Taipei (Friday, June 25, 2010)
Friday morning we awoke to a severe fruit shortage. We wandered down to the fruit store and noticed a lively street market nearby. Bypassing the vegetables, meat, and fish, we sampled fruits and sausages on our way to a shop selling steamed bread, plain and filled with sweet bean paste, pork and cabbage meatball, and who knows what else. This was our kind of fuel, and the proprietor was patient, so we loaded up. She was clear in her instructions: to eat now. And we did, as soon as we got back to the apartment.
I can’t recall the rest of the morning, but I definitely remember lunch because we couldn’t resist returning to Din Tai Fung for some more dumplings. We tried to call ahead for a reservation, but all tables were full, so they said we just had to come take a number. Standing on the sidewalk with our clipboard, we realized how much more convenient it was to have a Chinese speaker study the menu and fill in the form. Fortunately the restaurant employs bilingual hostesses for this very purpose, and a pretty woman gave us many suggestions, including the crucial idea of combining numerous half order so we could try more different types of dumplings. This stood us in good stead as we added to our repertoire: tasty pork siu mai with an unusually tall wrapper, featuring a tiny shrimp above an elegant twist (pretty presentation, but the shrimp lacked flavor); meaty wontons in a spicy sauce (tasty, but not as exciting as soup dumplings); and dessert buns filled with red bean, taro, and black sesame.
Dad was on a quest to find a gift for his girlfriend, so we headed out to a government-run crafts emporium, which seemed like a good place to find genuine jewelry and art. In fact, they had a large selection of jade pendants, stone and wood bowls and vases, and replicas from the Palace Museum. I picked up a bag of oddly inexpensive Tung Ting Oolong tea, but it was hard to commit to the more expensive items. We would visit many more shops, but none with such unusual and spectacular items.
I had borrowed Chang’s extra cell phone and as we were finding the taxi queue it suddenly rang. “What did you do to my toilet?” she demanded. It wouldn’t flush. We rushed home and — I’m handy with a plunger — got it cleared quickly. We had been impressed by the super-strong tissues in Taiwan. Maybe they were not supposed to be put down the toilet? This unfortunately would remain ambiguous, and the plunger would see use again.
Chang had a dinner date, so we were on our own. She had suggested a restaurant on Yongkang Street that served “traditional” food. Mostly by luck we found Tu Hsiao Yueh and there was a little space to wait (standing as still as possible) just inside the automatic door. Here you could watch the noodle chef making the family’s famous “slack season” noodles, also known as danzai mian. When we were seated, we had to order the noodles, which feature a long-simmered pork meat sauce, an obscene quantity of crushed garlic, and a prawn atop your choice of rice noodles (wide or thin) or wheat egg noodles in a savory broth. Very good, but sized to allow you plenty of room to try other regional specialties.
The deep fried shrimp rolls with a tempura-like batter and a gooey fruity dipping sauce (with a lump of wasabi) were delicious. We were directed to squeeze a generous amount of lime juice on a grilled fatty fish dish called milkfish maw, which, considering that maw means stomach, was much better than expected. Water spinach sauteed with garlic and chillies provided a crunchy contrast to the richer dishes. A taro cake turned out to be savory, not sweet, so we left without dessert. We noted that the restaurant had its original location in Tainan, and took the little brochure with the address for future reference.