Posts from the ‘cultural’ category

Cultural practices we observe that keep communities alive.

Built Environment: religious buildings

Hungry in Taipei?

Before we left for Taipei for an eight day visit, we received lots of advice about places to eat. Night markets, Japanese food, yam foods of all kinds from yam balls to ice cream. We knew that a breakfast staple is soya bean milk and Eu Tiow (Eu Char Koay) so that was the first thing we asked about when we checked in to our hotel. I was very pleased to hear that there was a good place just down the road and the offerings certainly lived up to expectations. The shop was open every day and after checking out the other nearby morning food offerings on day three, it was determined that we would return to the ‘Four Seas Soya Bean Milk King’ for breakfast for the rest of our stay.

We tried pretty much all they had on offer, I specially enjoyed the slightly salty Tau Hu Huey with pieces of Eu Char Koay (Oil fried cakes?) on top. They also sell the ECK wrapped in either an omelette or a many times folded pastry which is cooked on a flat plate at the front of the shop. Their dumplings are also pretty good and after a couple of days we started to see familiar faces of other breakfasters, even sharing a table with one of them and having a good chat like old friends. 

The night markets are a must visit for dinner. We stopped by the local one, two blocks from our hotel most nights, enjoying such wonderful offerings as ‘small intestine in big intestine’ which is really a grilled meat sausage inside a ‘hot dog’ made of rice in a sausage wrapping. It was very tasty but we were glad we shared one because it was big and that gave us space for a bowl of tripe soup, just like grandma used to make, hot and peppery. We also managed to squeeze in a shared cup of avocado milk made with slices off one of the biggest avocados we’ve seen, bigger even that the ones we bought in Yangon. Other nights we enjoyed teppanyaki, crumbed chicken fillet, stewed pork knuckle and oyster omelette (similar to what we know, but served with a slightly sweet sauce). The cook was the best part, all in yellow, right to his glasses.
After discovering the avocado milk (really a smoothie) we tested many stalls for this as well as papaya milk, equally delicious and refreshing.

The Night Markets are amazing. The ones we’re familiar with in Malaysia are also great in their own way, but they are generally only in a particular location once a week and sell mostly fruit & veges, chicken, fish and other cooking needs as well as general household items and clothes. The ones we visited in and around Taipei were a daily affair, mostly food, with a wide variety, generally not more that two stalls selling the same type of food. We found them to be pretty clean and there were plenty of rubbish bins and here and there we saw sinks which I guess we could use if we needed to.

When we visited Tamsui night market after our visit to the hot springs at Xinbeitou, we found a stall making and selling sesame and peanut candies. Testing convinced us we needed a few bags so we went home with those. More testing was required and after quickly deciding we had sufficient space in our luggage, we decided to keep our eyes open for more. We found another branch in the Jilin Old Street making slightly different types so despite the rain pouring down, more packets went into our bags. Jiufen was a wonderful place to eat. If we ever go back to Taiwan, we’ve resolved to stay at least overnight and explore more fully. The old street was really fascinating and we filled our tummies with tea eggs, yam filled puffs and yam ice cream spring rolls. Delicious.

Of course, every good eating and walking about holiday needs fruit and we were happy to discover that persimmons, white nectarines and really good grapes were in season. We weren’t lacking for fruit to balance all the naughty foods at all. Dropping in at the Tourist Information Centre was useful too, because we found a great little walkabout map of Taipei old area, just south of the railway line near the Main Station. There are lots of eating places marked but we found some that weren’t, including a little hole in the wall shop selling the best peppery pork buns. Cooked on site in a round oven similar to a tandoor, they are light, crispy and delicious. Just perfect to fill the cracks as you walk. They even have a couple of stools so you can sit and ‘eat and go’ rather than ‘eat as you go’.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of what we ate, but perhaps the stand-outs for us. Taipei is certainly a food paradise as far as we are concerned!


Hungry in Penang?

I wouldn’t, like some I know, travel hundreds of km just to eat a famous dish for lunch. However, I do like to eat what’s available and tasty, so I love going to Penang. We’ve been there many times over the years, with and without kids in tow and there are some places we just keep returning to. Gurney Drive in the evenings, for the great variety of Penang and generally Malaysian, specialties is a favourite. Batu Feringgi has a number of great hawker centres and we visit these if we stay at the beach or drive up. The assam laksa at Ayer Itam market is one of the best we’ve eaten. The best way to find it is catch the bus from Komtar and get off near the market. Walk round the corner and it’s right there. After you’ve had your fill, you’ll have energy for the walk up to Kek Lok Si temple just nearby.

On our most recent trip earlier in October, we had time to wander the streets admiring the restored buildings and identifying places to eat. The nyonya restaurant on Jln Pantai caught our collective eye and we headed back there for lunch. The Inche Kabin was excellent and the kangkong belacan would be hard to fault. Matched with stewed pork leg, which was not bad, though we were comparing it with what grandma used to make and a pretty decent tripe soup, out meal was eaten with rice. We washed everything down with nutmeg drink which is definitely worth going back for. The other stand out was the most excellent pastry shop Ming Xiang Tai, we found along Armenian Street, a branch of the main shop on Burma Rd. The pastries don’t come cheap, but they are excellent and we went back for boxes to take home before we left. The fillings are all fresh and they have savoury and sweet. Pineapple is always a favourite and this one was just right, not sickly sweet but my favourite was the coconut pastry. They have bite sizes and larger ones, all made on the premises, though I think the staff get a bit fed up with having their photos taken.

There are two chendol stalls along Lebuh Keng Kwee, just off Penang Road, south of the Police station. As you go in the one on the left is reputedly the one favoured by locals, though the tourists usually go to the one opposite. We went with the locals and weren’t disappointed. Our ‘green worms’ were just the right consistency and the santan and gula melaka were in just the right proportions. There are so many great places to eat in Penang and a short note like this can’t do justice to even a few of the many we’ve tried over the years. We’re happy to use any excuse for a quick trip to wander about, seeing how the city is changing so quickly now the buildings are being restored and finding new places to eat each time we go. Long may it continue.