TASTES OF TAIWAN: From Peking Duck to Dim Sum

Peking Duck, W Hotel, Taipei, Taiwan
Taiwan is a great place for food lovers. You can find local foods everywhere from fancy restaurants to neighborhood cafes to shopping malls and street markets. Although not all menus include English translations for the Chinese names, one can order simply by pointing to a picture or the food itself. During our week in Taiwan our first meal was an elegant Chinese dinner at the W Hotel restaurant, a few blocks from Taipei 101, the skyscraper we had visited earlier in the day. The first course was Peking duck, carved at the table and served with sauces and small pancakes. It was followed by a variety of other delicious dishes, shared with our host and his family. (Our dexterity with chopsticks improved over the course of the week!)
Making pork dumplings (xiao long bao) at Din Tai Fung
Later in our trip our host took us to the food court in a nearby mall for a dim sum meal at the very popular restaurant Din Tai Fung. While we waited for our food to come to the table we watched through a window as an assembly line of cooks produced the thousands of xiao long bao (pork dumplings) in the kitchen–rolling, filling and pinching the dough before putting the bao into bamboo steaming baskets.
Cooked pork dumplings (xiao long bao) in bamboo steamer basket
A short time later the finished dumplings arrived at our table cooked to perfection. I have eaten pork dumplings before, but they have never tasted more fresh or more delicious than these. (You don't have to travel to Taiwan to dine at Din Tai Fung--they have numerous restaurants in the USA and internationally.)
Boba tea served in a light bulb shaped bottle
Our host insisted that we not leave Taiwan without tasting boba tea, a popular drink found both at street markets and at stands in the shopping mall. Boba tea (also called pearl tea, or bubble tea) is a sweet drink that combines milk, flavored tea and tapioca pearls that are sucked up through an extra large straw and chewed. The boba drink pearls have a soft, chewy consistency similar to that of gummy candy. (“Boba” is a Taiwanese slang term meaning “pearl”.) We found it quite tasty!

Yixing clay teapot, Palace Museum, Taipei
And, of course, tea came with almost every meal. We saw no end of beautiful teapots displayed at museums and for sale in stores, often made with Yixing clay. Teapots in this traditional style originated in China, dating back to the 15th century, and are made from clay produced near Yixing in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu. We also saw many varieties of Taiwanese tea for sale in the shops. When we were in the mountains at Sun Moon Lake we took a walk through a tea plantation.
Sashimi at Dozo Restaurant, Taipei
Many foods in Taiwan reflect the influence of Japanese culture. (Taiwan has had a complicated political history, including being under the control of Japan for the first half of the 20th Century.) One evening we ate at a Japanese restaurant called Dozo, sitting at the counter where we watched the sushi chefs assemble artistic constructions of raw fish.
Fresh fruit for breakfast
Our days always started with the breakfast buffet at our hotel, which included traditional Chinese savory porridge, rice, noodles and other typical Asian foods, as well as typical Western breakfast items such as cereal, bacon and eggs. My favorites were the fresh fruits--watermelon, grapefruit, oranges, papaya, star fruit and more. Taiwan has a semi-tropical climate and a variety of delicious fresh fruits were always available.
Sausage vendor at the Shilin Night Market, Taipei
For a quick snack, one can always stop in at one of the ubiquitous Seven Eleven minimarts or at neighborhood bakery or coffee shop. One evening, at the Shilin Night Market, we wandered through the rabbit-warren of shop-lined streets and watched cooks prepare their wares. Although we didn’t sample any of the street food, we saw long lines of people waiting to purchase everything from grilled meat, boba tea, filled buns, fruit and much more.
Handcrafted Taiwanese beer with evocative English names
On one of our last evenings we had the chance to sample Taiwanese craft beer in the bar on the top floor of the National Taichung Theater. With our host, who had treated us royally during the week of our visit, we looked out over the sparkling night lights of the city. It was a relaxing end to a busy and stimulating week in Taiwan.

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