June 20, 2013
Summer is now in full swing here in Taiwan, and it is proving to be a hot one. Even though you will be in air-conditioned buildings, trains, taxis and busses most of the time, you will have to venture outside at some point.
Staying hydrated (i.e. drink lots of water) is really important in the heat, and something visitors from colder climes often forget. But as long as you do, there are plenty of other summer treats to keep you going.
I have mentioned the fruits of summer before, but I have to mention the fresh mangos, watermelon, pineapple and especially lychee that are available now. You can often buy small cartons with the fruit peeled and cut, and I highly recommend sampling the delights.
Less healthy but equally refreshing are the bubble tea style places. I’ve mentioned them before so won’t go into detail, but an ice lemon tea really hits the spot (you can usually choose the amount of ice and sugar that is put in). If you come across the mango ice cream green tea then I highly recommend it.
One of the local specialities is shaved ice, where large blocks of ice are literally shaved to produce fine pieces of ice that are then flavoured, usually with fruit and often with condensed milk. The most popular of these is mango ice which is now widely available and something you should try (also very good with strawberries, and if you can't decide which you fancy, try both).
Another more traditional form of shaved ice allows you to choose the topping, from dried fruit to starch balls, and an array of sweet extras that just have to be tried. I’d recommend asking the vendor to add a little (use your fingers to indicate a small amount) of the things you want to try and try something different every time.
Ice cream is very popular in Taiwan, and you can buy all the big global brands. Eating with a finger, however, would raise eyebrows. Seeing as you are on holiday, I think you should try some of the local fare. Some of the more interesting flavours produced locally are longgan, pineapple, peanut (very popular traditional flavour), taro (if you’re brave).
One of the lesser known secrets of Taiwanese ice cream is a very small store with 73 varieties called Snow King. It’s been there for a very long time, so such flavours as basil, Taiwan beer and pig knuckle are clearly being appreciated. They do more normal flavours as well so a trip is well worthwhile if just for the fact that you can boast about eating something that would seem to go against culinary sense. The boss speaks good English and the menu is in English so you’ll have no trouble choosing something interesting. The address is Wuchang St., Sec. 1, No. 65; 台北市武昌街一段65號 (http://goo.gl/maps/W5xg7).
Apart from these wonderful treats, there is an interesting array of local summer treats you should try. Aiyu jelly, made from figs from an indigenous species to Taiwan, can be found in every night market around Taiwan. It’s often served in a sweet lemon flavoured syrup and is most refreshing. It can also be found in bubble tea style drinks and convenience stores.
Another favourite is green grass jelly, which is actually black, and can be served with a variety of toppings. This is also found all around Taiwan and commonly at night markets. Red (adzuki) bean as always is very popular in many guises. Tomatoes dipped in ginger sauce, douhua (like a sweet tofu, but better), cold noodles, juices of all varieties, there really is a wonderful variety of treats to be had and none are really that offensive (well maybe durian, but that’s imported).
Actually I should mention that department stores can provide relief from the heat, and also that many of their food courts supply many of these favourite treats. A food court is like a mini night market with many small food vendors on one large floor with seating in the middle. They are often very busy but they are well air conditioned.
So enjoy the summer in Taiwan, enjoy the treats, and when you have the energy, why not shop for a new camera…
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