Thursday, May 05, 2011

Taiwan: Raohe Street Night Market 饒河街觀光夜市 in Taipei

Taipei has several popular night markets. In fact, visiting night markets is a popular pasttime, a subculture even, in Taiwan. For our first night, we visited the Raohe Street Night Market 饒河街觀光夜市, one of the oldest night markets. The market is located on a 600-meter stretch of Raohe Street, in Taipei's Songshan District.

At the entrance I noticed an unusual stress treatment where you get hit constantly on the head, neck, back and arms by a bundle of plastic sticks. I tried it out since I was quite tired. And it felt quite good. There are also a lot of foot massage services inside the market to relieve your tired feet after hours of shopping.

But more than the shopping, it's the street food which makes the night market very exciting. What I like about Asia is the hawker culture where every stall or restaurant has its own specialty. Our guide was adamant to let me try out her favorite snack, dried pigs blood dipped in peanuts and what seemed to be chopped kinchay. It was quite chewy and not bad for a snack.

I tried out different kinds of street food from local sausages to baked pepper buns. If only we weren't full from dinner, I would have wanted to try a lot more. But our time was limited and we had to rush back to the Howard Plaza Hotel. We were leaving quite early to visit more of Taipei's sights. More photos of day 1 in Ivan About Town FB page.

Note: This familiarization tour of Taipei, Taiwan was organized by China Airlines. Book online at the China Airlines website.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Taiwan: 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo

Taiwan hosted to the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo from November 6, 2010 to April 25, 2011. The 2010 Flora Expo is a garden festival recognized by the International Association of Horticultural Producers. We didn't have time to explore the entire site. So we were brought to the Expo Dome where an orchid exhibition was being held.

Orchids are among the most fascinating flowers in the world, and is said to be the second largest family of flowering plants. And the wide range of species and hybrids were very much evident in the massive orchid exhibition at the expo.

We also got to see the Pavilion of New Fashion - FE EcoARK, a structure made of 1.52 million used PET bottles and bamboo as the main structural material supplemented by recycled steel beams. It was in fact featured in National Geographic Channel's Megastructures and is a perfect example of how one can make an energy self-sufficient structure by utilizing the sun, air and water.

Hopefully, this would be the future of construction. In Taiwan alone, several billions of plastic bottles are discarded every year. Given that most of them are non-biodegradable, the accumulation of garbage is a very serious issue and one that was addressed by the FE EcoARK.

After taking photos at some of the outdoor floral exhibits, we proceeded to Taiwan's electronics market to get some great deals. More photos of day 2 in Ivan About Town FB page.

Note: This familiarization tour of Taipei, Taiwan was organized by China Airlines. Book online at the China Airlines website.

Taiwan: Taipei 101 Observatory

Taipei 101 was the world's tallest building from 2004 to 2010. When it was completed in 2004, it was the world's tallest structure at 508 meters, had the tallest roof at 448 meters and had the tallest occupied floor at 438 meters. And like many of these tall skyscrapers and structures, Taipei 101 has an observatory which visitors can go up to for a spectacular view of the city.

After our dinner at Din Tai Fung, the group proceeded to the Taipei 101 Observatory on the 89th floor, which is 382 meters above the ground. The good thing about the visit to the observatory is that you can borrow pre-recorded multi-media guides in eight languages that annotate your view as you walk around the observatory. Unfortunately, it was a bit foggy that night so we weren't able to see much. If I had the chance, I would have wanted to visit the Taipei 101 Observatory during the day.

Don't forget to visit the 91st floor which is the Outdoor Observatory. There are steps from the 89th floor to get you there. But as we were about to reach the entrance, an announcement was made that the access to the 91st floor was going to be closed due to the weather situation.

As you exit the observatory, you'll get to see the world's largest and heaviest wind damper on the 88th floor. The Taipei 101 wind damper has a diameter of 5.5 meters and weighs 660 metric tons.

To get up and down the observatory, you naturally have to take an elevator. But note that the elevators of Taipei holds the Guiness Record for world's fastest elevator with top speeds of 1,010 meters per minute.

Admission fee to the Taipei 101 Observatory is NT$400 for adults and NT$370 for children under 12. While kids under 110 cm (3 feet 8 inches) enter for free. It's open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. But they only allow guests in until 9:15 p.m. Note also that there is a dress code and that slippers are not allowed. More photos of day 1 in Ivan About Town FB page.

Note: This familiarization tour of Taipei, Taiwan was organized by China Airlines. Book online at the China Airlines website.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Taiwan: Xiaolongbao 鼎泰豐 at Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐

To the many fans of xiaolongbao, Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐 must be heaven! Known not just in Taiwan for its xiaolongbao, the restaurant has received accolades from all over. The New York Times named Din Tai Fung as one of the Top 10 restaurants in the world in 1993. While its Tsim Sha Tsui branch in Hong Kong received a Michelin star in the Michelin Guide Hong Kong and Macau 2010 edition. So visiting its many branches is a must when in Taiwan.

Earlier, we passed by their first branch along Xinyi Road in Kang Qing Long District. Obviously, But our dimsum dinner was going to be at the branch in Zhongxiao East Road. You better make reservations because it was obvious from the crown and long queue outside that getting a table if you walk-in would take some time.

While many non-Chinese refer to xialongbao as "soup dumplings," they are actually steamed buns. I would later find out that one major difference of dumplings and buns is where they are pinched or sealed before steaming. The dough wrapper of dumplings or jiaozi 餃子 are folded in half and pinched along the perimeter of the semi-circle. While buns or baozi 包子 are sealed with a pinch on top.

As we sat down in two tables, the dumplings, buns and other signature dishes just kept on coming! There was their Appetizer 小菜, Spicy Pickled Cucumber, Stewed Beancurd, Xiao Long Bao 小籠包, Steamed Shrimp and Pork Dumplings 蝦仁蒸餃, Steamed Vegetable and Ground Pork Dumplings 菜肉蒸餃, Steamed Fish Dumplings, Steamed Shrimp and Pork Shiaomai 蝦仁燒賣, Vegetarian Fried Rice 蛋炒飯, Hot and Sour Soup 酸辣湯 and Steamed Mashed Red Bean Buns 豆沙小包 for dessert.

By the time we were down, the group was simply overloaded with dimsum. But the night was not over since we had two more stops, the fist one being Taipei 101. More photos of day 1 and the food in Ivan About Town FB page.

Note: This familiarization tour of Taipei, Taiwan was organized by China Airlines. Book online at the China Airlines website.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Taiwan: Kang Qing Long District in Taipei

As I sat on the Business Class seat on our China Airlines flight to Taipei, I knew we were in for a grand tour. I was looking forward to exploring Taipei in style. And I was not disappointed since we got to experience some of the best cuisine, destinations and activities in Taipei.

Straight from the Taoyuan International Airport, we proceeded to the Kang Qing Long District in central Taipei. This cultural district gets its name from three streets located in the area namely Yong Kang, Qing Tian and Long Quan Streets.

Kang Qing Long had once served as a residential area for senior civil officials from Japan before the Taiwan Restoration. Today, it has a very youthful and academic vibe owing to the fact that the district hosts several colleges and universities that include the National Taiwan University, Taiwan Normal University, Chengchi University and Tamkang University. Add that the Da-an Forest Park, said to be the lungs of Taipei, borders the district on the east.

What makes the area worth visiting are the many interesting establishments there that include coffee shops and tea houses, independent bookstores, restaurants and antique stores that are said to have operated for decades.

In fact, our first order of business was high tea at a very popular tea shop called Hui Liu. Located in one corner of Yongkang Park, Hui Liu is a tea house and vegetarian restaurant where people can escape from the chaos of city life. Interestingly, you'd most probably see a tall American man moving about the shop like a busy bee making his was from the kitchen to the dining area and back. He is Evan Shaw, who together with his wife Hu Hsiao-chen, owns Hiu Liu.

As we were seated, Shaw brings out some tea and personally serves it on our table. He told us that it was Tie Guanyin 鐵觀音 or literally Iron Goddess of Mercy, which is a premium variety of Chinese oolong tea associated with Fujian province but also produced in Nantou, Taiwan.

Over cups of Tie Guanyin, Shaw recounts how he settled in Taiwan and opened the shop. The first time he came to Taiwan was in 1975. He used to come back and forth to Taiwan until he met his wife. "In those days," Shaw jokingly shares, "Taipei was even noisier than now." So they wanted to create a place where you could escape from the "noisy big city."

Shaw shares, "We didn't want to serve coffee since coffee is for fast things. So we thought Chinese tea. It takes time to drink and to enjoy. And you can go on all day long drinking one cup after another. So we thought we would serve tea and some small snacks. But after drinking tea, people get hungry. So we had to turn ourselves into a restaurant, to a kind of tea cafe. And we are vegetarians. So we gave vegetarian food."

On tea, Shaw tells us, "It's a simple beverage. It's just some leaf in the water. But it's also very elegant. If you see people making tea in a formal way, it's extremely elegant and very beautiful to watch. And it's something you can study and practice just like you learn any kind of art."

The snacks came out one by one. Most of the dishes he served were actually not on the menu. so it was quite a challenge asking him the names of the dishes that were served to us. First to arrive were (1) Fried Spring Roll with Peanut Tofu. Then came in (2) Purple Yam and Peanut Croquettes with Sunflower Seeds served with cream. Then came in (3) Chinese Pancakes with what seemed to be red mung bean paste inside. The last dish was (4) Fried Vegetable Dumplings.

Hiu Liu is also a store. Aside from tea, displayed on the shelves are special ceramic bowls, cups and pots made by Evan Shaw himself.

We walked through Yong Kang Street again on the way back to our bus. I immediately noticed the abundance of hawker stalls along the road. And it was so tempting to try out every single one. I noticed one selling flour pancakes similar to the roti canai in Malaysia. So I tried that one out and it was quite good.

Since the area has a strong academic atmosphere, we were showed one of the used book stores in the basement of one of the buildings. The group had one last stop in Kang Qing Long before proceeding to the Howard Plaza Hotel to check-in. And that was the Formosa Vintage Museum, a collection of cultural and historical relics that feature Taiwan's past covering various periods in Taiwan's history from the Dutch, Ming-Zheng, Ching, Japanese and ROC years.

The museum was founded by Dr. Lin Yu-fang in memory of his parents. Although a medical doctor, Dr. Lin has dedicated much of his time to collecting these cultural and historical relics of Taiwan.

On the way back to the bus, our guide pointed to a small dumpling shop with a queue in front. It turns out this was original store of the famous Din Tai Fung on Xinyi Road. We were going to have dinner in another branch later that night. More photos of day 1 in Ivan About Town FB page.

Note: This familiarization tour of Taipei, Taiwan was organized by China Airlines. Book online at the China Airlines website.
Related Posts with Thumbnails