Tainan (台南 Tái nán) is regarded as the oldest city in Taiwan, site of the Dutch Fort Zeelandia, was the former capital, still claims to be the “cultural capital”, and is exceptionally dense in historically significant sites. Which makes it all the more egregious that we had never been there. This was not going to be a visit of any significant length either. Just a bit of familiarization for future visits. Baby steps, baby steps.
Basically we were only stopping by Tainan for lunch and quick look around. So we got off the train, stopped by the tourist information stand, and crossed the street to the bus stop. Riding the buses in Taiwan has got even more convenient since it seems all of them use the same Easy Card (悠遊卡 yōu yóu kǎ) that you use for the Taipei Metro. You can just add money to the card at the 7-11s and such. Makes traveling super easy.
At the bus stop there was a larger map of Tainan and we decided on Anping (安平 Ān píng) for a destination. Anping was the site of the earliest Fujian settlement on the island and it’s former Fujinese name and pronunciation 大員 Tāi-ôan is possibly the predecessor of the name Taiwan itself. Sounds like a good place to start.
We got off the bus by the Anyi bridge and strolled around a bit. After walking down a couple narrow streets we came to the 天后宮 (Tiān hòu gōng), the local Mazu (媽祖 Mā zǔ) Temple. By the way the 天后宮 (Tiān hòu gōng), is not to be confused with the 大天后宮 (Dà tiān hòu gōng), a couple of miles away.
Not even really scratching the surface it is already getting to be time for lunch. The throngs of visitors on the adjacent street must mean that it is the place to go. That street is the Anping Old Street, touted as the oldest street in Taiwan. Sounds like a perfect place to get one of Taiwan’s traditional street foods, the oyster omelet. There was no shortage of sellers, so we just picked one with a few free seats.
Oyster omelets are referred to by their Taiyu (Taiwanese) pronunciation é ā jiān. Written as 蚵仔煎 and would be pronounced hé zǐ jiān in Mandarin, but it never is. Basically it is oysters, egg, sweet potato starch batter, bean sprouts, and some greens fried up on a griddle. Then served with a thick sauce, often of the sweet hot variety. It has a bit of chew (“Q”) from the sweet potato starch, a bit of crunch from the bean sprouts, and a slight briney seafood flavor from the oysters.
Damnit, damnit, damnit. Before the oyster omelet arrived at our table I realized there was one other thing I should have ordered. As in, I seen someone else get one. That would be 棺材板 (guān cai bǎn) coffin bread, a very thick slice of bread is first fried then stuffed with a thick mix of meat and veges, kind of a Taiwanese pot pie. Which I shamefully have to admit I’ve never had. And had forgotten all about…to the point that I did not recognize it written on the menu.
Thought we should better get a snack for the road, er rails before we go. So we stopped by Li Peanut Brittle (阿麗花生糖 Ā lì huā shēng táng) for a peanut roll (花生捲 huā shēng juǎn). My favorite being the 香菜花生捲 (xiāng cài huā shēng juǎn), the peanut roll wrapped around coriander leaves (cilantro). It is sweet and fragrant, and very traditional.
To make the peanut rolls, first a soft peanut brittle is made with maltose and peanuts, then that is fed through a set of rollers and coated with crushed peanuts. This sheet of chewy peanut candy is then rolled and cut into pieces.
Hot (yes in January) and tired we hopped back on the bus and back to the train station.
Both to and from Anping I was pretty much glued to the window of the bus as we passed one historic site after another. There is a lot to see in Tainan, in the future I will have to spend more time there.