[nate sez] After a long week of pointing, and gesturing, and rudely gesturing towards other people's meals, we've managed to order some semblance of food in Taiwan. There is an abundance of Japanese, Korean, all styles of Chinese (Hunan, Sezchuan, Canton, Peking, etc.), and of course the local Taiwanese street grub.
Which is by far the best thing to eat around here and in frighteningly large supply at the Taipei Night Markets.
At first, entering any foreign street food market is nothing short of synapse searing confusion - the strange, delicious smells, the bizarre piles of god-knows-what, the lines, the people, the pushing, the foul smell of rotten Chinese tofu that people LOVE around here, and of course, more noodles than you can handle.
There is a startling lack of most things that we consider to be "Chinese" in the states. What we're used to is expensive banquet and special occasion food - and frankly, it costs about as much here as it does in the states to eat half of it, and it isn't necessarily much better if you know where to eat.
BUT - the street food scene is absolutely unmatched (although we haven't been to Bangkok yet) and so here are some of the highlights:
There are several distinct types of noodles, some stewed, some fresh, some egg, some rice, some in thick soup, some in thin soup, fried, griddled, wrapped, and tossed into salads. The most widely available noodles are the Beef Soup & Noodles, and the Dan Dan noodles. These are also our favorites. The Beef Soup & Noodles is really freaking straightforward. Good beef soup, good fresh egg noodles, a little bit of mustard greens/baby bok choy, and a dash of green onion. It's usually better with a hit of table chilies.
The Dan Dan Noodles over here are out of control. This is a dish of boiled egg noodles, a pile crushed sesame seeds, and some kind of amazing ground pork w/ bean paste and something concoction that goes on everything. It's not the traditional Dan Dan Noodles which are much more nutty tasting and thick - it's just really savory, a bit sweet, meaty as hell, and leaves you craving another bowl even though you couldn't stuff another one in.
One of the most common stands is the fruit stand - guavas, pineapple, pickled baby pears, massive Asian pears, apple-pears (seriously tastes like both with a pleasing texture of juicy styrofoam), strawberries (man they're good), and cherry tomatoes stuffed with prunes. They slice it, bag it, shove a few eating toothpicks in it, bag it again, and hand it to you for about $1.50 a fruit serving. While buying the fruit yourself is obviously cheaper, it's still a bargain. There's also fruit juice/smoothie stands and roasted/unroasted (black and white) sugar cane juice. All for like under a buck.
A word of caution - I located some deliciously ripe pink guavas at the Snake Alley night market and the lady poured on some brown looking powder onto my guavas. Turns out, the locals love to have overly salted, fermented prune drenched guavas. I nearly pissed my pants from the horror of discovering this on my first crack at fresh pink guavas (which has always been my favorite flavor of imported fruit nectar). I have since learned better. So next time you're in Taiwan at a night market and want some damn guavas, make sure they don't hit it with shit salt.
They LOVE fried food (who doesn't?) and so of course there is a down right sick array of fried deliciasities. The best so far have been two things prepared the same way: bread-crumby battered assorted mushrooms and pounded chicken cutlets fried crisp and seasoned with Taiwanese pepper (which has that ubiquitous Taiwanese broad bean flavor) and some hot pepper powder. It's shockingly good. We'll leave it at that.
There's also 782 stands at every night market selling fried (and I guess boiled) stinky Chinese tofu. If you're ever here, you will be able to instantly identify it as the completely foreign, and wrong smelling odor.
There's also bubble tea stands everywhere, oyster omelets, Taiwanese burrito-like objects, corn corn corn (boiled, roasted, salted, candied, over ice, over rice, on it's own, on the cob, in your dumplings, on your face, every-freaking-place-you-go...PS we have way better corn in the States), steak & pasta griddles with fried eggs on top, and more stinky steamed and fried tofu.
In most night markets, you can turn off the main drag to enter the "sketchy-as-fuck" food zone. All your entrails, fish heads, duck heads, steamed-yesterday & been-in-the-zone-all-day shrimp and crab, guts, snakes, wiggling turtles, and of course, the ever present god-knows-what. Seeing as this isn't japan, and all the fish heads look freezer burned, we look, gag at the smell, and proceed to find things that might not eat us once inside of our stomachs.
We're eating large and pounding the pavement hard in Taipei. Next week we're planning to scooter around the island. I'm sure we'll encounter some tasty (if not at least interesting) new regional cuisine to entertain you all with.
-Ben et Nate