Magic Carpet Journals
Taiwan offers a Taste of the Orient
My taste buds were tempted by a variety of the foods offered while touring Taiwan
Story and pictures by M. Maxine George
Taiwan offers the North American visitor an initiation into the food and culture of the Orient without cultural shock. My friend Lenora and I arrived in Taipei via an Eva Air flight from Vancouver. Our flight had been comfortable and did a lot to sell me on the convenience of using Eva Air and Taipei as the gateway to the Pacific Rim Countries.
As our arrival in Taipei was early in the morning, Dalton, our guide and Jimmy, our driver were quickly taking us to a 24 Hour food stop for breakfast. We weren't particularly hungry, as we had been well fed on the flight, however, Dalton had been up early and had not had time to eat before picking us up. We did not regret making the stop to eat though, as it was a good introduction to the food that would be offered to us in Taiwan. For starters, there was an English menu, certainly helpful when it comes to choosing for ourselves. Dalton kindly explained anything we did not grasp in the offerings. We soon discovered, that while food in Taiwan would be different, it was for the most part, not hotly spiced and therefore quite palatable to me. Thus began a gastronomic education that proved to be quite fascinating - and varied on each occasion. We always ate well and sometimes came home hoping to duplicate dishes that we were served. I would be disingenuous if I suggested that I tried everything. I am a traveler, who eats to live, not one who lives to eat. Thus, my main objective, while traveling, is to chose food that will satisfy my needs as pleasurably as possible. Taiwan made that easy.
For Taiwanese wishing to pick up a meal on the way home from work or shopping, a large market in Taipei has a multitude of merchants offering a vast array of freshly prepared food, ready to serve at home. The smell of the food and the colorful array presented prove very tempting. There is usually a wide variety of fruit available on breakfast buffets, some of it unusual to North Americans. I took an opportunity to try dragon fruit while in Taiwan. We saw a plantation where it was growing while driving in the country.
There are thirteen indigenous tribes in Taiwan. I had the opportunity to visit several of them and eat in their restaurants, while traveling around the country. They are tourist friendly and sometimes provided entertainment. The experience was always enjoyable. The food was tasty and well presented. In most cases there were numerous courses, brought to your table or served buffet style, similar to the Chinese style at home.
A very important cultural tradition in Taiwan is the Tea Ceremony. We had some interesting opportunities to experience this ceremony. During a beautiful drive through the mountainous center of the island of Taiwan, we stopped at The Museum of Pinglin Tea Country. We are told this is one of only three tea museums in the world. This unusual little museum is surrounded by tea plantations, growing in terraces on the slopes of the mountains. On an opposite slope, overlooking the village, is a golden goddess. On our arrival, we were met by Janet, a young lady who had traveled from Taipei especially to be our guide for our tour of the museum. Janet spoke excellent English, having spent time in Vancouver improving her language skills a few years before. Here we watched a film to learn the intricacies of the growth of the tea and also the art of steeping and serving tea and the customs involved. There were numerous interesting displays relating to tea. Following this we were taken to a tea room at the top of the building, where Janet performed the tea ceremony for us. As we were preparing to leave, Mr. Toy came running up to us. He was in charge of the museum and insisted that we must return to the gift shop, where we again took part in another tea ceremony, this time drinking their special, very expensive, award winning brand of tea. We went on our way having a much better understanding of the traditions and importance of tea in the lives of the people of Taiwan.
We also visited a Tea Shop in Taiwan for lunch one day. The main floor of the modern spacious shop offered a huge variety of tea for sale, along with tea sets and paraphernalia relating to the use and serving of tea. Upstairs in the dining room, we discovered that all of the food offered had been made with tea as an ingredient. The variety of flavour was interesting. It was a very enjoyable lunch.
Another experience with food in Taiwan was a Mongolian Hot Pot. We could walk around the display counter and pick out the raw food that we wished to try. Then that food would be cooked by the chefs on a huge round grill in plain view, or it could be taken back to our table and cooked in a kind of soup pot on a burner in the middle of the table. A dessert table offered a wide variety of desserts. The one that surprised me was a red bean soup. It looked a bit like chili con carne, but was sweet, not spiced and quite delectable. I chose that again when the opportunity arose.
Much to my surprise, our visit to Taiwan had offered a variety of opportunities, including a wide diversity of pleasant gastronomical experiences.
Stories and pictures by M. Maxine George
© 2011 Magic Carpet Journals. All rights reserved
Last Updated on November 01, 2011 by M. Maxine George editor.