A lot of great food in Taiwan is pretty inexpensive. Therefore, I propose a Pokemon approach, try to catch ’em all. Here is a scavenger hunt list, download a simplified version in hard copy here.
1. Fresh soymilk with fried crullers
I am most nostalgic about breakfast food in Taiwan. On the few trips there when I was a kid, I remember waking up to find my mama already returning from a morning stroll to get Taiwanese breakfast for us, featuring crunchy-flaky fried crullers and fresh warm soymilk, maybe with green onion pancakes.
A hot place to get fresh soy milk in Taipei is: FuHang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿). Expect a long long line, but it’ll be even tastier for having waited. I showed up early and was in line from street-level, up a flight of stairs, and into the food court where they were taking orders.
2. Green onion pancakes
Happiness can be so affordable! When I went, a very good green onion pancake at 北方油餅 (Beifang Green Onion Pancake) was 50NT, about $1.66 USD. I got up early on a Sunday morning to catch one of the first ones and skip the line, and I put on my dorky foreign tourist hat to take a video so you could experience in full color video, the making of a 北方油餅 (Beifang Green Onion Pancake) -with egg! Video is at the bottom of this post so as not to disrupt the flow of your reading.
Folks, I went to school for 24 years, the last few of which focused on urban policy, and my urban planner friends will be entertained when I say,
Taipei has SOLVED the last mile problem -down to the last two feet.
It is SO easy to get around! ..once you take a few steps to get going. Here are a few tips I learned from my trip there.
5 Things to Know About Getting Around Taipei
1. Take the MRT from TaoYuan Airport to the Taipei Main Station. There’s an express train, you’ll need NT broken into 100s, the machines won’t take large bills you’re likely to get from the ATMS. Go to a nearby kiosk for change. If there’s a lady standing next to the ATMs gesturing at you, that’s probably what she’s been hired to try and tell you.
2. An Easycard can pay for the MRT, subway, buses, some cabs, Youbike rental, and even the 7-Eleven. That’s right, you could buy yourself a convenience store lunch, or water to stay hydrated in the humid climate. Buses are a breeze if you have a smartphone and a data plan, even without a mastery of Chinese. The buses are very frequent. I heard from my mama’s retired friends that retired folks with a national ID get a number of free rides per month. They say they take the bus all the time and never run out of credits!
Recap of What I Expected to Find in Taiwan:
(see Taiwan Adventures – Going Home 1 for the full intro)
-Familiar but unfamiliar: being too-rusty in language skills, feeling a stranger in a friendly city
What did I find?
Aah, that southern Chinese accent! Familiar, just …familiar.I walked off the plane to find the Taiwan scents and accents floating around only familiar. It’s this kind of lush, humid smell with a subtle industrious undercurrent. Not as plastic as Hong Kong, with a strong hint of tropics. Delightfully homey.
Sometimes when I hear another language, it sounds like something on the edge of my hearing, where I can’t quite understand but if I listen a little more in a different way, it’ll make sense. It’s like a whisper of misty rain, sifting by and gone before you know it. It also didn’t feel like I was drowning in a foreign language.
In Taiwan, like a tranquil pool, I was happy to sit in it and let the words float by in a sea of general comprehension. Some waters were in other unknown dialects, like Hakka and Taiwanese, but those friendly waters floated by harmlessly.
I’m trying something different this time with the writing. Let me know how it goes. Thanks!
Belonging is a funny thing. As an Asian American kid growing up in Minnesota, I just wanted to be like everyone else I knew. My mother (born in Taiwan) persistently spoke to me in Chinese despite my brother and I coming home from school and responding in English for about ..twelve years. My parents sent me to Chinese language school on Saturday mornings. Despite being a good student on weekdays, come Saturday morning, I would just put down all the words I’d crammed for the quiz Friday night, wistfully think of the cartoons on tv I was missing while in class, then get on with my day.* Perhaps this allowed me to continue pretending I would grow up to be 6 feet tall, blond-haired and blue-eyed, with Scandinavian features when I grew up (it’s Minnesota, people look like that).
This April, an opportunity came up for me to go to Taiwan. Unlike last Fall, this one worked with my schedule and current obligations and seemed a good chance to go explore places where my mother grew up. It would be my first time back in 16 years. I say “back,” but honestly, I’ve been to Taiwan three times in my life: