2020 Survival Guide

Hi. Long time I know. This is a cultural/lifestyle-type post. If you're missing out on my food opinions you can read some on my Instagram account where you'll also see a little bit of life in Taipei, too.

2020, who saw this coming? Apparently a lot of doctors and scientists. I was already an obsessive hand washer but 2020 has pushed the limits of my skin. So dry, so scratchy. It's just August and Taiwan is bracing for a possible second wave of Coronavirus after absolutely crushing the first wave. I've been free to live my life in public for the last 7 months (thank you, thank you Taiwan) but internally it's still a roller coaster. Here is a list of things that have brought me moments of joy or at least made me feel something while watching a pandemic, democracy be destroyed, and social upheaval.

Andy & Naomi's Couple's Therapy Podcast: Just hearing another Naomi correctly pronounce "Nay-oh-me" is already soothing but during the quar times this…

An Aboriginal Lunch in Taroko Gorge at 達基力部落屋風味餐

My family and I visited Taroko Gorge on Taiwan's East Coast near Hualien early May of 2017. The day was full of breath-taking views and fresh air. Possibly the most memorable stop on the trip was lunch. We hired a taxi driver for the day and when he suggested lunch at 達基力部落屋風味餐 (roughly Da Ji Li tribe restaurant in English) no one had any doubts it would be excellent. Taiwan has 14 different aboriginal tribes, totaling 533,600 people as of 2014. They have held on to their traditions and culture despite Taiwan's troubled past. I'm sorry to say I am not sure which tribe this restaurant represents.

The restaurant is open-air, and on the side of a hill with a view out facing the ocean. It is a good idea to apply some bug spray before sitting down. The mosiqitoes of the east coast know no mercy. Our driver let us know that the restaurant has live aboriginal music on weekends as well. I sensed it might be a place locals visit too. There is no menu for walk-ins, just a meal set …

A Taroko Gorge Day Trip From Taipei

I need to confess. I've been living in Taiwan for 4.5 years now, and never visited the Taroko Gorge National Park, Taiwan's most famous tourist destination. I have been to its nearby city, Hualien, but never the sweet spot. Because it is most often mentioned on all the most very touristy lists, I wrote it off as too far to get to for too little payoff. I assumed it would be an amazing view worthy of 10 minutes of photo taking crowded with tourists, and not an entire park filled with natural wonder and options. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Taroko is located on Taiwan's scenic East Coast, just North of the center. It can be visited as a stop on the whole East Coast, or in a day from Taipei. The park is free, so organizing transportation is the main expense. It is possible to rent a car and drive yourself, but even easier is to take an express train from Taipei Main Station via the TRA. The high-speed rail does not connect with Hualien. A ticket can be booked online, at the station,…

Sato Seinikuten Tokyo 佐藤精肉店

"Meat and rice" is the "meat and potatoes" of the East. Sato Seinikuten Tokyo 佐藤精肉店 does a great BBQ meat rice bowl with a delicious and conservative menu of 6 rice bowls all chicken or pork. There is also some zippy home made ginger or ginger and lemon soda on the menu. Sides include a poached egg, soup, and vegetables. I ordered the poached egg which had an extremely soft white, but a luxurious thick egg yolk and made sauced up all the ingredients of my rice bowl nicely. The soup is vegetables in miso broth. Its satisfying, but awkward to eat with a long wooden spoon. All of the food comes with free pickled bean sprouts which are covered in sesame oil and sit in a jar at tables.

All of the bowls come in 2 sizes, large and small. The menu is in Chinese and Japanese, which you may think should be the same, but they are not always. The Chinese menu is written with a thick white marker on colored popsicle sticks and is really hard to read, so just stick with the pho…

Julien Ice Cream 朱里昂冰淇淋

It's my tradition to eat ice cream on my day off, because ice cream makes me happy. I'm very excited to have discovered a boutique ice cream shop a few blocks south to Da'an Park called 朱里昂冰淇淋 Julien Ice Cream that agrees 100%.

The shop has a clever modern design tucked away on a lazy, shady section of WenZhou St. They offer gelato, made in house in fresh waffle cones made a few feet away from the counter. They aren't taking any shortcuts here. The ice cream is rich, creamy and natural. The best part, 3 flavors for $100 or about $3.25 USD. They offer savory food and other desserts too, but I'm currently hooked on the cold stuff. Pistachio and vanilla are my flavors of choice. There isn't an English menu, but each time I've visited the staff have all spoken great English.

Julien Ice Cream朱里昂冰淇淋
No. 48, WenZhou St, Da’an District, Taipei 

Tonchin Ramen 屯京拉麵台灣

There are so many culinary advantages to living in Taiwan. One of which is the abundance of high-quality Japanese cuisine from both Japanese trained-Taiwanese chefs and authentic Japanese chains. Ramen nerds rejoice! There are plenty of chains and local stores to stand in line. I have been trying to educate myself on the nuances of ramen. What I can tell you so far is that ramen is good. Ramen is really good in the winter. I am beginning to understand why the Japanese needed to create a new word to define all the goodness. Ramen is umami, umami is ramen. 

Tonchin ramen usually has a line. When my friend and arrived on Wednesday night there were only 5-7 people ahead of us, and we waited for less than 10 minutes. Tonchin offers a fairly conservative menu of 4 flavors with different variations (with the egg, with seaweed, corn, or everything). The menu is full of photos so pointing and grinning when ordering will get you what you want. The only hiccup I encountered was when the server a…

Thinking Bar Parfaits 思考吧

I like to keep up with Taiwan's food-spotting app, 愛食記, or in English, ifoodie. It's a feed of photo-centric food blogs reviewing the newest and oldest spots around Taiwan. It is usually overwhelmingly cute. Ifoodie is driven by waffles covered in hearts, strawberries, cookies, marshmallows and pastel two-toned smoothies. Every now and then I give into cute.

思考吧 Thinking Bar appears to be nothing but cute, offering parfaits topped with dolls, flowers, and butterflies. I was delighted to discover that the ingredients in their parfaits are nothing but high-quality. The pineapple mango parfait I ordered ($190 NTD/$6US) was layered with raspberries, mangoes, crushed cookies, panna cotta, sorbet, and a very creamy and tart plain flavored frozen yogurt, topped with a slice of dried pineapple. It looks like an adorable sugar bomb, but it's a very thoughtfully crafted dessert with balanced flavor and texture. The parfaits are huge, maybe around 600-800 grams and about 40 cm high. …