Second visit to Taiwan (2005-05-22 to 2005-05-30)
This was my second visit to Taiwan. On my first visit, in 2000, I had the opportunity to eat fried insects: larval bees, and crickets. The crickets were a bit unpleasant because sharp points on their bodies kept irritating my lips, but the larval bees tasted great. They were fried in very delicate batter.
On this visit I looked forward to new culinary delights, and I wasn't disappointed. I kept a log of all the interesting meals, which is included below. I spent the whole visit accompanied by an American expatriate whose personality is much more unusual than mine. One complication was that he's a strict vegetarian, which mostly meant that we couldn't share dishes at meals.
One of the restaurants we went to was very fine, and the menu offered only a choice of multicourse set menus. I noticed that all the options included sharks fin. I don't want to eat sharks fin, because sharks are being wiped out to obtain it. (The fishing ships cut off the fin and throw the body of the shark back in the water.) It turned out they did have another soup they could make for me. This issue is starting to become known in Taiwan; in fact, an uproar about the serving of shark fin soup in a Disneyland (in Hong Kong?) had been in the newspaper. At the end of the meal, I asked to speak with the manager, and suggested that he offer some meal without shark fin. He said they would offer another choice of soup in each set menu, and I think he said he'd explain the issue also in the menu.
I took the opportunity presented by the visit to arrange speeches at a few other universities, and meet with hardware companies to ask them to cooperate with free software. We visited the campus of ASUS (which always made me think of Spanish "Jesús" without the J). There one person deigned to meet us, and his attitude was that the free software community was beneath their notice. On discovering this, I told him I was sorry to waste his time, and left. However, the people at VIA, Realtek, RALink and MSI showed an interest in cooperating. Some even offered to provide advance specs for free BIOS support. Now we have to arrange to take advantage of the offer.
After Taipei we went to Xinzhu, which is the city where much of the IC fabrication is done. My hosts there arranged a chance for me to try eating snake. We went to a special restaurant that specializes in snake; as my hosts translated the menu, dish by dish, it appeared that every dish served there is made from snake. There were no other clients when we arrived, and of the four tables, several seemed to have domestic clutter over them. There were four of us, so we decided to get two dishes there, then go elsewhere to finish our meal. Many dishes were made from snake liver and other organs, which must therefore be a special delicacy, but I hate liver and generally dislike organ meats. We settled on snake soup and snake meat fried with sesame. A little girl of around 6, who seemed to be very happy, watched me use my computer as we waited for food to arrive, and they explained something to her about my work. She said hello to me, and I said hello back.
Both dishes were thoroughly delicious. I then asked which kind of snake the food was made from. The soup was made from cobra, while the meat that was fried came from some local snake they didn't know how to describe. The snakes are found by farmers in their fields, and after they catch the snakes, they sell them to people who bring them live to this restaurant.
After this we headed for a night market where we got other dishes. And then my host said, "Let's go to another place where they have many good kinds of sneks". I thought it was strange to suggest going to a different place to try more snake, and I said to him, "Why are we going to have more snake? And didn't you say that that restaurant was the only one in the city that serves snake?"
He explained that these "sneks" were "snacks"--with his accent, he pronounces "snacks" and "snakes" the same. We laughed, and then went to try the snacks.
I studied one year of Chinese in college, 35 years ago. One year of Chinese isn't enough to have even a basic conversation, and I've forgotten most of the 500-odd words that I learned then. But while in Taiwan I occasionally heard an expression that sounded completely familiar, except that I hadn't the slightest memory of what it meant.
In my first two speeches I mispronounced the name of the evil emperor Cao Cao, because I misremembered the tones. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms quotes him as saying, "I'd rather betray the whole world than have the whole world betray me." After the CMU programmer refused to give me a copy of the Xerox printer source code, saying he had promised not to do so, I felt he had betrayed his colleagues. Then I thought of Cao Cao, and the fact that the programmer had promised not to cooperate with anyone at all, and realized he really had betrayed the whole world.
I figured that people in Taiwan would appreciate this, so I told the story in my speeches, and said, "Cao Cao only talked about betraying the whole world--this man actually did it." But people did not seem to get what I was referring to. I asked one of my hosts why they didn't seem to get it, and he told me I had used the wrong tone. Of all the rotten times to make such a mistake!
Taiwan meal log. I've indicated the four tones here as yi yí yî yì. The shape of ^ is wrong for the third tone, but it's the best I can do in Latin-1.
Cha for Tea, a place that sells many kinds of tea, and food (mostly made with tea).
- Tea-flavored cabbage
- Tea-flavored wanton soup
- Jasmine-flavored steamed dumplings
- Tea and orange flavored ice-cream cake, orange flavor not strong enough to make it annoyingly sour.
- Tianlú oolong tea
- cod with sweet-ish doùfu
- scallops and asparagus
- yí miàn with mushrooms
- thick soup with various shredded meat, perhaps sea cucumber
- winter melon with dried crab meat
- thin slices of niú bàng vegetable (great burdock)
- Pea pods, like edamame, with pepper and garlic
- potato-corn cake
Dîn Tài Feng, famous restaurant that specializes in steamed dumplings.
- Rice with pork cooked inside bamboo. Not great.
- Noodles with a very light sauce. Exquisite.
- Strong chicken soup in a bowl full of the boiled chicken.
- "Vegetable A", cooked very simply, was very good.
- Bean threads and shreds of doufu in sour sauce.
- Various kinds of little steamed dumplings containing pork plus various other things. Lots of juice inside. Crab ones were best.
- Delicately fried mackerel
- Thin rice noodles with shredded pork and mushroom and vegetable.
- Steamed "silk gourd" (sigua, loofa) with dried shrimp.
- Fried Chinese bacon.
- "Three cup" chicken (with slightly spicy bean paste, shreds of fried? ginger with the skin, aromatic herbs)
- Jellyfish salad with a little other seafood
- Steamed grass shrimp in garlic sauce
- Rice with sweet potato
Dinner in night market:
- Mixed boiled stuff that we selected (lettuce, fish cake, squid balls, pork balls, bean thread, konyakku noodles, ...)
- Fried dumplings with juicy pork and vegetables inside.
- Thai-style chicken
- Little cakes filled with vanilla pudding
- Lunch at Cha for Tea
- Beef wrapped in bread crust
- Tea-flavored pork
- Tea leaf tempura
- Dumplings with pork and sea food (not great, though)
- Oriental Beauty tea
- Matcha ice cream
- Soup with shrimp balls and bamboo pith
- Silk gourd with mushrooms
- Steamed fish
- Various small dumplings
- Scallion pancake
- Chewy pieces of wheat gluten in brown sauce with sesame
- Plum soaked in sauce
- Boiled shrimps soaked in shào-xing wine sauce
- Thick soup with minced beef and "silver fish". Contains small pieces of mushroom, and egg, but no fish that I could see (and no silverfish either ;-)
- Silk gourd with clams
- Fried (non-breaded) pork chops in orange sauce
- Roast frog legs
- Xinzhú style mîfên.
Dinner: Hakka style
- Bamboo shoot soup
- Sour vegetable and pork slices soup.
- Red-cooked fat pork and bamboo shoots
- Pork, dried squid and vegetables
- "Bamboo partridge"
- Boar with scallions and ginger
- Small river shrimp cooked with peppers
- Raw cucumber in a garlic-vinegar sauce
- Small clams in a garlic-vinegar brown sauce
- Chicken soup with vegetables including silk gourd and sliced taro
- Sliced fish
- "Virgin crabs"
- Rice steamed in leaf, with some bean paste inside.
- Silk gourd with ginkgo nuts and crab meat.
- Coconut-flavor milk with tapioca
- Multi-herb black jelly with sweet sauce
- Cobra soup
- Snake meat fried in sesame with salt
At the market next to the temple:
- Xinzhu-style rice noodles (with a little brown vinegar sauce)
- Pork balls in soup (very juicy and light)
- Three cup squid rings
- Breaded squid with salt and pepper
- Shrimp with pineapple in mayonnaise sauce with chocolate sprinkles
- Young bamboo (a special white kind), cold, in mayonnaise sauce with chocolate sprinkles
- Mountain vegetable (chuan 7) (broad leaves that feel a little like seaweed)
- Hakka-style stir fry (includes a lot of bean curd, and I did not like it)
- Mr Wu and Mr Guo fish (wúguoyú), fried in thin crispy batter.
- Fried dragon's beard vegetable with ginger
- Braised fat pork with preserved cabbage (and a few peppers)
- Cold roast free range chicken with soy sauce/kumquat dip.
- Chinese bacon with tree fungus and pineapple
- Soup with sliced pork and "lucky vegetables"
- Rice with sweet potato
- Shallots pickled in vinegar
- Chicken with lemon
- Orange sauce pork chops
- Mixed seafood soup
- Bamboo pith and black mushrooms, and asparagus
- bean-paste-flavored custard
- "Buddha jumps the wall"
- 5-spice beef noodle soup