Taiwan: The food and liquor – Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 22

19 July, 2015 – Taichung, Taiwan

Letting the days go by
Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by
Water flowing underground
Into the blue again
Into the silent water
Under the rocks and stones
There is water underground

“Once in a Lifetime”, by The Talking Heads

talking-heads_huge

This is not my beautiful house! Hello again, everyone! Let’s get started with the subject of today’s article.

The Water

Don’t drink it right out of the faucet…ever. Due to the seismic activity on the island, and the outdated water systems here, there are things in the earth which can leak into the reservoirs that would make you sick, and make your bowel movements look like the chunks of sediments that flow through the Mekong Delta. However, we have a Brita pitcher and we filter the water twice; we’ve had no problems. Before that, we bought bottled water, which is everywhere. You can get a 1.5 liter bottle for about $1.50. Two of those would be enough for one day, hence our decision to switch to a Brita.

Glorious drinkable water! Oh, how I miss you!
Glorious drinkable water! Oh, how I miss you!

Food

This is the moment where I hang my head in shame. I have not tried a lot of the local cuisine yet. Between our financial situation and culture shock, I’ve admittedly not tried much of the regular food here. To save money, most of the food we’ve bought for home has been bread and various things we can put on bread – we don’t have anything to cook with. Either that, or I’ve gotten stuff from the convenience stores, which have familiar items AND regional foods too. However, I’ve gotten out there a little more in recent weeks, we both have, so I can share some things with you. My wife and I have eaten at a bistro down the street, which is pretty good. The only problem is we’re never sure what we’re going to get in our sandwiches because no one speaks English. My wife has tried the little noodle stand across the street from our place. She says it’s good and spicy, but she doesn’t like the pork meatballs, which she says are all fat and sinew. We’ve both tried MOS burger, which is like Japan’s answer to McDonald’s. It’s still fast food, but its way better than McDonald’s. I’ve tried a meat patty in a rice cake with BBQ sauce and seaweed, which was surprisingly good. I’ve also tried a place that I mentioned before called My Love Chicken. They have fried chicken, fries, and assorted other chicken parts, and they season it as mild or as spicy as you like it. I thought it was WAY better than KFC and VERY crispy, especially the 2nd time around, when I asked for it to be extra spicy and crispy. It was wonderful, but definitely needed some Zantac after that!

ate-too-much

The Taiwanese people also love Italian food, or at least their version of it. It sounds a little odd, until you remember that Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy from China. It all comes back around, doesn’t it? While we haven’t tried the pasta here yet, one thing we did look for right away was a pizza place. Now, they have Pizza Hut and Domino’s here, but most of their fare is very different from those in America. Way more seafood pizza options, and way more mayonnaise and white sauce options for those pizzas. Eck! So, we looked around and found a place just a half a block from my work called Pizza Rock. Let me state here that back home we mostly ate frozen pizzas, Red Baron, DiGiorno, etc. Since being over here, we did have Pizza Hut in Hong Kong once, and pizza several times in Hanoi, which were okay, but the sauce was like ketchup, and the crust was like cardboard, both in consistency and in taste. But Pizza Rock is run by an Italian-Canadian who married a Taiwanese woman. As a result, you don’t get the weird shit they put on most pizzas here. Instead, he creates an authentic, neo-Neapolitan, Roma style pizza that is, in the words of my wife, the best. Pizza. Ever. When we had it for the first time (pepperoni, of course), our eyes teared up. It was that good, and a magnificent taste of home for us. She teared up again when it was almost gone. The crust was crispy on the outside, softer towards the middle, and thin throughout. The homemade sauce was tomato-y and glorious. Combined with the cheese and the pepperoni (all the ingredients are clearly top quality, and way better than anything else you’ll find for pizza in this part of the world), and the condiments (Parmesan, Tabasco, garlic oil, and red vinaigrette) and I swear you can hear angels sing with every bite! I’m not usually one to refer people to websites, but this one I just have to: http://www.pizzarock.com.tw/
Check it out. They do more than just pizza there too (panini, baked pasta, etc.), but we just haven’t gotten that far yet, but we will. Oh sure, as we get more comfortable, both emotionally and financially, we will do more food exploration. But Pizza Rock is already our go-to place, and we will go there at least once a month until we leave. Guaranteed.

It's like looking at porn, isn't it?
It’s like looking at porn, isn’t it?

Drink

Other than water, there are consistent items to be found here. Tea is high on the list of popular drinks here. Nearly everyone drinks it, hot or cold, and has more flavors and types of tea than you can imagine. My personal favorite is the chocolate milk tea. Tastes more chocolaty and creamier than chocolate milk, like melted chocolate ice cream! Delightful. There is also coffee, and it too is very popular here. In fact, about the only stores you’ll see more of here than Starbucks and other local cafes are either McDonald’s or convenience stores. You can even get coffee in cans here for less than a dollar. I’m not a coffee connoisseur, so I’m not big on coffee, so long as it gets the job done in the morning. However, my boss did take me to a Starbucks once, and I got an iced caramel machiatto, which was wonderful.

Coffee not your thing? Hope you like Coke! Pepsi is hard, but not impossible to find here, but Coke is everywhere, though it is harder to find diet. No big deal for me though, as I’m not fond of aspartame as a sweetener. You can also get Sprite here too.

But the important one is alcohol! Vodka costs about the same as back home, as does the cranberry juice or orange juice to go with it. If you want to save some money, and try something local, there’s Kaoliang liquor. It’s made from fermented sorghum wheat and when taken straight, tastes like gin to me, as it burns on the way down. My wife detected a taste similar to tequila which, lucky for me, it wasn’t, otherwise she may have put me in the hospital. Either way, probably not something we’ll try again. Beer, however, may be a different story. The Chinese actually invented beer thousands of years ago, so you’d think they’d be pretty good at making it, which they are, but you get what you pay for sometimes. The least expensive beer here is Taiwan Beer, which tastes about as original as the name. It’s less than a dollar per beer for good reason; it tastes so bad, you’ll wish you’d bought Budweiser. However, for not much more you can find other good beers, foreign, regional, and domestic, depending on which stores you go to. Thus far, I’ve found Budweiser, Heineken, Carlsburg, Tiger, and my new personal favorite, Tsing Tao Beer, a Taiwanese beer. Tastes very good and smooth, like Tiger, but costs much less, and has almost the same alcohol content, about 4.7%, much more than most American brands. Go up on the roof near sunset, with a couple of beers and some smokes…and pizza…that’s about as good as life can get in Taiwan!

Alcohol-is-cause-and-solution-of-lifes-problems

Well, I think this covered just about everything I can tell you thus far about Taiwan. As I have more to add, I will, but that’s it for now. So what’s next for us? How does Taiwan rate, and how can we sum that up, compared to the other places we’ve been? That will be coming up in my next post. Until then, keep your feet on the ground, and your knees above them. Same as it ever was…
– For images of our journey, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston

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