March 31, 2009
Taiwanese Eating Gems
Taiwan is a great place to eat out. You are literally never far away from a meal of some sort, but it's likely that you will be drawn to the flashier places. And while the comfort levels might be higher, I think it would be a shame to miss some of the earthier establishments.
By earthier I include the night markets, where you will find a bewildering assortment of, often, bewildering food (but fun to try, at least once). Also though, the smaller restaurants that aren't so obvious, but serve up the real taste of Taiwan.
There are such well-kept secrets throughout Taiwan, but my favorite is a one tucked away in a single standing house near Daan Park in Taipei. For some it will bring back memories, and for others will serve as an introduction to Taiwan and Taiwanese food.
Although I can't mention it by name (drop me a line and I'll send you details), this place is an old style Taiwanese house which has been converted into a restaurant. It serves Taiwanese food at NT$200 per person. There doesn't seem to be a menu, you just sit down and the boss brings out a selection of dishes, the more people the more selection. Basically, whatever the boss bought that day is on the menu!
A typical meal might involve, deep-fried fish, oysters with basil, a vegetable dish, friend pork, chicken, bamboo soup, radish omelet, and Taiwanese style rice. Not fancy perhaps, but it is a real taste of Taiwan.
In keeping with the surroundings, the beer menu consists of Taiwan Beer and…Taiwan Beer-and only the brown variety at that. Somehow though, to drink anything else in this place would just be wrong. It's cheap too (don't drink and drive folks). It's brought over in what I am used to seeing milk bottles in (milk crates), and if it's not cold then simply add ice, Taiwanese style.
The tea is complimentary however, and will warm you up if the weather's cold. There isn't so much of a front door as a front passageway, so it can be chilly. You will find that free tea is common in such restaurants, and they will often refill the pot as often as you like.
One modern touch that no restaurant can escape these days though, is a ban on smoking. Before the ban, you would have had to cope with the obligatory final course of Long Life (yes, really) cigarettes. These days however, there are no such worries, so it's ok to bring the kids.
The place is quite famous, especially with Japanese tourists, apparently. Many Japanese TV and media organizations have come to Taiwan to interview the boss.
The decor is certainly Taiwanese-very open, simple wooden tables and chairs and a bed pushed up in one corner. The walls are adorned with old movie posters and Taiwanese pop records and interestingly announcements from martial law days. My only complaint is that the bottle openers (which are tied to each corner of every table) were somewhat the worse for wear, making opening our single choice warm beer hard to open!
Actually the more you look, the more interesting things you see. Check out the phone by the counter dating back to Japanese rule - it still works. There are also some games often played in Taiwan, like bagatelle, which you can play with.
If you are new to Taiwan then I highly recommend this kind of restaurant. They are usually cheap, fun and will remind you just where in the world you are.
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