 Mei Cun Road 1st Section (台中市西區美村路一段462號). There are several locations for this restaurant around Central Taiwan as I understand it, but this is the only one I’ve been to. It ain’t much to look at, and their food ain’t fancy, but boy is it good.
Specifically we go there for one thing, there namesake the 黑肉麵. I figure if you are going to specify something in the name of a joint it is probably going to be the best thing on the menu. The 黑肉麵 it is their 排骨 (pái gǔ), think thin, breaded, fried pork chop, served with little pickled veg and accompanied by 三色丸麵湯 (sān sè wán miàn tāng) or three color (meat and fish) ball noodle soup.
In a nation full of 排骨 (pái gǔ) I still think their chop stands out. Their pork chop is coated in what is probably sweet potato starch and something magical which I do not know, then deep fried. So it is crispy, but not oily or soggy like a lot of other lunch box pork chops.
I waited years for this and it did not disappoint. Still amazingly good.
Then off to wander some more and maybe find a something to drink.
No visit to Taichung would be complete, for us, without at least one stop at the Match Cafe for an Earl Grey milk tea and a Rose Latte. The Match has grown a lot over the years, but somehow the tea tastes exactly the same as it did years ago. What has changed however, is its address, it hasn’t physically moved. Just for some reason unbeknownst to me they up and renamed the main road through the city. So the Match is now at 902 Taiwan Blvd., 2nd Section (臺灣大道二段902號). It use to be called 台中港路 (Tái Zhōng Gǎng Lù), I am just too curmudgeonly to appreciate that change.
After a quiet respite at the cafe we were ready to face the city again. So we thought we would head over to the Jade Market (文心玉市 wén xīn yù shì). It is near the corner of the intersection of Wen Xin Rd. and Taiwan Blvd. We went there just because we were in the area and it had been a while. Besides it is one of those things you should do. It was still the same crowded, energetic place, crazy packed with all kinds of gifts of the traditional nature. And somehow I managed not to buy anything. Mostly because I didn’t want to pack ceramics around the Island for the next two weeks. It was reassuring that it remained rather unchanged. Even though I wonder how the construction of the large elevated roadway out front was going to affect its atmosphere when it is completed.
Afterwards we tried to navigate across part of the city by memory. With varying success. We finally ended up over at Jingmin 1st Street (精明一街) off of Dalong Rd. (大隆路) which is the shopping area we were heading for. That is where we came across a VW microbus that was converted into a food truck. Maybe “micro” does not do it justice. These things are tiny. I am not sure if I could even fit it one, but they are very cute.
This one happened to be selling 甜不辣 Tián Bù Là which is a transliteration of the Japanese word “Tempura.” Regardless of the transliteration it is not what we in the west would think of as tempura. It is not seafood and vegetables deep fried in a light and flaky panko batter. Instead this tempura, owing possibly to a different Japanese etymology, is fried fish cakes, sort of similar to Korean eomuk. These fried fish cakes are often braised in a hot broth and are a very popular street food in Taiwan.
Finally knowing exactly where we were we made our way through the Jing Cheng (精誠) numbered streets. Which are filled with somewhat colloquial houses that really stand out in a city of large apartment blocks. Then back towards the hotel after a few more stops in the old neighborhood.
It was a short excursion to Taichung and it filled me with a lot of memories. It is a great city and I am sure I did not even scratch the surface of it in all the time I spent there. Certainly not this time, we did not revisit even a smidgen of the places I would like to see again. But time is of the essence.