Saturday, March 27, 2010

I'm still a tourist... (士林夜市) Shi Lin Night Market

I put this post off for a long time. It's partially because I know I can't really do it justice, and partially because, well, there's just so many freakin' pictures to upload that I didn't want to write a super long post. In any case, I'll try my best haha. Anyhoo, no matter what, when I'm in Taiwan, I'm still a tourist. As such, I go to touristy spots like night markets, I get glares when I talk, and I'm pretty sure they're judging me for taking pictures. Yes it's true that I have black hair (temporarily orange) and squinty eyes. I look Chinese. I speak Chinese. It's still blatantly obvious that I'm not native though. People can tell with a quick glance, and when I open my mouth, my somewhat subtle Beijing accent affirms their suspicions. Anyway, my point is, I don't really fit in. So when I had the opportunity I made sure to hit up all of the most popular food spots at 士林 with no regards for my dignity. Starting with... shaved ice. (edit: wow, in rereading what I wrote in that blurb, I realize how incoherent my thoughts are. I mention a bunch of things that are completely unrelated and attempt futilely to explain them. Whatever, it's my blog, and they made sense in my head. Sorry.)

At a place called 仙人掌 (Xian Ren Zhang) or in English... 'Cactus,' I started my days meal. Apparently this shaved ice parlor has been around since the 50's, it was also a place my mom used to frequent back in college, so yeah... it's old as crap (she would kill me if she knew I wrote that, good thing she doesn't actually read the text on my posts). Anyway, they have all the traditional flavors you'd expect... the red bean, mango, strawberry, pineapple, oatmeal, but I chose to go with the sesame flavored shaved ice. Shred as 雪花冰 or 'snowy ice,' it has the consistency of overly airy ice cream, with really fine shards indistinguishable from bite to bite. The sesame flavor was a nice change from the heavy sweet syrups normally associated with shaved ice. Think, tahini ice cream. It was definitely worth the price... regardless of how much it was. Come on, it couldn't be more than $3 at worst. I'd make a trip out of my way to try it, although I doubt I can find the place again without getting lost. Fail.

After going the reverse meal route with dinner first, I headed over to the main food center, which is basically a giant conglomerate of food shacks under a covered roof. This was where I ran into the 大腸包小長 (Da Chang Bao Xiang Chang) translated as 'big sausage holding little sausage' stand. Sorry for the stupid translation. It's just a hot dog. With sticky rice as the bun. I don't know why they can't just call it a rice hot dog.

In any case, for 50 NT ($1.50) you get a fairly decent sized Chinese sweet sausage, roughly 8", roasted over an open flame, and marinated in a variety of flavors (black pepper, vodka, original, spicy, mustard, and garlic), which is sandwiched into a bun made of sticky rice grilled into a compact neat package. They put some other condiments underneath, which I presume was cabbage and the sauce from the picture, and there ya go. Delicious in a bag. I don't think there was anything extraordinary about the stand in the photograph, but you should do yourself a favor and try it for the innovative nature of the synergy between sausage and rice.

I also got a giant piece of chicken. For 50 NT ($1.50... I swear they standardize prices to reduce competition between stands), you get a giant flattened piece of chicken that gets fried in breadcrumbs, and spiced (if you want it) enough to make you hate your tongue. It used to be bigger... I think. Maybe it was because when I first got it, I was like... 14, but maybe they downsized. It's still about the size of your face, and when you consider that 85% is edible, the remainder is bone, that's still a really good deal. I was tempted to go buy pineapple buns at a bakery and sandwich this sucker inside, but my wallet told me not to.

I went back to the shaved ice shop to take a break. This time I got an ume shaved ice. Basically Japanese plum plopped onto shaved ice. I was expecting something kind of maroon, but instead I was greeted with what appeared to be feces on ice. I wasn't too excited to eat it, and when I did, I was sorely disappointed. Overly tart, and oddly crunchy ice completely ruined it. The fact that it looked terrible just sealed the deal. Biggest waste of 40 NT ($1.10) ever.

Final stop on the day was a Thai place that was panda obsessed. To be completely honest, I only went in because they were pimping the panda posters so hard. I love pandas. Be honest, you do too. If anyone hates pandas, stop reading this blog right now. This is a panda loving zone and you're not welcome here. Anyway, I wasn't terribly hungry so I only got some of their more unique items off the menu.

Awww yeah, stinky tofu. I get this all the time, but I was curious as to how the Thai rendition of it would taste. Honestly? No real difference. The pickled cabbage was sweeter than what I expect from a stand, and it wasn't spicy at all, but the tofu was predictably awesome. The skin was sufficiently crispy and still pocked with oil pockets, the inside was spongy and soaked up the sauce like a boss (ha that rhymes), but most importantly, the smell was pungent and insulting from the first whiff. Excellent. This was 45 NT ($1.50) well spent.

Now what's this fried hockey puck of golden deliciousness? I swear to god, I didn't purposely frame the shape with the outline of 'delicious foods.' It kind of just happened.

It's fried ice cream! You're given the choice of ice cream flavors including the traditional vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, as well as the flavors you'd expect in Taipei... those being red bean, taro, and almond. I chose taro, which would explain the slight tint of purple. I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. They brought it out in a paper bag, which still managed to burn me. I was worried that by the time I had taken my picture and started to eat it, that I'd be left with a draining pool of taro cream. Actually... forget I said that, that sounds delicious. I'm not sure how they did it, but the ice cream was solid... yet yielding, the skin was crispy and piping hot. In some sort of engineering miracle, these... panda workers managed to defy heat transfer. On a completely unrelated side note, my sophomore year materials and energy balance professor said that chemE's invented the McMuffin. I laughed at her at the time... a lot... but I kind of see what she meant now. Anyhoo, methinks maybe some form of secondary starch might've been used to stabilize the ice cream, not unlike gelatin (although that would melt at near room temperature). I give up, my head hurts.

BONUS PICTURE. Panda. Yum. Restaurant. OG kickin' it since 2007. Full disclosure though, the food there really isn't that good. If they didn't have the appeal of a panda, I doubt anyone would walk inside. There were a lot of flies.


Jeanie Tseng said...

OMG I used to eat fried ice cream 15 years ago. Next to a Kodak store in my home town though. I'm putting that on my checklist of things to eat on my return. Your ChemEng professor is a crack up. McMuffin, really?

Nicholas said...

Yeahhh, she kept trying to insist how important a field chemE was. McMuffin apparently sprang to mind, no clue why.

Robyn said...

Oh my fugging fugnut you make me want to go to Taiwan so bad, but you think you don't fit in, I DON'T SPEAK ANY CHINESE, OH GOD, and I look Chinese, I think. Maybe I can get away with pretending I'm Korean, I dunno...probably not.


You make me miss Taiwan, but I didn't even eat this stuff when I was there! I can just envision WHERE this stuff is; I can see all the streets lined with food stands and shops and the night markets and the bluuuhghudfdroool.

Okay if i ever go to Taiwan you're my food guide.

Nicholas said...

Consider it a deal. It'll probably be my last trip back for a long while though (between grad school and plans for law school, I don't know how much time I get off). Ultimate plan is to move there though!

You know, sometimes I think I might be better off speaking English entirely, as they're way nicer to my other ABC friends than they are to me. So if that's your deterrent for going back, I wouldn't think too much of it!

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