WE'VE MOVED

Hello!

Thank you for the amazing 8 years here at A Baked Creation, we can't thank you enough for the memories! But we've decided to move over to a new site - Sincerely, Syl. Please join us there for future posts on all the things you loved here!

Sincerely,
Syl

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Taiwan 2016

Oh Taiwan, we didn't start with the right foot. Airport services in Taipei were very slow and frustrating. It felt like the lines were never going to move and that there weren't enough staff on hand to help out. I just hope they work out a more efficient system soon! We also arrived of the day when a 6.4 earthquake hit causing buildings to collapse in Tainan. It was all over the news wherever we went as the world was being updated on the search-and-rescue progress. Investigations later revealed that the developers had cut corners and were responsible for the poor building structure. I don't know how I felt at the time as it was a combination of sadness, anger, and worry - because lives were lost, people almost got away with their crimes, and who knows what other buildings weren't stable to be in?
Despite the mixed reaction, once we got out of the airport, we got the warmest welcome from Howard's cousin. They brought me hot chocolate to help keep me warm and some Apple Sidra for Howard as we hightailed out of the busy airport and into the night. After settling in that first night, we were ready for Chinese New Year and food!
Seriously, you might notice that I chose to post all food photos here, but that's because it felt like we were constantly eating. We would go out for breakfast or brunch or lunch. Visit some relatives who would offer us snacks. Go out and eat. Have dinner. Then head to a night market to snack. Come home to rest and . . . you know, indulge in snacks. I'm surprised we didn't gain 20 pounds from all that eating. It felt rude not to when all the elders and relatives were pushing plates and bowls of food at us.
We went to the night markets for fried chicken, fried squid, stinky tofu, aiyu jelly, and shaved ice. We lined up for world-famous soup dumplings and beef noodle soup (which I still think Howard's mom makes better). Don't get me wrong, we did lots of sightseeing too. We went to the mountain tops via spiralized roads and took in the beautiful scenery of misty mountains, glimpses of the ocean, and how amazingly natural most of the country is. Despite being a small island, there is a lot of nature that's protected and left alone.
We went to the Tamsui District to marvel at the river and explore the Old Streets and markets. It felt like it wasn't ever going to end and the crowds! Just mass exodus of people enjoying their week off by the sea. There were stalls and stalls of shops in which we tried ice cream and peanut wraps, cooked quail eggs, and chicken spring rolls.
We went to see Bitan and walked along the boardwalks and bridge. Guess what? There was another market here. I think wherever people gather, a night market just magically pops up! We had our first shabu-shabu and bubble tea in Taiwan there.
We spent our first week in Taipei before visiting Kaohsiung City. From there, we went to breathe in the deliciously salty fresh air in Taitung. It's kind of like the Hamptons for New Yorkers. Did we mention we took the high-speed rail? It was really fun to ride and watch the countryside zoom by. We saw lots of rice paddy fields, rocky beaches, and small towns this way. Plus, you can buy bentos from the train station to eat on board.
Speaking of bentos, I was fascinated to see how much Japanese influence was in Taiwan. The food courts with their wax food representations serving tonkatsu, udon, and other delicacies. Fruits being beautifully packaged and imported from Japan. The apartments with wooden sliding doors. Not to mention all the Japanese restaurants serving sushi and shabu-shabu. I didn't know hot pot was so popular here! Howard and I also had our first conveyor-belt all-you-can-eat sushi. They have them everywhere, even in food courts!
The food in Taitung was so delicious. We had the second best wintermelon tea (Howard's mom version takes first place). We ate lots of noodles. We lined up for buns (twice)! I had the best scallion pancake ever (I still crave that on a weekly basis) that was stuffed with egg, onion, and basil. We were driven along the coast and even stopped by some tidal pools to spot the little fish, snake-like creatures, and crabs.
My personal favourite was Din Tai Fung - I know, how predictable - but the food there was really good! Their hot-and-sour soup has moved to the top of my list. Their beef noodle soup takes second place. And their dumplings with the intricately folded and translucent skin, you really can't just have one. They're addictive. We actually went twice, once during our first week in Taipei and then on our last night at the end of our trip.
We also really enjoyed World Soybean Milk Magnate for some traditional breakfast food. Soy milk, deep-fried dough sticks, sticky rice, sponge cake, scallion pancakes - I know, nothing colourful or healthy about this start to the day!
The great thing about all of the Japanese influences were shops like Uniqlo (in which I stocked up on a year's worth of clothes), Muji, and even bakeries that don't require me to go to Paris or Japan. We had macarons and madelines from pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris!
If I thought Hong Kong had a lot of bakeries, there were even more in Taiwan. My absolute favourite one is Wu Pao Chun (which his aunt lived so conveniently close to). For souvenirs, we brought back boxes of their tasty pineapple cakes for our relatives in Toronto. We tried their award-winning rose-lychee bread, lemon cake, bread with corn kernels, bread with bacon, croissant, baguette with condensed milk, and a bunch of other savoury artisan buns. Yes, lots of baked goods. I had to gorge on it, as I wasn't going to get it fresh again for a very long time.
In Taipei, we stayed with relatives, but splurged on a hotel in Kaohsiung City. We highly recommend Hotel Dùa if you're in the area. The rooms were clean and the bathroom was frankly more luxurious than the one I have at home. Howard's favourite part was the daily breakfast that was included with our stay. It was located on the top floor, with a patio and view of the city. There was a great selection of beverages (we kept mixing the juices with the yogurt drinks), salads, fruits, bread, and even savoury food and sushi rolls made fresh by the kitchen. There were traditional Chinese items like congee, bamboo shoots, and soup. What you won't find it a waffle or pancake station!
Being the last leg of trip, Taiwan felt like a mix between Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City. Taiwan had built up a subway station and it was still being worked upon, the transit was already years ahead of Toronto. But there were still a large part of the population that used scooters. The food and fruits were on par, with restaurants garnering Michelin stars and attracting chefs like Joël Robuchon. Hong Kong had the British influence, Ho Chi Minh with the French, and Taiwan with the Japanese. I liked that we could see the history everywhere we walked. There's so much to do in Asia and we did love that it truly felt like the cities never slept.

I did start to pick up some Mandarin. Mostly "eat" and "eat more" and "when are you guys having kids?" Sigh!

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