Food and Religion
I have a confession to make (other than being a day behind with the blog): For my first two meals in Taiwan, I had McDonald’s. (I’m sorry if you just threw up in your mouths.) It’s not that I like McDonald’s – I don’t really, at all. But I didn’t know what else to eat. Let me explain:
So as you know if your a loyal reader of this here blog, I got to my hostel about 3 pm on Friday and passed out on my bed. Well I woke up at 7:30. I didn’t really have the energy or interest to go out and party, but I did want to explore my area of Taipei a bit, and I was a bit hungry. My hostel is in one of the busiest parts of town – I think it’s the part called Old Town Centre, but who can know for sure. It might be Zhongshan, or something else. But it’s around there. Anyway, it’s a bustling area – I’m only maybe half a mile from Taipei 101, there are shops, banks, 7-11’s, and plenty of places to eat. So fresh off my nap, I walked down my street, keeping my eyes peeled for a restaurant I’d seen in my guidebook. I never did see it, so I just kept going. Along the way, I saw plenty of food stands, tiny restaurants, bigger restaurants, and vending machines.
Here’s the problem – this language barrier’s a bitch. In Europe, we could at least make out enough written words to get by. But this here Chinese language is baffling. Obviously, it’s not related to English at all… and as I walked past all those delicious smells, I was foiled time and time again – no English menus, no pictures. I didn’t know what to do. I was too tired and I didn’t want to deal with trying to get some food when a) I wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone, and b) lord knows what I’d get on my plate. In America or France or Germany it’s one thing – you’d probably be able to recognize what is served to you. But in this part of the world, you’re playing tummy roullette. You may get cow bladder, tofu in a guitar-shaped mound, or whale penis.
Of course I could have just risked it, but I didn’t. There’s a McDonald’s a block from the hostel, and so I gave in and got a chicken sandwich combo. Of course I still had to point to the picture to order, but at least there were pictures.
Fast forward to breakfast time. I wake up, starving, and in no mood to walk around in the harsh, humid sun and deal with last night all over again. So I went back to Mickey D’s, at 10:41. Well, they’re breakfast rules are the same here as they are in the states. And that means breakfast ends at 10:30. Not a minute later. And so for breakfast, I had a spicy chicken sandwich, fries, and an “iced tea.” My stomach was confused and not pleased.
By the afternoon, I decided that pissing off my tummy with McDonald’s couldn’t be any better than pissing it off with a little adventure. I found an awesome blog that this girl’s done for years, reviewing various eateries around Taipei. But in the end, I just said screw it. I needed to get out, see more of Taipei during the day. I figured I’d eventually get hungry enough to just eat somewhere, or scavenge in the garbage. Either way, food would be had.
All of this is overshadowing what I did yesterday evening. I went to a couple of the cooler temples here: the Confucius Temple, and the Bao-an Temple. These places are amazing. I don’t think any explanation could do them justice, especially since I really don’t know much about the religion over here. But I’d love to learn more. So in lieu of words, here are a couple pictures (and I’ll post all my temple pics in a gallery after the jump at the bottom of this post):
After spending time about an hour at the temples (they’re right by each other), I walked around for a tiny bit and saw this little eatery – small, no door, the kitchen’s basically right on the street. It smelled so good… but of course there was no English menu, no pictures. But I was starving because I hadn’t eaten since my McDonald’s “breakfast.” After some hesitation, I walked in.
The woman you see in the picture above smiled at me, and I asked her if she spoke any English. She spoke maybe 2 words of it, which are of course 2 more words than I know in Chinese. So we realized there was a communication issue. She said “noodles or rice?” and i said noodles. But that was about as much as we could get across to each other. So with a smile on her face, she told me to just go sit down… and 5 minutes later she comes back with this amazing dumpling soup (really just dumplings in a broth) and a noodle bowl that was equally great.
She said the noodle bowl was called Tan Mien; the dumplings in broth had a name with three words, and my brain isn’t good enough to remember that. But it was delicious. Definitely better than McDonald’s. By a mile. After I finished I walked back to the front and asked how much. “Fifty-five,” she said. Fifty-five New Taiwan Dollars (that’s the currency here – NTD). For those who don’t know, $1 US = roughly 32 NDT. So that means that my kickass meal cost me a grand total of about $1.50. Excellent.
I think I kinda like it here.
After the jump, see all my photos from the temples and my dining experience.