5 Things to know about Taiwan. It’s an exciting destination.
5 things to Know about Taiwan……
There are 5 things I didn’t know about Taiwan. In fact there is probably a whole lot more than 5 things I didn’t know before I visited, but lets just start with 5.
To be perfectly honest, I never really considered going to Taiwan because I knew nothing about it nor did I know anyone that had been. All I knew was that “Made in Taiwan” was written on nearly every label, clothing or plastic item, when I was a kid. That was swiftly overtaken by China and Bangladesh and Taiwan faded into obscurity, or so I thought. Apparently the Taiwanese have gone on to make more of a splash in Electronics, as well as cutting edge sports fibres and innovative food since I last took notice.
To start and these AREN’T included in the 5 things, Taiwan has been in the news in the last weeks. First and most importantly because the Parliament is currently debating same sex marriage and the prospects look positive. Taiwan has been brought into the world limelight recently by Donald Trump, who exchanged niceties in a phone call after his election. China considers Taiwan to be it’s property, most other countries will not engage in conversations with Taiwan whose president who is incidently a woman, Tsai Ing-wen
I was guest of the Taiwan Tourist Bureau and I was offered a chance to attend the Taiwan Culinary Exhibition this year in Taipei on August 5-8, 2016. I love food shows and I’d just been to the Fancy food show in New York. That’s the food show I always wanted to go to and it was immense, so I was very eager to see what the Taiwanese one was like. The theme was “eat locally, and savour seasonally” I hadn’t expected that. But it was a big colourful exciting exhibition.
There was a quirky opening ceremony that included jugglers in chef uniforms, plate spinning and a couple of TV presenters that would be great on a game show. It was on Taiwanese TV of course and had so much colour and enthusiasm that it put New York’s dry steadfast opening night speeches to shame. So the exhibition started with a bang and continued that way, they just love to make noise. There was no ignoring the Taiwanese love of a microphone, megaphone and even walking voice amplification speakers on guides. Phew, I need new ears. Chefs from all over Taiwan’s many regions and provinces showcased local dishes, even indigenous aboriginal foods, (yes, there are indigenous peoples!). Naturally there was an abundance of food to eat, and this is where they put all other food shows to shame. The food was amazing- not just bird like samples but whole sections of the hall dedicated to snacks, noodles, soups , dumplings, sweets of all kinds. You do not normally see so many people eating an a Food Show.
What you do see though are chefs competitions and cooking demonstrations and there were plenty of those.
Work uniforms based on indigenous dress.
There was a huge press presence and as foreign media, we were asked to join in and interview the Minister for Food and Tourism. There was media from Japan, China and the rest were a handful of English speaking food media, just like me. There were lots of questions and excited chatter in Chinese before all the attention was suddenly on my side of the room. An interpreter was supplied and the minister and I had an interesting conversation about the direction of Taiwan’s food and beverage industry. Well as much of a conversation a you can have in 10 minutes with an interpreter. It was quite the experience and I am sure I was red in the face for the entire time the cameras flashed and the questions were interpreted answered and then bounced back to me.
Below the Minister at the press conference for foreign media
So what are the 5 things to know about Taiwan?
Taiwan was voted by CNN readers as their number one culinary destination, and its cuisine was listed by U.S. based financial website Business Insider as one of the most compelling reasons to visit Taiwan. It is also considered to be one of the safest places in the world for women to travel!
1. Taiwan is a Food Travellers dream
Food and religion are intertwined here. Or is food the only religion?.
Every place you go in Taiwan there is food you want to eat markets to restaurants and even hotels, the food is exceptional. Taiwanese have an adventurous sense of fun when it comes to combining and inventing new foods. You can experience most of these at night markets all around the country. There is a night market somewhere in any town or village you visit and most people eat out at night at the markets because food is cheap and did I say extremely abundant?
This isn’t the only way to experience the food though and part of the tour was to showcase foods of all styles. Visiting the local markets with passionate chefs and going to the fish market with them were the absolute highlights of this trip. The markets are clean and food is not only grown locally but there is a big push towards organic, as markets in Japan and China are scampering for the clean food grown here. Seafood is also farmed on a large scale in order that their love for things from the sea is sustainable. They are able to feed there own population of 23.5 million as well as export without the fear of running out. Small organic fusion restaurants known as no menu restaurants are very popular with locals and tourists alike. Food is seasonal and local and most chefs grow at least some of the ingredients.
August is the beginning of the short lived Bamboo shoot season, they are sweet and sort of look like a baby corn or a white asparagus but with a lovely non-stringy texture. The executive Chef of the Gaia Hotel in Beitou (a hot spring holiday destination in Taipei) offers to take a group of foreign media (me!) to the local market to show us some of the fresh produce he uses including fresh Bamboo to see what it looks like fresh and how they are peeled by hand. First he shows us how to cook the baby shoots serving them with a mild rich chilli based sauce, then he piles us into vans for the short ride to the market.
I do wish I had taken a photo of how 10 foreign photographers exploded into that market in all directions and how bewildered that chef looked when he realised he would have to round everyone up and put them back into vans to take back to the hotel where he had been preparing a 10 course lunch. I think he just underestimated our interest 🙂
2. Fast Train and efficient Transport
They have got it all going on as far as transport is concerned in Taiwan. There is a great road system, in fact traffic flows over a two tired double deck freeway system through Taipei, a city of 2.8 million. The MRT or suburban rail is easy to use and there is even a High Speed rail. It’s all new and modern and exceptionally clean. The rail system is linked to a whole network of support. If you catch a bus or the high speed rail you have access to information on accommodation, entertainment ideas on where to eat and even local specialities in food and drink. How helpful is that?
The the high speed rail HSR I caught was on time. To the minute. The seats were comfortable with lots of room, a bit like the seats you wish you had on an aeroplane, there’s even a place to recharge my phone. A refreshment trolley passed my seat but I could also have gone to a dining car. The ride was incredibly smooth and I was amazed to see that the speed of the train was displayed on a neon sign in each carriage, along with the weather, the Provence and the time. 256 km an hour when I looked up!. If you forget to research your journey there’s a helpful magazine in the seat pocket. The high speed train runs from Taipei in the north, and goes all the way down south to Kaohsiung. From Taipei to Tainan Taiwan’s next biggest city, takes 1.45 minutes and costs NTD 1150 or $48 Australian.
Buy a ticket for the MRT and use it on all transport.
The MRT local train. Travel around Taipei is very easy . Stations are clean and easy to navigate.
The fast train is the best way to travel the East coast and access transport from stations to anywhere else along the route.
Better than most airlines.
Yes I said whisky. They make whisky, and not just any whisky.
Taiwan has caused a bit of a stir in the whisky world . The King Car Distillery in Yilan county was only completed in 2005 and produced it’s first bottles in 2006 releasing in 2008. The distillery was set up using imported German equipment and pure water from the nearby mountains. The Kavalan distillery is an award winner and amongst those is the 2015 award for its single malt whisky Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique it won the best whisky in the world!
The five-story warehouse houses 30,000 casks tied together because of the high risk of earthquakes in the region. Anyone can visit the factory for free. This includes a tasting of two whiskies but if you’d like to try more you pay by the tasting shot. It is matured in American oak barrels that previously held white and red wines. These are burnt before using to provide that smokey taste.
I tasted a selection of some of the most diverse whisky flavours Kavalan make including the award winning Solist.
A. is KaVaLan Solist Bourbon, single malt, made in a new cask with an interesting vanilla scent;
B. is Solist Vinho single malt 2015 world champion whisky of the world; its smooth well I thought it burnt smoothly on the way down!
C. is Solist Amontillado single malt made in sherry casks that has won many world awards. It’s fruity with a very strong aftertaste
D. is Ka Va Lan is made in port barrels. This has lovely sweet accents and is very perfumed
4. Camping, Cycling and Mountain climbing
Taiwan is amongst a few countries in the world that have at least 100 mountains over 3000 meters. The landscape is dominated by the mountains running down the centre of the country. Most of the population lives on the west coast, while the east coast is a little more rural. The volcanic history of this land also contributes to one of biggest the draw cards for tourists and locals a like, holidays at the Hot water springs. A weekend at a hot spring hotel is very popular, as are the public hot spring pools in many town squares. Driving through towns like Beitou you will see children and grandparents sitting gossiping, with their feet in steaming baths even in the heat of a Taiwan day. The many hot spring Hotels all over Taiwan provide the opportunity to enjoy the spring waters in the comfort of your own room.
Enjoy your own private bath. This giant bath at Fleur de Chine Hotel Sun Moon Lake that can be filled with spring water.
All those mountains also mean climbing, rafting, abseiling and cycling. Taiwan has an incredible biking infrastructure you won’t believe. You can travel the circumference of the island. Give the entire island tour around a month, but if you want to dabble in just a touch of cycling there’s plenty of choice. Hire a bike from any of the U bike stations in any city or town or find a bike shop to hire one. You could even join a bike tour. While a bike journey around the entire circumference of the island is possible ( a months journey with sightseeing), it may not be for you, so choose a destination and you can be sure there will be plenty of bikes available. The Cities are a bit chaotic traffic wise but there is plenty of countryside to choose from. The best time of year to cycle is in the Taiwan wintertime between October and February. Hotels are abundant but can vary greatly so ask to see your room before paying. Read a couple of great posts on cycling around Taiwan. Here cycling Taiwan and another here
Countryside between Taipei and Tainan on the West Coast, from the bullet train
Sun Moon Lake in Central Taiwan is a very good place to cycle and eat!
5. Markets, Food Courts, Street eats
oops food again!
Let me just say that there is a LOT of markets in Taiwan. While they mostly all contain food they are also a place to pick up a bargain in clothing, bags and shoes. The variety of clothing in shopping malls is surprisingly good both in quality and design. Of course all the big brands are here and so are popular food trends. You’ll find Zara, H & M and everything else you can imagine beside the home grown stores. Don’t forget that Taiwan excels in textiles and wicker weaving for leisurewear and shoes.
In malls and main streets you will find all the food trends from Japanese cheesecakes and tarts to bagels and gelato, stylish cafes and restaurants are everywhere. I know this may annoy you but I only had eyes for the food in the markets. You would be surprised at the amount of Taiwanese food ideas that have swept the world bubble tea, giant fried chicken, Bao buns, are a twist on the classic Taiwanese street food – Gua Baos. Have you heard of a coffin bread sandwich? (warning- U tube link with sound). The list goes on. It’s fascinating. Taiwanese love sweet and savoury things. If you have never tried caramel coated cherry tomatoes then you have never lived!
Special fried fish and basil only found at Sun Moon lake and below the stallholders that catch and cook the fish.
Making the new street food craze. Pork and Pepper bun in a portable Tandoor oven
And below the Shilling night markets around 11 pm. they are open till at least 1am.
Yep, bagels are big
The latest gelato craze in Tainan below and above New York bagels in a shopping mall in Taipei.
Oh wow, I can’t stop showing you. I haven’t even touched on religion. That rare belief in what goes around comes around keeps Taiwan one of the gentlest places to travel. Well that is a bit simplistic but it is a gentle place.
My Kitchen Stories travelled to Taiwan as a guest of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau