Besides offering a wide assortment of good eats Tainan is also known as the Kyoto of Taiwan because of its cultural history. Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan and was the capital of the country until 1887 when it was moved to Taipei. We explored a few of the cultural locales in the city even though it was really hot and we had to stop every fifteen minutes to enjoy a cold beverage.
Our first stop in Tainan was the Confucian Temple. Built in 1665 as a site for worship and scholarly teachings it is the oldest Confucian Temple in the entire country. There were some typical Chinese-influenced architectural details, but nothing that I found particularly spectacular. I probably wouldn’t go again and certainly wouldn’t pay the less than $1 USD that I paid to enter the temple. I’ll use that for a bubble tea next time; it’s much more rewarding and refreshing.
Any cultural tour of Tainan would not be complete without a visit to one or two of the many Buddhist or Taoist temples in the city. It would be hard to miss them since Tainan has the most temples of any city in Taiwan. We happened to arrive at a temple just as a parade was starting. It’s like a Japanese matsuri where they carry a giant, wooden divine palanquin and heave it up and down while chanting. The Taiwanese do the same thing, but they decided to put the palanquin on wheels since that shit is heavy and it really gets too hot to carry that thing around in the summer.
After eight days in Taipei the three of us headed south to the city of Tainan. Our ever thoughtful Chienya was worried that we would be bored in Taipei, so she arranged for us to visit the “Kyoto” of Taiwan for a couple days before we headed off to Hong Kong. I guess she forgot that we would be happy anywhere as long as food was being shoved in our faces. We’re really grateful that she took us to Tainan because there were new food items to be stuffed in our faces there.
I was excited to ride the Taiwan High Speed Rail since train travel is one of my favorite modes of transportation. The THSR is modeled after Japan’s bullet train system and the ride was rather enjoyable. It’s not as fancy as the last shinkansen that we were on when we traveled from Tokyo to Kyoto, but it’s respectable. The price for our one-way ticket from Taipei to Taichung, a 1 hour and 45 minute ride, was about $50 USD per person. Not bad.
After you arrive at the Tainan Rail Station, you have the option of taking a free shuttle bus or a paid metro train into the heart of the city. We opted for the free bus cuz we’s po! It was also closer to our rental apartment, so that worked out perfectly.
All of our friends from Taipei told us that the food in Tainan is especially delicious. Luckily our former NYC roommate was raised in Tainan so she made sure Chienya took us to eat all of the great food that Tainan is known for. It also helped that Chienya has been to Tainan before and was rather familiar with most of the tasty food spots there herself.
One of the spots that Chienya took us to was Yonlin Restaurant for a much anticipated fresh beef hotpot. According to Chienya, a professional hotpot eater, the beef at Yonlin is fresh and never frozen unlike other hotpot places in Taiwan. I don’t know what I’ve been having my whole hotpot-eating life, but this beef was fantastic! It’s tender and flavorful with just the perfect amount of fat-to-beef ratio. Divine! There’s a branch in Taipei too, but we heard it’s the same food with a higher price tag. But if you can’t make it to Tainan for this meal then you should fork over the money and eat it in Taipei. The other dishes we ordered were delicious too, so even if you’re not a big beef eater you won’t go hungry there. Oh, and don’t forget to try the 100% beef balls. Delish! I’d also recommend that you go here with a lot of people so you can try as many dishes as possible. The three of us only managed to finish six dishes. What a pity.
When we started preparing for our SEA trip we knew we’d finally be able to catch up with some old friends that we hadn’t seen in years because they moved back to their respective homelands when their visas expired or because they wanted to be near their families. It’s great to have friends from other parts of the world, but it’s sad when they leave and you only get to see them once every few years. We were eager to see our old pals again and we all quickly fell back into our comfortable, familiar friendships.
You know the saying birds of a feather flock together? Well, it’s rather accurate based on how many Asian friends we’ve managed to acquire over the years. We knew we had a lot of Taiwanese friends, but we didn’t realize that we had so many until we got here and our schedule was packed with meeting one friend after another. And they were all such gracious hosts too. Many took time out of their hectic schedules to meet us for lunch, dinner, drinks, night market exploring, kangaroo dancing, and other fun things that people do when they are drunk on cheap liquor.
It was our last day in Taipei, and we had to complete our foodie tour with one very special dish: Taiwanese beef noodles. So we made our way to Lin Dong Fang (林東芳牛肉麵) with Chienya and Ethan (another friend of ours from New York), plunked ourselves down at a tiny table, ordered bowls of noodles and feasted.
Since my cold was still hanging around, I really should’ve refrained from getting the large bowl. I really should’ve paced myself. I really should’ve done a lot of things to let my poor stomach rest, but it’s impossible when you’re faced with something so delicious. So while I suffered afterwards, the moment of ingestion was sweet.
We woke up to a drizzling, cloudy day and made our way by train and bus to Jiufen and Jinguashi with our private tour guide, Chienya. My cold was now full-blown and my stomach was in protest, but sometimes you just have to suck it up (quite literally, with my relentless runny nose). A bus weaved its way up a mountain side before depositing us at the entrance to Jiufen, and this is where Simon found us. We hadn’t seen each other for years, and he had driven up to spend the day with us.
Like usual, food was on our mind and Chienya had told us that Jiufen was famous for their fish balls and taro mochi. But first, an amuse bouche. We opted for a sweet snack of two types of ice cream over crushed candied peanuts and chopped cilantro, wrapped in a crepe-like wrap. It was surprisingly good, and I loves me some cilantro so I didn’t mind it with ice cream.
Next, we ducked into a fish ball shop and pigged out on fish balls of different flavors, and a glutinous pork thing that they’re also supposedly famous for. It was good, and if I was feeling better I would’ve had seconds.
There’s not much to do on a rainy day, so off we went in search of a snack and wound our way up to a taro mochi shop. We walked through a corridor full of people making taro mochi and sat down for warm, sweet mochi balls and steamed cubes of sweet potato over shaved ice. I’m not a huge dessert person but it was pretty refreshing.
Today is our fourth day in Taipei and it’s raining so we’re taking the opportunity to update our blog. It’s never too late!
Before we left for our Southeast Asia tour our friends in Tokyo told us that SEA is very gay-friendly and we shouldn’t worry too much about any anti-gay sentiments. After dealing with racist shit in the Balkans and worrying about being gay bashed in Russia, we were relieved to hear that we wouldn’t have to concern ourselves with those petty matters. Instead, we could stay focused on the truly important things, such as eating as much as possible while avoiding traveler’s diarrhea. Little did we know that not only were we safe from anti-gay bigots in Taipei, but we are convinced that it is center of the Asian lesbian universe.
As soon as we stepped on the plane to Taiwan, we noticed that there were a few lesbians around us. When we arrived in Taipei and started exploring the city with our straight friend we mentioned to her that we were surprised by all of the young lesbians roaming freely around Taipei. Our dear, naive straight friend said, “No. That’s just a girl who doesn’t know how to dress.” or “That’s a boy.” HAHAHAHA! Straight people are so funny.
We decided that it was our mission to help hone her gaydar, so I told her that we would start pointing out lesbians on the street and our code word would be “apple” so we don’t get caught screaming “lesbian” at anyone.
We landed into a thick wall of humidity. We were in Taiwan. Over the years we were living in New York, we had somehow accumulated quite a few Taiwanese friends, and we were finally going to explore their motherland and eat our way through it.
We made our way to my college friend Chienya’s apartment in Donghu via bus and subway, which was super easy because the service people here are helpful and friendly. Chienya busted out some wax apples and pineapple, which was my first wax apple experience and the beginning of our foray into the various tropical fruits of Taiwan. Then, we were off to dinner… At Mitsukoshi. I felt like I was still in Tokyo.
I couldn’t help but immediately start comparing Taipei to Tokyo, because they’re both alike in many ways. First off, there is Japanese writing everywhere, so you can pretty much get by without any problems if you speak only Japanese. Besides the familiar shops and Japanese products they sell here, the culture is similar in many ways. I feel like we’re easing into our Southeast Asia trip, which is different from our Europe trip when we started in Russia.
Our first full day in Taipei was all about food. That morning, we had a traditional Taiwanese breakfast at a typical shop here in Taiwan, which means it’s open to the outside, has a counter with some busy ladies preparing and serving food and it’s a little less than ideal in restaurant hygiene. But I’m going to have to get used to that, because the food was awesome. We went to a local market and picked up some more fruit before heading home to digest in preparation for dinner.