Sunday, July 1, 2012

Ten Things I Love About Taiwan (and Five I Don't) part 1

I have now been living in Taipei for one year. For the most part, I love it here, but as with any place, there are a few things I don’t like so much. So I plan to post a series about the best and worst things for a foreigner living here.  Each day I’ll cover two things I love and one I don’t so I can keep things balanced. They are grouped based on themes, not based on how strongly I feel about them.

Things I Like:

1. Delicious food
                One afternoon this week, I stopped at one of the many drink stands that line the street near my home to get a papaya smoothie.  My Caucasian face and heavily accented Chinese immediately revealed to the woman who was running the stand that I was a foreigner. She asked me how long I’d been in Taiwan, and whether I liked it. When I assured her that I really like it here, she immediately pointed out Taiwan’s greatest point of pride – “There are lots of good things to eat here!”
                The locals are always talking about how good the food is, and with good reason. It would take a long time to describe all the food, so I'll just mention some highlights. Some of my favorite dishes include: noodles with sesame sauce; flaky scallion pancakes that are often served wrapped around eggs or other fillings; dumplings of all kinds (They come boiled, fried or steamed, with a wide variety of meats and vegetables inside. Some will even have sweet fillings and become dessert. And still others are made with dough that has risen, so they look more like stuffed buns); dou gan (tofu with a denser texture that is often served as an appetizer with soy sauce; and danbing, a breakfast food consisting of thin pancakes that are fried and filled with egg and other toppings of your choice. There are also a lot of foods from different countries here. Within a 10-minute walk of my house there are Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Italian, American and Vietnamese restaurants. They don’t always get Western food exactly right (I’ve seen seafood kimchi spaghetti and pizza with corn, peas, mushrooms and pineapple), but you can always find something good to eat.

2. Tropical fruit
This could fall under the category of food, but it’s so amazing that it deserves its own point. I’m from New England, so I had never eaten a lot of the fruits we get here. Fresh mangoes are one of my favorites, as is something called a Buddha head fruit. Buddha head fruits are light green with lumps. When you break them open there is a creamy white pulp with large black seeds. You don’t eat the seeds or the skin, but the pulp is tasty. I’ve also come to love guavas, which are round and green on the outside and either white or magenta on the inside. They have a mild but very nice flavor. Another common fruit here is called wax apples. They’re red on the outside and white on the inside and shaped like rounded triangles. They have a texture similar to watermelon, but they’re a bit more sour.
Fruits we get at home are also better here. Bananas are really cheap and very good. But my favorite Taiwanese fruit is pineapple. They have the bright yellow pineapples we get in the U.S., but there is another kind that is paler yellow and amazingly sweet. Once I was eating it for breakfast and started feeling guilty about having desert so early in the morning!

Things I don't:
1. Getting hit by a pillow when I walk outside
                This was how a friend of mine described stepping outside in the summer, and it’s very accurate. During July and August, it stays at about 80 degrees F (40 degrees C), but it’s like that EVERY DAY with what must be almost 100% humidity. I usually need two showers each day in the summer, and when I get out of the shower, I usually don’t feel like I’ve completely dry off. 

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