Archives for category: taipei street culture

I’ve returned from Taiwan now for the past two weeks and boy, do I miss stinky tofu!

As you walk through the streets of anytown, Taiwan, you might find your nose assaulted by a uniquely dreadful smell. It’s especially poignant in the night markets, when darkness makes your sense of smell keener.

There is something cheesey about it, with overtones of rotting vegetation and something more primeval. When the earth was young and ruled by single celled organisms, the smell of stinky tofu existed. Before human noses to wrinkle at it, human language to describe it, hands to make it, tongues to savor it.

In the 1960s my young father, homesick for tastes of his homeland, bought 臭豆腐 in jars. For breakfast he garnished old-school rice porridge with nice crisp pickled turnips, bits of scrambled egg, and stinky tofu. My sister detested it, but I adored its pungent creaminess.

For the stouthearted among you: Cook some calrose style rice with a little more water than usual. Scramble an egg with sesame oil and soy sauce, add some kimchee or chinese pickled veggies, and maybe 1/3 block of stinky tofu. Stir well, and sprinkle with chopped green onions and/or skin-on peanuts. It’s lowfat, gluten free, nutritious, and delicious!

For a cool video about how this stuff is made, check out







A beautiful dragon boat head up close, in Taipei’s Dajia Riverside Park.

All over Asia dragon boats raced yesterday to commemorate a mythical Chinese poet and virtuous government official, Qu Yuan.


Qualifying heats pit four boats against each other. Each boat is equipped with a drum to ensure cadence for paddling!

Qu Yuan (pronounced Chew Yu-en) struggled in a time of corrupt, brutal government officials. After many exiles and military loss of his beloved capital, Qu Yuan called it quits and walked into a river holding a rock. But not before authoring hundreds of extraordinary poems, the first attributed by name in China nearly 2,300 years ago.

These gorgeous boats mimic a rescue attempt. Races take place all over Asia and where there are big Asian communities and rivers to race on–like Minneapolis in the states.


Jockeying for position while paddling to the starting line.

Teams are variable; amateurs mix with veterans, retired schoolteachers with athletes, women with men. The crowds are raucous in their support of favorite teams! I must admit, some of the teams are, well, “easy on the eyes.” I hope Qu Yuan’s spirit is pleased with these offerings of piety, athleticism, and fun.


One of the fastest Dragon Boat teams in Taipei. Several paddlers are indigenous Taiwanese!

If you are like me, you love browsing a farmer’s market. In a good one, and Taipei has a multitude, the produce itself seems alive with personalities of their own.


Oranges glow in the foreground of a fruit vendor’s booth. Taiwan fruit is firmer and sweeter than most in the United States.

If you are like me the little market near my Taipei apartment is a dream come true. People swarm through and around the colorful fruits and vegetables like fish through a bright coral reef, hefting and squeezing the items, greeting each other, shouting greetings at the vendors, juggling bags, handing over money.


I love the woman laughing in this blurry photo. It seems to capture the energy of friendship and food that typify a good open air market.

At my favorite veggie vendor the kind man in a red baseball hat speaks in Taiwan language just like my Dad. He often throws an extra bit of something into my bag: some scallions, a crisp cucumber, maybe a handful of fresh firm green beans.


Capturing this vendor in action is impossible. You have to be one of those nature photographers with a special lens to capture activity too rapid for the human eye.

Welcome to almost-summer, welcome to the first harvests of the season!!


Mouthwatering yams, cauliflower, red and yellow peppers, guava fruit, bitter melon, and some kind of purple herb (basil?) await hungry shoppers.




Small sweet potatoes roasted on hot rocks are a common offering in 7-11s here. Gooey and delicious, they are beloved of Dad and me and also, apparently, polar bears.

sweet potatoes

let’s make beautiful music together–and then I will scarf you down, peel and all.

Sweet potatoes can be spotted conversing on street corners nearby…


What do tubers find to talk about??

Don’t forget to chase your sweet potato snack with some chilled asparagus or mushroom juice…


The healthy choice of quadrupedal bikini-clad blondes on beaches everywhere!

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.


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.


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!


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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!


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.


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!

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


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.


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…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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.


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.


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…


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