Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Taiwanese Cuisine

So, I am sure that you are all wondering how our tummies are fairing here with us on our little Asian adventure. The answer is... pretty well, actually (sorry to disappoint anyone). We haven't, to our knowledge, ingested any felines, canines, rodents or anything else that might disquiet our delicate American digestive systems. And, as a quick update to our faithful and thoughtful readers, Chris has made drastic improvements in his bamboo-handling skills. He now dines with the ease and agility of a samurai warrior (for comedy's sake, let's pretend that samurais were Taiwanese). We have sampled quite a bit of traditional Taiwanese fare. Some made the winner list and some... well let's just say that some culinary experiences will remain on the "once in a lifetime" list.
Let's start with the winners. One tasty treat that has quickly moved in as one of our favorites is the drink "milk tea". This is an iced drink that is kind of like a cross between southern sweet tea and a chai tea latte. It is cavity-generatingly sweet but with a gingery, nutmegy, some other spice I don't know-y flavor. It is delicious and can serve both as a whistle-wetter and a sweet-tooth satisfier. As one who appreciates multi-taskers, milk tea has officially earned a place on the winners list. As a twist, you can order your milk tea with "pearls". These are tapioca-style beads that they will throw in your beverage free-of-charge for an added texture experience. I myself am not a fan of said pearls but I won't judge anyone who is. Another treat that we happened upon is something that we have affectionately named "egg crepes". We really have no idea what they are actually called because the vendor who sells them speaks as much English as I do Chinese so there is a lot of pointing and gesturing when we order. These egg crepes are dough that has been rolled very thin and then fried in a wok. While it is frying, the chef cracks open an egg or two (depending on your taste) and fries it up with the dough. Then, he pulls it out and brushes on some sweet and sour-type sauce, rolls it up and puts it in a bag to collect all the delicious grease that drips off. Though it doesn't serve as many purposes as the milk tea, it is just as satisfying. There are many other tasty things but let's move on to the once-in-a-lifetimers since we all know that's what you all have been waiting for.
One of the things that strikes me most as funny are the desserts that are served here. Whenever you go into a pastry shop, peruse a dessert menu or are offered candy, there is one ingredient that you will undoubtedly find: red bean paste. In the States, we are used to our red beans being salty, spicy, bland, etc. but I had not ever heard of beans being served as a dessert item. In fact, when I first heard someone talking about it, I had to have them clarify that, yes, they were indeed referring to red beans as being sweet. Not being one to judge, I decided to give them a whirl. And, I'll just tell you. They taste pretty much exactly what you think they would taste like. My brother's description fits them most perfectly: "It's as if you went to Casa Bonita (or any other low-quality Mexican restaurant) and you accidentally spill some honey on your refried beans." And, red beans are not actually the only legume that inspires the Taiwanese to make desserts. We have had cold, sweet split pea soup at lunch on more than one occasion. Anyone up for a taste?
The last thing that I will describe for you is a treat that a parent bought as a gift for all of the teachers. Let me say now that I think that this is a relatively expensive food and a very thoughtful gift for this parent to give us. But, since I don't think that she is reading our blog, I'll describe this Taiwanese delight for you all. It is called a moon cake. It is a flaky pastry about the size of your fist. When you first bite into it, the dough is sweet and you can tell that it has been filled with something. At first, I thought that it was the bean paste inside. However, after venturing farther into the ball of dough, I began to notice that the filling was saltier than the bean paste... and stringier. Our final conclusion is that the filling was indeed... pork. Yes, dear readers, moon cakes are sweet pork-filled pastries. And at that thought, I shall leave you.


The Stinson Family said...

Wow. Am I hearing you say that you need us to send a weekly package full of REAL sweets?

Abbey said...

Oh my... sounds, well, err... interesting. THat last paragraph really made me appreciate our good old Krispy Kremes here in the states.
Oh and as far as adding tapioca balls or "boogers" is what came to mind, to my drink...I'm with you. NO THX!!
Glad you guys are feeling good tho... could have been bad, I would imagine!
Just eat lots of yummy sushi!!
And congrats to CHris on his bamboo skills!

Alice Robbins said...

I love your experience! My food here is very typical compared to yours! Well, we have carp for Christmas along with beet soup. . . I don't like either one!

Keep up this stuff! I love it!

Priscilla Chapman said...

hi there!
okay so my daddy, Tim Chapman, gave me your blog....he got it from Bart Brookins which is a good friend of my dad's. I actually just arrived in Taiwan about 12 days ago and am teaching English here for a year. I'm in Hualien City--the east coast of Taiwan. I'm with a ministry and there are about 25 of us teaching in different areas this year. We're all meeting up in Taipei in two weeks to meet before the school year starts. I'm working camps right now at my school in Hualien.
I'd love to hear from you guys. How long will you be here for? Where exactly are y'all?
blessings. :)

Ashley said...

Hi Priscilla! Good to hear from you. Bart told us that you were here so we were hoping to hear from you! We are actually in Taipei and will be here for at least a year. What is your email address or phone number?

AmyJ said...

The milk tea is yummy. I've had it a few times (in New York, then at a friend's apartment). Have you had fresh tofu yet? It's really delicious, and not at all like the stuff you get here. Give it a whirl.