Days 017-020: Advice -- feeding yourself without speaking Chinese

Look at this guy in the shop. He's waving and posing for my photo. Why?!
Because they really are that happy to see foreigners eat their food, so enjoy.

I was really lucky to have wonderful friends take care of me in Taipei, who enjoy the best food Taipei has to offer. But there were plenty of times on my trip I found myself on my own. I was staying near the student filled Shida area, but not near enough. Many of the restaurants and food carts in my area do not offer English or photos of food options.


Rows and rows of food stands

There are several approaches to hunting and gathering your meal in a completely foreign language. It only takes an ounce more courage than ordering for the first time any new place. The process is eased by how incredibly friendly Taiwanese towards a non-Chinese speaking person in their restaurant. They want you to enjoy a meal from them, and will go out of their way to help you.

Bubble tea also know as pearl tapioca is everywhere. Let the locals
tell you where the best stand is. None of it tastes bad if you
like the chewy and semi-slimy texture of the tapioca pearls.

Best food suggestion winner from fellow traveler, this sushi cost me $7.25

The first approach is by suggestion. Staying at a hostel is social. Hang out in the living space even to check a map and ask what someone's trying. The staff have to eat too, and they know all the spots. Seasoned travellors will have carved many notches into their chopsticks too. Go with their wisdom. This is the easiest and most worry free way to order. One funny problem came from this approach in which a) its hard to remember the exact alley or lane which the food comes from and b) every restaurant has a red sign. I would often hear "got it from the place with thre red sign near seven eleven." That limits it to several thousand places in Taipei.

What is it? I ordered this by blindly pointing to a menu.

Its an oyster! And its delicious. Food bravery pays off I promise.
You'll only become (street) smarter from it.

Ginger pork dumplings, safer and easier to order. You can
usually spot them from behind the cart.

The next is by exploration. Every twist and turn of every block has store front restaurant and food carts. Each one different from the next. Sometime around food time I would walk up and down a street, maybe twice looking and sniffing for my next meal. See a line, head there. Not sure what to order? Point at the guy in front of you and have what he is having. I would sometimes poke my head around the other side of the cart and try to see what was cooking, and then just point to whatever looked good. Or just pick something on the menu and keep your fingers crossed. Granted this method isn't for picky eaters, but its fun. If I was a little more prepared I may have memorized the Chinese characters for pork, beef, fish, chicken, etc. Or if you have a smart phone you can download an app to translate photos of Chinese characters on the spot.

Really overwhelmed by a foreign food and language? Just eat a taco.

The final is pure laziness. Go to Seven Eleven, a grocery store, or Western-style restaurant and just order recognizable food. They have burritos, tacos, doughnut, pasta, and hamburgers in the Taipei. Its quite the fad. Not feeling brave, just relax and eat something from home. Just don't make it a habit or you will miss out on lots of delicious Taiwanese food.

Worst meal of the trip. For every variety of prepared food in Taipei there
are 5 carts that make it fresher, better, and CHEAPER. Don't waste
your time eating prepared foods unless time or traveling circumstances prevent it.

When left to my own devices I will probably eat a doughnut.
This is a matcha / green tea frosted chocolate doughnut from
Mister Doughnut. Mister doughnut is worth visiting for its
mildly sweet doughnuts. Very dunk-able.

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