Sunday, May 16, 2010

Taipei Day 2: Greg & Nee Eat Their Way Into Taipei

The weather wasn't very happy on our second day (our actual day one) in Taipei.  Stubborn grey clouds held up the sky & it pretty much drizzled for the whole day. 

But that shalt not dampen the spirits of two hungry travellers. In fact hot food tastes even better on a cold hungry day. This was the view from our hotel window. You can see that it's right in the centre of everything, surrounded by shops just downstairs.

I can't remember where this shop was exactly, but it was a little road before Chongqing South Road where See You Hotel is. Most of the shops that we went to for morning breakfast were located in the vicinity of the same area. And when I say in the vicinity, it really means very, very near & very, very easy to find.

How do you know whether the food's good? Taipei shops will usually put up some sort of signs indicating their specialty, business running for 30 years, winner of some annual food competition 3 times in a row. You get the idea. In this case, it was a shop selling station food for 20 years.

Sweet & sour soup which did not taste much like our local ones in Malaysia. The spicy touch in the soup was a bit different. But it was good.

OMG Excellent Steamed Shui Jiao.

Equally excellent Xiao Loong Bao. Everything for an excellent price of NT185 (RM18.50).
And immediately after breakfast, on our way towards the MRT main station, Nee spotted food again. I can't remember whether we got anything for the road but you kinda get a sense of what we do on our holiday trips.

At Taipei Main Station, we bought a NT500 (RM50) travel card each. We didn't know at the time that NT500 would last us the whole 7 days, with  some leftover money for refund at the end of it. We concluded that Taipei MRT is one of the cheapest in the world compared to HongKong, UK, Paris, Malaysia & Singapore,

We took an MRT to Jiantan station for NT16 (RM1.60) each, & when you get out, you'l see the infamous Shilin Night Market.

At 12:12pm that day, the temperature was 12 degrees. We kept thinking of hot food.

But the Shilin Night Market could wait. It only opens in the evening & we'd be back for it later. But now, we were heading towards the National Palace Museum & the only way to get there is by bus 304 or Red 30 for NT16 (RM1.60) each.

In Taipei, the Vistor's Information Centre is at almost every major MRT station. So usually we'd find out about how to get to a certain place at the Main Station before we depart or when we arrive. So that really reduces the homework.

 This is the National Palace Museum, the world's greatest repository of Chinese artifacts.

 This museum holds a whopping 650,000 artifacts which span 5,000 years of China's history.

Despite the gawdy outlook of the buildings, they really hold an amazing collection with state-of-the-art displays. You cannot finish this place in one day. 

What we did was to sign up for the free English tour (which came with headsets) which gave us an overview of the whole place focusing on only the important collections. That helped a lot & we'd suggest that for you as well.

Photography was not allowed but we saw the Jadeite Cabbage with Insects. This was definitely the Mona Lisa of this museum.

 The Mao Gong Ding, an important artifact with the longest inscription of Chinese characters in the world.

And the Qing dynasty Emperor's Curio boxes or 'serious toys for serious adults'.

We also went for the Gold & Glory: The Wonders of Khitan from the Inner Mongolia Museum Collection. Thank God Nee didn't try to buy the collection.
Chiang Kai Shek really had the foresight to haul all these artifacts from mainland China once upon a time ago.
Today, you see the repercussions from the actions of one man. The buildings are now packed with mainlanders from China who had to come all the way to Taipei to see their own history. 

I've seen how a can of sardine looks like but now, I also know how a can of Mainlanders look like. It's like a can of sardines who do not understand what lining up, personal space & respect for silence mean.

The museum also came with food. There was a restaurant & food court  on the lower ground floor, accessible from a side entrance outside the museum building. And it was also full of mainlanders.
NEE: This was where Greg had his first encounter with Lu Rou Fan (Stew Minced Pork Rice). Now the thing with Greg is that if he likes something, he'll stick to it for as long as he can. (He's still wearing the same running shoes he had from 16 years ago). So for the next 6 days, he'd be asking for the same thing at every other shop, unless I give him the WTF (What The Fish) look.

This noodle is called Dan Dan Mien. It was nice but apparently Dan Dan Mien is not a Taipei local specialty. It's more like a Tainan dish.

Presenting Greg's first inaugural bowl of Lu Rou Fan. There's something magical about it, something simple, tangible & very basic. You know what you're getting, nothing more, nothing less. It's one of those meals that you could just wallop everything down in one minute, & still want more. Greg had an uncle who used to eat every meal like it's the best meal in the world, even though it's just plain rice with kangkung belacan. This was like that.
And the whole ka-bang cost us only less than NT100 (RM10).

Queueing up with the mainlanders for the bus trip back to Shillin was a bit nerve wrecking. We had to always keep our guards up. One blink of the eye & you'll find someone new placing themselves conveniently in front of you.

But we managed to race into an incoming bus & squeeze ourselves in. However, the bus somehow dropped a whole lot of us off too early wihout telling us. Upon realising that we're still not in Shillin, we had to walk a few blocks there. It would have been a nice walk had it not been for the rain cos the streets were lined with food shops like this.
This shop was selling a kind of traditional pastry baked in traditional coal-fired oven. There was a huge queue which was always an indication of good food. 
The pastries came with different prices ranging from RM1.20 - RM4.00 each.

We really didn't know the names of these hot little delicacies. Some were of the sweet kind, some were more salty and others had spring onions.

They were really good, with the right level of crispiness & fragrance - essential requirements for good pastry.

Further down the streets, we found pure 100% papaya blended milk juice for RM3-4. This was the real deal & they do not hold back any punches.

This was the almighty Shilin Night Market packed with shoulder-rubbing hungry crowds that would stare you out of your long awaited seats and always ready to sit on you if you take your meal too slow. Did someone say who'd go to Taipei during Chinese New Year?
Although it was quite difficult to identify the stalls with the long queue (cos the crowds were everywhere) but it wasn't an impossible task. We spotted a reasonably busy stall selling oyster omelettes & squid soup, & there were two seats available for us.

This was real yummy stuff if you like your oyster omelette wet. Lots of generous oysters for only NT 50 (RM5). We love Taipei!

Assorted Squid Soup. Heavenly. NT40 (RM4) only. Are you in Taipei already?

We realised that food in Taipei usually come in small bowls. These would usually cost in the range of RM5 & perfect for variety sampling. Anything more than RM10 would be big bowls which required more focus.

Then there's something strangely called Taipei's famous Coffin Board. These were not overly impressive but they were worth a try. They're actually fried bread with a hole cut in the middle with choice of sauce.

These were Taipei's assorted sausages, big ones, small ones, & 'big-wrap-small' ones. They come with garlic, black pepper, hot and spicy,  & whatever else you can think of. 

At this point, we were on the verge of exploding but we had to bring something back to the hotel especially when we were big fans of big sausages.
What we thought was a really big meaty sausage wrapping a small one turned out to be a big fake sausage made of glutinous rice wrapping a smaller real one. Nevertheless, all was good.

By the end of the day, Taipei met our expectations as a fabulous food place & we were happy that good food was generally easy to locate. In terms of the number of night markets, Taipei probably had about 10 of them. And this was just the very beginning of our journey.

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