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The Sciences

Culinary Dreaming

Cosmic VarianceBy cjohnsonFebruary 15, 2006 11:50 AM

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Well, all you other single types out there on Valentine's Day night, why not dream with me a bit about food? It's rather pleasant to share my memories of more excellent food from the south of Taiwan, the city of Tainan. I've already told you a bit about it in previous posts, (see here, here and here) so this continues the story. Recall that - after dashing off after my seminar in Tapei, a four and a half hour bus journey - I'd just arrived in the city late at night, and was promptly taken off to an excellent restaurant, where we spent some considerable time eating into the wee hours (and a rather drunk restaurant hostess was trying to seduce me with the aid of Taiwan beer).... That first meal was the first of several where I could really dig deep into the considerable and wonderful culinary depths of the culture. For the next 48 hours I'd not be just sampling things I could figure out how to order on my own...I'd have help (such as with that last meal) from a fellow food lover, my dear friend Huei-Shih Liao, who lives in the city. So I could discover the really advanced stuff, get things that aren't even on the menu, and learn a lot about the food and history too. It was actually Huei-Shih I came to see in Tainan (having met her in Taipei back in 1997), and to meet her husband and young daughter. The fact that Tainan also happens to be a fantastic historic city with arguably the best food in Taiwan was just a lucky bonus. It was enough for me to see my old friend in her home country again. That was the highlight of the whole Walkabout actually.

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Well, anyway, the next excellent meal was in the morning. In a specialist breakfast place somewhere in the city (there are several by the side of the road), and I got to try several of those tasty eggy-things I recall from my first random samplings in Taipei eight years ago (see here). Basically, delicious variations on spring onion omelettes and savoury pancakes of some sort.

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A major component of the meal that I would never have been able to appreciate without Huei-Shih's patient guidance through the menu: Soy milk drinks of various sorts. Perfect accompaniment, along with hot milky tea (which I knew about from the last visit and am addicted to)! After that, visits to temples and old forts.... excellent, but more later... let's stay with the food here.

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I'm a big fan of buns of various sorts (steady now...), and dumplings..... basically the whole range of soft, warm, yielding things you bite into to reveal some delicious filling or other. There is an infinite variety there that you can pick up for lunch or just a quick restorative snack between temples. Actually, it is quite common to find really excellent food places near temples. This is not an accident, I'm told. The visit to the temple would be followed by a stop for a good meal, going back numerous generations, so why not have them conveniently adjacent to each other, to this day? I love the containment paraphenalia associated to the food as well. The kit. The equipment. Case in point, those woven containers that the various dumpling sorts come in..... Have a look. Lovely. I just love those. I think I'll get some for my own dumpling experiments later. (Which reminds me... my noodle experiments have been going very well. I should report on them some time.)

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That night (after wandering around Tainan's original street, packed with edible goodies including the previously displayed roasting squid and cuttlefish (see here), and after several hours back at Huei-Shih's home where she held a party for friends and co-workers, we went out quite late (Tainan never sleeps) to a very special restaurant. Annoyingly, I am blanking on the name of the style of noodles they do here but they are very special to Tainan. There's a guy sitting on one side of the room preparing the dish for you...

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... and it comes all fresh with a very delicate and distinctive type of noodle (I'm going to have to refresh my memory on this aspect....it was very interesting). There's an accompaniment of little slices of preserved fruit and some crispy cabbage-y things of various sorts, and a great atmosphere pervades the restaurant:

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I am a bit embarrassed about that picture since I -just that one time!- did something dreadfully coarse....I left my chopsticks in the dish instead of putting them on the side. Nevertheless, I want to remember that wonderful noodle dish I had there, and that's the only shot. By time we were done it was well after midnight, and we were heading home talking about food. I was explaining more about the fact that I wanted to try lots of flavours that their visitors might normally want to try, when we stumbled on the fact that I'm a big fan of ginger (I cook with it a lot, eat it, drink it... the works.... I love it.... you can blame my mum for that!) . Ah ginger! "Great", they said (Huei-Shih, husband, and six year old daughter), "have you ever had ginger duck?" Next stop, a huge open air restaurant which serves nothing else but ginger duck (almost....also chicken, I was able to deduce by a careful decoding of the helpful sign!).....

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where you do a lot of the cooking of the accompaniments at the table yourself. Put them into the broth....

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...ready to serve and eat not long after:

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That was the third meal of the evening.... I told you I spent 48 hours eating my way around Tainan didn't I? -cvj

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