On a hot sunny Saturday afternoon, I scramble for creative charades and colorful language to pen down, what I claim as my recent ‘culinary adventures’ in Taiwan. I put a strain on my grey cells and try to invoke my latent memories by repeating “stinky tofu” aloud. As I do that, I am transported to my first evening in Taiwan, where I am standing in front of a glass entrance to the world famous- Din Tai Fung Dumpling House. The skies are grey and look ominous. I nudge myself to hurriedly enter the gates to take a sneak peek at the aromatic dumplings being made inside the restaurant’s kitchen. The rains seem to have dampened my spirits as I refuse to take pictures. I examine the menu card spread out on a shining steel table, just outside. “Pork dumpling!” I snap and murmur to myself cusses, even I can’t make sense of. Uninterested, I drag myself to the next destination, hoping my taste buds would be delighted to discover the vegan or vegetarian delights of Taiwan.
For my regular non-vegetarian friends, on the media entourage, I am a part of, my “I am a self-proclaimed vegetarian” cries, sound pretentious . They urge me to let go off my act and remind me of the proverbial truth ‘life is lived only once!’ I decide to take the advice of my friends seriously and decide to loosen up for the next seven days in Taiwan.
After all, isn’t travel meant to shatter our pre-conceived notions about the world, ourselves and our place in it? It isn’t meant to be pretty always. Sometimes it is all about creating the mess and coming out of it unscathed. Aren’t good travels all about learning, unlearning, doing, undoing? I remind myself that this is what travel all about. It is not always about discovering new sights, new sounds, smells or chasing faraway lands. Sometimes it is about rediscovering, reinventing and reshaping yourself and your world. I decided not to disappoint myself.
So here are some of my most memorable and pleasurable memories from the far east island:
Meal #1: Dining with the puppets: Taipei’s Taiwan’s fast paced capital is known to have propelled the country into a ‘Made in Taiwan’ hub. But what’s interesting is the quirky and fun side it brings to the country’s cuisine. Ready to explore colorful, strange themed restaurants, we end up with our first meal at the See-Join Puppet Theater. Voted as one of the weirdest restaurants in the world, it combines Taiwanese cuisine with the country’s traditional hand puppet theater together. A meal here, sorts my grim demons with a delectable and generous servings of sticky rice, sweet potatoes fritters with broccoli, scallion omelettes, the distinctive khimchi, all off course accompanied with healthy dose of laughter, humour, music, heavenly lighting and dancing puppets.
Insider tip: Take some sporting spirit with you to make the most of your personal experience here!
Meal #2 On a culinary culture trail: What’s a visit to Taiwan, without exploring its night markets? The enormous variety of Taiwanese meals that the night markets offer is no secret to the world. So I decide to hang up my vegetarian boots and indulge in the specialty street foods- Bubble tea, oyster omelette, stinky tofu, xiao long bao, crispy chicken fillets, braised pork rice, the weirdly darkish green sugarcane juice, shaved ice-cream and oh yes- the frog eggs! (I had no clue, I was eating them. Remember, ‘Zindagi na milegi dobara’ mantra for the next 7 days?)
Insider tip: Visit Taipei’s Shilin Market to people watch, understand the local eating habits and eat the best food in the country.
Meal #3: Celebrating India in Taiwan: I ponder over the irony of life. Why do I have to eat Indian food in Taiwan? But as always, I like to do the unthinkable. At Taipei’s oldest heritage hotel- The Grand Hotel, I meet the VP- Miki Pong, a Taiwanese smiling lady, clad in a peach Indian salwar kurti and join in the celebrations of Indian cuisine. “This fest,” grins Ms. Pong, “is being hosted by the India- Taipei Association to further the culinary exchange between our countries.” As I wade through a sea of Taiwanese people clicking selfies with an Indian dance troupe, I reach my out to the nearest chicken tikka and masala chai.
Insider tip: Never say ‘No’ to enjoying your home country food here. The Taiwanese love India and Indians. It’s always a good way to experience things outside in!
Meal #4: Finding a piece of Japan in Taiwan: Throughout my stay in Taiwan, I hog down plates of tastes, smells and flavours of an unknown world. But one that I cherish and is bound to stay lifelong with me is gorging on a Japanese meal, in a Japanese inspired and styled Silks Palace situated in the middle of a vast lush national park. Our entourage arrives late, but the ever hospitable and friendly staff at the hotel serve us humongous portions of fresh fruits, hefty meat and scrumptious pink sashimi.
Insider tip: The Japanese ruled Taiwan for over half a century and therefore, some of the cultural traits are passed from generations to generations. Be on time and bring some smiles always to experience the best of the Taiwanese hospitality.
Note: I was invited by Taiwan Tourism Bureau, in India as a part of Indian media entourage.
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