Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ugliest thing I've ever eaten...

What is that giant pile of black junk sitting in water that's even darker? Yeah, that was my first question too, because looking at that enormous heap of 'food' didn't really appeal to my appetite. In any case, I guess I should stop confusing you guys and just explain (thoroughly) why you shouldn't judge food based on its appearance. The stack of black rods you see in the picture is actually common street food in Taiwan, and actually Korea as well. It is known as 豬血糕 (pig's blood cake) and isn't too far off from blood sausage... okay, nevermind, but that is the closest comparison I can find. Found at stands that normally serve roast meat skewers or fried vegetables, you can pick up a single serving for around 20 NT (67 cents), and honestly it makes for a pretty good meal. This particular cart resides in 師大夜市 (Shi Da Night Market), but it really doesn't matter, they all pretty much taste the same, which is to say, I'm not aware of any standout stall or shops that sells this. Back to the point, the blood sausage is actually glutinous sticky rice that is pressed into bricks with pigs blood, then steamed. The result is a deliciously chewy, yet refreshing experience, which I can't really find a true comparison for.

I should mention there are 2 variants to serving this. One includes taking a large piece of blood sausage and coating it with soy sauce, then dipping it into peanut flour and cilantro. This makes for a savory and sweet combination that gets dulled by the flavor of the cilantro. This is actually my preferred method of preparation, but that review will have to come later... I unfortunately did not get pictures of that. In any case, the other way of serving is to fry it to reheat, then to dice the stick into bite sized pieces, which are then placed in a bag and covered with chili sauce and pork/soy broth. While I know I said that I prefer the other method of preparation, this way is actually really good as well. The pieces have a certain resilience that makes it feel like you're biting through rubber (like an eraser haha), which proves for a bit of fun when eating. It's only after you chew it for a little while that the flavors truly emerge, salty and spicy blending together with the pork juices to form a near perfect union. Before I end this post, I do want to add that... people usually hold the misconception that things that are prepared with blood have a sort of nasty aftertaste. Well, I can honestly say... the sweetness of the rice and the spices do well enough that you won't notice a thing.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Hello from America

Haha, I've actually been here for a couple of days already, but let's not get hung up on the minor details. I've been really tired (what else is new), and because of jet lag, I waste away most of the day on the couch sleeping. Anyway, be prepared for a slew more of Taiwan related posts, since I think I still have just about a month's worth of eating left to post. In any case, I thought I'd update my blog with a couple of gems I found in the last few days before leaving (excuse me if I don't post in chronological order, it's never been something I adhered to). First up... the 'O Rly' bakery. I actually found this place a few years ago, when the meme was still way more popular, what with the owls and stuff, but I pretty much completely forgot about it. Near the intersection of 復興 (Fu Xing) and 八德 (Ba De), it's a standard bakery that serves Chinese style breads... that is pineapple buns and egg tarts etc. Please don't ask me if the food is good. I walked in, glanced at the prices (mostly 30 NT or above) and left. I know, I know... 30 NT is just a dollar! Still, when I'm in Asia, relative prices dictate, and I wouldn't spend that much at a generic bakery, no matter how awesome the name.

As for this beauty... I went to
風廣場 (Wei Feng Market Square), which is actually a giant department store in the same style as 101, to have lunch. As I was exiting, I found a custom cake maker and saw this gem. They also had a Spongebob cake, as well as other cute designs, but the panda stood out. I think it was about $25, so I obviously didn't buy it... I think a picture was enough to satisfy my curiosity.

Monday, August 24, 2009

More shaved ice at 木町 (Mu Ding)

What the hell, I'm stuck in the terminal for another 30 minutes or so... why not bang out another quality (har har) post in the mean time? Anyway, in another one of my random walks, I somehow returned to 師大 (Shi Da)... and what do I do when I go there? Night market of course! I forget what else I ate that day, or rather... I do, but I'm not prepared to post about it... yet. In any case, I went to a combo shaved ice and Japanese restaurant. Wait... what? Yeah, Mu Ding, or uh... 'wood best' if translated directly, is some messed up fusion restaurant that serves both desserts as well as the traditional Japanese rice/noodle dishes. It's menu has a dizzying array of curries, katsus, and omelet dishes, complemeneted only the fairly unique selection of shaved ices. This trip was all about dessert, so I didn't even bother with the savory foods this time (I did on a later trip). The store looks nice. Seriously. You know the swanky feeling you get in those hipster coffee joints near Union Square? Yeah, it has that kind of vibe. Plastic florescent colored tables complement more plastic chairs. The signs are decked out with mood lights, and the store front looks like something straight out of an NYU fairytale. All this makes me further believe... you shouldn't judge a book by its cover (er... shaved ice place by its decor?).

Uh... I'm still really lazy, so instead of listing prices, I'm simply going to link a picture of the menu (click for giant goodness). Remember... 33 NT to the US dollar, so no more than $3 for the most decadent of ices... wtf are you doing midtown (here's looking at you... Cafe Zaiya)?

On this trip, I went with the 紅豆某綠茶冰 (matcha green tea red bean ice) . It's truly an amazing creation if you see it. Matcha green tea powder is mixed into water to produce an incredibly strong green tea... then frozen... then shredded thinner than a traditional shaved ice. Topped with a generous serving of red beans and condensed milk, it will make your heart hurt, but your taste buds happy. As for the gross looking plop of stuff... that's actually 芋頭牛奶冰 (taro milk ice). The taro looks disgusting, but was amazingly soft and delicate that you could cut it with just your spoon. Dunked in syrup and more condensed milk, this isn't a dessert I would try to have too much of either (unless I wanted to become myouterfatty again that is...). Would I go back? Probably not... there are other ice stores in the area (wink wink to come) that are much better. However, if your legs are too tired from exploring, or you can't find the others (wtf is wrong with you?)... then this place certainly isn't terrible. The green tea is kinda unique. The point is, I would eat there again... but I'm not sure I'd recommend it to others.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Goodbye for now Taiwan

Do I really have to go back to... eek, the US? In years past, I'd always really look forward to the day where I could return to American soil. I'd miss American food (looking back, I'm not really sure why), American TV, and my friends (who just so happen to also be American). Not that I don't miss all those things, but for some reason, this year feels really different, I just don't really feel all too excited about hopping on a plane back to, what should be, my home country. Maybe it's anxiety, because I don't really want to graduate just yet. Maybe it's because I don't really want to deal with graduate school apps, which I inevitably have to as soon as I return. Maybe it's because I'll miss the octopus burger from Mos Burger way too much.


Since I have to write a final retrospective essay on my experience in Taiwan... I figured I might as well respond in the form of a blog post. No point in wasting words right? As far as what I did this Summer, I've never really explained that with any kind of depth. I was assigned to work under Dr. Wu Maw Kuen at Academia Sinica's institute of physics. Essentially the national lab of Taiwan, I wasn't entirely sure of what I'd be doing, if anything (given my past internships). For 8 weeks, I slaved away in the superconductivity lab. Given no solid project, I was told to find something interesting myself. Naturally, I opted for the road less traveled, picking the most obscure project I could. My project manifested itself in the form of Barium Iron Selenite. The lab itself is focused on Fe based superconductors, so obviously I was a bit limited in the variety of projects to choose from, but it turned out okay I guess. How did I do in this role? Would it be too arrogant to say... 'quite well?' Maybe that's a tad presumptuous, since my project hasn't yielded any concrete results as of yet, but as far as what I gained in lab experience and networking, I'd say this summer was pretty rewarding.

Now to describe my experience this Summer, as well as how my views on Taiwan have changed. Can I answer with just, amazing... and not at all? My experience this summer... hmm, how should I address this question? Well, this was the first Summer in which I've gotten to hang around people my own age (usually it's a variety of infant relatives, or a collection of senior citizens), so that was quite refreshing. Being able to just... meet up with people with similar interests (i.e. not knitting) meant that I had people to relate with when I was bored. Given my background as an engineer, I realize there's no way for me to verbalize how large an impact this had on my stay, but the difference was significant for sure. Oh, and if you're curious about that picture, it's my 2 coworkers, Willy carrying Andrew, since Andrew gimped his foot playing basketball (lol, I think that actually deserves its own post, but I'll refrain... since he'd kill me). As for how my perception of Taiwan changed... it didn't. I loved Taiwan before this Summer, and I love it about the same now. Maybe I enjoy the subtleties of the cuisine more now, but I don't think my perception of Taiwan changed much at all.

Anyway, as I'm sitting at the airport, I find myself increasingly sad that I'm leaving. Whoever says that NYC is the greatest city in the world... should do themselves a favor and buy a plane ticket to Taipei. Having lived in both, there's no question where I'd rather spend the rest of my life.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Scallion pancakes from... um, I'm not sure where

I haven't made any posts recently, and honestly, I have no excuse for that. My job ended last Friday (well... technically Saturday), and I've kinda just been sleeping a lot... so yeah, it's not because I haven't had time to post. In any case, I have a short story to tell. When I was a kid, I used to love scallion pancakes. I hated pretty much everything that had any hint of fish, and most fatty pieces of meat, or anything remotely different, so my food choices were severely limited. My grandfather would always get me scallion pancakes, of 蔥油餅 (if you're inclined in reading Chinese), which would always make me happy. Pieces of oily dough (and I mean oily) were rolled in a basket filled with diced up scallions, and then dropped onto a hot plate skimming with oil. The dough would be pressed out into a larger circle of desired thickness, which is largely dependent upon the cook's preference, and allowed to swim around the pool of oil until fried to gb and d. Fresh, and still burning hot from the oil, the pancake would be shoved into a paper bag (soon to become transparent) and placed in my hands. Me being the fatass that I was, and still am, would shove the entire thing in my mouth disregarding any sense of pain. It's okay, since the deliciousness would dull the burns. Uh, yeah, that's pretty much the end of my crappy story. Anyway, located on the corner of a small alleyway on 和平東路 (He Ping East Road), there exists a hut... that's all it really is, which sells these golden concoctions. There are no tables, nor anywhere to sit, but the line stretches 20-30 deep during lunch, with each person buying upwards of 10 pancakes. Was it really worth such an absurd wait time to eat what you could buy from pretty much anywhere?

My god yes! For 25 NT (70 cents or so) you can either get their scallion pancake, a turnip pancake, or um... I actually forget the menu since it was so long ago (but I do remember +10 for an egg fried on top!). It was everything I remembered from my youth, crisp exterior, soft layered interior, and the familiar taste of peanut oil and scallions, and make no mistake, they did not skimp on their scallions. As far as if I would go back? No doubt, I actually went to look a few times afterward, but I had always already eaten beforehand, so it would've been excessive, but I do reminisce about this place often haha. Think about it, what kind of nutjob would go and buy 10+ pancakes if it wasn't that good (there's many many nutjobs if that adds to their reputation lol). Anyway, go look for it if you're in the area, I've gotta warn you though... it might be a bit tough to find.

Oh yeah, I think I'm gonna give up on the run counter (not because I haven't been running lately... which, actually I haven't), but because I realized that I've run into the same problem as when I was rowing. I stopped running because I found it enjoyable, but rather I did it to boost my personal odometer. I think part of the reason I started to hate rowing, and erging as a result, was because I was too focused on reaching a certain distance achievement (not unlike those useless achievements in Halo 3...). I don't want that to happen with running or biking, so in the future, I'll probably just... run. I'm sure everyone was pretty sick of the running portion anyway ha.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

I actually have a really tough life

No seriously, it's hard being me. In the past week I have, been proven wrong about my compound (not really superconductive in its current state, but there's hope!), won an award about said compound, and happened to be in the right place in the right time and will be in Scientific American. Whew... I told you it's tough being me right? I bet you thought I was joking. In my downtime from working on winning the next Nobel Prize (joking! I'm not that narcissistic, unlike several people I know of who think they're somehow entitled to admissions to JHU and Harvard Med Schools), I have gone to a few more restaurants, and also 士林 (Shi Lin) twice. I guess it's not helping my backlog, but that just means posts about Taiwan will continue until... oh, probably Christmas break? Anyway, expect a return to posting real soon, since... like I said... I'm officially done with work.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Return to posting!

Nope! Not yet I'm afraid. Another 4 days of work, so possibly a few posts in the upcoming week in my downtime, but I'm still a bit preoccupied with my research, and also other annoyances that come to mind (hi grad school!). I just wanted to update my run counter, since it bothers me that it's a few days behind.

Anyway, I did a short 2.78 mile run to 國父紀念館 (Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall) yesterday to meet a friend from school. Did I mention it was raining still? I thought, for some reason, that the rain would get lighter as the typhoon left the island, but apparently I was wrong. I ended up being drenched, not entirely because of the rain, but whatever. This morning (evening for the NYC folks), I did a 10k and then a bit more (6.37 miles). I was planning on just doing a 4 miler, but I felt like since I took so many days off, I had to prove to myself that I could actually do a longer distance run (not that the 10k is long by any stretch... just longer than what I've been doing a.k.a. 0 miles). Maybe if I feel up to the task, I'll do the 4 mile mountain loop in the area behind my lab today... maybe.

distance for the day: 9.15 miles
distance biked for the day: 0.00 miles

distance on the year: 467.80 miles
distance biked on the year: 142.68 miles

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

So about posting more...

Maybe I got lazy today (I got up to run though!). Anyway, just checking in to update my run counter. Oh yeah, good news, I won't have to do any math in the Fall with regards to my biking counter, I plan on getting a computer to do that for me lol.

distance for the day: 5.49 miles
distance biked for the day: 0.00 miles

distance on the year: 458.65 miles
distance biked on the year: 142.68 miles

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Do my friend a favor

I realize I have a pittance of a reader base, so this probably won't help much... but if you're in need of awesome translations (read: want something a bit more useful than babelfish), use Middish. Happy translating.

distance for the day: 4.38 miles
distance biked for the day: 0.00 miles

distance on the year: 453.16 miles
distance biked on the year: 142.68 miles

咖哩屋 (Curry House)

Go go curry! Step aside... you've been topped. On a return trip to 一一八巷, I had to settle my stomach, but with what? I've gotten kind of bored with beef noodle soup... I mean, awesomeness has its bounds, and when everything tastes exponentially great, at some point, it loses its appeal, you know? My new found addiction... Japanese style curry. That's right, I've fallen in love with katsu, I could eat it for pretty much every meal (and from my future marathon of posting... think 50 or so restaurants in the next month), you'll realize just how much of it I actually ate. One of the more famous places, that is... having been on the news, for curry is 咖哩屋... located conveniently on 和平東路 一一八巷. Compared to most places, Curry House has a relatively nice exterior (and interior to boot!). It sits right next door to a relatively well known beef noodle place, so I had to be sort of impressed just to ignore that and walk in. Inside, the place looks fairly snazzy, pretty fancy really... glass tables, neon plastic chairs, mood lighting. It actually kind of reminds me of a NYC shop to be honest... so take that for how you will, good or bad.

Since I'm too lazy to explain the whole thing about prices, I just took a snapshot of the menu... remember, it's about 33 NT per US dollar. See? Even the menu looks nicer than that of most places. For that reason, I expected it to be slightly more expensive than other places, as most dine in options run a bit higher, but they turned out to be reasonable... virtually nothing over 110 NT.

As for the food... it lives up to its expectations. Furthermore, because the prices aren't insane like some other Japanese restaurants (you pay for exoticism I guess), the food seems to taste that much better. My mom went with the beef and chicken curry combo, with which she was displeased. I ate some and thought it was good... a nice blend of heat and sweetness, not overpowering in any manner, but at the same time... adequately flavorful. The beef and chicken were both nice and juicy, so I'm not sure what she was complaining about (she kept saying that even she could cook it... debatable). As for me, I got the pork katsu curry... the pork chop was exactly as I imagine a cutlet should be. Pounded thinly into something less than a centimeter in thickness, then fried to golden brown, it came out crispy and still sizzling. No joke, this would cost about 250 NT ($8) if you went to SOGO. So if you're in the area, and have no inclination for beef noodle soup... go here.


Why midtown might have an edge on Taiwan

This is the only reason I hate my job. There is absolutely nothing good to eat around my workplace, which is part of the reason I go to 7-11 all the time. Anyway, as part of my first week in the lab (see how long ago this should've been put up?), I went out to lunch with my coworkers a few times. One of the first places they took me was a noodle shop called 老家好麵 (Old Family Good Noodles... it's official, I give up on trying to translate properly). In any case, it's just like every other noodle shop you might see. Small, dimly lit, poorly air conditioned, and cramped to boot. There is absolutely nothing that would draw you into this store, yet I'm sure they make an absolute killing in terms of profits. A number of factors plays into this, Academia Sinica has no other good food options, it is the first shop along a line of mediocre food establishments, and did I mention that the people in Taiwan are incredibly lazy? To explain how bad the area is for eating, I would be indescribably happy if only a Mos Burger would be right across the street (nevermind the fact that I love Mos Burger... it's still fast food!).

Onto the food! For 55 NT (just a shade under $2), you can get their special... something called 'biang biang noodles.' Of course you could also get their beef noodles for 100 NT ($3), but after having so many better options, I figured I might as well not disappoint my tastebuds with more mediocrity. Did I succeed? Hell no, this bowl of noodles was terrible. Imagine store bought Chinese flat noodles, minced pork meat sauce tossed with some tofu pieces, mixed with an egg and tomato sauce mixture, with a side of scallions and bean sprouts. Does that sound awesome to you? because I assure you it's not. To be fair, it didn't taste terrible, but it's also not something I would want to pay for (or buy again). If I had made this at home, I would gladly finish it, but it's definitely not a dish I'd try to replicate. So listen, do yourself a favor, if you're ever in the area around Academia Sinica, just go to 7-11... your stomach (and wallet) will thank you.