Monday, September 29, 2008
Anyone looking to take an Indian dance class in Taipei need look no further than Shiva. Assuming, of course, that you speak Chinese.
Shiva is the first group I've come across who offer classes in Indian dance; mostly Bollywood-style hip jiggling, but the head teacher also knows Kathak and a few other dance forms.
I've been a fan of Zhongshan Sports Center's classes for awhile - though their bellydancing classes seem to teach moves more akin to traditional Chinese dances, they're not bellylicious at all - but they don't offer Indian dance. Shiva fills that void.
My friend Sasha has just taken one of their classes and performed in the recital. I did her mehndi (henna) the night before, and while I was on a roll I did my own as well. We went to see her and had a lovely time, as many of the dancers are quite skilled and the instructor is the most talented Kathak dancer I've seen outside India.
Too bad his silver lame and purple trim dancing costume made him look like a flamboyant spaceman. Ahem.
Another highlight of the evening was hearing the director of the Taipei-India Association speak. He talked about how great it was that these beautiful Taiwanese girls were learning about Indian dance and Indian culture (Sasha assured me that if I wanted to take a class, a foreigner would also be welcome), and how the India-Taipei Association works to promote person-to-person relations between the two areas. Person-to-person. Ah, the talk of a diplomat. Gotta love it.
End note: if you want to buy the henna in tubes with pointed applicator ends, you can get it at Rana Fashion for around 30 kuai a tube. They also sell Indian fashions like the ones worn above. Rana Fashion is in Ximending near The Body Shop and accessible by Ximen Exit 6. I don't know the exact address.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
...much more palatable than Chinese (or rather, Beijing) Opera, it's cousin. Less caterwauling, less beating-a-stray-cat-against-a-pole screeching.
More singing and music.
Needless to say, I prefer Ge Tzai Xi (not sure of that second word should be a "c" or "z" so I made up my own Romanization. Hey, everyone's doin' it!). I can't understand what's going on most of the time unless local spectators fill me in, as it's sung mostly in Taiwanese. That doesn't matter, though. I don't speak German and I love The Ring of the Nibelung, Die Meistersinger and Rienzi. I don't speak Italian and I love Aida.
In a way, it's almost better not to understand. Understanding the chanter at the Confucius Temple took all of the mystique out of it.
I'm especially a fan of a local troupe made up entirely of women who perform regularly at Bao'an and Dihua Street - their productions are entirely in Taiwanese. I think this was the same group but I'm not sure.
After watching the rehearsal for Confucius's birthday and before going to Dalong Street Night Market for dinner to have the best octopus of my life, we found this performance going on across the street from Bao'an Temple, in the property owned by Bao'an where the firewalking usually takes place.
I'm hoping to inspire more travelers to come and explore Taiwan and take advantage of the confluence of cultural heritage, friendliness, delicious food and stunning natural beauty here. With that in mind, here are some photos and a video, for those who aren't familiar with it:
And some videos...
I know it's not this exciting thing where I'm grabbing onto trees as cars are carried by the wind and floods...but I'm not inclined to go back out.
Though apparently just that is happening on the east coast now, and I wouldn't wish that on Taipei (or those affected on the east coast who have to go through it).
The storm is getting worse in Taipei as evening rolls in, marking 2 alternating weekends of being stuck at home in the middle of a typhoon. Our kitchen is a pond, our living room (which has no outside walls or windows - it looks out onto the kitchen) is leaking, and for once we're actually worried about losing power. Wellcome is sandbagged and they're taping up the windows. Water is in the aisles as well as some nasty brown stuff that I presume is from a broken soy sauce container. The customers looked shell-shocked, the checkout guy weary, and the doors are sandbagged as is normal during a typhoon.
ICRT's typhoon alert says that motorcyclists can't ride around in downtown Taipei anymore, but, ahh...they were definitely out in the lanes of Jingmei.
...and to think, I was promised free post-Ramadan Punjabi food tonight! Damn!
We started with what appears to be the local specialty - stir-fried mutton with noodles. It was good but needed some spice.
Then we moved on to what I can only say was some of the best seafood I've had in a long time - Shengmeng Haixian (生猛海鮮) at #251.
We had deep fried spicy octopus, which marks one of the very few times that I have truly enjoyed deep fried seafood...I generally prefer it to be cooked more gently to let the lighter flavors come through. This frying, though, brought out a savoriness that I didn't know octopus could possess, and got rid of the rubber-chicken feel that many octopus dishes possess.
We also had a Taipei seafood restaurant stalwart - basil clams. Clams cooked in a basil-heavy broth. Always delicious.
Finally, we got shrimp seared in a sweet black pepper concoction that was positively delicious. I didn't realize that caramelized something and black pepper could go so well together.
The restaurant itself is unassuming but a bit more upscale than the other joints on the block. It has a Japanese-style seafood restaurant feel to it, with fish on ice, tanks of shellfish outside, dark lacquer wood tables and little stools, the blue and white "curtains" the back and lots of beer and noise.
It seemed to be a restaurant for everyone - there was a group of 20-somethings celebrating an unknown event loudly and in Taiwanese. There were three middle aged drinking mates smoking and getting plastered together, and next to them was a family including a 3-year old and a grandmother who looked as though she remembered a time before the Japanese arrived in Taiwan.
Definitely delicious, and definitely a place to return to.
I was also curious about the much smaller, homier A-Qiu Seafood closer to the beginning of the night market and will return at a later date.
Shengmeng Seafood - #251 Dalong Street, near Bao'an Temple (head to Bao'an but before entering the area with entrances to the temple annexes, turn left at "Milk Houses"bakery), MRT Yuanshan.
Curious about the taste of deer meat or wild boar? Ever wanted to try snails or "virility soup", rice in a bamboo stick, cold millet wine, white pine plum jelly?
Ever wanted to see how coffee grown in Taiwan tastes?
Then go around lunchtime to Naruwan Indigenous People's Market (or dinnertime on Fridays and Saturdays, if you want live aboriginal music) and go wild.
I have to admit, we were expecting something homier - "just ten stalls" made me think of a tiny covered market or a few stalls along the street, not an entire building given over to those stalls with a huge sign on the front, and a sign near Longshan Temple MRT pointing to it.
It didn't look good at first - we walked inside and were greeted by a tacky plaster statue of a cartoon aborigine.
The place quickly redeemed itself, though, through its delicious food. We sampled millet wine (they wouldn't let us sample the hornet wine, as it was $900 NT a bottle and they didn't have an open sampling bottle) and tried some snacks from Hualien, then went over to another stand for deer and wild boar. We did get the bamboo rice, despite the fact that it's a recent addition to the aboriginal diet (rice was not an aboriginal staple before being influenced by the Chinese) and finished it off with Heliwan Mountain Coffee from Taidong.
The pig was delicious and garlicky, cooked with just the right amount of spice. The fatty parts weren't rubbery or gooey - I normally don't like fatty pig but this was quite good, it had an almost buttery flavor.
The deer reminded me of Sichuan cooking - hot and savory. The meat itself was exceedingly tender, and apparently is domestically raised (we didn't realize there were still deer in Taiwan - we go to the countryside often and only once do I think I might have seen a deer in the distance.)
The coffee was delicious, though a little strong and a overpowering. I did need a little sugar to get it down - I measure good coffee by whether or not I need to add sugar. To be fair, I needed to add a lot less than to Starbucks drip coffee.
Throughout the meal, a local aboriginal family (most of the people hanging around - not really being purposeful, just eating and hanging around - looked like they came from aboriginal communities) was sitting near us and one woman was either very enthusiastic or had imbibed a little too much millet wine.
"You have to order the soup!" she said (in Chinese). "Is that your boyfriend?"
"No, this one is. Isn't he handsome?"
"YES! He should order the soup. Then, when you go home, WOOOOOOOOOO YAAAA!"
We're heading back soon - I want to go to the handicrafts stall to buy gifts for people back home - behind the cell phone charms of bobblehead aborigines, they had some genuine handmade leatherwork and other interesting things. And, of course, we have to try the custard apple ice cream at another stall as well as hearing the live music.
On the same trip we visited Xuehai Academy, though we couldn't enter. Xuehai is one of the oldest buildings in Taipei and was once the most prestigious academic academy in Taiwan. It's beautiful, though it is crumbling a bit at the edges and covered with an ugly protective plastic roof. It is now the Gao family temple, so not accessible to the public. We're thinking we need to make friends with some Gao family members and get let in one day.
Also nearby you can stop at the Mangka Gate over Guangzhou Street Lane 223, which is not impressive at all...but inside there are several tiny hole-in-the-wall Taiwanese restaurants that look as though they're positively delicious. We're planning to go back and try some. You can also see Kenny. KENNY!
To get to Naruwan Indigenous People's Market, go to Longshan Temple MRT station and walk to the Guangzhou Street intersection (Longshan Temple will be on the right). Turn left and walk down the stone-paved street to the end. The market is at the intersection of Guangzhou and Huanhe Roads. Xuehai Academy is across the street. Mangka Gate is on Guangzhou Street over Lane 223 on the righthand side.
OK, I can't say that the dress rehearsal for his birthday on September 28th (happy b-day, bro) wasn't eye-catching. It was - it was stately, dignified, sedate...all the things you expect in a ceremony to honor Confucius.
It's just that the real thing is happening tomorrow at 6am and the ceremony was so stately and dignified that I have no idea how anyone could stay awake for it at that ungodly* hour. If I were Lord of the Universe, 6am on a Sunday would be banished from Time.
Not only that, but only a few hundred passes will be given out, so hardcore Confucius fans line up as early as 3am to get them. In what is shaping up to be a drenching typhoon.
We got there as the rain for the latest and greatest typhoon started up - and found that only people with a special ID ("can li zheng" or "ceremony attendee ID") could enter to watch the rehearsal. I knew my sister was inside - Zheng-da brings its foreign students there - so I tried that angle to get an ID, figuring I could get Joseph and Brendan in later. No luck.
Then two students who were not impressed came out and gave us their IDs. Their loss, our gain. The gatekeeper shooed the three of us in before anyone noticed that there were only two IDs.
"Feather dancers" in yellow robes stood in front of the main shrine, occasionally doing a decorous dance lacking completely in flash. Red-robed musicians played instruments "from the Zhou Dynasty" (obviously meaning that they were invented and used in that time, not that the actual instruments in use date from that time)...though I'm not sure I'd call it "playing" so much as striking the same four notes, each held for at least one measure, over and over.
A Master of Ceremonies sang a long, spiraling tune detailing all of the witnesses and groups present. I guess those chants are more mysterious and haunting when you don't know what the guy is singing. When you do know that he's belting out "Reeeeeeeepublic of Chiiiiiiinnnnnaaaaaa in the yeeeeeeear niiiinnneetttyyy seeevvveeeennnnn....wiiittnnessedd byyy stttuuuddeenntss frrooomm Naationaaaaal Taaaaiwaaaan Zheeeeengzhiiiii Universityyyyyy", it loses that sacred touch, you know?
There were more feather dances as people in the various small shrines around the main building gave offerings - or rather rehearsed giving offerings - and they practiced how things will go when Ma Ying-jiu comes to make an offering to Confucius in person.
It was quite fascinating to compare this example of austerity and reserve with the wild pageants that take place at the Bao'an Temple next door. At Baosheng Dadi and Sengnung Dadi's birthdays you can be assured of several giant (ten to fifteen feet high) costumes of various folk deities coming out, some martial artists with painted faces, lion dancers, pole balancers, and other costumes...and the occasional firewalking. I've grown fond of the large porcelain floats depicting mythical beasts and creatures with lit-up eyes and steam blowing out of their mouths. Take all that riotous color and noise and place it next to - literally next door to - the quiet dignity of this ceremony and you end up with a very good metaphor for Taiwan.
When all was said and done, the feather dancers (mostly teenagers) looked relieved and we retired to "Confucius Coffee", located in the temple behind the gift shop. Or tried to - it was closed.
For anyone interested in watching the ceremony next year or sweet-talking your way into an attendee pass for the rehearsal, The Con-Meister's birthday is not on the lunar calendar (or so I'm told); word has it that it's fixed on September 28th every year (ceremony 6-11am), with the rehearsal on the 27th around 3pm at the Confucius Temple near Yuanshan MRT station.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
This article is particularly fun to read - all about food in Taipei and why it's, not to mince words, better than food in Beijing.
Which, of course, it is!
It's long so I'll just post a link: Feasting at the Table of the Other China
But hey, I bet some NY Times editor somewhere realized that it would be big trouble to write about Taiwan without implying a kinship to China (it might "seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people" or some other such bullcrap), so they have to put it in there somewhere.
Or maybe they figure "Taiwan" won't grab readers - and therefore sell ads - as a headline, but "China" will. I dunno.
This follows up on several other NY Times articles, including the good - but not fantastic - 36 Hours in Taipei where they have great suggestions but hit the tourist points mostly, leaving out some of my favorite spots. With limited print space I guess that's what one has to do, though.
Both of these articles use the adjective "Taiwanese" later on in the piece, but not after a top heavy spiel about China, its influence and its pull. Why not be neutral on the issue, or better yet, call it what it is - Taiwan? I realize I'm starting to sound like Johnny Neihu on a bender here, but there's no way to avoid that.
There is, of course, the extremely well-written but also very long "Last Days of Taipei" in their magazine a few months ago.
This last one is the only one that seems to really get to the heart of life in the quiet lanes that lie just off the busy thoroughfares of Taipei city. It's worth a read, or at least a skim.
We spent our day a little differently. We made some time for the market and stair street, but also explored the old residential parts of Jiufen in a drizzling gray rain (head left at the end of the market street and then keep going, making an eventual righthand swing around the side of the mountain to where the Jiufen residents live), went up to a Japanese shrine above Jinguashi and walked around to the other side of Keelung Mountain for some gorgeous ocean views.
To get to the viewing platforms you have to take the bus from Ruifang to the very end of the line past Jinguashi. If the driver is nice he'll take you a bit farther so you won't have to walk uphill.
For the Japanese shrine, the entrance is not far from the Gold Museum and requires walking up a lot of steps with no shade.
I wish I still had my photos of Jiufen, but due to a recent computer crash, they're gone. I do, however, have these:
Monday, September 15, 2008
Just wanted to provide a rundown of places in Taipei to buy and sell used books, since it's a question that gets asked a lot and definitely deserves a solid answer available online. You might think that a city like Taipei wouldn't have these options - we're not a backpacker haven like Bangkok (thank the gods!) nor are we an expat hell like Seoul (again, I thank thee, O Heavenly ones). Options do exist, however, and these are the ones I've found so far:
Update: this storefront is gone. Whose Books' main store has moved to Gongguan. The sign is visible on Roosevelt Road right where Xinsheng S. Road terminates and the entrance is in the back (enter the lane and turn in to get to the entrance at the back).
Both stores buy used books (but don't give much)
Best selection of used books in Taipei, and seems to be getting bigger. They've got something for everyone - nonfiction, sci fi, old guidebooks, cheesy chick lit and romance novels, serious fiction for serious people, Booker Prize winners, backpacker fare, self-help, technical manuals, whatever. You can sit on ledges or on the floor and there are 3 tables in the back. Coffee and water available. Will provide a "VIP Card" for discounts, and will buy books but not at a competitive price (if your aim is to get rid of old books and make space for new ones, not to make money, it's a good deal). With the tables, good selection and windows in the back, it's a great place to spend a rainy Saturday, finishing with some wine and a smoked salmon sandwich at the cafe down the street.
Mollie's Used Books I
Taipower Building MRT - take the southernmost exit on the west side of Roosevelt Rd and walk down past the actual Taipower Building. Turn right in the lane next to the building painted bright yellow (used to be Asto Gelato if you know the area, now it's a Bossini). Walk down past Karma and the Buddhist Library and turn left in Alley 10. It's down a little ways.
Of the three Mollie's, this one has the best selection of English books, but that's not saying much. There's a small selection mostly of self-help and business "How to Re-Engineer Your Blue-Sky Deliverable Envisioneering" wankology and some cheap sci-fi paperbacks, among a few books actually worth reading (not that I'm dissing "The Return of Xargax" or anything...oh wait, yes I am). But they make OK coffee for 50 kuai, have used CDs that are sometimes good and sometimes horrific (Chumbawamba?). Downstairs there are a lot of cheap kid's books in Chinese, good that's where your Chinese reading level is. Finally, downstairs there's a decently eclectic selection of old guidebooks. They say they buy books but they wouldn't take ours. Strange, as our books are better than what they've got.
South side of Heping East Road between Shida and Xinsheng S. Road. I don't remember exactly where but it's a basement entrance and very easy to miss, so look carefully. It's near that Chinese restaurant that looks Italian, which is next to an actual Italian restaurant.
This one has a few tables and benches, and they don't mind if you use the floor. They also have 2 cats and seem to provide coffee. One small nook on the far righthand side of the store has English, German and some French books, and there are a few used CDs. This is a fun place to grab random stuff and read away a day, but don't come expecting to find anything. I've never tried to unload old books here.
Somewhere in the crazy lanes of Gongguan Night Market - good luck. It's near a Vietnamese restaurant.
The only English selection seems to consist of old textbooks and manuals, but they have a pretty good used CD collection. Doesn't matter as nobody can ever find the place.
Update: the books at Grandma Nitti's are gone. Gone gone gone. Now, go to Bongo's.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Oh well. Without further ado:
Saturday, September 13, 2008
I have asked the fine folks at Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree YC branch to entertain me with videos of dancing monkeys. For all of you out there who are just as bored as me, stuck indoors while the lame typhoon sort of rages on (and off, and on), here they are:
more dancing monkeys
and still more dancing monkeys
The typhoon isn't getting much press because Galveston is so much worse off...but it's not fun. It's about the same strength as Hurricane Ike but without the killer eye and storm surge. There's also the fact that Taiwan handles these storms better than the USA, and because we're in Asia (not the USA), we don't get as much international coverage. There's less damage because the Taiwanese are quite used to it all and built cities that can withstand the typhoons.
Ahem. So yes. I am bored. We went out earlier and rented 6 movies and 1 season of a TV show but that's getting old. We got a cup of coffee since we were already out, and did a crossword. We cooked lunch, enjoyed some together time, and cleaned up our flooded kitchen for the second time.
But it's only 8pm, and this thing isn't even going to make landfall until tomorrow!
So one day down, one day to go of HORRIFIC BOREDOM.
I feel worse for the residents of Galveston TX of course, and for my younger sister studying at Zheng-da. Today is her birthday and she spent it hanging out in a dorm room. That must have been fun.
I guess I could go clean up the kitchen, which has just flooded for the third time...
Exotic Masala House: #19 Lane 13 Pu Cheng Street Taipei (turn off Shida Road at Red House pub and it's a ways in on the right).
We went for an almost entirely South Indian spread - idli sambhar, masala dosa, Kerala fried fish. We also got samosas just because, and several cups of masala chai each.
The verdict? Not bad. Not perfect. The only two times I've had idli-dosa outside of Tamil Nadu that really tastes exactly like the tiffin there have been in Singapore (Little India - one of those tiny spots with card tables and aluminum plates and tumblers) and Amma Vegetarian Kitchen in Georgetown...and even Amma sometimes spiced its sambhar a little too mildly. Singapore was my favorite because the feeling of the place we went really felt like a tiffin joint in Madurai. Tamils, hair dripping with coconut oil, sitting around shoddy tables with metal cups, talking shit and eating, pouring foaming hot chai between two cups to cool it down. Amma us good but it feels like an actual restaurant, which is just not right at all.
But back to Taipei. Exotic Masala House's idli-dosa satisfied a craving. Scratched a culinary itch. The sambhar was good but not quite as laden with lentils as it ought to be (and no drumstick). The idli was just fine, if a little crumbly. But that's alright, idli in India isn't always fluffy either.
My favorite dish was the masala dosa - it was small compared to what one normally gets and the dosa was definitely closer to ghee dosa (not paper dosa at all), but the potato masala inside was delicious and spicy. It wasn't the bright yellow potato curry I'm used to; it was more reddish, almost like a chutney dosa. I'm OK with that; a variation that is also present in India.
I liked the chutneys, but wish that with the sambhar they'd serve pure coconut chutney (white with black mustard seed), not the green kind that includes extra cilantro and green chili.
The Kerala fish curry was a bit disappointing, more like a fish fry. It was good enough, but my memory of Malayali fish is a massive white filet encrusted with spices and sauteed in coconut or just grilled. If they'd serve that, I'd be in heaven.
The samosas were...samosas. Good. The wrapping was a little different, but a totally acceptable variation. But they were no better or worse than samosas at any other Indian restaurant in Taipei.
But then we come to the masala chai. Ahh, the masala chai. It was...superb. We drank it as dessert, since they didn't have any on the menu (no big deal - many restaurants don't offer Indian desserts because they are not popular with the locals, and even when they do they come out of a can). It would have been nice to get some gulab jamun, samiya payasam, khulfi, burfi or kheer...but no such luck.
But that chai. If you go for anything, go for the chai. It's laden with cardamom - as in, positively reeks of it. It's spicy and cinnamony and milky and sweet. Heaven in a cup, served so hot that you have to sit there and smell it for about 10 minutes before it's drinkable. An orgasm in a cup.
We drank two cups each and I was considering a third, and the friend who met us there just for the tea raved about it.
Some other notes - this place doesn't seem to be getting much business, but then we went just before Typhoon Sinlaku blew in, and none of the Shida restaurants were raking in the cash that night. Just because they make idli and dosa even possible in Taipei, it really deserves to stay afloat.
The prices are great. Nothing we ordered cost more than 150 kuai, and many were closer to 80. A huge meal for two and tea for three didn't even reach 1000 kuai; a strange occurrence in a Taipei ethnic restaurant.
The music is great; it's all MS Subbulakshmi and Dr. Yesudas with others thrown in. Very relaxing, very atmosphere-appropriate. The restaurant is decorated in saffron orange and is warm and welcoming.
Brendan and I sat around in the table by the window reading the paper and chatting. We were comfortable - practically fuzzy - from the tiffin rush, the soft undulating music, the warm colors and the amazing chai. The three of us ended up hanging around a lot longer than was strictly necessary before giving up on a typhoon movie and deciding on typhoon Belgian beer at Red House, drunk giddily on the terrace as Sinlaku began its rainy rage.
The waitress came up and asked - hao chi ma?
"Quanbu dou hao che...nimen de masala dosa zuihao laaa. Zhe bei cha ye feichang hao he oh!"
The waitress goes to the back, where a plump Dravidian lady with a massive nosering was standing around.
"They said it tasted good! They especially love the tea and dosa!"
The woman squealed delightedly, sounding younger than her age, happy that her customers enjoyed her food.
I don't know why, but that was quite heart-softening.
Is it exactly like Madurai? No. Is it worth going back frequently? Definitely!
As long as one keeps in mind that the bias does exist and is willing to read news from other sources with other biases to get a better sense of the truth, that's fine.
But all that aside, this was interesting:
Lawsuit thrown out - Gods won't show as witnesses
So Chang Li-tang (former mayor of Tainan) had been active in this monastery. That's pretty normal here; I'm fairly sure my own company donates large chunks of its profits to a Buddhist monastery somewhere on the island. He posted some scriptures online and the monastery board decided that this act angered and insulted the gods. They summarily fired him, but Chang filed a suit for wrongful dismissal.
The suit was thrown out. Why? Because the court decided that they needed the gods to testify as to whether they were offended or not.
Since the gods are not likely to show up, they dismissed the case.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Gold Mining Country: Xiao Tzukeng Old Trail
Two things immediately stood out as I followed Xiao Tzukeng Old Trail near the Taipei County town of
Ruifang one beautiful early morning recently. The first was the beauty of the mountain scenery rising high above my head, which is rugged and precipitous, yet covered in a dense canopy of trees and undergrowth.
It's hardly surprising that this is an outstandingly beautiful slice of countryside: the upper Keelung River valley is possibly my favorite part of Taipei County. More unexpected is the high quality of the wide, expertly cut steps that carry the trail up to the heights, quite unlike the usual uneven, narrow and slippery slabs of rock that negotiate the steepest stretches of most historic trails I've followed.
It's not until exploring further up the mountainside, as we start to decipher the information boards placed alongside the trail at intervals, that we learn why the trail here was built with so such care, and it's a surprising discovery. Xiao Tzukeng Old Trail connects the lowlands of the Keelung River valley just north of the village of Houtung (侯硐) with the tiny, long abandoned settlement of Xiao Tzukeng, a tiny place perched high in the mountains (unreachable by any road), built to house the families of miners hoping to make their fortune at the gold mines above Jiufen, which is just a short climb over the ridge behind.
Recently upgraded and signposted, Xiao Tzukeng Old Trail (小粗坑古道) is a gentle walk, yet one that's peppered with fascinating relics from an exciting period of Taiwan's history -- the Jiufen gold rush. A few minutes after leaving the road, the first of many stone buildings, now nothing but a picturesque ruin enveloped in the jungle, stands beside the track.
In another minute or two, the track becomes a trail, crosses the rocky stream twice in quick succession, and reaches the bottom of a grand staircase of wide, well-hewn steps that lead all the way up the mountainside to the abandoned village and beyond.
The width and careful construction of these steps really is quite surprising to anyone who has walked more than a couple of Taiwan's hundreds of "old trails," so it's obvious that the villagers here were far wealthier than the farmers, villagers and fishermen who laid many of the other trails across the mountains throughout Taiwan.
About half-an-hour from the trailhead, the path climbs onto a large, stone platform rising high above the stream that flows at its foot. A quick look at our trusty hiking book revealed that a waterwheel was apparently once fixed here, and that gold-bearing rock brought from the mines was crushed and washed at this place. Or at least maybe it could be after wet weather -- the streambed was bone dry on our visit.
A long, wide staircase now climbs for about twenty minutes from the bank of the stream to the edge of the abandoned village of Xiao Tzukeng, a wonderfully atmospheric place, with a handful of half-ruined stone buildings lining the path, half hidden by the thick foliage of the encroaching jungle.
A trail on the left leads past the ruins of the village's old elementary school (which had a single classroom and just one teacher, so that only first and second grade kids could be taught here), and on up more steps past a picturesque small Earth God shrine to a wooden platform atop the nearest summit, providing a good view of Ruifang and the Keelung River Valley.
It's hard to imagine a bustling community of over 200 people once lived here, but another helpful info-board informed us that Xiao Tzukeng was once quite a lively place. A stage once stood in the playground of the school, and the village even had its own ensemble of Chinese Beiguan musicians!
Continuing onwards and upwards, after diverting around the grounds of the only house in town that's still inhabited (apparently by a couple of monks), a short but narrow, overgrown and difficult trail leaves the steps on the right and contours the precipitous hillside, reaching (after about five minutes' scramble) the foot of the small but very pretty Yingssu ("silver silk") Waterfall (銀絲瀑布), a hidden little place that's worth the trouble of getting there even when it's dry (as is often the case!).
The steps (a bit dilapidated in places now) climb steeply for another hot twenty minutes to reach a large and dignified stone shrine, protected by an unsightly concrete roof. This is the Temple to the Mountain Gods, a place at which miners en route to the mines at Jiufen would request permission before extracting rock from the mountainside, in the hope that the assent of the gods would ensure their safety while underground. The shrine is big enough to enter. Inside, in a niche at the back, sits a small stone figure, a replacement for the original statue (covered in gold leaf) that once sat here.
Jiufen (and, of course, its crowds) is now just a short climb, over the ridge.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
I've been going to
The sports center itself is, while not exactly top-of-the-line fantastic, certainly very good for a municipal facility. Better than anything most American cities seem to throw together.
Every Tuesday and Thursday it's an hour on the treadmill followed by stretching (I am also starting to do crunches and the like at home to help tone a few petulant muscles), and every Friday (and sometimes Monday) I head to the basement and do 15-20 laps in the pool followed by a lovely soak in the hot tub.
On many of these days, there's an elderly man who comes to the pool and occasionally ends up in my lane or one next to mine. As the regular swimmers all know each other by sight now, if not by name, swimming near each other is becoming more common. We gravitate to the people we know - at least we know they won't kick water in our face, cut in line and then swim a very slow butterfly stroke, or spit in the pool.
I’m no Michael Phelps, and I never took proper swimming lessons (just learned on my own) so you can imagine that my form is pretty awful. I know this.
The man, despite being about 75 to my 27, can swim dolphin-like circles around me. He claims that this is because he “is from an island” which means “of course he is a good swimmer.” I assumed he meant
He started giving me tips on my form, from how to move my arms to how to get my body to glide through the water, when at that point it was more like bumbling through it. I listened to him, because I was jealous of his ability to sluice through his laps while I gurgled along, competently but in a very ungainly way.
But every time I tried to chat with him in Chinese he seemed confused, uninterested or just plain uncomprehending. I think it’s rude to ask about ethnicity so I never asked, and just assumed that my pronunciation was tripping him up.
One day he finally said that he is, in fact, Japanese so he barely understands when anyone speaks Chinese to him. Well there ya go.
I was curious about what brought him to Taiwan, what he thinks of Taiwan as compared to Japan (Taipei reminds me more of Japan than of China, though the rest of the country doesn’t necessarily share this similarity), what he was doing in Taiwan and other culturally-minded questions. The barrier down, I began to ask.
He, however, just didn’t feel like telling me. He grew quiet - even a little distant - when talking about
I realized pretty quickly that he wasn’t interested in cultural exchange or even chatting about his origins – he just wanted to get down to the business of swimming or at least talking about swimming, and wanted to help the nice (if talkative) foreign girl swim better.
And I have. I don’t quite glide seamlessly through the chlorinated lanes the way he does, but I’m a little less like a swimming Labrador and a little more like a creature who was born to the water (not a dolphin or fish, maybe a walrus or polar bear) and I don’t look so embarrassingly clumsy. I’m faster and stronger, as well.
You can find
Monday, September 8, 2008
|MIK-6 hookah bar and restaurant|
What is this? Places to go for your real (not Japanese-style) curry fix...especially if you know what real Indian food should taste like. I'm putting it all together in one post for easy reference, updated every few years as restaurants come, go, change management or experience and uptick or downturn in quality. I do think I'm qualified to review Indian food in Taipei, having lived there for a semester in 2000 and cooking it myself, often, to some acclaim.
This is not a complete list, but I think it comes pretty close. I can't possibly find and keep track of every single place offering Indian (or claiming to) in Taipei, so if there are any I've missed or you've been recently and want to add your comments, please do so. I also can't visit every restaurant, so some are listed but have not been tried - I'm happy to add reader comments to these. We can keep this going together!
Mayur Indian Kitchen
|My birthday party at MIK-6 hookah bar and restaurant|
#350-5 Keelung Road Sec. 1 (the original)
#38 Sec. 1 Xinsheng N. Road
#103 Sec. 3 Minsheng E. Road
MIK 4ever (their fourth location) at Tonghua St. Lane 171 #34
MIK-5 in Dazhi: Bei-an Road #630)
MIK-6/mik'sutras: Songjiang Road #1-1 (on the corner of Weishui Street)
They have idli-dosa (at most but not all locations - Keelung Road and mik'sutras don't), and other regional specialties! Most Indian restaurants (OK, all other ones) seem to go for the "three types of meat four ways, and some vegetables" style of Indian food. Mayur actually cooks regional recipes from various states in India. My current favorite. VERY highly recommended.
MIK-5 in Dazhi stands out because it's a bit fancier, more of an upmarket dining experience (the Tonghua Road location is also more upmarket), and MIK-6, also called mik'sutras, is more of a live bar/hookah lounge with Indian food, which we visited recently.
Roosevelt Road Sec 3. #100-93, 2nd floor
I think this is one of my new favorite Indian restaurants! It's absolutely tiny (enough room for one row of maybe 5 tables) in a decrepit old building that looks half-abandoned, down a creepy hallway you get to by climbing some creepy, dirty stairs.
|Onion uthappam at Amma's|
That sounds horrible, but it's actually great. Because I say so. When you enter this restaurant that is little more than hallway-sized in width, it's clean, friendly and inviting. Run by a bunch of South Indian guys (if the name "Amma's" didn't tip you off), and has the best - and cheapest - South Indian menu in Taipei. Yes, idli, yes vadai (two kinds - medhu and masala - I like all vadai so that's great), yes, dosa. A variety of dosas in fact. And "Chettinad chicken", which they say is their specialty (haven't tried it yet but will soon). I love a good South Indian curry beyond the usual idli-dosa, so that's just...I mean it's great.
The food reminds me of home cooking. You aren't going to get Udupi restaurant-quality dosa here, and the sambar also tastes homemade (I love whatever it is that they do to the coconut chutney, though - I think it's a mix of coconut and tomato). It's South Indian home food for South Indians, and I am totally on board.
Balle Balle Indian Restaurant
#12 Guangfu N. Road, Songshan District
Balle Balle focuses on Punjabi cuisine (hence the name, which is an expression of happiness in the Punjabi language) and is quite good, with extremely accommodating and friendly service. I go to Mayur for regional foods that I like, but will go to Balle Balle for my Punjabi cravings. See my review here.
Flavor of India
#34 Heping East Road Section 3 (MRT Technology Building/Liuzhangli)
In the same location as the old Fusion Asia
|Shahi paneer and channa masala at Flavor of India|
Hey, this place - which replaced the old Fusion Asia (which was fantastic) - is great! It's vegetarian, but everything we got was excellent. They hit all the right spots: both tamarind-date chutney and green coriander chutney, perfectly spicy food, channa masala made with green chilis - these guys know what they're doing. Excellent masala tea. We got samosas, shahi paneer and channa masala - all highly recommended. A lot of places put Kingfisher (a not-very-good Indian beer that I love drinking with Indian food) on the menu but never stock it - these guys do! The only thing I think is a bit odd is that it's a vegetarian Indian restaurant that doesn't serve pure veg south Indian. Usually veg places do. But I'm not complaining too much. Oh, the naan is tasty and soft (though the garlic naan could use a little more garlic), but the puris are a little greasy. Still good, though.
Don't worry too much about Fusion Asia being gone, as the owners have opened a new place in Tianmu called...
#22-1, 1st Floor, Lane 50
Tianmu E. Road (Shilin Dist., Tianmu)
The old owners of Fusion Asia on Heping E. Road (now Flavor of India vegetarian restaurant - see review below) have relocated to Tianmu with their Punjabi-centric menu. The location is smaller but also better-decorated, with outdoor seating and very close to the Tianmu Shinkong Mitsukoshi. We went here recently and I dunno...the food was all well-made to a high standard, with some interesting menu flair. There's homemade gulab jamun! There's paan flavored kulfi - which takes some getting used to because it, as my husband put it, "tastes like soap smells", but I've cultivated a taste for it. There's masala lassi (salty not sweet). But...
Well, I asked them to make the food good and spicy except for the butter chicken, which isn't meant to be particularly fiery. And they just...didn't? I did say I'd lived in India once upon a time, and was quite clear that everyone eating with me could handle real heat, but even the lamb rahrah (probably my favorite dish by this particular chef) was just missing that fiery kick with that warm after-dinner mouthfeel. I said something about it - especially as all of our dishes were clearly made well and the other flavors were well-balanced - expertly even - and the waitress confessed she'd just told them to make it "中辣" or "medium spicy", which is not what I asked for.
I don't mind too much if a restaurant doesn't get it quite right because I didn't specify, but I have a huge pet peeve about specific requests being disregarded for no good reason.
I liked the food and would return, but I can't say I'm too happy about paying a lot of money for Indian food that just isn't spicy enough.
Out Of India
#26 Lane 13 Pucheng Street (in Shi-da)
An old stand-by in Shi-da, the same owner now runs 3 Idiots Toast and Curry. I don't know if they still have a branch at the old location of Bollywood Indian Pizza, and I don't know if their third branch in a lane across from NTU (the back entrance - if you go to where Fuxing meets Xinhai, then when facing the NTU entrance from across Xinhai turn right, it's the first lane on the right. The lane runs north-south, the other Out of India is near the southern end closer to NTU than Heping Rd).
In any case, this is sort of the bog-standard choice for Indian food. The curries are pretty good (though in recent years I've had to tell them to make it "India spicy" because they've been making it blander for the local market) and it's an okay option if you're in the neighborhood.
A word of warning, unless you specifically ask, their garlic naan comes spread with that absolutely disgusting sweetish garlic-margarine spread, the ones you can buy in tubs in Wellcome. It's so gross. But if you ask they'll make you real garlic naan.
Maji Maji (MRT Yuanshan)
Rather like Jai Ho above, the food here was well-made, and I like that they have both gulab jamun and falooda on the menu (a good dessert menu can make or break Indian for me, and so many restaurants leave it off entirely). We got butter chicken and channa masala with garlic naan, and samosas.
The samosas were great - I liked the crispy shells, and the potatoes were well-spiced (I would have preferred both tamarind-date (red) and coriander (green) chutneys but we were only offered green, though. The butter chicken was very good (though all white meat? I prefer a mix of white and dark in my butter chicken). The sauce was spot-on though. Just how I like it - with a nice red warmth, but also creamy and a little sweet in the way tomatoes can be. Almost like you caramelized the tomatoes.
|Samosa at Masala Art|
The channa masala, though, just...well, like Jai Ho again, it wasn't spicy enough. Good channa masala has a hot kick from mashed green chilis, which can be heightened with the addition of red chili powder (which I never say no to). It has an afterburn - not quite as hot as lamb rahrah or a vindaloo but righteous in its own way. I said I wanted it hot, like India hot, and I got...not. Not hot. It was a bit warm, to be sure. For maybe 5 minutes after I felt a nice warmth in my mouth. But the right kind of heat gets you a little high and stays with you, and it didn't.
Big fan of the falooda though. Good choice if you are near Maji Maji. I have heard this is the "best in Taipei" but, while not bad...no, it's not the best.
Oh...no beer. But there are places nearby to get it, and I'd guess they allow BYOB.
(Finally, the garlic naan is nice and thin the way I like it, but they use garlic powder, not fresh garlic.)
This is more like a food stall in a whole row of international eats at Maji Maji, not a full restaurant the way Masala Art is. We haven't eaten here but plan to soon.
#6 Lane 269 Roosevelt Road Sec. 3 (in the Shi-da neighborhood)
I can't for the life of me figure out if this place in Shida is still open, but their TripAdvisor and Facebook pages seem active and as of 2015 Forumosa says they're still open (closed Wednesdays). I have heard from multiple sources that the newer "Masala House" is simply Exotic Masala House under an abbreviated name - same management. I can't remember if the location is the same. I haven't gone back to check because I was not that happy with the food the last few times I went several years ago, so I haven't returned. We really liked this place in its early years and I even had one of my Thanksgiving gatherings there, but the food got steadily worse and we stopped going. I have no idea how it is now.
Calcutta Indian Food
#70 Xining S. Road (B1 level)
This place used to be good. Now it's terrible. They were still really good - and the mutton samosas are still great - after moving to the bottom of the U2 building in Ximen. We've been back recently, and...wow. No. Every curry seemed like it was cooked in the same sauce, nothing was remotely spicy (even butter chicken needs a bit of warmth - nothing - it was weirdly sweet?), and the "aloo gobi" was made with broccoli, not cauliflower! Unacceptable! What's more, aloo gobi is a dry, brownish curry where the cauliflower (NOT BROCCOLI) is fried in spices, onion, garlic, and just a bit of sauce. This was served in a big gravy-full tureen of red, tomato-based curry sauce which is simply not what aloo gobi is meant to be. It was just...the wrong curry.
Sometimes restaurants make mistakes yet should not be written off completely. However, this was unforgivable. They didn't even respect their customers enough to make a curry with the correct ingredients, from the vegetable to the sauce. I will never return.
Ali Baba's Indian Kitchen
Nanjing E. Road by Jilin Road (you can walk from Zhongshan MRT or take a bus a few stops from there) across from poorly-named Silverfish Thai. Very cos
This place is actually run by Pakistanis and offers halal food - they are best at tandoori and other Punjabi treats (there is a dish that is basically butter chicken under a different name) as well as more Muslim-influenced fare such as seekh kebabs and other dry meat dishes. Great food though the spice level varies. We went once, ordered vindaloo, and nearly got our taste buds blasted off - OK in my book! - and yet another friend claimed that their spices were tame. Ask for spice and you'll get spice, don't and you'll get mild, I suppose. The veggie-covered papadam is fantastic, as is their masala chai. The kheer is good but the gulab jamun comes from a can. This is the only place in town that offers kheer. As they're Muslim, there's no beer available. But, they allow BYO alcohol!
We don't go as often anymore as it's not convenient to where we live, it's kind of expensive and there are more convenient options, but I don't dislike them at all.
Their Facebook says it's at:
#38-6 Tianmu E. Road (behind Shinkong Mitsukoshi in Tianmu)
But I suspect there's a mistake in the address - it's next to The Spice Shop
Saffron is upscale and chi-chi looking, which is why I haven't eaten there yet. But they seem to have Indian cooks and the place smells nice - and my friends say its excellent - so I'll give it a try someday. I just don't go to Tianmu often. I do have a student (one who has been to India) who has been there, and her review? "Meh". I know Hungry Girl recommends it, as does the Taipei Times, though. More coming when I try it for myself.
The Spice Shop
On one hand, I remember this place being next to Saffron (above)
But, tbeir website says it's at #6 Lane 50 Alley 10, Tianmu E. Road, which seems like a different place?
|At The Spice Shop in Taipei|
Abad Indian Restaurant
#130 Guangfu Road (just north of Nanjing-Guangfu), Songshan District
I...don't know what to make of this place. They advertise themselves as South Indian but they are definitely not. There are a few dosas on the menu, but no masala dosa, which is odd. Why offer paneer dosa etc. but not standard masala dosa? No idli, no vadai, none of that. No upma, no idiyappam, no Kerala fish curries or Hyderabadi lamb biriyani (for the places that aren't pure veg). It's just not south Indian. Putting a few non-standard dosas on the menu doesn't make you something you're not.
The service is friendly and I genuinely like the folks who run the place, I mean, insofar as I can know what they are like as a customer. Whoever is making the food clearly has cooking skills - the texture of the samosas was perfect with a flaky, moist but not greasy pastry and perfectly cooked potato filling. The lamb biriyani was well-cooked, too.
And they have falooda. I love falooda and this might be the only place in Taiwan offering this unique dessert. Yet again this shows that they are not a South Indian restaurant - I associate falooda with Mumbai and points north.
But...oh...it's not spicy. It's just not spicy at all. The samosa was plain potato, served with ketchup. No masala. No spices. It was the color of a croquette. The lamb biriyani was moist with excellent quality chunks of lamb (though a very small serving for a high price), but it wasn't spicy. The paneer dosa, something I never ate while actually in South India, was midly warm, but not spicy, not really. I just...how can I recommend this place when their food isn't spicy? It's not even flavorful-spicy. It's just...nothing.
I mentioned the unspiced samosa - I was so disappointed - and they said it was because "Taiwanese don't like spicy food". But...come on, they expect at least some heat, yes? Something? Anything? Even so, if you distort your own cuisine that much to cater to local tastes you cease to be an Indian restaurant.
I can ask them to make it spicier for me, but...you can't make a samosa spicier. They aren't made to order. And at some point it's just not worth it to ask.
I'd recommend Abad, if the owners read this, focus on what they do well - perfectly prepared, perfectly textured Indian food - and quit trying to "market" themselves as something they're not. They're Indian chefs - make it taste like Indian food. They can do at North Indian cuisine - make that. They could do a lot better.
#10 Lane 73 Hejiang Street, Taipei
We ate here years ago and it was pretty good. The food is solid and we enjoyed everything we ate, except for the very lackluster samosas. Kind of small and deflated. The only reason we don't eat here more often is that it is rather expensive.
As always, you need to specifically ask for truly spicy food.
#101 Raohe Street, Songshan District (in Raohe Night Market)
I used to get take-out from this place often, and the food was fiery hot - which I love - and spiced with depth and care. We often got the chicken or lamb rolls, and the kebabs we've had while eating in were also great. It's a solid choice in Raohe Night Market. The only complaint I have is that while the rolls are affordable, the curries can get very expensive.
Or at least, it was good. We returned at one point and got what I can only describe as mildly-flavored Indian food slathered in chili paste. No depth, no care, just heat. We haven't been back so maybe that was a one-off, but I just don't know.
Core Pacific Living Mall B3
I haven't been here, so I can't give an opinion.
#217 Heping Road Sec. 2 (very near Technology Building MRT)
This restaurant specializes in Tibetan food (the way that Kunming specializes more in Burmese-Muslim fusion), but still serves up pretty decent Indian food. I'm including it here because it's a great restaurant that deserves your patronage, and does offer Indian dishes, but if you go I would recommend ordering Tibetan food.
#366 Section 1 Keelung Road (north of Xinyi and south of the original Mayur Indian Kitchen).
We've eaten here and I can confirm it's good. Pretty typical north Indian food with an emphasis on Halal (as with many Indian restaurants in Taipei the owners are Muslim and many are actually from Pakistan - I don't care where you're from as long as the food is good though). But still, good, a solid choice in Xinyi. Well-decorated with cushy velvet chairs.
2nd floor #195 Sec. 2, Xinyi Road Taipei (near Yongkang Street)
Not sure if this place is still open, actually - it's the same address as Saathiya below. We haven't eaten here, but the TripAdvisor reviews are good. However, a friend of mine did eat there along with her husband who is a chef, and they said "the curry was watery and my husband's tasted weirdly fermented. He felt sick after." So I'm not that excited about trying it...
3 Idiots Toast and Curry
#28 Lane 293 Roosevelt Rd. Sec 3
Another location is near Ren'ai Hospital on Da'an Road
Also #318 Changchun Road, Zhongshan District
Multiple locations - I haven't been here yet but will try it soon and let you know. Run by the same folks from Out of India.
Zhongshan N. Road Sec. 6 #138 (Tianmu)
Because Tianmu didn't already have enough expensive Indian restaurants...there's this one. A few of my friends have checked in here, and it looks nice. Huge menu, includes South Indian (but expensive). We'll go at some point.
Namaste Indian Cuisine
#30 (or 32 - Google Maps and Facebook don't agree)
Jiuzhuang St. (舊莊街) Section 1 (in Nangang)
Taj Indian Restaurant#1 Lane 48, Civic Boulevard (市民大道) Section 4
Where all those popular restaurants are on Civic
I have to admit I didn't even know this place existed until I googled "Indian restaurants in Taipei" and it showed up. Haven't been, don't know how it is, will try at some point.
#121 Yanji Street
Again, have not been here, so can't comment. Will try - it's not too far from us.
Janny Curry House
#4 Alley 1 Lane 199
Jinhua Street (near Yongkang Street)
I haven't been here but I know the owner's daughter on Facebook, so I'll be trying it very soon.
#195 2nd Floor
Xinyi Road Sec 2 (near Yongkang St. MRT)
Same address as Sagar above, and also gets a pretty bad review from the Taipei Times. I suspect they might be the same restaurant.
#13 Lane 69 Songjiang Road
I haven't been here, and didn't know it existed until I did a search. The pictures don't look like Indian food but people on Trip Advisor are saying it's "good Indian food" or "we liked the naan" so I'm not sure what to make of that? I've also heard it's "unique" so I'm sure I'll check it out at some point.
India Palace (or something)
Taipei 101 B1 level food court
As a rule I avoid food court curry, but Brendan has been here and says it's serviceable. There's another Indian Palace on Taiyuan Street (#103, B3 level?) and another on Chengde Road (#1, Sec. 1) which is very confusing. I'll have to walk around a bit in that area and try to figure out the situation on the ground.
And this post would be remiss if I didn't mention...
Trinity Superstores (import store) #23 6th Floor (ring up), Ren'ai Road Sec 3 Lane 143 (Zhongxiao Fuxing)
#35 Zhongxiao E. Road Sec 5 Lane 71 (City Hall)
#535 Zhongshan N. Road Sec. 5 (Shilin)
They now have three locations - one just south of Zhongxiao Fuxing/green Sogo, one at City Hall and one in Shilin. Their own information online is confusing so I'm putting it here for you - a good place to buy Indian spices and ingredients.