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Taiwan’s southern tip has beautiful beaches and stretches of ancient fossilized corals populated with all manner of crabs, fish, mudskippers, and shellfish. Here are my nephew, niece, and my sister near O-luan-pi or the “Goose’s Beak” area at the very southern end of Taiwan. They are standing on an ancient seabed; when these Miocene corals were laid down the mighty shark Megalodon swam the seas.

 

 

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I’ve just returned from a short stint circumnavigating Taiwan with family, and we ate really well. Americans are not too crazy about glutinous texture dishes (that’s sticky-starchy, not wheat-based). But Asians adore gooey glutinous food in many forms: main dishes, desserts, even drinks.

There is a little street-side joint with stools on the sidewalk just a block from my Dad’s place in Taichung, the township where he was born. As we walked past, a wonderful aroma floated out, wrapped us up, and pulled us in. The specialty of the house: Taiwanese meatballs!

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Known as rou yuan in Mandarin (肉圓) or Ba wan in Taiwan’s Hokkien dialect, the dish is a delicately steamed ball of minced pork wrapped inside a translucent, gelatinous bubble made of rice and sweet potato flour and steamed or deep-fried. The meat ball is usually flavored with minced bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms. The whole thing is served drenched in a sweet chili gravy that can be a mixture of ketchup, sugar, garlic paste, chili and rice flour. You dip your ba wan in the gravy, then bite into the glutinous pocket and piping hot meatball juices burst into your mouth to form sweet/hot/salty awesomeness.

My father’s family have loved these goodies for more than a century and I can picture my Dad, uncles, and auntie as teenagers in the 1950s running out to the vendors to buy them.

Amid the hustle and bustle of a sunny Saturday morning farmer’s market in Taipei, I wander into the Wenchang Temple grounds. Noise recedes, butterflies float. A small sculpted Buddha sits in the garden, holding a book in his left hand (was he left-handed?) and his right hand on a stack of books he has already read–or is about to read.

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As an avid reader I love this image. The serenity and focus of the Buddha amid the everyday secularism of folks filling their baskets with fruits, veggies, fish, and eggs captures the essence of a large Asian city: teeming multitudes each pursuing her or his path through this existence, essentially alone.

Many Amis people have moved to the mega-cities of Taiwan in pursuit of a better life. In the concrete and pavement jungles, some Amis people are creating small urban gardens to grow fresh, inexpensive, easy-to-cultivate produce. The flavors of home include some weedy wild plants, like this one below. The main thing: make sure no fertilizers or other chemicals are in the soil.

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, Amis and other indigenous Taiwanese consider edible weeds as a daily health supplement that is also delicious. They stir fry them, or seethe them with cured meat in savory soups.

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Inspired by the Amis idea of easy fresh urban-foraged produce, I’ve planted two service berry trees in my yard. Now it’s mid-June and the berries are at their ripest. If you live in an area with service berry trees (they are native to most Western states and like creek banks but also do well in office landscaping) go pick some!

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Service berries are important to Native American diets, and can be used to make pemmican. They’re a little less flavorful than blueberries but delicious and FREE. Rinse, dry, and put ’em in pancakes, muffins, or over ice cream. Or, freeze on a cookie sheet and store for winter snacking.

A beautiful wooden singer near the College of Indigenous Studies at National Dong Hwa University. Behind him, shrouded in clouds, are the green Coastal Mountains of Taiwan whose forests hold precious cultural knowledge and spiritual values.

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The lands near here are traditionally associated with Amis or Pangcah people. I hope this song is a joyful one, to celebrate young indigenous scholars of Taiwan!

 

If you are in Taichung and are a breakfast lover, roll out of bed and hustle over to Chen Ji Early (陳記早點). Dodge through the scooters to take your place in line. When you get the front, grab wildly at a cup of warm soy milk to your right, and fill your plate with amazing breakfast fare to the left.

This pic with a savory turnip cake, a perfectly fried egg over easy, and foreknowledge of a heaping plate of potstickers and cabbage-filled pan-seared dumplings, makes my belly growl. If I acquire sufficient merit to achieve Nirvana, THIS will be waiting for me.

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Here is the address and FB page for Chen Ji Early: across from the National Library of Public Information, at No. 1737, Jiancheng Road, South District, Taichung City, Taiwan.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/%E9%99%B3%E8%A8%98%E6%97%A9%E9%BB%9E/172117926188091

Here’s A view of self with Dad snarfing in the background. Happiness is potsticker juice all over your phone.

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A couple of weeks ago in Taichung, celebrations were underway for Mazzu. She is a sea-goddess who is very special to Taiwanese Han people, who have never forgotten their seafaring and fishing heritage.

In the park next to my Dad’s apartment we were charmed to see a nice little traditional puppet theater all set up in her honor, colorful with many lights. The whole thing could be folded up and fit into a van.

Glove puppet theater, or Budaixi, is centuries old and persists in Taiwan street culture today.

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This is what the theater looks like from in front. Old-school drama was belted out in Taiwan dialect by two young guys in white tee shirts in the back. Screechy opera style music in the background…

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A little poem I wrote about it.

 

In the city park a glowing colorful jewel

Set in black velvet of a hot night:

A tiny theater.

 

Bright puppets race back and forth

On foot, on horses, on boats

Robes flapping, head-dresses bouncing

Cudgeling each other

Singing, exhorting the audience

 

Kids perched on seesaws and swings

Mesmerized

Dad, 82, stands on the grass

Mesmerized too.

 

Have you ever heard that dandelion greens are edible? Amis tribal gardeners of Taiwan who make ‘wild’ greens an everyday part of their menu. These little volunteers were growing in my Boise, Idaho backyard.

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Common dandelions (Taraxacum spp.) were introduced to North America from Europe and are become a familiar sight in yards, parks, and lots. After briskly invading, they are now ‘naturalized’ — in a state of balance. Neither wild, nor tame.

The leaves can be harvested before blooming, and ideally before the buds form. But you have to keep an eye out, because dandelions are very speedy bloomers. It’s very important to harvest from areas that are chemical-free!

 

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I soaked my dandelion leaves in water with a little salt, then rinsed and blanched them (pop quickly into boiling water and remove). They can be chopped lightly and sauteed in sesame oil with minced garlic and ginger and a touch of rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. Dandelion greens have a pleasantly bitter ‘zing’ that pairs well with fatty meats or cheesy dishes. Most Amis gardeners sautee them like I did or put in soups with salty pork bits, rather like Southern collard greens.

 

Here’s to young women in the field sciences–specifically, archaeology! A fun and vibrant entry that includes interview excerpts–several of which I forgot I said (smile).

Leveling the Field

Pei-Lin Yu, Anthropology, studio portrait In one of her favorite shirts! Photo courtesy of Dr. Yu.

Last fall, I read for the first time the book Hungry Lightening by Dr. Pei-Lin Yu. It was recommended to me by my as I was trying to think of content for this blog. I picked it up and was immediately captured by Dr. Yu’s writing. I never dreamed that I would be at a breakfast diner in Boise, Idaho interviewing her in person and hearing her retell the story of her delivering a set of twins in the savanna’s of Venezuela.

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The wonderful people at Fulbright Taiwan have just posted a video interview about my research on indigenous farming. I hope you enjoy!