Day 016: Meals to Kill a King
I'm in Taipei to eat and explore. Not traveling, just working while hanging out in a foreign land. I take eating very seriously. Ask me if I want to try it and the answer is yes. Especially if I've never tried it before. Every meal is big, big enough for a king, and often I have 2-3 a day to make any royal gout flame with fear.
I met up with an American friend, Chris, who has been living in Taiwan for more than a year. He has a lot of insight on being a foreigner in Taipei, which is a welcoming place. He answers all my, "How do you make this happen?" over hot pot. Hot pot is a buffet of raw ingredients you cook yourself in a pot of broth kept hot by a burner inside each table. Your first choice is between normal and spicy broth for the pot. Off you go to the food station where there are hundreds of fresh ingredients to choose from such as: cabbage, carrots, peppers, beans, asparagus, mushrooms, fish cakes, meat/fish balls, dumplings, buns, hunks of fish, squid, shrimp, beef, oysters, mussels, scallops, dried noodles, tempura things, and much more I can't identify. There is a drink station with hot and cold tea, juice and sodas. Don't miss the dipping sauce area to mix a series of 7ish sauces with scallions, sesame, and chilis to create the perfect sauce for your perfect selection of anything you feel like eating. Variety is the emphasis as long as you don't go into decision shock. Did I mention there's an ice cream bar of more than 15 flavors and soft serve!
Its very casual, and fun. You can't really mess this up as long as you can recognize the difference between cooked and raw food. I ordered spicy broth for my hot pot. It came with a purplish black opaque jelly. I sorta thought it was marinated tofu that had absorbed the dark color of the spicy broth. It tasted neutral and satisfying with an umami flavor. Vegetarians beware: this was not tofu, but pig's blood. If its a dark black/brown/purple in Asia it probably contains blood. That being said blood is pretty yummy, and there is nothing to fear.
After a drawn out and pleasant meal we set off for a walk towards the Sun Yat Sen memorial and Taipei 101. Dr. Sun Yat Sen is the over thrower of the Qing Dynasty and first president of the Republic of China. Perhaps inspired by history or just knowing what's what my food guide Michael brings us to a "main land immigrant style" restaurant. The restaurant has been open since the 1950's, which is very very very old for Taipei.
Its good. So good. Home cooked with people who remember how food should taste in respect to the past. I eat way too much, because I know this is a unique opportunity. We have a noodle dish with sesame and black beans. Count me in for anything in those combinations. A giant bowl of pork meatball (meat balls the size of a fist) and fish soup are brought to the table. The broth complex and meatier than most of the light and clear broths I've tried so far. The staff comes by every 15 minutes or so with a big tea pot of broth to replenish what we've eaten. There's also a giant plate of pork stacked with sliced pork intestines (chewy) slices of pork (soft) tofu (standard) and pieces of pork meat from the side of the pig's head. I can't stop eating. In addition (if I haven't already tempted you enough) there's poached chicken and stir fried vegetables, and sliced and stir fried scallion pancake. The only beer pairing that can honor this meal is good old Taiwan beer, which we drink in short glasses.
On hearing my sad attempts to learn some new Chinese phrases from my friends an old man comes over to laugh at me. This usually doesn't happen in Taipei, but he means no harm. Immediately he offers my friend and I a betel nut. Betel nuts are tan, about the size of a small date, and come wrapped in a green leaf. To start the betel action, you bite the end of, and stick it in the back of your teeth on your molars. Spit out the first juice, and keep going. I've never had chewing tobacco, but I'm spitting like it. Its sort of disturbing how much you need to spit. The betel nut is a stimulant, which make the inside of mouth warm and tingly. It also makes beer taste sweet. Take a look at other betel nut connoisseur's mouths and you'll see the long term damage it can do to your mouth. Not a new habit for me. Eating like a king.