Culinary & cultural Taipei

For Mel, the last occasion he was in Taipei was at the end of 2011. Certainly most Singapore men would be quite familiar with Taiwan, having gone there for exercises as part of their national service. So this is indeed a welcome journey.

Now the idea is for Suan to take it easy in the 2 days. And she sure did!

To be honest, the shopping in Taipei is not very different from that elsewhere. Except that there indeed some chain stores that are not present in Singapore. Other than that, first time visitors can perhaps try the national palace museum with its plethora of artifacts.

20th July
Mel was in a training while Suan shopped around the malls that ring the Le Meridien all the way to Taipei 101.
Beautiful view of the Taipei 101 on a clear day. The area around Le Meridien is a network of malls,View of 101-2 quite some belonging to the Shinkong (新光) group. It is a good thing that they are all connected via covered walkways on the second level, affording shelter from the sun or rain. And it came in useful too as the rain came pouring in the afternoon after a beautiful morning.Shopping at Shinkong malls8 Shopping at Shinkong malls5Shopping at Shinkong malls1
The elephant parade Taiwan 2016 is being held here. It is their 10th anniversary and the exhibition is held both here in Taipei and in Chiang Mai.
 Overnight stay in Le Meridien

You know we did not expect to come into such hot and humid weather. But aside from the rain that came yesterday, it was literally blazing hot!

The only solace we found was to get back to the comfort of air conditioning in the hotel until the day cooled down and then embarking on the first of our night market culinary adventures. We are headed to the Tong Hua (通化) market that is a stone’s throw away.

Now if you have extra time, we will recommend you walk along the streets and alleys leading up to the market. There is so much more little eateries that you’d be stuffed before you get to the night market itself.

21st July
Suan did some shopping again around the malls in the vicinity of the hotel. After Mel joined we went to the night market just 2 train stops away!
Meat balls1 Smelly beancurd1 Tong Hua Night market5
The cost of taking the MRT is ok for short distances. We paid NT$20pp for the 3-stop journey. They use the token like in Malaysia which you slot back into the turnstile as you exit. Now if you get here early enough, there is little in the way of crowds. So you have choice of seating. It is not a very large market and 1½ hours here should be sufficient.
Tong Hua Night market9Tong Hua Night market7 Tong Hua small eats1The stores are lined up ready by 6pm, so get there early. Buy your ticket and get a token to scan your way in.MRT token
 Overnight stay in Le Meridien

Well, time to move. The company’s not paying for our private stay, so it was a taxi ride to our abode for the next 2 days.

Our assessment of Ximending is that it is really more lively and crowded than the Xinyi district where we had stayed the last two days. It appears to be sort of a “Shibuya” equivalent in the composition of the crowds here. Perhaps we were not in Xinyi (where we stayed earlier) over the weekend to witness the same.

Ironically, we took a train all the way back in the direction of Xinyi to visit the night market. One that is certainly our recommend. Yeah, you’ve probably heard about Shilin (士林), and it was not far from our Ximending hotel. But we wanted to suss out what’s different there and came away reasonably satisfied. Perhaps you will be too.

22nd July
Today we switch hotels. Getting to the Ximending (西门町) is quick and we explored the area on foot for lunch and shopping. The evening was spent at the Raohe (饒河夜市) night market, much bigger and crowded than the previous evening!
Now we could not check in and left the luggage. Naturally we headed around the area seeking out the eateries that Suan had goggled. And it wasn’t far before we hit jackpot on our first culinary mining mission here. Just 10 minutes’ walk is Hankou road and our first stop : 楊排骨酥麵.
Definitely worth the walk here. Their signature is the pork spare ribsPork Rib noodle1 Pork Rib noodle3Pork Rib noodle2 Pork Rib noodle4served with noodle in broth or dry. The servings are not too large but generous enough on the spare ribs.
Costing NT$80 for the larger serving, it is great with the side dishes that costs just NT$30 per plate!
For the side dishes, there is a cabinet in front of the eatery and self service. Selections include:
– Pig’s ears/offal/skin
– Seaweed
– Bean curd slices
Delicacies if you will…
Pork Rib noodle8 Pork Rib noodle9
Dumpling and carrot cake2In our quest for good food, we walked towards southDumpling and carrot cake1 Dumpling and carrot cake4Xining road on the edges of Ximending. Near the Red house, we found this little eatery branch of Wang Ji Fu Cheng. The mainstay is pork dumpling, but we found that they had great “carrot” cake too. Called “rice cake”, it was delicious. Dumpling costs NT$60 while the carrot cake was NT$45. Here in Ximending there is a Matsu (媽祖) temple too…Ximending Tienhou temple
Raohe night market1 Raohe night market2 Raohe night market3
The temperature in Taipei has reached a sweltering >>30°C and high humidity. So by the mid afternoon, walking along the shops of Ximending already brought us to sweat like horses. So it was back to the hotel to cool off. Then sometime before 5pm, we made our way to Raohe (饒河) night market.
It took us 7 stops on line 3 (green) to reach the end – Songshan (松山站). Consider it a good idea to come out to the market earlier, as the stallholders have already set up shop by 6pm. So we started eating already before the crowds come in. You know about the early birds…
Beef Chop3 Yam puff2 Fuzhou Pepper Pie2
Being early at the night market means we finished the length and breadth of it before 8pm. And it was time to leave when the place really got crowded.

Back to Ximending, we headed to Fong Da Coffee (蜂大咖啡). Here we are looking for pastries made from green bean paste. There are two kinds : the ones that last for 3 days (sweeter) and those that can be consumed over a month. Comes in variety of flavors (NT$12 each) such as almonds, sesame and peanuts.

Fong Da coffee confectionery4They also sell locally grinded and mixed coffee powder andFong Da coffee confectionery3 seems many a local comes by for both the coffee and the pastries. We did not try the cafe though there was much rave about it.Fong Da coffee confectionery2
 Overnight stay in Westgate Taipei

Now when most folks come to Taipei, its either the museum or the memorials that they visit. Being ‘veterans’, we decided to break out of the mould. Not to the oft mentioned Tamsui (淡水) or Yamgmingshan (陽明山), but to a lesser known place called Maokong (貓空).

Cats’ hallows sound like the Harry potter story of the deathly hallows. And you’d imagine it must be a place for the felines to roam freely. Well no. This place we journeyed to was known to be home to civet cats (yeah also felines but different) and they hide in the crevices that dot the landscape. Apparently. Not so apparent to us.

The main draw is that on a beautiful cloudless day such as we had, we saw all of Taipei beneath our wings… and then the really hot (35°C+) and humid day wore us down.

23rd July
We spent the first half of the day till 2pm at the Maokong area. Hot and humid we walked and ate before returning to the city for a rest. Our final night market today!
Walking to Maokong gonodaOur adventure started “early”. After a hearty breakfast, we set off at 9am to Maokong (貓空), located southwest of the city.Maokong Taipei zoo station1 We took line 5 and changed to line 1 (at 忠孝复兴 station) for the ~40 minute ride, having bought the day pass for NT$350pp.

From the Metro station, it is a 5 minute walk in the open to the gondola station in the open. An underground car park is in between for that drive.

There are 4 stations and we are headed to the first one at Zhinan (指南). Over this first stretch the cabin stopped at the Taipei zoo.

Maokong Taipei zoo station4All the way we could see Taipei 101 peeping over ↓
Gondola to Zhinan7 Gondola to Zhinan4 Gondola to Zhinan9
It was indeed very scenic and a little windy. Now it is important to note that the cabins do not have much in the way of ventilation and the small windows on the top does not make it much better. However that should not stop us from admiring the views of the city Gondola to Zhinan14as we ascended up the first stop Gondola to Zhinan11that is ~230m above ground.
Gondola to Zhinan16 Zhinan stop6 Zhinan temple2
For no reason we decided to stop at the Zhinan station and make the walk towards the temple of the same name. It is a quiet place and not many tourists, mainly devotees making their way for prayers.
Along the walk to the temple, we saw numerous wishing charms hanging on the trees lining the pathway. They say if you pray for a wish and it comes true, come back here to pay your respects and thanks. Well, not for us…
Unfortunately the facade is under restoration… It was fortuitous that the walk was not all in the open. Between temples there is a covered walkway which really helps shield you from the blazing sun. Views from the temple over the city looks great with the Taipei 101 towering in the distant. Zhinan temple6 View from Zhinan1Zhinan temple4 Must be able to see the fireworks from here too!Zhinan temple11We walked to the “大雄寶殿”
Before going any further, it was wise to take a rest in one of the pavilions that line the trails around the temple. Yes people trek or hike around here.
Then it was off to the final stop. the terminus where our objective was – lunch!
View from Zhinan5The road lining the station is alive View from Zhinan7with eateries, shops & hawkers.
Maokong stop1 Maokong mascots1 Maokong stop2
Our intent was not any of these, but to find the restaurant that Suan had researched. Called the Spring square restaurant, it was located on the slopes and we missed it. Fortunately the locals directed us and we were soon sipping tea looking at the views!Maokong stop4 Maokong Spring Square restaurant1We had 鐵觀音 tea, which soothed our bodies. and our half chicken soup came with fresh bamboo shoots Maokong Spring Square restaurant6and some mushrooms. It was a rather large pot but we managed to finish most of it! We did ate the chicken too, which is probably the local free range kind. We also had bittergourd fried with eggs – salted eggs at it. And it was not salty! And starting and ending this was with tea.
Maokong Spring Square restaurant11Maokong Spring Square restaurant10 Maokong Spring Square restaurant8Maokong Spring Square restaurant5 Maokong Spring Square restaurant7← Rosella they grown themselves and pickled with sugar. Above – curly fern.
Did you know why this place is called “貓空”? Because here are numerous potholes that look like the hiding place of cats. Well these were formed over eons of time by the elements.

But importantly this was a former tea planting area and the culture around it, something which today it is still known for. Despite being called Cats’ hallows, there are none here… In 2010, “crystal” cabins were introduced to the gondola.

Ride back down from Maokong24Ride back down from Maokong3 Ride back down from Maokong22There are 30 cabins that have been retrofitted with 48mm thick glass bottoms.
Said to operate at intervals of 3 minutes, they can only seat 5 persons and not the standard 8 persons. If you queue for it, it will take longer and is a separate queue.
Ride back down from Maokong27 Ride back down from Maokong30 Ride back down from Maokong33
In the past there were safety concerns on the pillars of the gondola. But these have been resolved. So sit back and relax, it’s safe!  For us, it was a long day, and the walking in the sun really takes its toll. We are now on the way back to the city, Ride back down from Maokong34enjoying the views from our crystal cabin.Ride back down from Maokong39
Ningxia market1 Ningxia market2 Once again we took a rest in the hotel before heading out to – this time to the one at “宁夏”. Just 2 stops on line 3 (green) from our hotel, it is one of the smaller ones and we chose it because of proximity and the fact we leave tomorrow. Got there well before 6pm but the stalls are already up.
Ningxia Oyster omelette2 ← We had tried the oyster omelette yesterday but had to try the one here too. For NT$65 per serving, it was definitely worth it! Too bad we only had one. You can see from the queue that it was rather popular with locals too. Ningxia Oyster omelette6
Across the cross junction, is a braised food cart. A long queue too and very cheap too →
One more mention that is worthy is the “UFO” pie. Dough covers the content which consists of : an egg, shrimps, oysters. At NT$50 each, it was simply too cheap! We should have ordered more ↓
Ningxia braised food stall1Our NT$80 bought us quite some food: Ningxia braised food stall42 x chicken wings, bean curd, yam, daikon.
Ningxia UFO2 Ningxia market4 Ningxia market6
What we learnt is that there are seating area behind the stalls for customers. Some of the stalls are more like open-air “zichar”. There was definitely one seafood stall that had live shrimps in a tank! Customers could just pick their own and have the chef cook it on the spot. Talk about fast food!
Overnight stay in Westgate Taipei

The nice thing about ‘free and easy’ is that you roam as you wish, much like cats. Come back to the hotel as you liked, saunter in the night markets sniffing out the choicest morsels to eat as you wish.

We mention this not that we are cats… though,

Because the very epitome of silliness can be a cartoon featuring a mouthless cat. Yep, it’s Hello Kitty we are talking about. Aside from sweeping up little girls across Asia into a frenzy (Mel thinks crazed), we have adults into the game too!

For crying out loud (aargh!) Mel cannot understand how this cash machine for Sanrio has spawned so many tentacles affecting our daily lives. And we are about to set sail on an aircraft that is : plastered with the cat all over!

24th July
A very very early departure from the hotel to the airport. It is the Hello Kitty plane! This made up for the painful morning wakeup call!
Not every flight is a Hello Kitty one, but ours today is. However, for those that do not get on such a plane, there is a Hello Kitty self check-in counter.

You can also view the shopping gallery of various items for sale – all in the Hello Kitty theme. You can imagine that Suan went into overdrive…Hello Kitty check-in counter3

Hello Kitty check-in counter12So many people came here just for the photos. Perhaps they had already checked in and did not know about this like us! But all this excitement will soon be over when we get on the plane.EVA lounge meal1

In the two hours before boarding, we were in the Eva Star lounge. Food selection is pretty good here. Suan took her breakfast of congee, fresh vegetables while Mel busied with writing this log. We also managed to spend our NT$ down to the last NT$10.

Flight Hello Kitty5As we were upgraded to premium economy, the seats are a little wider and there is more leg room. Important was : the cutlery was all Hello Kitty! Even the peanuts was on the same theme. Seems like a waste to some for eating them! Flight Hello Kitty10Flight Hello Kitty7 Aircraft Hello Kitty3Obviously Mel had to help Suan keep most of the cutlery, stirrers etc. We also asked for playing cards that are of the Hello Kitty theme too. And we got 4 decks of cards!
Flight BR215, ETD 0925hrs for Singapore

Wow, Eva air seems to have scored a fantastic partnership with the owners of Kitty, catering to the cat’s fans with self check-in counters. So you can obtain a Kitty boarding pass even if you are not flying on one.

Suan’s instruction for Mel was very clear : collect all the utensils, napkins etc that has the Kitty plastered on it (so long as it is legal). Best to conform voluntarily and simply do your bit to help unless you want to be caterwauled into it.

You have to hand it to them, even the stewardesses wore Kitty emblazoned aprons… with so much excitement, you cannot even take a catnap on this flight back. Now we are home, it’s time to catalog the photos and dream about the next journey.

July 2016

3 thoughts on “Culinary & cultural Taipei”

  1. Oh wow!!! But it’s too far, and will be pricey for a family. Always that… but must travel always with toddler in tow. 🙂 And she would love the Hello Kitty. Hubby said he would pay the extra for Premium Economy to be comfortable – long legs problem! Haha. He doesn’t understand why I take the cutlery and other consumables. Maybe it’s an Asian thing. Lol!

    Liked by 1 person

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