Annie Bananie en Europe

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Street food in Taiwan

Part III of my “The places I called home” series, part of which was about the time I spent in Taiwan, inspired me to write a post about street food in Taiwan. It’s been eight and a half years since I lived and worked in Taiwan but I could never forget the one thing that defined the unique experience – STREET FOOD. From stinky tofu to salted fried popcorn chicken, shredded chicken cold noodles to fruit on shaved ice…I’m hungry just thinking about it. Let’s just get right down to it!

First on the list has got to be the (in)famous stinky tofu, which gets its reputation from its strong odour. It may not be suitable for the faint-hearted, though it’s rather addictive once you get over the original shock and you get used to it. Stinky tofu comes in a variety of forms: deep-fried, grilled, steamed, boiled, etc. It was so popular in Taiwan that you could almost find a stinky tofu shop in every corner, but my favourites stinky tofu joint was the one in Hsinchu (where I stayed for my internship) that served it in smaller cubes, deep-fried, salted and spiced, and accompanied by Taiwanese-style kimchi. Delicacy? Maybe not, but delicious for sure!

Next up we’ve got the “xiao long bao”, which literally translates to “little caged buns”. These mouth-watering soup-filled pork buns are good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even as a midnight snack! There was a shop five minutes away from where I lived that always seemed to be open, and sometimes I would have the hugest craving for xiao long bao at night that I would go and grab a cage with my then-boyfriend…in addition to some radish cake, egg pancakes, chive dumplings, and soy milk too, perhaps. Oh, what indulgence!

I really wanted to post a good photo of the salted fried popcorn chicken because it is my favourite Taiwanese street food ever, but to my surprise, I have not one single photo of it from my 4-month stay in Taiwan. Shame on me! Well, I do have a photo of a street booth that sells it, in addition to a bunch of other goodies like fried squid, fish cake, radish cake, squid balls, and…chicken butt?! Anyway…back to the salted fried chicken. Greasy? Yes! Salty? Yes, considering it’s got “salty” in its name. Delicious? Hell yeah – why else is it my favourite!?


For something simple, here’s a plate of dried tofu with chili sauce, garlic, and Chinese sauerkraut. At this joint, you serve yourself and in the end you pay for whatever is on the plate. The bright colours certainly stimulate the appetite, don’t they? 😉

There used to be a small shop (I wouldn’t even call it a restaurant) nearby where I lived in Hsinchu that served chicken rice for 30 NTD, which was approximately 1 Canadian dollar in 2008. Deal! Often after work I’d drop by and have a bowl, and it’d be the simplest dinner ever, just some rice with shredded chicken and some sauce with the taste of home. But oh man, simple things are often the best!

Speaking of shredded chicken, it also goes very well with cold noodles! The special thing about this bowl of chicken cold noodles was the sauce – it was so ridiculously tasty, but I couldn’t put my finger on what type of sauce it was exactly. In hindsight, it must have been sesame sauce. I tried to make this dish at home many years later (this year, in fact) with sesame sauce, and the taste came right back. Success!

This photo is blurry because I didn’t realize that my phone’s camera was set to “infinity” mode as I was taking the photo, but please use your imagination and believe that the food was delicious! Oh, you couldn’t even tell what this is? Well, the literal translation of this “hong you chao shou” is “red oil wontons”, which is essentially wontons with hot oil on noodles. Hot (spicy) oil is one of the most heavenly things to be invented in the art of cooking…if you enjoy spicy food, that is!

On a hot summer day, a gigantic bowl of shaved ice topped with a variety of fruits is the best way to cool down and recharge. This one portion was enough for five people!

We now come to teppanyaki, which is really just food served on a fiery hot sizzling iron plate. Teppanyaki is also quite popular in night markets and there’s an abundance of teppanyaki booths everywhere. Here’s a combination of a lovely steak, done medium-rare, and a huge grilled prawn accompanying udon on the plate. In addition to the sight of the food, the sound of the sizzling grill approaching the table warns my stomache to get ready for a fantastic treat!

Another teppanyaki meal, this time with grilled steak, grilled chicken, and a fried egg. Simply irresistible meaty goodness for an evening out. My stomach and my taste buds thanked me but with this much good food, my waistline certainly didn’t!

Finally, here’s one that I regret only having once: soup noodle with spare ribs. For some reason this didn’t catch my attention earlier at night markets, and I skipped it again and again. The one time I had a bowl of this soup noodle, I fell in love, and I wasn’t even the one who wanted to order it! The soup was so warm and most importantly, the spare rib was tender and flavourful! I totally missed out all those times – but at least I got a taste of it before I left Taiwan 😛

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the street food of Taiwan! Of course, this is only a very small sample of the things that I’ve had the chance to try, and there were more noodle dishes than I had expected (I do prefer rice over noodle most of the time!) If you ever do visit Taiwan, don’t miss out on the chance to indulge in the delicacies on the streets. Whether it’s a bustling night market, an inconspicuous shop at the corner, or a simple breakfast joint, surprises are hidden everywhere and are yours to discover!

The places I called home, part III

During my undergrad years I had the privileged opportunity to go abroad for internships as part of the University of Waterloo’s co-op education program. These experiences expanded the range of my travels, and even though each was short-lived, each of the cities that I’ve worked and lived in added a new “home” to my journeys. (Read Part I and Part II of the series.)

Hsinchu – A first taste of Taiwan

When my Taiwanese then-boyfriend mentioned the possibility of going to Taiwan for a four-month internship, I knew that I had to seize the chance. After all, it’s not every day that you get to travel to a whole different continent for work experience. Taiwan is so close to mainland China (where I was born) but vastly different in terms of environment and culture. I had already become so unfamiliar with my own country of birth, but to experience a place like Taiwan with such close and intricate ties to China yet with its very own identity – that was a treat that only Waterloo could offer me. So I packed my bags and with my then-boyfriend, we were off to his hometown, Hsinchu, for a work term at the Industrial Technology Research Institute!

One thing I regretted many years after my four-month stay in Taiwan was the fact that at the age of 20 back then, the notion of TRAVEL didn’t really occur to me. Aside from Hsinchu, where I lived and worked, I only visited Taiwan’s large cities, Taipei and Kaohsiung (and briefly Tainan for a lantern festival). If only the idea of travel came to me then, I would have spent so many weekends exploring places like Taichung, Taitung, Pingtung, Kenting…and all the places of beautiful nature! The Alishan area, the Sun and Moon lake, Yangmingshan…ah, what I’d give to go back and recapture what I’ve missed! However, that is not to say that my stay in Hsinchu was wasted – quite the opposite, in fact. I got to know what it’s like to live in a city where motorcycles ruled the streets, where political fervour resulted in my Chinese identity being a subject of interest during a time when the 2008 presidential elections were happening, and where street food was my heavenly consolation for everything! Yes, Taiwan is famous for mouth-watering street food everywhere, whether in night markets where you could find more varieties of food than you could name or in inconspicuous booths or shops in the corner where a bowl of shredded chicken on rice might be the best meal you’d have in a week. Writing this has just inspired me to do a whole post on street food in Taiwan after the “home” series…stay tuned!

South Bend – The American Notre Dame

The final internship of my undergrad years took place in South Bend, an American city that is probably known to a few but is home to the University of Notre Dame, where I did my research. It wasn’t quite by chance that I got a second international replacement. Knowing that with eight months of international experience, I would be able to get an “option” added to my degree, I actively sought a second international work term by only applying for jobs that were outside of Canada. By a streak of luck, I landed myself a job at Notre Dame, in South Bend, an hour and a half away from Chicago and this time, for an eight-month term!

The winter of 2009 was a frigid and snowy one, especially in South Bend where lake effects were prominent, yet it was beautiful! Living in Glasgow now, I will still say that I would always prefer snow over rain, even if it means I will freeze! The eight-month work term was long enough for me to get to know my housemates and lab colleagues quite well, and for once I felt like I had sufficiently integrated into a work place that I was actually quite sad to leave. The joys and drawbacks of mobility always have to be taken into account – you get to know so many wonderful people with whom you become friends but in the end, parting is inevitable. I will always remember the big Mexican feast that was hosted by the Mexican kid Aaron in our lab…at OUR Canadian house, FOR the Canadians! In fact the house had been designated as the official “Mexico-Canada embassy” in South Bend! How I missed those times!

This concludes the “internship” version of “The Places I Called Home” series, and perhaps it is the most unique of all – short stays, but lovely memories of home. The final part will highlight the two European cities that shaped my mid-20s, the homes that I adopted during the years of my PhD – Bordeaux, France and Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Let’s hope I don’t take another 2.5 weeks to write the next one! >_<

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