It seems like I have to go shopping at least every other day. This is partly because even if I take a taxi, I can only get so much at one time. The taxis are compact cars. Then there is the fact that it takes some time to build up the household staples and goods. However I will never be able to do that the same here as I have done in Idaho. I don’t have that much storage space, but more to the point, things don’t last that long. Most fruits and vegetables are sold fresh, but don’t stay fresh long. The heat and humidity stimulate various growths. Even with A/C. We are told that most people here don’t have central air conditioning, but window unit swamp coolers.
So many things can be grown fresh here for so much of the year. When I took a tour of this market area last week, the guide mentioned the seasons of many fruits. I remember a lot of them being several months long. Canned or preserved items are in small containers, are expensive, and don’t look that appealing compared to all the fresh produce. Frozen things are difficult to get home still frozen and very expensive compared to what I’m used to. We even get our ice cream cones from the stand just outside the grocery store and eat it on the walk home.
Today seemed like a good day to have Jesse, Natalie, and Carlie visit the market with me and help carry their food home. Natalie and I took our cameras. The title picture shows the outside of the building that is officially known as Shi Dong Market, but the general area is also known by that name. During my tour, I was informed about which vendors have the best produce, are nicest to deal with, and are the best value for the money. It still takes a lot of concentration for me to find what I want, figure out the price, figure out where to carry it, etc., so even if I can rapidly convert prices to values in US dollars, sometimes I have forgotten the details by the time I get home. The English signs here and there give the false impression that English is commonly used here. It isn’t. And the units of weight are jins, or 600 grams, also known as a Taiwanese kilogram. To be honest, I really don’t know how much I’m spending on food. We are just glad to have enough.
It would have been better to go earlier in the day. Some of the vendors had gone home. Still, there was enough still out and it looked good, so we didn’t come home empty handed. Every time I go out, I am reminded that it is good that I know how to cook from scratch and experiment without recipes. I have a couple of recipe books that I brought with me, but even ingredients that are labeled the same as what I am used to, frequently end up not working quite the same. I could buy recipes books specific to the ingredients at hand, but there’s that language barrier again.
The first place we went was down this lane, which is to the right traveling behind the building in the first picture. There were easily twice as many vendors out on the street when I went with the tour around 9 AM. You may be wondering where there would be space. They find space. There are so many streets in Taipei that they gave up naming them all. Or maybe it was easier to think of numbered sections between main streets. They are not, however, labeled on maps; and there is no regular way that I have discovered that each lane is labeled. Neither do they run in any pattern. We think this is DeXing East Road Lane 10. We are standing on the corner of ShiDong Road. Streets smaller or less business oriented are called alleys. They can number in the two hundreds per section. (editors note: a lane 427 was passed close to home today.) Many that I have seen end unexpectedly or get narrow and bend such that only scooters of various velocities and pedestrians can fit. It is an odd experience to be semi-lost by yourself amidst tall building in a maze of such alleys.
We made our first purchases here. I always asked before taking close-ups of a particular stall, so he went on to helping another customer while I did that. The cucumber looking things are really green ‘loofas.’ Yes, the kind that are dried and used to scrub you in the shower. When green they are still soft spongy. I was told they can be sliced and stir fried with garlic, just like nearly everything else. We also bought pac choi, broccoli, potatoes, and spring garlic.
This is the pleasant young man working at the stand bagging my potatoes. I try to take plastic bags and larger totes with me. Some of the larger stores charge for the bags, which are much sturdier than what I’ve seen in the US. Trash is sorted very specifically around here, so it is just as easy to sort them into a drawer to use next time as to sort them into the trash.
The next place looks fairly normal to me, but there are several things inside that I don’t recognize.
The greenish yellow pile on the right is a bunch of mild citrusy, fat pear shaped, grapefruitish things. We have been supplied with tastes of them on a couple of occasions and find them on the dry side and without much flavor. Below is Jesse with some dragon fruit. Now he knows why they are so named.
We bought some pears here (see Carlie below) and something plump and in a paper wrapper that we just decided to take a chance on. It turned out to be another variety of Asian pear.
Next we went to the best watermelon stand in town.
Not only did they give me a bite out of the piece they suggested, but they took off the rind and cut in up in nice chunks with their very impressive knife. (see the rinds under the shelves?) It arrived home in decent enough condition, but I wonder if I should take a firm plastic container next time. It would save them a plastic bag. They had finished the whole process before I could say wow! so I didn’t have time to pull out one of my own bags.
It was time to head for the building, but we passed this very friendly doggie on the way and I did want to stop and visit. I settled for a picture.
Many of the dogs we run across, sometimes quite abruptly, are not so nice looking or so friendly.
This is the back door of the indoor market. And here is what we see when we enter from that door:
Many people are selling exactly the same things that are sold out on the street, but it is air conditioned in here, so things can last longer out on display. Yes, they tend to cost more.
He is selling fish. I was told ( and given a paper with Chinese phrases to show vendors ) that what the fish monger or butcher will always ask is how is the meat/fish/poultry going to be prepared. Once they know this they can help me choose an appropriate cut and also do a bit more to it so that
it is just right! I didn’t buy any fish today, but here are some fun pictures:
These were quite wiggly, hence proven very fresh –
Hey, wait! I don’t think those heads go with those….legs? (frog’s)
Not a good photo of sea cucumbers, but I had to show them to you.
Fish roe, that we were told we should consider giving to our Chinese friends during the Chinese New Year celebration near the end of January.
I purchased some of those tender asparagus shoots last week. This time we took home mushrooms. I have never seen so many varieties of mushrooms. Very many shapes and sizes around town. We bought ‘normal’ ones for spaghetti for now.
We bought the grape tomatoes, but we were given samples of the brown fuzzy grape-looking fruit. They are called dragon’s eye fruit. The peel, which reminds me of a thin flexible cardboard, was removed to reveal a white, gelatinous, semi-translucent fruit with a small black pea sized pit. I swallowed the fruit to be polite.
So did Jesse.
There are lots of small bakeries around. The breads are usually sweeter than we like for sandwiches, aren’t usually loaves, and often have surprises in the middle.
A lot of the breads seem to be steamed. This gentleman gave us each a free bun. We bought some brown buns that we have tried before and had them with fried eggs for breakfast.
More fresh fish coming up!
The savvy shopper begins with checking the eyeballs to verify freshness. Then you poke it to see if it is still juicy. Once you are satisfied, they will remove parts, if you so desire.
One is supposed to knock two at a time together. If they sound heavy, they are still alive. The seller will often shuck them for you.
The above photo and the next two are of the same shop/stall.
A few chicken caught off guard –
This butcher is almost done for the day.
The rice from the pink bags is best. She is weighing out ours.
Next – the noodle shop!
This is just a fraction of what they had on their counters. We bought some flat noodles and something that sounds like it might be tortillas. We can always hope.
And finally, the egg stop. Last week I bought oyster sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seed here. The second photo shows the well stocked shelves.
I take the eggs home in the little brown bags in my purse… so far so good! And they have all been very fresh. You’ll notice the room temperature bins. I was prepared for this by our time in Zambia, where the missionary kept the same eggs on the kitchen counter for the whole two and a half weeks we were there. They were the eggs that were served to us every morning.
The next shop is prepared dumplings and such. I didn’t get any today, but they looked so good I had to take a picture.
Well, the kids’ tote bags are pretty full, I have eggs in my purse and we have studying to do, so we are done for the day.