Sunday, January 27, 2008
You know how it is, when you come back from a holiday and your friends will ask you how it was?
Usually it's an "oh, it was great!" or an "well, it was quite good", and then there's the "hmm... it was a'ight I guess?" and the mandatory "okay-lah".
But then again, there's also the "Man, it was fantastic!", kinda bordering on "It was the best holiday ever!".
And the latter was more accurate of my own response. I've been telling everyone how wonderful Taiwan is, how picturesque the moutains are and how it was like me being in a Chinese painting. And it is true, that was how I felt. I literally fell in love with Taiwan, their mountains, the people, the food and the fresh mountain air.
Friends who know me, would know that Taiwan wouldn't actually be my first holiday destination choice if I could choose to go any where in the world. It's not because I don't like the place but mainly because of my poor Mandarin. I can speak the language (studied it for more than 10 years, duh) but due to my English-speaking background, I'm not that proficient.
So, I was initially sceptical when my aunt said that she was going to Taiwan and asked if I wanted to come. Perhaps I was guilty of having some not-too-spectacular assumptions of the country but most of it stemmed from my fear of being reminded of my language handicap.
I really wish I can speak Mandarin properly, fluently, without having to ask people for help time and again. Yes, I hate Mandarin classes in school but only because I really struggled. The strokes and idioms always confuse me. Try as I might, I couldn't fanthom the language and grasp it strong. Fast forward to today, and post-Taiwan, I'm very very eager to give it another shot and work on it. I will make an effort to check the dictionary when needed and ask. One should appreciate one's heritage, no? Or maybe I should just pick up Malay from my Dad yes? Hmmm I think I should handle my Mandarin first.
Ooops, okay, this is a food blog! Sorry for digressing, but I got to warn you that my Taiwan posts won't always be about food. Hope you don't mind! The trip was more of a travel and scenic trip than a foodhunt. Not that I didn't hunt for food, no no. I did! haha... but that wasn't my priority :) I mean, when you're in a place that's so beautiful, food takes a backseat.
Soooo.... yes, this post is about Taroko Marble Gorge. Okay actually Taroko is a national park and the marble gorge is one of the main attractions. You heard right. This is where pure marble comes from, after being cultivated for thousands and millions of years. People harvest them to make furniture, tiles, sculptures. The marble's really really beautiful and you'll see why:
Isn't it gorgeous? My mouth was agape most of the time. It was beyond magnificient and beyond spectacular. If you think the photos look amazing, wait till you look at the gorge in person. I was blown away. Lovely lovely stuff.
You know how much I love adventure right? So you won't be surprised if I crossed a suspension bridge. Well not that it was a flimsy bridge (which would have made it more exciting eh!) - it was actually rather strong and safe. But heh, it was uber cool.
Yea, a mandatory shot before crossing the bridge.
And another two, taken on the bridge:
Realised then, that I love bridges and the thrills of crossing one that's so high. Haha, sadist much! No no, I just like adventure :) Yea, I have a secret fantasy of being a female Indiana Jones. So sue me ;p
Here's a pagoda that we climbed:
It was pretty high. Climbing the steep stairs were tiring, but worth it.
We went on a few trails that day. My favourite one was the 砂卡礑 (Shakatang) trail. We also went to 燕子口 (Swallow Grotto), 布洛湾(Buluowan) village, 绿水合流 (Lu Shui He Liu - some river/stream), and 九曲洞 (Tunnel of Nine Turns).
Check out the photos:
Love the stream. The water's crystal clear. And that was a good thing because I fell in. Yep, klutzy me fell into a shallow stream. Well I slipped actually. One of the rocks was too slippery. So before I knew it, I dived. Haha. It was rather hilarious actually. My cousin and sister (they were there when it happened) had a hearty laugh!
Here's me and my cousing krystle, all smiles. Me, very much refreshed and clean now.
Okay since this is after all a food blog, here are some food photos. Not alot but hopefully enough to not have you complaining that I didn't post enough food shots :D
That's bamboo and they fill it with glutinous rice, steam it and we just buy it by the stick, break it and eat it from there. Very yummy actually.
Did I mention how we all fell in love with Taiwan's instant noodles? They are amazing! Seriously. Trust me when I say that. I was never a fan of instant noodles but I became one in no time when I went there. Their instant noodles taste really good and they have actual real meat. Let me explain. In the bowl, there's a seperate retort bag that they include and you have to open it after its warmed up in a bowl of hot water and add it to the cooked instant noodles. Here's what I mean:
That's beef noodles and that's beef tendon if you're wondering. One bowl like that costs about $2 SGD which is rather reasonable I think.
If only they had stuff like this here. Damn, I really miss Taiwan right now. Not just their instant noodles. Or their ferns:
Yea, their ferns are good, green and delicious. That's my stash. I was a farmer for a day and went through the fields collecting ferns. hahaha.
I think it belonged to the natives. It was by the road and I nearly ran off with it. That was until I remembered that they can actually run after me and hunt me down!
So there you go, part 2. And there's more, much much more to come. But once again, I seek your patience!
Here's a really scenic mountainous parting shot:
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Deep-fried belly pork
The one thing I truly treasure about the food culture in Singapore is its common-place tze char stall.
There's just something that's so appealing about dining al fresco, facing the humid weather headon, sweating it out with your fellow dining partners. You tuck in unabashed, using your fingers earnestly trying to get the most out of that chicken wing or crab. Best yet - the prices are much cheaper than those in posh air-conditioned restaurants.
At tze char stalls, the food speaks for itself. There ain't no ambience to compensate for taste so the chefs had better get their food right, or face a very grouchy customer.
And speaking of tze char, I had the pleasure of tucking into one of the best tze char food I've tasted. Located at Changi Road, Le Wai Tian Seafood is a nondescript outfit tucked in a plain looking coffeeshop. Had the Makansutra Forum not organise a makan session there, I wouldn't have discovered this delicious gem. Boy am I glad I went for the dinner.
I had lots of fun and laughs to go along with the satisfying dinner. Most people at the table I sat were familiar faces like The Skinny Epicurean, The Hungry Cow, and Superfine Feline. I really enjoyed myself that night. Of course the scrumptious food played a big part too! Check out the photos:
Fish maw crab meat soup
Prawn paste chicken
Curry Fish head
Ooo I love the way this place does it. It's not overtly curry-like in flavour. Very aromatic and tasty, the gravy is thick and not very spicy. There's dried shrimps too. Great to drown your rice in.
Deep-fried pig trotters in herbal sauce
Was surprised that I actually enjoyed this. I seldom eat pig trotters and I don't have a very good impression of them, don't ask me why. But this one, mmmm the meat was tender and tasty - went well with the herbal sauce.
Black pepper crab
I think this was the highlight. The crabs were big and full of flesh. Totally loved the sauce and I stole some crab roe.
Sambal vegetable (i forgot which veg! it's related to dou miao i heard)
Dark Hokkien Mee
A great noodle dish. I think it's cooked over a charcoal stove. It could be true, seeing how it really tastes a bit smoky. I like!
Deep-fried ice cream
Seemed like they wrapped the ice cream with bread before frying. I like that it didn't feel oily. Perhaps I should try making some myself.
This horfun, together with the following two fried rice, we ordered a la carte. Well our table just has a bigger appetite I guess!
Yangzhou Fried Rice
Salted fish fried rice
Their fried rice is really good. I wouldn't mind going back just for the fried rice. The Yangzhou one is good. The hor fun is pretty normal though.
Would definitely bring my family there some time. Le Wai Tian is my current favourite tze char place now :)
Le Wai Tian Seafood
324T Changi Road
(it's between Kembangan & Eunos station, about 10-15 minutes walk from Kembangan)
Monday, January 14, 2008
I miss Taiwan, especially the mountains and the cold weather.
It's been about 12 days since I came back and looking at all the photos I took, it only makes me want to go back.
Sounds pretty silly considering that I was there for only 15 days. It wasn't that long a duration but I guess what makes it different was precisely most memorable - the company coupled with scenic backdrops and great food; oh yes not forgetting the cold weather.
In order for me to have a permanent or some would say semi-permanent record of my holiday there, I'll post up my experience and plenty of photos here. It's going to take quite a while, considering that I took more thn 1 GB worth of photos and that I spent 15 days there. So one post isn't going to be enough. But I'll try my best to summarise and give you only the most delicious and scenic accounts of my time there. Do be patient because I've started work and might not have enough time to post that often, but I'll try. :)
And so, let me start with my first day in Taiwan. No, I doubt I'll be doing a day-by-day account. Rather, I'll be showing you the highlights and the interesting stuff. Hope you enjoy it!
The railway counter where we bought tickets to Hualien, our first destination.
We landed on the evening of 19 December 2007, Wednesday around 5:30pm at Taiyuan airport and had to take a bus to the railway so that we could then take a train down to Hualien to stay for the night before setting off for Taroko Marble Gorge in the morning. The train ride took about 4 hours and by the time we got to the hotel (Azure Hotel), it was past midnight.
But before we set off for Hualien, we managed to grab dinner and dessert and I, ever the shutterbug, went mad snapping shots left and right.
Here's the wee little night market just outside the train station:
Was waiting for my aunt to get the train tickets so I went to wander about for a bit.
The snacks look so yummy..
But I didn't have time to get anything.
It was okay though, because dinner kinda made up for everything :)
This signage made me very happy because we haven't had dinner (took Jetstar and we didn't want to waste $10 for crappy food!) and was famish! :
Apparently, on the 2nd floor of the train station, there was plenty of food offerings.
We went to a food court which looked quite swanky. I like.
I'm not really sure about the correct names for the dishes in the next few photos so bear with me while I try to vaguely explain. It was yummy though, we finished the food up pretty quick.
This is obviously charsiew.
And this one below, erm I'm not sure! Some pork thing I think:
Dessert followed soon after. Sis and I couldn't help but say no when we came across this shop:
Perfect in everyway, the soft served icecream has a nice green tea sauce drizzle and a soft sticky red bean filled mochi. I like! And those yellow bits are sweet potatoes I think. Delish!
And of course, Mister Donut. But we were too full to get any, so I just took some photos for you all:
And then there's Milkhouse, this popular bakery in Taiwan. I soon realised that it's kind of their equivalent of our BreadTalk:
The golden buns you see above look really tasty. Most of them are made out of sweet potato and pumpkin. How unique. Me likes.
Couldn't help taking a photo of Starbucks bilingual menu. And after this Taiwan trip, I am convinced that Starbucks IS really taking over the world. You'll know why later:
Love the look of this shop:
One of their offerings include HUGE cream puffs:
Mr Brown Coffee is kind of popular with the locals. I don't think I've seen Mr. Brown in Singapore. Is it from Taiwan? Might be! There's Mr. Brown coffee everywhere, in 7-11, and also in obscure places like on top of cold mountains, in heated cans sold by make-shift stalls:
The train station where we waited for the train to Hualien to arrive:
Sorry Taiwan, but I can't help but be amused by their many 'cute' English expressions in posters and everywhere else. I took quite a lot of photos of their 'editorial mistakes' and will post more up in later posts.
Here's one poster I didn't quite understand or rather, I took a double take when I realised that they found it more important for you to press the emergency button than to RUN right away.
Hmmm, okay, maybe it's because I don't live there and I don't know the exact railroad situations? ...
The train was pretty comfortable, and it helped that it was rather clean and nice:
Reached Hualien pretty late, past midnight to be exact. We checked into the hotel, and I wanted to take a walk. Right in front of our hotel was this cool 24-hour cafe. It looked super modern and classy. Loved it and love their selection of cakes. I got drinks instead. Wasn't very hungry.
Yes, couldn't help snapping a shot of that cute lion cake!
Remember what I said about Taiwan's 7-11 being so much better than the ones we have here? Well, check that out. Okay it's not like super fresh but it's novel! You can have warm sticks of fishcake & other things.
I also like their selection of coffee, tea & milk. Look at how they're all lined up! Kinda like in a supermarket.
And of course, no coffee shelf is complete without Starbucks.
Here's more cuteness from 7-11's mascot:
Ya, their own housebrand. Cool eh?
And here's one more cute photo I took of this Sushi Express banner:
Ah, I miss all that Taiwanese cuteness.
I can't wait to go back. There's so much more I haven't explored! Although I must say, we covered quite alot in those 15 days.
So, here's the end of part 1. I hope you like the photos and found them appetising :p
More to come....