I tell you, I can really get into the Taiwanese tradition of snacking. Here in the West, we’re bombarded with conflicting information, most of it telling us to lay off snacking. Well, the Taiwanese lead a much less sedentary lifestyle than we do, climbing up mountains and ancient stone staircases in a tropical climate that sweats off the calories. They also have lots of chemical-free, high fiber veggies and fruits. I’m convinced that in the U.S., we must have some sort of FDA approved flavoring agent that produces weight gain. I was snacking my heart out in Taiwan and didn’t gain weight! I swear!
Taiwan’s oldest commercial area and merchant-developed street — Yanping — is in the oldest area of the country, Anping. Do you know how most roads got started? (Water) buffalo made paths to get from water to salt licks. Indigenous people widen the paths a bit with tools. Settlers pound down the road. Yanping is no different than U.S. 25 at the Cumberland Gap, in that respect. The Dutch came to Anping in 1632 as their first Taiwanese stop and built Fort Zeelandia, staying a mere 38 years. Still, the little merchants sprung up on a narrow path, creating a bustling commercial district. I was very happy to be hosted to experience it!
Yanping’s food and souvenir businesses resemble a permanent street festival. The mostly finger-food cuisine developed there is what influenced the entire rest of Taiwan’s food. So, what kind of chow can you kind there? Well, being on the water, they provide oysters for much of the rest of the land. You can see workers at stations cleaning out thousands of the bi-valves. The fresh oysters are juicy and sweet; oyster omelettes are a big local favorite. People eat them with chili sauce.
Another thing that’s popular in the area tastes better than it sounds: coffin toast. Oh, it’s the same concept as “egg in the hole”: They fry bread and cut a shallow rectangle out of the bread (not all the way through) and put fried seafood in there. It’s meant to resemble someone in a coffin. Got it?
Something you may have tried raw at a sushi bar, but not as a cooked entity, are quail eggs. They are more modern than chicken and not weird at all, I promise! They’re great fried or hard-boiled.
Here are two of the tastiest things I tried: shrimp roll, which is exactly how you think, but imagine what it’s like with gorgeous quality rice — it’s NOT all the same — and the freshest, sweet shrimp available! It’ll put your local corner store to sorry shame. The other thing that’s must-eat is fried King Oyster mushrooms. They are lightly battered, then simply seasoned with seasoning salt and pepper. Everyone there has their own secret family recipe for seasoning salt; the one I tried with the fried King Oyster mushrooms had a touch of garlic and some white pepper, to my palette. Oyster mushrooms are available in the Baltimore area at Belvedere Square, but they’re a little pricey at about $6. When I told my hosts what we pay — they get the same amount cooked and beautifully prepared for about $1.50, they couldn’t believe it!
A popular beverage — besides iced tea — is sugar cane juice. It’s not as sweet as you would think and has a light herbal note.