Tuesday, May 11, 2010

tourists in Taiwan, part 1: delicious Tainan

Normally when D and I go to Taiwan, we spend the entire time in Taipei visiting relatives and eating at our favorite restaurants. This time, we decided to take a side trip to the south of Taiwan, since neither of us had been down there since before high school.

Our first stop was in Tainan, where my aunt (mom's sister) lives. She'd asked us beforehand what we wanted to eat, and we told her we wanted "小吃" (literal translation: "small eats") so she drew up a list of Tainan's famous 小吃 spots. Despite being pressed for time (we stayed in Tainan a total of maybe 26 hours) we managed to eat nearly everything on her list. (We also hit a few historical sites while digesting; I'll put those in a different post.)

Just after arriving on the HSR from Taipei, we went to 度小月, Tainan's most famous purveyor of 擔仔麵 (danh mi, a kind of noodle dish). The bowls are quite small and I think normally D could have eaten four or five of them, but we were saving our stomachs.

Next up was Chou's. They're known for their shrimp rolls (below), but we also ordered some more noodles, some pork over rice, and some fish ball soup.

We'd already snacked on some red bean cookies from Kobayashi's, but of course there's always room for more dessert, so we went to 安平 for some dao whei (bean curd tofu soup). This one has green bean and tapioca in it.

After some sightseeing, it was time for more snacking; we bought these rice-based snacks from a street vendor; they are topped with black sesame or peanut powder and steamed until they are gooey. Best eaten while hot!

At that point we only had a few hours until dinner, but my aunt insisted we try these oyster & seafood cakes. I'm not a fan of cooked oysters myself, but D seemed to like them.

Shortly afterwards, it was on to dinner. There is a restaurant about 40 minutes outside of Tainan, that advertises that its beef comes from cows that were killed no more than two hours before serving. My sister (aka the beef expert) had been there previously with my aunt, and she pronounced the meat excellent, so we requested that we eat dinner there.

The restaurant itself is very casual and nondescript, and I'm fairly sure I never would have found it myself. (In Taiwan, "it's next to 7-11" is a totally useless description.) The meat is served shabu shabu style, with a plate of vegetables. There was also unlimited 魯肉飯 (stewed meat over rice) as a side/appetizer, but I only ate a bite of it as I was saving room for the good stuff.

Afterwards, our server dumped a whole plateful of rice into the leftover soup and made rice porridge out of it. It was super flavorful and I ate nearly an entire bowl of it despite being very full already.

The second day, we started out with fish ball soup and 油條 (fried dough). We'd had fish ball soup the previous day but apparently this was a special kind of fish ball soup, with all different kinds of fish balls.

We topped off breakfast with "tsai bah tzang", a vegetarian form of 粽子 (rice dumpling?) which only has peanuts inside. It's served with peanut powder and cilantro, and it is yummy but I still like the meat kind better.

Finally, we were on to our last meal in Tainan, at the "A Ha" restaurant. They are known for their crab, which is a type of crab only found near southern Taiwan, but I actually liked the 油飯 (oily rice) underneath it even better than the crab itself.

This small fish is also a local specialty, although I hear it is better done in some other restaurants. I didn't try it, but it looked hard to eat.

We were originally planning to go to a famous tsua bing (shaved ice) place nearby before leaving town, but then the restaurant gave us this enormous dessert, on the house. As I recall it had sweet rice dumplings, red bean, prunes, and lots of almond tofu. Yum.

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