Have you noticed that my titles generally don’t make sense until you read the post? I don’t know, yet, if that’s a good thing or not. Either way, I’m going to keep it going.
Taiwan is something like three weeks ago, but I’m still finding things lodged in my journal or new photos that are worth writing about. Nay, fine folks, it needs to be written about. People needed to know about those street buns – at least my best friend did because she keeps talking about them. And people needed to know the kindness the monks in Taroko Gorge bestowed upon me and my traveling companion. And now people need to know about the crazy strange weird delicious unidentifiable alive (possibly) foods that crawl, skate, or swim around the streets of Taiwan.
One of our last days in the Republic of China, as Taiwan is called sometimes, we got up –worn out from a lot of explorations thus far – and hopped on a bus by our (that’s right, we claimed it) subway stop. We knew where we wanted to go this time, unlike that mishap with the bus “to the museum.” The only problem with this bus was that its driver seemed to have no regard for his or our lives. Taking mountainous turns at top-rate speed, stopping just short of running a red light into a busy intersection, almost making the bus go on two wheels as we halted at the stop that we guessed was ours (a theme in this trip, can’t you tell), the ride gave reason for having seatbelts on buses.
We bolted off the bus only to not know exactly where we were. There was a giant sign pointing to our day’s destination, which we found out after wandering the dilapidated streets of upper Yelieu.
This place was situated right on the coast, and was a beautifully small fishing town that had a small tourist tumor at its north end, because of the strange geological formations that someone stumbled upon a while back. What’s nice – and almost unbelievable – is that all of the tourism is concentrated into the Geopark itself and doesn’t spill into the environs.
So as we walked down the roads to what we thought was the peninsula that had the crazy rocks and a rock shaped like a queen’s head (mmhmm, anything’s possible with crazy rocks), we gawked at small hole in the wall shops and restaurants teaming with hard working people and stuffed with fresh seafood.
“I’m getting squid today” my friend pronounced as we passed about the twentieth fish tank full of squid. “Sounds good.”
He actually got his squid twice over that day. On the way into the park, we happened by a dried squid vendor (see: squid jerky). They over charged us and suggested we get twice the amount we wanted, but we just brushed it off as Tourist tax. The squid he picked out was sweet, sticky, nutty, and tasted a little like raisin bran.
The park itself was amazing. Not only were the rock formations extraterrestrial, but the day was idyllic and the landscape was breath taking. Teal blue waves crashing against blonde rocks jetting up to make a small mountain on a peninsula all underneath a deep clear blue sky dotted with supple clouds. But wait, that’s not all. This scene was backdropped by luscious green mountain ranges unadulterated by grey buildings. Just, coast, mountains and sky.
True to form, I made him walk around the park for about three hours more than he would have liked to, then we went and found squid. Not squid that you order off of a menu or from a stand. Why? Well two reasons: one, we couldn’t read the menu and two, he got up, beckoned for our waitress to walk outside with us, and pointed to the squid he wanted. She agreed, plucked it out of the tank, and started to prepare it.
If you’ve never had squid or octopus, then the best way to describe it is to say that “it’s all about the texture.” The animal itself doesn’t have much flavor, rather the dipping sauces that accompany the bite are what you enjoy. But the texture is distinct and unique. It’s rubbery but savory. It’s not like a rubber band, but not like a filet mignon. Absolutely not like a filet mignon.
For this meal, we dipped the fresh food in wasabi-soy sauce, a little chili sauce, and some other little bowl filled with liquid. I took the cabbage down quickly, and had some sashimi (not cooked) squid on the side. That squid was iced and crunchy crisp but still somehow chewy. It’s a meal that I’d recommend to anyone. If you have fears or are squeamish, get over yourself and get some squid. Especially if you make it to Taiwan.
But these kinds of oddities (ordering your meal from a fish tank that’s on the street) aren’t limited to seafood, nor are they limited to the day-time (here it is folks, the segue from day to night, but the same).
When we got back from one adventure or another, had had our dinner and were still hungry for more experiences. Our unstated bodies and minds headed to what are famous in Taiwan: the night markets. These markets are all open-air pedestrian malls that are jam-packed with goods, services (see: feet massages, hair cutters), restaurants, street food, street performances and the obvious: the pedestrian.
Night markets are scattered all over Taiwan, and we had hit up a few here and there. We went to one that was selling snake for dinner (complete with display pythons to attract customers), and one that was completely dead. This one, the Shilla Night Market, had neither of those components. It was a giant endeavor that left us lost a few times. Once in a gaming arcade and once behind a street vendor trying to flee the cops.
All in all, this place was amazing. I could have walked around here for ages and could have sustained myself based on all of the foods available. And not only was there quantity, but quality and diversity! We saw the traditional Taiwanese treats (like the buns, organ meats, and small sweet fried doughs), American goodies (see: hot dogs), some Chinese foods and even some Korean foods. But the most important thing was that there was bubble tea every block of this night market, if not five bubble tea places (bubble tea: milky sweet black or green tea poured over a mountain of black tapioca balls, shaken, and served to you with a straw large enough to slip up all of the “bubbles.” See: worth spending every last penny, yuan, or won on).
With bubble tea and camera in hand, Taiwanese food smells drifting around a night market, and a fat lady singing on a stage just by the subway entrance, the trip to Taiwan was both a little too surreal and twelve hours from being over.