epaper

TOURING TAIWAN

Fresh Fruits
One of Taiwan's Great Culinary Delights
By Richard Saunders

Taiwan is second to none for its astonishing variety of delicious homegrown fruit

For many people, trying the local food is one of the great pleasures of traveling in a new country, and with the pick of regional cuisines from all parts of China, Taipei is the perfect place to indulge. Almost every visitor to Taipei (no matter whether they're an avid foodie or not) will at some point during their trip pay a visit to the famous night market at Shilin (Shihlin). Situated right outside the entrance to Jiantan MRT station, it's a great cultural experience, a very convenient one, come rain or shine, and the perfect place to combine a very Taiwanese cultural experience with exploration of the myriad exotic foods cooked up here.
Over the years of my stay in Taipei, having hosted a fair number of holidaying family members and friends, the visit to Shilin Night Market has become a familiar ritual, and one I always look forward to. Immediately after exiting the MRT station, the sounds and aromas of various tempting foods being cooked drift across the road, and every day of the week from late afternoon until well after bedtime the area has a wonderfully buoyant, festive atmosphere that never fails to perk up the spirits of my jetlagged guests.
For all the culinary delights on display inside, however, the visitor's first impression on entering is always one of the most memorable: several stalls right at the front doors are piled high with fruit (plus a few vegetables) of all shapes, colors, and degrees of familiarity, ready to be whipped up into delicious fruit shakes or smoothies, and there's no better start (or finish) to an exploration of Shilin Night Market's culinary delights, particularly on a balmy summer night.
There's a dazzling selection, from bright-red apples and juicy oranges to deepest-green lemons, coconuts, and huge, sweet pineapples. Then there are the stranger fruits that never fail to catch the eye of new arrivals to Taiwan: round, red rambutans covered with course, curly hairs, tomato-red persimmons, yellow starfruit, custard apples (colloquially known as Buddha's-head fruit), and delicious, big purple grapes. And amazingly, almost all of this bounty is grown right here, on this small island.
For sheer variety and quality, Taiwan is second to none for its astonishing variety of delicious homegrown fruit. We have the island's dramatic topography to thank for making it possible to grow such a diversity. The cool foothills of the Central Mountain Range provide the perfect conditions for growing temperate fruits such as apples, pears, and peaches, while the sun-drenched lower altitudes, especially the island's central and southern plains, are home to many tropical varieties, from bananas, papayas, and guavas to varieties of melon and oranges. In addition, great advances in Taiwan's agricultural technology combined with stiff international competition have resulted in many new and delicious varieties special to Taiwan appearing on the market in recent years.
With summer upon us, the variety of fruits available on Taiwan is greater than ever, and few are as eagerly awaited as that most Chinese of fruit, the lychee. With such a short season (in Taiwan about two months, from the end of May until July), you'll have to hurry to enjoy these succulent, juicy, and uniquely flavored treats, which taste far, far better than the familiar preserved, canned lychee on the shelves of Chinese supermarkets and takeaways back home. Several years ago a new variety named yu he bao was introduced, featuring even better, juicier flesh and? smaller stones. This is the variety to get.
As summer wears on, and lychee disappear from the shelves of supermarkets and fruit markets, a close cousin, the longan (lit."dragon eye") takes its place. The flavor of dragon eye is perhaps less sweet, but it's uniquely flavorable: this is one fruit that you won't find in many other parts of the world.
Another eagerly awaited summer fruit is the glorious mango. At least five varieties of mango are grown in Taiwan, among which the softest and sweetest are the jinhuang and aiwen varieties. Try eating them on their own, or as part of"mango ice," chopped into bite-sized pieces, laid on a bed of finely shaved ice, and covered with a creamy topping of condensed milk. This scrumptious dessert has become extremely popular in Taiwan in recent years, and can be found at shaved-ice bars all over the island, although one of the best places to eat it remains the store at which the confection was invented: Ice Monster in Taipei city's Yongkang Street.

One of the eagerly awaited summer fruits is the glorious mango
Among the many more unusual summer fruits to look out for in Taiwan's fruit markets are wax apples — small, bell-shaped blush-pink fruit with a crisp, refreshing, and very juicy flesh, and the aforementioned custard apples, which despite the similar name are quite different. This fruit looks very distinctive, best described as looking a little like a large, green hand grenade. Despite their bizarre appearance, custard apples are absolutely delicious. The kind to especially look out for is the variety known as"pineapple custard apple," a variety with luscious, fragrant white flesh developed in the southeastern county of Taitung, but now available from markets all over the island.
Even as the weather turns colder with the approach of winter, there's no shortage of fruits to enjoy. The sun continues to shine on the fertile plains of Taiwan's western side throughout the winter, providing perfect conditions for one of the most beloved of all fruits, the strawberry, which is in season between December and April. Strawberries are cultivated commercially everywhere, from the suburbs of Taipei southwards, but the generally recognized"strawberry capital" of Taiwan is the town of Dahu in Miaoli County. Famous for pick-your-own strawberry farms, Dahu has come up with some imaginative usages for the fruit in recent years, and is the place to pick up everything from strawberry-scented soap to strawberry wine and delicious strawberry sausages!

A wide selection of fresh, good-quality fruit can be found in fruit markets in towns and cities all over the island; while it's also common to see farmers selling their produce (fruits and vegetables) direct to the public from vans parked beside roadways in country areas. Buying direct from the producer in this way guarantees the freshest produce and cheapest prices. There is, however, another fun way to buy your fruit — by picking your own at one of the many farms around the island that offer this fun and healthy activity. The strawberry fields of Dahu make for an extremely popular excursion during the first four months of the year, but it's also possible to enjoy a morning of fruit-picking just a short car or bus ride from Taipei City. The sheltered, sunny valleys and fertile volcanic soil along
Yangmingshan National Park's southern fringe are excellent for fruit cultivation, and, depending on the time of year, it's possible to pick-your-own oranges, tangerines, strawberries, or flowers. It's a very pleasant and unusual way to spend a morning, and a particularly healthy way to enjoy one of Taiwan's great culinary delights — fresh fruit!?

 

ENGLISH CHINESE
"Aiwen" 愛文
Custard apple 釋迦
Dahu 大湖
Guava 芭樂
"Jinhuang" 金煌
Longan 龍眼
Lychee 荔枝
Mango 芒果
Papaya 木瓜
Persimmon 柿子
Pineapple custard apple 鳳梨釋迦
Rambutan 紅毛丹
Shilin (Shihlin) 士林
Starfruit 楊桃
Wax apple 蓮霧
Yongkang Street 永康街
Yangmingshan National Park 陽明山國家公園
"Yu he bao" 玉荷苞

 

 

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