Well it wasn’t really a holiday and it was too short of a trip to even fully recover from the jet lag, but I did snap some pics.
First off I would like to say, it has been a long time since I’ve flown to Taiwan from New England…I hate it. It has to be some of the most grueling flights ever, 12 hour time difference and a full 20 plus hours in the air. And because of the grueling flight, wicked jet lag, punishing itinerary, and the fact I am writing this retrospectively, the details may be a bit fuzzy at times. In fact without the pictures I might not remember much of any of it. So bear with me as I piece it together.
So after after a few hours of sleep and a few more of just laying in bed exhausted, but awake 6:30 A.M. finally rolls around. At which point I figure it is probably late enough to go find some breakfast. And by find I mean walk out of the door of the Taipei Teachers Hostel and walk half a block to the 新民生豆漿店 (xīn mín shēng dòu jiāng diàn), the same breakfast place I go to every time I am in Taipei. I think the 永和豆漿大王 （Yǒng hé dòu jiāng dà wáng) down the street the other way has better salty soy milk (鹹豆漿 xián dòu jiāng), but I like this place’s rice roll (飯糰 fàn tuán) better.
In addition to my usual fàn tuán and soy milk there was something else I’ve been looking forward to for some months now. Something I meant to get last time I was in Taiwan, but just couldn’t fit it in with all the other eating. That being the 燒餅油條 (shāo bǐng yóu tiáo). Which is essentially a split, flaky, baked, rough puff pastry, the shāo bǐng enveloping the tangy, crispy, fried yóu tiáo. It is probably not all that healthy, but it is surprisingly filling. And should be experienced at least once.
Breakfast in Taiwan is the best. Mostly because it is cheap, tasty, and filling. Though the fast paced nature of sales and therefor the seemingly anxious demeanor of the sales people is a bit of a shock first thing in the morning. But (probably due to the help of my better half) I seem to get through it.
So after breakfast my aforementioned better half is off to a conference and I am left with some time on my hands to wander around a bit.
Which means even though I am jet lagged and feeling the heat I set out to hit a spot I noticed last time I was in Taipei. So I wandered down the narrow little alley of the Chenzhong Market (城中市場 chéng zhōng shì chǎng) to find the rather well known 老牌牛肉拉麵大王 (lǎo pái niú ròu lā miàn dà wáng), which roughly translates to “Old Plate Beef Ramen King” (Address: No. 7, Lane 46, Section 1, Chongqing S Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City).
The first thing you will notice about Lao Pai’s is the setting. Far from being the dreadful, shiny, posh, name brand, upmarket Taipei this is the old Taipei. You wind your way down the alley filled market stalls crowding the edges, leaving at best only a few feet of walking space. The corrugated and tarpaulin awnings leave only a narrow, irregular gap for sunlight to illuminate the path. And near the end of one of these lanes is a very crowded restaurant hawking beef noodles. So crowded in fact that, as I suspected, I had to sit at one of the tables huddled under an awning across the alley. I don’t know how one would be so lucky as to get a seat inside this tiny place.
The second thing you notice of course is the noodles. Beef noodles are, by some, considered the national dish of Taiwan. Others would argue against that notion, since while it was invented in Taiwan it was invented by Chinese who came over after they lost the civil war in 1949. And to add to that, prior to that eating beef was considered by many Taiwanese to be taboo. That said, nowadays you will find beef noodles all over the island. Witch means there is a lot of variability in quality and style. The places that have garnered a longstanding reputation have for a reason. And while I happen to love the setting for this place, it is famous for the food not the atmosphere.
So what makes a good beef noodle soup? Well it is more than just the braised beef to be sure, the noodles and broth really make this dish (along with a good helping of pickled greens). The noodles here are thick with just the right amount of chewiness to them. I don’t think I’ve had noodles this good since grandma’s homemade chicken noodle soup and that was thirty years ago. The broth, oh wow, the broth. Now that was just amazing, thick and rich with a bit of spice and heat. Some of the best I’ve had in Taiwan I am definitely coming back here next time.
So after my beef noodle epiphany I wandered around the market area a bit. Which is where I came across a strange fruit. Nearly the size of a volleyball, the outside is black as coal, and the inside is a bit tannish and with sort of grainy looking texture, it started life as a pomelo. Which was then hollowed out, the pulp mixed with a variety of herbs then stuffed back into the skin. Where it undergoes a lengthy drying process. The end result is, well, rather medicinal. It think they are good for head colds or something.
Well I think I will have to do more research on those later.
Generally I am not overly bothered by the heat, but it is a bit of shock on top of the jet lag. But I had to seek refuge this time.
So after a quick rest up and cool off back at the hotel I was off to wander around the long linear green space that runs from the Taipei Main Station up to Tatung University. Partially the reason for this bit of wandering was some reconnaissance, to find a place I’ve been to a long time ago, but have since forgot where it is at. But more on that in part 2. Beyond my own desire to track down a particular spot the green space is an interesting strip of park that runs above the red line of the MRT (subway). There are numerous little shops and sights to see along the way. Including the Museum of Contemporary Arts. Things you would otherwise miss if you were below ground. Still it has the convenience of close proximity to MRT stops in case you get tired or want to escape the weather (heat or rain as the case may be).
With the daylight waning I headed down to National Chengchi University to meet up with my better half.
So with the day exhausted and rather exhausted ourselves we headed over the familiar surrounds of 咕咕麻油雞，麻辣臭豆腐 Gū Gū Má Yóu Jī Má Là Chòu Dòu Fu for what else, but a bowl of 麻油雞 (má yóu jī) sesame oil chicken and a bowl of 麻辣鴨血臭豆腐 má là yā xiě chòu dòu fu, the hot and spicy ducks blood and stinky tofu soup. It was good to be back.