Sunset at Ba Dou Zi

A week and a half ago, I took a day trip with some family members to a northern point of Taiwan, where we stopped at a harbour called Ba Dou Zi. What we first thought was an overcrowded dock due to the recent Typhoon that had passed through town, it turned out that many of the boats were waiting for the sun to set before venturing out to sea.

Many of these who were waiting for their night time sail had a string of Christmas lights on steroids. And although they do make a very pretty picture, these light bulbs (which must need a pretty powerful generator to keep going) do actually serve a function.

That function is to fool squid. Poor squid! Yes, surprisingly, these boats are exclusively for squid fisherman, with lights to lure squid near the surface of the water. I imagine something akin to the likes of something I’ve seen on the “deadliest catch”, although you wouldn’t think it from the pretty sunset pictures above…

Jade Purses

The Taiwanese loooove their fruit.

With fertile soil, healthy competition, and local knowledge of what’s best month to month (even week to week!) it’s no wonder why Taiwan’s farmers keep coming out with different varieties of fruit. In America, we are starting to see this on a small scale, at select farmers markets you can find families of apricots and apples that you’ve never heard of before. But in Taiwan, big farms and little farms alike breed sweeter and juicier fruit year after year, each new hybrid beating out its predecessor from the years before. I can’t imagine what a Taiwanese seed bank looks like by now.

Lychees don’t escape the frantic cross breeding of fruits, and in fact I even tasted a mango that was infused with Lychee flavor- by means of breeding. The ones pictured above were seen on a table at the Ningxia Night Market. Among the rows of chinese sausages, oyster omelettes, scallion patties and skewered meats, the bright bunches of lychees stood out, calling my name. This breed is called the Jade Purse lychee- for their resemblance to the ancient, well, jade purses. With a smaller pit and more succulent flesh, it’s a favorite of many Taiwanese and has outlasted its fellow lychees as a longstanding favorite. After tasting these (but not too many- not good for you chi!) I can most definitely understand why. A MUST-try if you find yourself on the tiny fruitful island of Taiwan.

We Are Family

Yes, I have been seeing a lot of my extended family lately.

No, this isn’t one of them.

This is someone who sat across from us while we were having a cold snack one afternoon. And if you haven’t believed in the availability and diversity of foods I’ve encountered on my trip to Taipei yet (combined with the sheer niceness of the people in Taiwan), maybe you’ll believe me now? Let me remind you, we were in a food court.

After graciously allowing me to take pictures of his plate, this young man also whipped out a camera from his bag, and happily said, “I might as well take a picture, too”. Inspiration abounds.

The Chinese Hamburger

When we were growing up, my family’s favorite Chinese restaurant was called dong lai suen, and I remember it specifically because I could get my favorite dish: The Chinese Hamburger.

Of course this isn’t what it was called on the menu, nor was it what how my parents ordered it from the waiters, nor did it even resemble an actual American hamburger all that much. What it was, was a juicy disc of ground and juicy (so juicy!) pork wrapped in a thin chewy dumpling-like wrapper. The whole thing was pan fried so the outside was oily and the bottom and top crispy and slightly charred. The whole thing was the size of, well, it was the size of a hamburger. In any case, whatever it was or was not, it most definitely was delicious.

I’ve recently encountered yet another Chinese Hamburger. Well, hamburger-ish. This is a different version of the Chinese hamburger I remember from my youth, so it’s technically a hamburger twice-removed. But it’s got the same characteristics: flavorful meat wrapped in a sesame-seed speckled doughy outer layer, eaten with your hands from a wax paper pouch on the street as meat juices drip down your fingers. Dare you say it’s not a burger(ish)?!

This particular “burger” is made super fresh to order- the line for this street market vendor stretches the longest at the Raohe Night Market in Taipei. Sliced strips of a peppered beef filling (heavily peppered, to my great delight) is scooped with a long pair of metal chopsticks and placed in a small disc of rolled-out dough, not unlike a dumpling only three times as big and meaty. This meat and dough is taken in the palm and gets dipped- meat first- in a vat of chopped scallions, where they generously stick like flies on honey as the dough is quickly wrapped back over the meat and scallions to form a bun. What look like big fluffy smooth white cream puffs are tossed aside to be baked.

The baking process is just as unique as the Chinese Hamburger itself. The buns are literally stuck to the inside of a large, cylindrical brick oven wall that is heated by charcoals. I could make another comparison to wood-fired pizza ovens, but I think I’ve done enough International food comparisons for today.

After waiting for what seems like an eternity, a pouch containing a steaming hot bun is finally handed over. They operative word here is: Hot. Hot out of a hot coal oven. So hot, that even after ten minutes I was not able to bite through my beloved “burger”. After fifteen minutes though, I couldn’t wait any longer. Juicy, chewy, tender, peppery, hot, salty, steamy. Sirens blared in my head. This version of the Hamburger hasn’t replaced my love of In-n-Out, Shake Shack, or the Chinese Hamburger from my youth. No sir, it’s only been added to the esteemed (and growing) list.

胡椒餅, 饒河夜市創始攤

饒河總店 台北市饒河街249號

Black Pepper Buns, at the Raohe Street Night Market

Raohe Market Shop, 249 Raohe Street, Taipei

A stroll through the night market

Night market culture in Taiwan is anything unlike I’ve ever seen. What are quiet strips of concrete and blacktop during the day turn into some of the busiest parts of town at night. Typically night markets start setting up around 3pm-4pm and will be open until the wee hours of the night. You can find the post-bar scene here, but often it is the bar scene.

Asking any teen what their favorite activity is, rarely will you find an answer as common as “walking around the night market”. With food and shopping being two of the Taiwanese’s greatest past times, it’s not hard to understand why.

Street food is a new concept that is all the rage in the States. Here in Taiwan, it’s been around for ages, and it certainly hasn’t lost any luster: