11/24/2008

Taiwan: Food, Finally!

I've never seen it as my duty as a good little "foreign" guest here in Taiwan to say that "everyone knows that Chinese food is the best food in the world". To tell the truth, I don't agree with this. You won't see me making top ten lists with Chinese food at number one. For me, Chinese food is too rich, too greasy, too (piping) hot and too hard to dig into. I'd much rather eat Greek, Italian, Cajun or Indian. I especially don't like expensive Chinese food, such as is served at feasts or wedding banquets. I simply nibble at these meals to be polite. And I absolutely detest anything with "herbal medicine" in it. I not only can't eat that stuff, but I can't even breathe it. There are exceptions of course like Szechuan food, which is spicy yet simple and Cantonese food, with its crunchy noodles and fun-to-eat dim sum offerings. Thus I am happy to see Taiwanese becoming more democratic in their tastes. Where I come from, it's more like "everyone knows Chinese food is quick and easy takeout. Make sure you have something to wash it down with." Nobody has it ranked number one.

My friend John was telling me the other day that the reason "foreign restaurants" are taking off in Taiwan is people here are afraid of Chinese ingredients, like everything has melamine in it. I don't see it that way. I think the population has become more worldly, more adventuresome and less susceptible to Sino-centric brainwashing. This bodes well for me, because boy do I like to eat. I threw some pics down below as further evidence of Taiwan's democratization.
Vietnamese spring rolls over noodles served at a the Pho Cafe, a nice little place near my office in Taipei. The owner, a friendly Cantonese fellow, comes from Vietnam.

I had this pita sandwich and spicy fries at a Middle Eastern restaurant called the Sababa Pita Bar www.sababapita.com, a restaurant in the newish Breeze Center, upstairs at the Taipei Train Station. I asked one of employees, I think his name was Eddie (an overseas Taiwanese from the Philippines) if they had a "foreign" cook hidden away in the back. He said "no", and that the owner was a Taiwanese woman. But he also told me that restaurant was a franchise. Sababa buys all of their sauces from the original branch, which is run by a Canadian. I'm guessing the Canadian, or his parents, come from some place cooler than Canada. This guy can really cook. Let's just hope the owner of this branch doesn't get it into her head that they don't really need to keep paying up, that she can do just as well on her own. When/if this happens, the Sababa Pita Bar can kiss its sales goodbye.
Moroccan eggplant, yogurt sauce, tomatoes, dill (I think), pita and drink for NT$180 (US$6).
Korean food in Hualien (花蓮), Taiwan: for the life of me, I couldn't remember eating this. It was in my Hualien pics file stored on my Mac, from the spring. I must've enjoyed it, because I love Korean food. Hualien has also started to go cosmopolitan. The tiny airport there serves international flights. And I do remember eating at a Chinese restaurant and having my order taken by a Russian in a chipao.
This jarred my memory. It was definitely Korean.

5 comments:

Kaminoge said...

Glad to see that I'm not the only who gets less than enthused about eating Chinese food! Unfortunately, with the exception of one overpriced "Austrian" establishment and a few mediocre (i.e. "Taiwanized") Japanese restaurants, the effects of Taiwan's culinary internationalization have yet to reach where I live (Fengyuan, Taichung County).

Fili said...

As far as I know, Sababa (meaning wonderful in Hebrew) Pita Bar franchise is managed by Israeli Tomer Feldman and his Malaysian wife (known for their Taiwanese rock back - Neon).

I'd say the menu looks very Israeli and although not nearly as good as in Israel - the Hummus, Falafel and other things served are not bad.

The Taipei Kid said...

I left a comment on Turton's blog saying how horrible the food in Ximen was and how I would never eat there (there are a few exceptions, however), and I would never take any foreign guests to a restaurant where you have to stand up in the street and eat intestine noodle soup from small green bowls. And of course I was blasted for that, because I am a foreigner and many Taiwanese have fond memories of eating in Ximen, blah, blah, blah.

Anonymous said...

Actually I think Sababa's owner is Israeli.

I think Islaformosa did a good job dispelling the Taiwan food is #1 thing but it depends on whether you consider Taiwanese food as Chinese.

Taiwanese Food is #1 in the Taiwanese Mind

Patrick Cowsill said...

Fili,it never occurred to me that the food was Israeli; taking a wild stab, I figured Morocco. I loved the food in Israel, especially the odd-shaped, oversized bagels and European items, served in large helpings.

Taipei Kid, just before I left Taiwan, I photographed a long lineup of people waiting to eat oily oyster noodles in Ximen. The customers must, after waiting 30 minutes, stand on the street carefully slurping not to burn their mouths. The "restaurant" doesn't provide tables, just lots of attitude, like "What are you doing here? And are you ever blessed that we're including you." Customers eat from plastic green bowls that must be returned. It seems like a lot of effort just to be in with in-crowd and what they're doing.