Our family seems to be developing a yearly tradition of meeting somewhere in the middle between the UK and Australia to spend time together. This year our destination was Taiwan.
I didn’t know too much about the country other than it was an island, it’s well known for its food crazes and that it was of those weird territories of China. Unlike China though, I didn’t need to apply in advance for a visa. Like our trip last year, my sister did a lot of the “tour” planning working out a good balance of time with a tour guide and some free time to wander. I’ll write a bit more about the different destinations in a different post. Here I want to focus on what I discovered about the country.
After our nine day adventure I had a very different view of Taiwan. It seemed to be a lot more in touch with nature than the mainland. While China has had its number of major food scandals this year, and they are infamous for the pollution in their cities to the point where people won’t travel there in certain times of the year because it is so bad, the Taiwanese seem more if touch with where their food comes from.
Organic weeks to be a big movement and a lot of their food seems to focus on locally grown and seasonal produce meaning fresher foods, more flavour and just better quality meals.
Although taipei has some level of smog, the rest of the country appears beautifully maintained and cared for.
Vegetarians will have no problems with eating well in Taiwan. Buddhism seems more prevalent here so vegetarian restaurants are easy to find and there always seem to be at one if not more options at a restaurant. Of course there are also many great food options for omnivores because Taiwan is so well known for it.
Other things we ended up doing include the following list:
Cing Jing Farm
This farm is located high up in the mountains, making it ideal for the sheep who graze freely on the green grassy slopes. Consequentially, it’s worth watching where you step as the footpath is littered with droppings! We walked around the grassy knolls before sitting down to watch a performance from Mongolian horseback riders in a small courtyard.
I wasn’t expecting this part of tour to be very exciting, but it turned out far against my expectations. The paper factory demonstrated the process of how Taiwanese paper is made (particularly by hand), talking about the different materials and what each one is used for. They even had an interactive part where we had a go at printing on some handmade paper and turning it into a fan.
Of course you can buy all sorts of paper craft to take home, but the most fascinating was the paper designed to be eaten. Crafted out of vegetable fibres, and then seasoned with various coatings such as sesame, chocolate and pepper.
Takoro National Park
We did a lot of driving around the island to get around to different parts, and a large part of this was driving through Takoro National Park. This gave us lots of opportunities for appreciating the natural scenery and many photo opportunities!
We stopped in this particularly scenic location as it was well known as a walking trail, providing many more opportunities to connect with, and appreciate the Taiwanese landscapes.
Wood Cutting Museum
Part of Taiwan’s history includes being occupied by the Japanese. We visited a wood cutting museum that demonstrated how the Japanese set up a village dedicated to wood cutting, including the art craft of wood carving resulting in some amazing creations.
With Taiwan being so known for its food, there is nothing more synonymous with the Taiwanese than the night markets. This is often where new foods are trialled, and you’ll often see queues of people patiently waiting for particular food stuffs. Some of the more famous items (some we tried, some we didn’t) included:
- Oyster omelettes – Made by frying some tiny oysters, covering them with a starchy liquid that turns a bit gelatinous, fried with scrambled egg, often some lettuce and then topped with a salty brown sauce.
- Pan fried buns – Fluffy white buns, filled with a vegetable and pork mixture and then grilled to have a crispy bottom. Beware the hot liquid that often sits waiting to explode in your mouth!
- Stinky tofu – Not really much more to say!
- Fried chicken cutlet – The most famous of these is the Hot Star Fried chicken, that feels like it’s almost half a chicken flattened out, breaded and crisp to perfection and then spiced with lots of pepper and some chilli powder. We had to try this one – perfectly crisp and juicy on the inside.
- Coffin Bread – A french toast creation, deep fried and then hollowed out and filled with any choice of savoury or sweet fillings. It’s supposed to be very crunchy but I didn’t try this one.
- Grilled corn – You’ll see lots of white and yellow corn stands around. Often BBQ-ed with some sort of sauce
- Scallion pancake – Typically a breakfast item, this pancake is flaky, salted, and full of umami.
- Deep fried bread and egg – Definitely not the sort of food you want to have everyday, but a fascinating process to watch made. The person at the cart typically flattens a ball of white dough, throws the pancake into a deep fryer for it to puff up. They lift it up, crack an egg into the oil before cracking the yolk that then “glues” the egg back to the bread as they put the bread back down. Seems like a pretty popular treat, and is often brushed with some sort of salty, brown paste.
- Ice cream spring roll – A dessert, where a thin spring roll wrapper is laid out, scraped peanut brittle scattered in the middle before being rolled up with scoops of ice cream and coriander. You’ll be surprised by how well this one works!
Of course there are many other market foods worth exploring and trying. I highly recommend trying the fresh fruit stands as they are all often very flavourful, fresh and super sweet!
Even after a short time, we didn’t get to see all of the island and I’d definitely be keen on heading back again one day soon.