In Taiwan, tea is often used in cooking. Clint and I rode the Maokong Gondola up into the mountains near Taipei two nights ago and had dinner at the Big Tea Pot.

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I wish you could smell this.

We had tea-infused rice, sweet potato greens, spicy fern leaves, and mushroom chicken soup. For the rice, tea leaves are roasted and then ground in a mortar, then added during the cooking process. For the vegetables and soup, small bags of tea are steeped in the broth. The result is a lovely tea scent and aftertaste I’ve never experienced before.

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Mushrooms, tender chicken, bamboo shoots, all in a tea-infused broth.

The view from this open air restaurant was gorgeous. A more romantic and fun dinner can hardly be imagined!

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The lights of night-time Taipei as viewed from the balcony.

Last week I took some time to explore the northeast coast with friends and family. First we hit Yehliu, a weird and wonderful collection of hoodoos created when uplifts raised sandstone of varying hardness into the zone of wave and wind erosion. So these cool features are between 23 and 5 million years old!

Nanya Rock ColumnsLast year five Chinese tourists were swept to their deaths by a rogue wave at high tide. This is not uncommon here, a statue of a fisherman who tried to rescue a student in the 1960s testifies to his bravery although both perished.

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A question marked sandstone hoodoo at Yehliu, with a tourist for scale.

Next, we visited Nanya Rock Formation, just east and south around the tip of the island. I couldn’t find any age for these rocks but they might be Pliocene sandstones, between 3 and 1 million years old.

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At the Nanya rock formations it’s easy to see odd inclusions and the stratigraphic history, especially when there is a geologist handy.

 

 

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Clint and I drinking “Gold Un Ale” Mandatory Draft, the latest offering at 23 Beer Tasting Room in Taipei. A keg-hopped golden ale that adds zest to the usual light smooth flavor!

Taiwan is home to two beer cultures: the first is the working man/woman’s beer which is a light lager similar to–but tastier than–American Coors or Bud. It is aptly called Taiwan Beer. There is a second, younger beer culture based on micros. We sampled some of these at the 23 Bar just around the corner from my faculty dorm (No. 100, Section 1, Xinhai Road, Da’an District, Taipei City).

For good beer karma, my boyfriend Clint brought several packets of Centennial Hops all the way from Brewer’s Haven, Boise, Idaho (we now call him the Hops Mule). His luggage smells delightfully hoppy now.

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My other favorite is the No. 1 Pale Ale, also keg-hopped. Fragrant hoppy happiness and a light brown nutty vibe.

 

The fusion of tribal wild vegetables and Chinese cooking techniques can have very happy results…during my interviews with Amis Tribal Elders, I purchased two sacks of wild vegetables sold by elders at booths on the main street. The restaurant down the street was happy to prepare them for us…

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Mr. Wang Seng Chang, an Amis tribal elder, holds a wild vegetable that he cultivates in a garden plot. Mr. Wang says that his family eats wild veggies every single day.

There were two main vegetables in season: one called ‘tadugum’ is a leafy green of the nightshade family, related to tomatoes and potatoes. Unlike those plants, it’s the leaves that are eaten exclusively. You can stir fry the deep black-purple leaves like kale or spinach with garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and a hit of soy…

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Tadugum, or wild nightshade, stirfried to perfection.

The second is called ‘lo kutl’ by Amis farmers. This beautiful plant, also known as bird’s nest fern, normally grows high in the forest canopy but enterprising tribal people now cultivate it in pots or gardens. Like a hungry bear, you can collect the tender ‘fiddleheads’ of the ferns as they emerge. These may be lightly stir-fried like the tadugum, or battered and flash-fried then served with fabulous sweet-tangy Taiwanese home-made catsup.

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Battered fern fiddleheads with homemade catsup. Just the thing after a long day of ethnographic fieldwork!

 

 

 

On the east coast of Taiwan, Dad and I visited Ba Xian Dong or Eight Immortals Cave–Taiwan’s best-known Paleolithic site–which was created before agriculture.

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Standing at the edge of the biggest cave: you can see the characters for Lingwa Cave to the right.

These mysterious caves in sea cliffs echo the booming of the Pacific ocean. More than 30,000 years ago the waves pounded into crevices of the cliffs, opening up caves that ancient hunter-gatherers made into temporary homes.

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Home to Taiwan’s first human inhabitants more than 20,000 years ago.

As I held a pebble chopper that was last used more than 1,000 generations ago, I felt time moving through me as I moved through time…

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Paleolithic chopping tool created by skillfully removing just a few flakes from an ocean-rounded beach pebble.

The Eight Immortals are sacred to Taoist religion and also worshipped by Buddhists. In 2014, Ba Xian Dong was a bustling series of temples built right on top of the archaeological sites. Last year the temples were closed down by the Taiwanese government to protect the sites from further damage. Although the scientist in me is glad the site is being protected, the echoing emptiness of Lingwa Cave during a winter rainstorm is haunting…the Eight Immortals watching us…

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Three years ago the thriving temple…

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The same view today. Bare concrete, wires, and haunting bits of paint are the only testament to the old temple. The latest layer of archaeology added to 20,000 years of Taiwan’s human story.

Last night strolling with friends at the Raohe Night Market in Taipei we came across a gorgeous temple dedicated to Ma-Tzu, the goddess who protects fishermen from the dangers of the sea.

The main part of the temple was completed in 1757 during the Qing Dynasty.

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Panoramic street view of the Song Shan Ma Tzu Temple. The partial images of people and vehicles capture the hustle and bustle of the nighttime street.

The velvety cool air of the night was perfumed by thousands of sticks of incense, and worshippers left fruit and flowers for their beloved dead. Holding bundles of incense they bow quickly from the waist three or four times, visiting different stations through the immense temple.

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Carvings of forest scenes, battle scenes, and sea scenes all lovingly covered with gold leaf.

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Fierce grimacing brass incense burners fill the air with sweet smoke.

The details of carvings were exquisite, everywhere you look are amazing and intriguing sights!

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Like incense smoke, ethereal dragons curl through this beautiful stone carving. The golden lights behind commemorate real people honored by their families at the temple.

An exceptionally lovely lantern sculpture graced the street next to us.

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In this lantern display, roosters and hens preside over a bounty of flowers, fruit, gold ingots, and chicks. I especially like the chinese cabbage lantern to the right!

My next posting will show you a panoramic view of one of the most breathtaking pieces of temple art I’ve ever seen! Stay tuned!

This blog will make you wish you were at the table, chopsticks ready.

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Today I’ll share one of my family’s favourite traditional restaurants in Singapore. It’s a place we go for authentic Hokkien comfort food and Beng Thin Hoon Kee is definitely a household name that has been around for a long time. The restaurant has been very successful and favourite with many families since it  was founded in 1949 by Lim Yew Hoon who sadly passed at 91 quite recently. It moved to its current premises at the OCBC Centre rooftop carpark in 1979.

Overall: ★★★★☆
Price: $$ – $$$

They serve up a variety of sets for different numbers of people, but on average, you can expect to pay about $35-45 each per pax if you go for the full works including soup, fresh fish and seafood like prawns and crab claws.

One of my favourite dishes here is definitely the Cold Duck Salad.

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This is a wonderfully appetising start to the meal with…

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For Reba: Lights near the Ximen District (old western gate of the Qing Dynasty walled city).

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Beautiful lights gleam in the twilight streets during Lantern Festival.

View of temple of Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, during Lantern Festival. I didn’t photograph the huge golden goddess who is seated inside, with curling incense smoke and worshippers in front of her feet.

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View of temple of Mazu, Taiwan’s Sea Goddess who protects fisherfolk, during Lantern Festival. I didn’t photograph the huge golden goddess who is seated inside, with curling incense smoke and worshippers in front of her feet.

It is Lantern Festival time, and hordes of hungry celebrants wander the parks and streets of Taiwan to enjoy beautiful displays of light and color. It’s a Rooster theme this year…

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Lanterns are made of fabric stretched over wire, then lit from the inside. A park or street full of these is quite magically lovely.

Street food is now in high gear. Dad and I worked the booths in Taichung Park, and although the treats were many and varied we unanimously decided that Oa Bao, oyster dumplings (and a palindrome too!) took the prize.

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Oa bao anatomy, visible before they are sealed.

Giant circles of wonton wrappers are placed in a bowl, seasoned cabbage placed on the bottom, a raw egg in the center, oysters arranged around the egg like flower petals, then covered with more cabbage, wrapped and sealed, and simmered bottom down in hot oil. Once they’re sealed, they’re deep fried golden brown.

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The well-oiled machine: night market stall workers in a choreographed sequence they repeat hundreds if not thousands of times. A hard life and I’m very grateful for their work and culinary expertise!

The end result is salty and crispy on the outside, with hot sweet nutty juicy oyster-y eggy awesomeness inside. A squirt of Taiwan’s unique sweet and sour fishy sauce is optional (see Cathy Erway’s book Food of Taiwan for the recipe). You can make a meal of one oa bao, Dad and I polished off five.

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Dad needs both hands to handle one.

When I first came to Taiwan I was struck by the playfulness of women’s fashion. Unlike their sisters on the mainland, young Taiwanese women blend together influences from American coeds, Japanese manga bondage girls, and old China in a unique fusion.

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Night market fashion: the lightweight sundress and sneakers on the girl in front compromise feminine and funky.

 

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Coco, a young museum curator, demonstrates Taiwan casual winter chic.

Yet echoes of the Chinese past continue to infuse Taiwanese life. Near my cousin’s apartment, old temple art depicts Imperial women in splendid layers of silk brocade, with dangling jewels and ornate hairstyles with blossoms woven in.

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A Qing Dynasty lady from a temple painting more than 250 years old.

Ancient Chinese fashion on a living woman can be breathtaking. I recently saw a young Beijing Opera actress in a demonstration. With a dainty, butterfly-like lightness she mimed sewing, gardening, and feeding her chickens.

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Chinese Opera ‘young miss’ mimes sewing with needle and thread.

This was balanced by the grace and power of an older actress who played a doomed concubine bidding farewell to her emperor, then committing suicide. The scene where she drives the sword into her chest was electrifying. Taiwanese society has many such surprising pairings of tradition and modernity…

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This actress rocks a gold and blue cape embroidered with cranes, dragonflies, and lotus blossoms.