I think the easiest, and probably best way to try new things is to try a new dish. The receptionist at the hotel I stayed at in Taipei, Ambience Hotel, suggested I take the subway to Dongmen to have the best dimsum in the city. I’ve read a lot of travel tips about the best dim sum being served at Din Tai Fung, but I also read about its really long queues and it being a tourist trap, so a great alternative was very welcome. I quickly looked it up online and read a great review with some photos, and off I went to Dongmen. Only problem? I didn’t know what the great dim sum place was called. I got off at Dongmen, asked one of the employees at the subway station where Dongmen dim sum was. She only understood Dongmen and pointed at the station sign. Then I remembered the magic word one of the only few words I knew in Chinese: xiao long bao. She immediately got it, pointed me to the right exit and told me it was 10 steps (or maybe 10 meters) away. I was so glad I read the online review with the photos because I wouldn’t have recognized the restaurant’s entrance, which only had Chinese characters on it.
I had to wait for a few minutes to get a table at Kao-Chi . I was given a menu with an overwhelming array of choices. I wanted to order two kinds of dim sum, but the waitress told me that one order was really big, so I asked her which one was the best. A few minutes later, this arrived:
Ten pieces of hot and steamy pork dim sum. As I bit into the first one, hot soup spilled out. Startling for a newbie like me, but sooo good. I thought ten pieces would be too many, but they were just so good, I ate all ten. After that, I kept thinking that I could never eat fast food dim sum ever again. I’d go back to Taipei just for the xiao long bao. Sigh.
I didn’t get to try the Taiwanese hotdog at the night market, so I was really happy that one of the food stalls at the airport served it. Known locally as Da Chang Bao Xiao Chang, it is pork sausage wrapped in a sticky rice sausage. It reminded me of the Filipino longganisa, but bigger, handier, and (sorry) better. I couldn’t have ended my Taipei trip better.
Fashion and flashing lights are all around Ximending. I definitely had sensory overload there; I was so awe-struck, I didn’t know what to focus on: people watching? Beauty bargain hunting? Clothes shopping? Eating? Ximending has everything (spoken like SNL’s Stefon).
At Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Memorial Hall, you can salute in front of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic of China; or if that’s a little awkward for you, watch the hourly changing of the guards. Go to the balcony for a better view of the choreography.
Hot tip: the Memorial Hall is the best place to see and photograph Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world.
It was raining really hard that day, and the fog was crazy!
Chit for that.
Do you like looking and taking photos of signs, too? What are your favorite signs you encountered during your travels?
The heavy, non-stop rains in Taipei in mid-December limited to my itinerary to two sites, preferably indoors, per day, plus any more I had time and energy for. I also didn’t force myself to see all major tourist attractions. This might have been a very lazy approach to experience the city, but with a huge umbrella (nicely provided by the hotel. The small, cute umbrellas wouldn’t help), wet boots, dampened spirits, I really didn’t want to stress out too much about having to see everything. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have been too relaxed because I ended up shopping quite a few times. Oh well.
Of course I had to visit a temple. Longshan Temple is not the biggest temple, but it apparently is one of the most beautiful in the city. I went at around 6 PM so I could witness the offerings. I expected people meditating and doing tai chi. When I arrived, the crowd was just starting to gather. With the smell of incense, the sight of the colorful offerings of flowers and fruits, the jam-packed people in close quarters, it was sensory overload. There were a lot of people and a lot of sounds, yet it was very peaceful. I walked around taking it all in, wondering what they were praying for, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. It was, after all, their sacred space and I was a just a visitor.
Outside the temple, I met a monk named Yuan Hong (not sure if I spelled it correctly). He was standing near one of the exits. Not wanting to impose, I asked him if I may give him a donation – a strange question, I know. He said yes, and when I asked if I could take a photo of him, he agreed.
Walking a little further, I reached the Hua Xi Night Market, also known as Snake Alley, as some stalls cook and serve snake meat. It was still a bit early and some stalls weren’t even open yet, so I decided to get a foot and back massage at one of the massage parlors at the market. For 50 minutes, I paid only around €5! They made me change into shorts so I could put my feet into a tub with hot water and some kind of salt. While my feet were soaking, I was given a back massage; I could feel a lot of tension on my back. After the back massage, my feet were next. The masseuse couldn’t understand English, so whenever it hurt, I just made gestures and winced in pain, and she’d understand.
After a relaxing 50 minutes, I decided to look around the market to see all my food options. I stopped at a stall that had what I was looking for, but didn’t know what it was called. There were tables but I sat in front of the cook and pointed at my order. When I asked him what it was, he took out his cellphone. Because I thought he was going to get his calculator to show me how much it was (as happened quite often), I tried to gesture, “no, not yet” but it turned out to be his smartphone and the Google Translate app. Ha! With it, he told me it was a Taiwanese Hamburger. I heard another woman order the same, calling it Gua Pao. I loved the combination of the soft bun, the salty meat and the cilantro, but the sweet sauce was a bit too sweet for me.
To wash the taste of the sauce off, I bought bubble tea. Before this trip, I didn’t know it was invented in Taiwan! I ordered taro-flavored milk tea. We have a few bubble tea stands in Vienna, but aside from the chewy tapioca, I didn’t really like the flavors they were serving. The bubble tea in Taipei was different, a little tastier, creamier, sweeter. It made me really happy. Really – I was walking around sipping the cup with a grin on my face.
Happy and satisfied with my food choices, I just walked around to see the other food stalls. A lot of them sold grilled sausages. There were colorful sweet things, like jelly balls.
I stopped in front of a stall with terraria of huge snakes in front, a dining area at the back. Just as I got there, a man sitting on a high chair looked at me sternly, shook his head, and wiggled his index finger. I think he was forbidding me to take pictures. Although I wasn’t planning to anyway, the man scared me and I walked on.