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Taiwan

    Asia Travel  --  Food & Drink

    Two Countries, Two Cuisines, Too Delicious

    The Food of Taiwan and Malaysia

    Location: Taiwan and Malaysia

    Taking a cooking class and going on a food tour in every country I visit is a goal I have. And I accomplish it often, but not always. But when I can I always enjoy it and over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing two countries, two cuisines, too delicious – the food of Taiwan and Malaysia.

    Taiwan

    We spent six days in Taipei Taiwan. We weren’t really tuned in to the Taiwanese cuisine, half expecting it to be just like China. But unlike China, Taiwan has been strongly influenced from Japan (with historical influence also from Portugal and Holland) and it’s noticeable in the cuisine. The Chinese influence comes primarily from Eastern China (Fujian). And certainly the fact that Taiwan is an island, the cuisine has a much stronger focus on seafood than much of China.

    Scallion pancake on Food Tour in Taiwan
    Scallion Pancake is one of our favorite foods we discovered in Taipei Taiwan

    GoTuCook

    A search online led me to Chef Calvin at GoTuCook. Thorough out our world travels I’ve taken cooking classes large and small, in cooking schools and home kitchens, from world famous chefs and humble housewives. And usually my favorite experiences are the ones where I have one-on-one time with the instructor in their home. This was my experience with GoTuCook.

    Mushroom and chincken soup in Cooking class in Taipei
    The beginnings of a delicious shiitake mushroom and chicken soup

    We met early in the morning at the Beitou metro station from where we walked to experience the bustling thriving market and the local vendors selling to the local people. I always love this experience with a local who can explain unusual ingredients, answer my questions and enlighten me to this way of life long gone in America.

    At The morning market Beitou Taipei
    Me at the busy Beitou morning market

    Next we headed to Calvin’s apartment, set up perfectfully for cooking classes. I had chosen three dishes I wanted to make ahead of time from a variety of options listed on the GoTuCook website. I chose as a starter Jellyfish Salad and for a soup course a chicken and mushroom soup and for our main course two kinds of pork dumplings.

    Displaying all the dumplings made by hand in Taipei cooking class
    My pretty dumplings ready for the steamer

    I liked both the jellyfish salad (requires an overnight soak of the chewy jellyfish in the fridge before prep) and the fragrant soup with a broth we cooked with chicken feet as well as meaty parts from the blue chicken, but my favorite was the dumplings.

    Chef Calvin of GoTuCook
    My new friend Chef Calvin of GoTuCook

    Making Chinese style steamed dumplings takes some practice. I’ve done similar work in classes before (making empanada in Argentina, pirogi in Poland and dumplings in Vietnam) but it’s still a chore to get your fingers to make the beautiful designs if it’s not a task you do everyday. We made pork with cabbage and spices and pork with corn and different spices. And then we ate!

    Of course we had leftovers and I brought dumplings and jellyfish to my husband who was back at the hotel.

    I really enjoyed this class and plan to tackle dumplings on my own soon. I recommend GoToCook if you visit Taipei.

    Pork bun One sample from Taipei Eats Food Tour
    The pork “burger” was one of the best things we had on our Taipei food tour

    Taipei Eats

    We also took an amazing walking food tour with Taipei Eats where we expanded our Taiwanese cuisine knowledge with Taiwan Pork “burger”, stinky tofu, betel nut, scallion pancake and much more. Taipei Eats was one of the best food tours we have ever done. Our guide was amazing, there was so much food and we learned some interesting facts while meeting local people as well as other travelers from around the world. Such a wonderful experience!

    TStinky Tofu at Taipei Eats Food Tour
    This is probably the one and only time for me with the Stinky Tofu

    Malaysia

    What a country Malaysia is for a foodie. This remarkable country is a melting pot of many cultures, and it shows in everything, especially the food. Malay food is often spicy, and nasi (rice) features often. Eating with your hands is common. Pork is rarely featured in this cuisine because most Malay are Muslim.

    Prepping the chicken at Indian Cooking Class Kuala Lumpur
    Learning Indian cooking in Kuala Lumpur

    On the other hand, many Chinese immigrated here in the 1800’s when this land was a British colony and the Chinese food is abundant, and often includes pork. Noodles, chicken and dumplings are also widely enjoyed.

    And then there is the Indian food, representing the vast number of Indians living in Malaysia. The use of pungent spices and curries, more noodles as well as lots of vegetables make up this delicious cuisine.

    Indigenous Malaysian sweet treat
    Ancient Malay cultures enjoyed this rice flour treat

    No matter what ethnic background, the people in this country love fried foods and fried chicken, seafood, samosa and much more are popular both as street food and in restaurants.

    Off the Eaten Track

    The food tour we took in Kuala Lumpur was very unique and one of the best ever. At the end of the evening we had sampled twenty-four (yes you read that correctly) foods of this diverse and delicious country.

    Chinese Soup at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    A very local Chinese Soup with veg, chicken and tofu

    We signed up with Food Tour Malaysia for their Off the Eaten Track tour and were met by our guide Timothy at a subway stop in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur called Petaling Jaya where we began our gluttonous odyssey at an outdoor Malay neighborhood food court that operates 24 hours a day seven days a week. Here we found just locals enjoying the foods they loved. We had Nasi Lemak wrapped in banana leaf; ota ota, a smoked mackerel wrapped in palm leaf; a rich goat and potato soup; fried chicken and fried tempeh. I was full before we left this first stop.

    Amazing Night Market at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    My husband Arne recruited to work on the “carrot cake” stir fry – one of our favorite things we had on our Kuala Lumpur food tour

    Next we headed to probably the best night market I have ever been too, also in the suburb of Petaling Jaya. Here we learned about the popular “carrot cake” (not a cake in the sense we are used to, more of a pressed tofu), we had spring roll, noodles, dumplings and sweet Chinese daun pandan filled with peanuts.

    Trying new foods like mackeral in palm leaf at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    Mackerel cooked inside a palm leaf

    Next we headed to a very local-only Chinese open air restaurant to sample more noodles cooked over an open fire and a delicious soup with chicken, okra, long beans and potato.

    Chinese sweet treat at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    Daun Pandan a sweet Chinese treat

    Our final stop was an outdoor Indian restaurant, and we were the only non-Indians there. And darn it I was so full I couldn’t really enjoy the amazing feast of roti, lentil dal, curry, a giant fried pancake with a coconut curry dip, fried chicken and mango smoothie. Roll me home. What a night it was. If you are ever in Kuala Lumpur, do this tour – but pace yourself!

    Indian Bananan Roti at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    Banana Roti a sweet Indian treat

    The Versatile Housewives

    To round off our food frenzy in Kuala Lumpur we spent one morning with Ruth, a cooking instructor who brings the flavors of her native India to visitors in Kuala Lumpur through her business The Versatile Housewives. We learned to make one of India’s most famous dishes, biryani, with a group of local university students in Ruth’s kitchen. Biryani is a rich and flavorful traditional dish, often served at weddings and ceremonies. It can be beef or lamb or chicken. We made a chicken biryani. The flavors of this dish come together by slowly preparing the fresh ingredients of caramelized onions, vegetables and spices like cardamon, cloves and pepper as well as herbs like cilantro and mint. After slowly blending all these flavors with rice and chicken, the biryani is served in a giant bowl and enjoyed communally. Check out Ruth’s website for a great selection of delicious Indian recipes.

    Indian Cooking class Kuala Lumpur
    The beautiful Biryani we made with our instructor Ruth

    No matter where you travel, diving into the culture through food is the most interesting and tastiest way to engage with locals, learn history and culture and broaden your culinary chops. Be brave! Eat the world!

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    Asia Travel

    Taipei Taiwan Last Minute

    Location: Taipei Taiwan

    We were supposed to go to Hong Kong, but canceled at the last minute due to the violence going on there. What to do? Where to go? How about Taipei Taiwan last minute? Great decision. What a great place.

    Like Formosa Free Walking Tour
    Lungshan Temple

    I knew nothing about Taipei. I didn’t mean for it to be my second choice. And after spending six days there, I can most assuredly say you should put it in your travel destinations.

    Here are my favorite things we did in beautiful Taipei Taiwan last minute;

    Like It Formosa

    As we do on our first day in most cities we did a “free” walking tour with Like It Formosa. Our tour guide Eleanor was amazing. Her wealth of knowledge about Taipei old and new, ancient history and current events made the three plus hour tour remarkable. I highly recommend Like It Formosa. On the tour we made several stops but my favorites were;

    Like it Formasa Free Walking Tour
    Original painted movie poster, Sanxia Old Street

    Lungshan Temple – this is a favorite of locals – one of the few that survived WWII. This 300 year-old temple is in one of Taipei’s oldest neighborhoods and it is visited by people of multiple faiths including Taoists, Buddhists and Confucians. As a visitor it’s a wonderful place to see local people who bring offerings of flowers, food and other items as they worship here to several gods including a match-making god and a fertility god.

    Sanxia Old Street – partially restored (with additionally restoration underway) this ancient street was built during Taiwan’s period of Japanese rule and displays the baroque-style architecture of the period.

    Like it Formosa Walking Tour
    Chiang Kai Shek Memorial

    Chiang Kai Shek Memorial – a bit shocking in its immensity, it was here we learned on our tour details about this man…someone I would have thought the Taiwanese revered. But Chiang Kai Shek held the country under martial law for decades, and in his life acted more like an Emperor than a President and so the Taiwanese have mixed feelings about the leader of the Republic of China.

    Tower 101 and Neighborhood

    On our second day we wandered the city on our own and enjoyed riding up to the top of the Taipei 101 Tower. We had bought ticket online ahead of time but did not need to as it was not busy at all. The view in this 1200 foot high building is remarkable, and the elevator ride is impressive – one of the fastest elevators in the world.

    Taipei 101 Tower
    The 1200 foot Taipei 101 Tower

    The tower building is also home to a vast shopping mall as well as a wonderful food court in the basement. We enjoyed dinner here walking around and choosing a variety of dishes including the popular oyster omelet, glazed chicken, tempura vegetables and a chocolate pound cake.

    Taipei 101 Tower
    From the 101 Tower Observatory

    We hiked up the arduous 500 steps to Elephant Mountain, a popular and sometimes busy viewpoint of the city. It was a real workout, but we were glad we did it.

    Elephant Mountain
    The view from Elephant Mountain

    Local Markets

    We visited the lively, local Beitou daily market where locals buy and sell everything from bok choi to pigs trotters and papaya to frogs legs. It was busy and loud and colorful and I loved it.

    Beitou Market
    Pig trotters at Beitou Market

    We also visited two of Taipei’s famous night markets…there are dozens of night markets. These serve as gathering places for locals to walk, meet, eat, drink and shop. We loved the Shiling Night Market and spent several hours there grazing our way through dumplings and octopus and more. We also went to the Linjiang Night Market, but it was rainy and wet that night and there were not many people out enjoying it.

    Shiling Night Market
    Shiling Night Market

    Cooking Class

    As I do as often as I possibly can while traveling I spent a day in a cooking class with a local chef. It was outstanding and I learned some fun recipes and enjoyed a great meal at the end with Chef Calvin of GoTuCook. I’ll be writing a full blog about this soon.

    Taiwan Cooking Class
    Cooking with GoTuCooks

    Taipei Eats

    As usual food is a big part of our travels and one of the best things we did during our visit to Taipei was a Night Food Tour with Taipei Eats. Our guide Diego was awesome! And we tasted at least ten different foods and I was about to explode by the end of the night. I highly recommend this tour and ask for Diego. Some of my favorite things were Taiwan Green Guava with salt, Taiwan “burger” which was pork, peanut powder and cilantro in a hot fresh Bao Bun, scallion pancake, soup dumplings, Moon Cake (filled with egg yolk and sweet red beans. We also tried stinky tofu (no thanks) and betel nut (like tobacco – eww) and the specialty of Taiwan pineapple cake. What a wonderful night it was.

    Taipei Eats Food Tour
    Scallion Pancake

    Out of the City

    We spent one day checking out some sights outside of the city. Originally we wanted to do some hiking, but the weather turned wet so we ended up booking a shuttle service with Klook that would take us to several beautiful and interesting places outside of the city throughout the day. I’m really glad we did because we enjoyed most of it. We especially liked;

    Yeolin Geo Park – a UNESCO National Geological site with incredibly strange yet beautiful geological formations on the sea in the north of Taiwan. It was fascinating and if you had the time you could spend many hours in the park.

    Yeolin Geo Parak
    Yeolin Geo Park Formations

    Jioufen – a historic mountain side village literally hangs from the side of the mountain. Jioufen is now pretty much gone over to tourism, but we still enjoyed the beautiful views from the town and walking around the historic old village. We had a remarkable bowl of beef noodle soup to that was worth the price of admission.

    Jioufen
    Jioufen Mountain Village

    We also stopped at Shifen…but were a bit disappointed in this place. First of all it was pouring down ran, but mostly it was crowded with tourists who come to release paper lanterns into the sky for luck. But it was pretty kitschy and not at all authentic and so we didn’t love it. Maybe on a sunny day…

    Shifen
    Shifen Village, note lantern being released in the back

    Taipei Taiwan Last Minute

    We have no regrets about our visit to Taipei. We stayed at the Dandy Hotel near Daan Park, which we loved. The room was small but comfortable, the breakfast was incredible and the staff was excellent. Right next door was the Metro. We used Taipei’s remarkably efficient and inexpensive metro throughout our visit and loved it.

    And finally the Taiwanese people are wonderful. They are proud to be Taiwanese NOT Chinese, although there is a small faction that wants the island nation to return to China and the People’s Republic of China. But everyone we met wants to remain independent with their current government (Republic of China) which has been governing for 70 years despite the fact they still are not recognized by the United Nations.

    Taipei Taiwan last minute. So glad it happened.

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