Part of the challenge for me about eating in Taipei is finding food that both reflects the city and is appealing to me. Another challenge is simply finding the restaurants. There is certainly food to be found every few feet, but I can’t always tell what it is.
The stands where the locals eat, and with the best prices, tend to be only in Chinese characters. I passed one yesterday that looked interesting, but even then, I just couldn’t tell what was inside the dumplings. I like to know….
My translator app on my iPod (KTdict C-E) helps if there are just a few characters to decipher, and if the script is normal enough that I can copy them to draw it on the screen. It also has made a huge difference for this trip that I can manage a VERY simple conversation in Chinese. But when a board is thick with characters, I am intimidated.
Even Wild Greg has his limits. A couple of days ago, we chose to leave a restaurant after reading the menu. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought it was a joke they play on tourists. But people here really eat those things.
It helps if I am not on a particular schedule. If I have time to just wander, I will eventually find something. I am semi-comfortable going down the lanes and alleys by myself. I may not know how to get back to where I came from, but that’s what hotel business cards are for. Just get out to a main street and flag down a taxi.
Another possible point of confusion is the sidewalk versus signage arrangement.
- There is the sign you would see if driving,
- there is the sign from the outer sidewalk if you happen to be walking with your head at a 45° angle and looking up, and
- there are the signs under the covered walkways right by the restaurants.
So, sometimes, you actually have a better idea of the stores on the other side of the street, but they won’t look the same once you get over there.
On this day, I had already wandered for about 2 miles. I wasn’t famished, but I was hungry. When I finally ran across Art Coffee, I didn’t even see that it had an English language name. No English name usually means that the fare will be too authentic. But a look at the menu gave me hope.
The unassuming decor and unpretentious tables indicated that it might be in my price range. The menu had enough English on it to be a guide, but even then, I resorted to my translator for clarification. Come to find out that for what I wanted they had translated a French name into Chinese. Not so helpful, yet just enough information to inspire me to go ahead and order.
Besides that, a couple of other factors kept me there. The waiter was a patient young man; and there were a couple of local ladies about my age, looking like they were used to good food. Not plump, mind you. They just had an air of knowing what they wanted.
I ordered fish for about $10 US. I tried to ask if the price included rice, but the communication was confusing. I decided to wait it out. What a pleasant surprise when a small bowl of Taiwanese corn soup showed up for an appetizer! I have had this a number of times and have always found the flavor to be light and creamy sweet.
Next, he brought me a lettuce salad with small cherry tomato, a couple pieces of cucumber and carrot, then with a light dressing that seemed to be sesame flavored. Delish.
I was asked if I wanted tea or coffee, hot or cold. I was able to answer in Chinese AND ask for cold water. Then, two stacked pieces of grilled fish with spring onions and a bowl of steamed rice showed up. You can see the broccoli, corn and lime slice. The brown circle is a shitake mushroom, all on a layer of butter.
I could only eat one of the pieces of fish and a few bites of rice by this point, even though it was all quite tasty. I sampled the mushroom, too. (for scale comparison, the mushroom was a solid 2 inches in diameter) I asked if I could take the left-overs with me. The waiter tried to say a bunch of things to me in Chinese and I thought we understood each other, but when I got back to the hotel and opened my take-out bag it contained my tea (which I had never had at the restaurant) and a slice of brown cake.
Knowing better than to assume anything, I tried a bit of the chocolate colored cake. Turns out the filling was the ubiquitous purple jelly that is always sneaking up on me here in Taiwan. The cake was so mild that it was hard to pinpoint a flavor, but I don’t think it was chocolate….
The clincher is that when I walked out of the door of the restaurant, I was facing my hotel! I had’t even noticed it when going in. It’s a good thing I stopped at that restaurant, or I would have been lost for a while… again…. on the streets of Taipei.
Zhongshan North Road, Section 2，(something)36，No 1., but it is right on Zhongshan