30.11.16 Taipei Design Museum

Having missed out on coffee yesterday we do a crawl this morning because coffee is:

  1. very good in Taipei
  2. much cheaper in Taiwan than Russia and China
  3. a stimulant.

First up Laoos Coffee for cappuccino/americano and due to a communication breakdown a cheese and egg croissant.

Second was a pair of espressos at Cama which were slightly bitter.

We then ignore the humidity and sprint downtown to the town hall to see a kid friendly exhibit on the development, history and layout of Taipei. The friendly staff photo us on the way in and our mug shots are still gurning at us from a huge electronic screen when we leave.

Stimulant fading we walk down the street to Taipei 101 food court. Taipei 101 is the dominating skyscraper in the Taiwanese capital and designed to resemble bamboo. 

Al is a bit under the weather so wonton soup for her. For desert we try shaved ice with red beans and braised peanuts with condensed milk. Its unusual texture / flavour combo means we probably won’t order it again.

I then somehow chaperone Al down a street full of patisseries to the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park based around a 1937 tobacco factory. The building is beautiful. I really like the styled concrete and the large black windows and symmetrical wooden doors. Inside are huge stone corridors set at right angles around the internal courtyard space like an old school, with natural light flooding in through large windows. Wood panelling separates the internal spaces.


We buy tickets and start at the achingly hip exhibition of 100 Years of Dutch Design. (Tan – a link) There is a chair.

Next is a display of local artists exhibits including a tear gun.

Finally we see the entries for the golden pin design awards which showcases Asian design.

We sit in the central baroque garden looking at the fabulous plant display and the stadium being built next door. I really like it here and don’t want to leave. Despite my better judgement I use the word cool. On the way out, while posing for the essential chicken shot, I’m attacked by a giant goose.

The patisserie street can’t be walked twice without stopping and I find myself in Voodoo Doughnut. Al has a bacon maple doughnut and I have a Dead Guy Ale.

Home at twilight through a park where locals practice tai chi, mosquitoes target British midlanders, people push dogs around in prams and graffiti artists are artistes.

The creative park has gone to my head and I buy a small bottle of ginger liqueur and a can of honey beer thinking they’ll taste great together but the liqueur smells of a musty old Chinese herbalist.

We finish the day at Wuxing Night market which is more like a street with lots of restaurants and a few stalls. I have a really juicy fried pork dumpling .

A local guy kindly helps us order food at a restaurant where we have fried chicken and steamed dumplings.

Taipei 101 at night –

29.11.16 Taipei Fish Market

So we have set our alarm for 8am everyday in an attempt to get out of our slacker lifestyle. We are up and out by 9.10am and notice that the bakery, Mr Mark, opposite is closed as is Watson’s (Boots equivalent) which is odd. 

We have a plan for today, we are off to Dihua street for a gourmet coffee, then the main temple Ba’on, then lunch then a walking tour of Taipei, this should ensure we have seen enough of this amazing city to satisfy our inner traveller. 

As we are caffeine lightweights we can only have 1 coffee per day and it has to be before 12 noon.  The only deviation to this rule is if we have enough antidote to coffee, the best antidote is red wine, which is unaffordable here.

On the way to the tube we pass a number of excellant looking coffee shops, we ignore them all as we know we have more coming up. 

We get to Dihau Street, we see one gourmet coffee place that is actually open and the coffee is 5 quid, each. There are not hundreds of little cafes selling gourmet coffee, the Lonely Planet has lied. 
However the street is filled with Chinese medicine stores which are fascinating in themselves, albeit the foot high antlers we saw in one shop window were a little shocking.

Thoroughly dispirited we were also hungry so went to Family Mart for an onigiri, it was minging. Tourism was not going well. 

We get the tube to Ba’on temple, it is ace, more chanting, more incense and more beautiful decorations on pagoda roof tops. 

We also go to the much quieter Confucius temple over the road, it was similiar to the ones in China, nice but not new to us. The park istastefully decorsted eith staues though. 

Both these temples are right under the flight path of Taipei airport so every 20 mins or so you have the feeling of a plane landing on top of you. Quite unique!

Hungry, Guy (with the help of Maps.Me) navigates us to Addiction Aquatic Development, which has to be one of our best experiences so far. It is a massive aircraft hanger building, on entry we get hand sanitized. We are in a hall filled with large tanks full of live seafood, a market, food stalls. Basically you seafood, then eat it, boom!

There was a whole counter serving crabs and white wine, we stood and waited for our hairy crab and glass of Chardonnay. The wine was delicious, our first white wine for 3 months. The crab was sweet and tasty, we spent ages getting all the meat out, it was worth every second. 

There was an outside charcoal grilling Spanish mackerel on offer and although we were tempted we chose cooked fish from the counter, picking out braised sweet fish, roasted salmon and grilled mackerel and a couple of grilled prawns. We also gave in and bought a bottle of white wine.

Guy loved the mackerel, it was the biggest mackerel I have ever seen, it was soft, oily and delicious. I loved the salmon, we chose a piece that included the fatty part near the gills, it was tender and yielding. ….. yum. The sweet fish was new to us and was sweet, really nice and the prawns were o.k.as well. 

We had a lovely couple of hours in a world of fish and white wine. 

Tourism is over for today. We make our way home, consider a craft ale bar but won’t pay £5 a beer (bearing in mind we have just blown a days budget on the fish and wine!!!).

I decide that whisky will help my throat so buy a small bottle and have a few hot whisky and honeys. Guy decided a flavoured beer test is required so buys the following: 

  • Mango beer
  • Pineapple beer
  • Grape beer
  • Honey
  • Normal (coz he has never tasted that before!!!!)
  • Asahi Dark (pudding) 

    I loved the mango one, he loved pineapple. It is the closest we get to fruit today.

    We watch English tv for the first-time in ages. Jamie’s 30 min meals and then a documentary on Stella McCartney. 

    We go to our local Irish bar for happy hour beers and are happy. 

    Now, who does this remind me of ……..

    28.11.16 Taipei Nangang to Xinyi

    So we are moving Taipei homes today as we have seen too little of Taipei and unfortunately Fiona is booked up so we are off to the CBD district. First though we need cash and lunch both of which were found in our wonderful neighbourhood. We also see loads of cockroaches splattered or dying on the street and see some guys with massive exterminator gas contraptions, we assume the 2 are related.

    Breakfast drink first, I am boring and have black coffee, Guy has Chinese Milk with Jobs Tears, and that wasn’t even using Google translate! We think it was soya milk with something, if that helps? 

    Lunch is a meat bento box, looks great and tastes even better. And we have vegetables!!!!!

    We transfer to our new abode within an hour. It is not as good as Fiona’s place, it is just a room with ensuite, bad WiFi and a warning not to tell the neighbours you are Air BnB’ing, but it is interesting to be in a different part of town. 

    We get the tube to Longshan temple, one of the main temples in Taipei, we luckily get there just as the nuns are doing their evening chanting, it is a really atmospheric experience with incense and everyone praying to the different gods and chanting.

    We need food so are off to Ningxia market which is supposed to be one of the better ones, but we were disappointed. There isn’t much different food there, but we do have bitter tea. It is bitter, worse that the strongest builders tea you can imagine. 

    I try exploding chicken roll, it didn’t explode, apparently that can happen when you bite into it. It was chicken meat wrapped in chicken skin, dusted in spices, bbq til crispy on outside and juicy in the inside,   it tasted delicious.

    Guy waits for ages for some sweet potato balls. They are fried til crispy but the technique is to squeeze them whilst frying them with that massive looking sieve, we end up with a bag of empty balls, quite odd. 

    Next up is another pork and mustard greens greens steamed bun for Guy.  It is the thing that I keep seeing people rave about on blogs but I am just not that keen,  the bun is not that great and the pork isn’t well flavoured,  Guy’s comments was ‘it is okay ‘.

    Finally Guy goes for a local classic, vermicelli with oysters,  I am dubious and when it turns up tepid so is Guy! The broth and vermicelli is tasty but we don’t dare try the oysters, neither of us like the snotty little things anyway. 

    We go back to Taipei 101 to see the big building lit up at night, and see a food court there. The queue for Din Tai Fun was huge, we were chuffed that we had already been when we were in Tainjin!!! The rest of the food court looked really interesting and we make a note to come back here. 

    We had seen some local liqueur so needed to try it. It was strong and tasted of alcohol only, we won’t be repeating that experience!

    Bonus Post – Toothpaste

    Many of our regular readers have been frantically writing in, demanding an update on our toothpaste situation. Well folks we don’t want to disappoint!

    We can confirm that the Chinese Jasmine Tea flavour is finished but the exciting news is that we are now cleaning our pearly whites with Taiwanese Lemon and Lime flavour. Yes that’s right folks, LEMON and LIME flavour!

    Whilst the Jasmine tea taste was, at first, a little strange. Lemon and Lime is straight out of the blocks providing a refreshing citrus taste, every time. 

    Until next time!

    Disclaimer – wanting a gin & tonic after cleaning your teeth is not our responsibility 

    27.11.2016 Taipei

    We are getting into a slackers routine here. We stay up late chatting to Fiona and our new friends and the bed is really comfortable so we are having trouble getting anything done. We arrive at the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) station at 12.31 pm. 

    It is raining, again, but at least it is 20 plus degrees. 

    We are off for lunch, we aren’t even pretending to call it brunch, we missed it so lunch is calling. It is beef noodle soup we are wanting and we are prepared to queue for it. There are many queues for food here and mostly we can ignore them being impatient westerners but we are wanting a famous noodle soup from Yong Kang. We huddle from the persistent rain and all form an orderly line to the restaurant, past other restaurants with no business.

    Once inside we order the soup, one with spicy broth and one with beef tendons, there is a whole display counter for pickles and accompaniments, kinda like a salad bar at a Harvester, but tastier and less familiar!

    The soup is absolutely delicious, hoa jia, and we slurp it down noisily.

    We left the restaurant, queues still outside, and walked towards the centre of town. 

    We stumbled into the Chaing Chi Shek memorial which was welcome as it had started to rain, heavily, again.

     It is the biggest monument to someone that lost a civil war that I have ever been to. I still didn’t really understand any more about him when I left, but maybe that was the point?

    After nearly 3 months travelling we are needing some more clothes, so go over to Wu Fen Pu for cheap clothes, none as cheap as Primark! 

    Socks and t-shirts bought we are off to KGB, Kiwi Gourmet Burger, for an amazing burger and cheese n bacon fries. OMG it was delicious!

    We got back to our flat to see that everyone had left and we were on our own! We had a couple of beers, started blogging and diarying and drinking local beers. Fiona came up and we spent ages chatting to her about Taiwan, the people and customs. It is fascinating to chat to her. 

    26.11.2016 Taipei and suncream

    Today was the day that both our weather apps promised sunshine and sunshine, so we dressed in flip flops, skirt (shorts for Guy) and covered ourselves in suncream. We flip flopped our way though the local market, waving and smiling.  The food looked as good as yesterday so Guy had another onion bread and then we spied the fried counter. We had promised ourselves vegetables today as we were feeling the need for them, but the lure of fried stuff was too much, we chose fish, sausage, taro and sweet potato ball and savory tofu wrap thing, possibly not as many vegetables as we were hoping. They were dusted in a spicy powder and were hot and delicious.

    Coffee required so we went to a museum in a café, it had loads of old stuff, curiosities in 4 rooms and was ace just to wander about looking at. 

    We had coffee, Guy’s had brown sugar crust and was delicious. 

    As the sun was still shining we went to the nearby Da’an park and watched the wildlife doing what only wildlife can do in the open air.

    The warm weather was starting to fade which was a surprise to us and our weather apps. We assumed it was a blip and carried on down the back streets until we came across a beautiful restaurant for lunch. It was organic and had vegetables, that was enough to get us through the door. The food was really delicate and tasty, the set menu was of soup, vegetable dishes and a meat dish of your choice, I chose beef in star anise and citrus, Guy chose pork trotters. The other dishes were cabbage, braised peanuts, tofu for me and pumpkin for Guy. It was entertaining watching Guy eat pigs trotters with a spoon and chopsticks. 

    We spent a lovely couple of hours relaxing in the restaurant, by the time we left it was looking dull and forboding. We met a couple of Mormons, chatted, until we realised they were Mormons and they were trying to sign us up. Coincidently the weather took a remarkable turn for the worst, rain and winds picked up and I had to get put the emergency poncho. It was an emergency situation.

    We decided to take shelter in a creative park, the Huashan 1914 creative park. We walked past a couple of women drinking a bottle of red wine. Our heads turned. The wine was £30 a bottle.  Heads shook and we carried on through a creative art space filled with middle class crafty stuff to buy. We needed none of it but the area was quite lovely and the old buildings had a shabby but cared for look about them.

    Being British, on holiday, in flip flops and it raining we decided the only other thing to do is have ice cream. We went to Snow King, and had a salty sesame oil chicken scoop along with a longan date scoop of ice cream. Strange but delicious.

    As we hadn’t had enough to eat yet Guy stopped and got a steamed pork bun. 

    We decided that really 3 meals today was enough but maybe getting some sushi to keep hunger at bay would be a good idea so we went to the bento box counter at the station for supplies. They also had garlic bread, we bought garlic bread, sushi, chocolate tart and almond snickers for tea. I have no idea why we are putting on weight in this country!

    As it was Saturday night we decided to try a selection of the local beers, we bought and took them back to our Air BnB flat and settled down to blog,  write diary and relax. 

    At 8pm our Air BnB mates came home. We then realised they were serious about cooking us dinner when they arrived back with vegetables, mushroom balls, clams and a thai style fermented fish sauce. We ate more food. 

    They were also kind enough to buy some 1000 year old preserved eggs, a Taiwanese delicacy, the eggs used to be soaked in horse piss for 6 months nowadays they ferment them in chinese white wine for 2 weeks. The fact the taste is similar could explain why we are avoiding chinese white wine!

    The eggs had a faint whiff of ammonia and the white had turned to jelly with a cream cheese yolk texture which was quite odd. Guy ate 3/4 of the egg,  I didn’t vomit. 

    We stayed up for sometime chatting and learning more about Taiwan and its people, Skype’d home and chatted some more.

     

    25.11.16 Taipei – Whisky

    Woken up at 6am-ish by Alison shaking the bed. She asked me what I was doing and we realised it was an earthquake. Once the bed stabilised we went back to sleep.

    We walked to the local MTR (tube/subway/metro) through the back streets and turned a corner to see a man crossing the road with a dead chicken in his hands. He saw us and in English shouted “Good morning”. We smiled and replied and saw ahead of us a local street market. We slowed down and tried to take it all in, a riotous cacophony of sounds smells and sights. There was fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, tofu, hand made noodles, cooked meals, fried fish, fried chicken, breads, pastries, sweets, sesame paste, pulses, teas, oils, t-shirts, bags and monks. People smiled and said hello. We bought a spring onion bread fresh from a tandoor oven which was deliciously charred and crispy. There were so many colourful images that would have made so many great photos but this was a back street locals market and I wanted to enjoy it and not invade their privacy.

    We exited the MRT at tourist info and registered for Taipei WiFi. We asked about where to buy a Sim card and for a bike lane map and then Alison released the genie from the bottle and asked where we could buy Taiwanese whisky. The lady replied that there was a shop on the second floor and before she had finished her sentence I was on the escalator.

    Pub Quiz Question – Who won the WORLDS Best Single Malt Whisky 2015 according to the World Whisky Awards?

    A Scotch? An Irish? 

    No – A Taiwanese Whisky from Kavalan.

    The shop had the whole range, aroma bottles for a sniff and a cafe. Al ordered a coffee and a sales lady asked if I wanted to try any samples. In the interest of the longevity of the trip I told her I’d be back shortly and sat with Al while she drank her coffee. We then tried a few samples before deciding on a case of 10 tasters which included the worlds best whisky 2015. The beautiful presentation case was shoved into the rucksack for the rest of the day.

    We tried in vain to find the SIM card shop and had lunch in a busy underground food court at the main train station. Al had sushi and I had Taiwanese which consisted of pork mince on rice, braised greens and pork rib soup.

    We then caught the MRT to Tamsui, a historic town to the north of Taipei on the banks of the Danshui river where it spills into the sea of China. It sounds romantic but in reality there is no break in buildings from Taipei and it seems part of the suburbs.

    We visit the quiet Yinshan Temple built by Chinese immigrants to worship the Dingguang Buddha, the guardian of Dingzhou. The artwork is very different to other temples we have seen.

    We wander along the developed riverside with other tourists and locals out for a stroll. Three blokes on air blades whizz past, one blaring out high tempo pop music. There are school kids enjoying the many snack stalls or trying their luck shooting balloons at fairground stalls. We try some imagawayaki, red bean paste and custard desserts which are hot and sweet.

    There are also some very tall ice creams being poured.

    I also can’t resist a pork pie covered in sesame seeds. Very different to the pork pies I love.

    Feeling very relaxed we catch the MRT back into Taipei and get off at Raohe night market which some people claim is the best market. Unlike the rabbit warren of Shilin that we visited last night, Raohe is one straight street with vendors in the centre and on the sides.

    Immediately there are tempting hujiao bing, or baked rolls with peppery pork mince and mustard greens, straight out of the tandoor. Crispy charred bottoms and succulent juicy pork await, but you need patience as they are searingly hot.

    Next are steamed and fried dumplings, similar to gyoza.

    Then, our hat-trick of pork snacks crescendos with xiaolingbao. They are very good with translucent pastry, showing the meaty broth inside.

    We try a pancake with bacon and egg filling served with wasabi which we presume is Japanese. We don’t know exactly what it is but the queue is long, which is a good sign and it tastes great when we finally get it.

    Prawn egg balls with honey mustard mayo.

    We buy cake to take away and a spicy pork sausage with green veg inside.

    Taiwanese night markets are a great way to eat. A busy, fun, vibrant atmosphere and an incredible variety of different foods to try. We are loving Taiwan.

    Back to the airbnb flat and we chat to Fiona and a new couple in the room next door. He is a fireman and she is a law student and they are staying for a few days while flat hunting. Our Taiwanese / Chinese is terrible but their English is good and Fiona translates where necessary. We enjoy finding out about them and their country and have a lot of laughs. At 10.30pm they go out to a night market for their evening meal!

    We finally open the whisky which is very smooth and tasty.