Strolls and Food Fights (An Obvious Pairing)

Some people walk to from point A to point B. Some people walk out of necessity, some for fun, some people walk fast for exercise, some don’t walk at all, and some simply stroll to enjoy the day.  I walk to find new things.

And I walk a lot. I’ll walk fast or slow; the pace doesn’t matter. I just want to see everything in between here and there. I want to bring myself there, and walking seems to be about the simplest (and cheapest, mind you) way to get from A to Z.

Now this theoretical enjoyment of physical transportation has it’s high and lows. Take, for instance, when – on a whim and few pumps of adrenaline – my friend and I braved a rockslide road in Taroko Gorge, to hike up the side of a mountain and find a Buddhist temple. The temple and the views surrounding it were spectacular, almost sublime. But they had nothing on the Buddhist monk’s kindness. As we, two white guys, toured the temple, bowing awkwardly at every deity we saw, the monks tried to take us in like two little scared babies.  We slowly agreed and followed them through the first, second, and third floor, and finally stopped when they beckoned us into their kitchen. Taking our bags off, then placed two sets of chop sticks at a table near other monks enjoying their lunch, and arm-grabbed us over to the food set out on a table at one end of the kitchen. They opened up their cabinet and handed us a bowl and pointed. We obviously spoke no Mandarin, but we bowed generously and started on the food.

Chuckling is my sign of awkwardness, and I’m sure the monks caught on quickly since they started to charade at me “eat up!”

So I did. I filled my bowl full of layers. Layer one was noodles sautéed in green onions, garlic, and soy sauce, followed by braised marinated tofu, sautéed greens, some other vegetable that I have no idea what it was other than savory, sweet, and hearty, and topped my bowl off with a dessert bun – pink and filled with the red bean paste I know and love so much.  The noodles were sticky and clumped together with the thick umani flavor and scent of Taiwan, all capped off with the crisp taste of green onion. The sautéed greens and unknown vegetable melted in my mouth. I touched them slightly with a reverent bite and away they slipped when I really wish they hadn’t. They were the type of vegetables you would feel a kid stubborn enough to say they only eat candy and bread. They would have loved these vegetables.

But we didn’t eat forever because we were trying to be respectful and modest and not exacerbate the typical stereotype of gluttonous Americans. But given the opportunity, I’m sure we could have put away all the food set out. Especially the pink dessert buns, which can be summed up by adjectives ending in “y” (only the best, you know) – fluffy, squishy, yummy.

We finished our meals, washed our bowls only to find that the monks had put out 3 pieces of fruit for each of us and a few little pastry treats stamped with a pink seal on top. They smiled, bowed, we bowed more, and headed out for more Taroko Gorge.

This is an ultimate success of my longing, desire, passion for walking and stumbling upon a treasure. When I travel, walking adventures happen on the daily.

See now, walking can also have its lows. (reader: How?! Blast you! You want to drive, dear writer?! ) (writer: No sweet reader, just… sometimes walking can get a little aggravating.) (reader: never!) (writer: hear me out crazy fool.)

See day four of Taiwan:

My friend and I planned on really sight seeing this day. You know, hitting up all of the photo opportunities to pose and say “hey we were here!” See: temples, monuments, the museum, being a tourist to the max. Instead – after an incident with buses, and where we were actually going – we ended up just North of Taipei in a National Park with hiking trails and a couple of other travelers eager to hike with us… oops.

By the time we got back to Taipei, we were hungry. It was to be expected – being that it was about dinner-time and we had just hiked for over 4 hours up a mountain. Not a hill. A mountain. So obviously we were looking for a restaurant. That shouldn’t be hard – given that there are about twenty restaurants per block – right? That’s what normal people would think, but I – the fanatic – need the best.

“We just don’t do food the same! You research to find the best when I just take what’s in front of me!” He yelled, completely fed up with my one-word responses because my attention was centered on his iTouch and restaurant reviews. I couldn’t argue with him, I was making him walk for 40 minutes (after 4 hours) for a restaurant and by this point, we were both low blood sugar. What a good combination.

What I’m trying to say is: I made him hike more. I made him hike to find the best. I made him hike to explore in the city. It was for a good cause – a restaurant with rave reviews – but still, it was another fifty minutes. He just couldn’t understand why we couldn’t eat at this one or that one! They were buffets (we were looking for a vegetarian buffet) and they were vegetarian and they looked good. But they didn’t have people in there. They didn’t have… my previous approval. I hesitate. I always think: is this the absolute best?

It turns out that we found the restaurant around minute 52 – my friend reminded me.  It was a small Buddhist Vegetarian Buffet that cost about 7 dollars for all you can eat. It was a giant spread of vegetables that I couldn’t identify. It had a some food to accommodate the foreigner (see: sushi, tomato salad, rice wrapped in sugary sweet dough) but mainly foods that I couldn’t recognize, just savor. I walked out of there and my friend articulated everything I was thinking “That was so worth it. I wanted to eat there for two hours. I also just think I ate about twenty new vegetables but couldn’t cross them off any “to eat” list, because I couldn’t identify them if you paid me.” Perfect.

During the meal, there was an actual party in my mouth. The guests were: sweet rice, glazed lotus root, Asian-style pot-pie, sautéed little hot peppers, grilled tofu, a deep fried vegetable mixture, a broiled piece of eggplant soaked with seasame oil toped with carrot, cabbage and jalepeno peppers. It was three plates filled up. It never had to end, but some how, it did. In 20 minutes.

That’s right, we searched for our restaurant for twice as long. So it goes.


2 thoughts on “Strolls and Food Fights (An Obvious Pairing)

  1. I very much remember doing the walking to find the perfect place to eat with you and Michele in Italy! Have to say, I learned to follow, you do find the best:)
    LOVE the pictures

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