HYDERABAD: My food experiences in Taiwan: loved some, shunned some. Life’s like that!!
Jason, the charming young man welcomed us with a disarming smile. Proudly holding the legacy of a 130-year-old tea company Wang Tea (founded in 1890), this well-groomed new generation entrepreneur thinks everything chic, trendy, and novel: conducts the tea demo on a classic set of rosewood table and stools with beautifully carved cabriole legs. In an hour-long demo, he took us around, explaining the machinery for each stage of tea processing. A lady sat zen-like, removing stalks from the tiny tea buds. We joined her and worked briefly: it was so meditative and de-stressing!
Later he gave us different teas to taste: each infusion had us more invigorated. When Jason picked a blob of nicotine and placed it on his palm, we all gasped, for we never saw the physical form of nicotine!
Located in Dadao Cheng’s Old tea zone, Wang Tea in its long journey created a space to “Interact with Tea”. It is worth spending time to have a memorable tea experience here and buy different categories of tea to carry home. With period stuff all around, it is like a mini museum. I fell in love with the statue of a China man drinking tea: he had a priceless expression on his face!
Din Tai Fung
This chain of restaurants is famous for its Xian long bao-Taiwanese soup dumplings. We had an impressive dinner at their Taipei 101 branch that bustled with huge crowds waiting for a table. During this long wait, guests were kept busy with something like “tombola”: some of them winning and grinning before a table was vacated.
As we entered the bustling restaurant we went past the busy team of what looked like surgeons in the midst of a serious operation, but from close it proved to be just an operation of making dumplings! Clad in shirts, aprons, caps and masks all in white, they looked like medical doctors. Hundreds of hand-made dumplings steamed in bamboo baskets find their way to the tables of loyal clients daily. It is as interesting to watch the process, as it is to eat the dumplings. But to come to the stage of tasting the dumplings, it was a slow process: after passing through delicately flavoured crisp pickled cucumbers, salad with thin strips of wakame (a thick sheet like seaweed), stir-fried amaranth greens served with sauteed garlic.
Our pretty waitress revealed the protocol to eat the Xian long bao. We followed her instructions to a Tee:
Put soy sauce and vinegar into the bowl with sliced ginger: one part soy sauce to three parts vinegar for best results.
Take the soup dumpling and dip it into the sauce. Then put the dumpling into your spoon, and poke a hole in the wrapper of the dumpling to release the juices. And finally, eat, but eat it hot! Going through this unfamiliar process, mine became cold. But nevertheless, they tasted fine.
The dessert was a disappointing “steamed taro xiao long bao” – a mildly sweetened version of the dumplings filled with sweet taro: an unacceptable cousin of our delicious “Modak”.
During our lunch at Chun Shui Tang (Original Store) in Taichung, I tasted the much talked about bubble tea (pearl milk tea). One thing special in Taichung is the teahouse culture, led by Chun Shui Tang Cultural Tea House who invented the beverage.
Bringing Tang and Song Dynasty decoration back into the teahouse to represent culturally rich and sophisticated age, the place is elegantly decorated with a cherry blossom tree creating a pretty space.
Tapioca balls (boba) are the prevailing chewy spheres in bubble tea, but a wide range of other options can be used to add similar texture to the drink. “Boba” is Cantonese slang for “large breasts” referring to the tapioca balls. I enjoyed the milkshake like Mango bubble tea, slurping the sabudana through the straw. Back home, we are quite used to eating the delicious ‘sabudana kheer’… but I prefer to call the Taiwanese tapioca balls simply bubbles.
In the Chinese cooking method, hot pot is prepared with a simmering pot of soup stock at the dining table, containing a variety of vegetables or meats. At “Takao 1972 Hot Pot” in Taipei, we cooked our meal in a ready-made broth that was simmering in the tabletop stoves in front of us.
I added a bit of everything that was kept in front of me. Inoki mushrooms, corn, napa cabbage, bok choy, seaweed, all went into the hot pot.
We had a tough time finding salt, as the waitress could not understand English. Later, one of us came out with some condiments and it spiced up the meal slightly. Mine became a thick tomato sauce like soup, to which I added boiled rice to make a meal. Some of my friends at the other table had to slog over raw meats and learn to peel the shrimps with bare hands!
In the adjacent Ice Papa Restaurant, the huge mango shaved ice cream with only ice and no cream resulted in fewer calories but chilling tough on the teeth with frozen mango chunks. Maybe that’s how Taiwanese like it…