Part of assimilating into a new culture means trying traditional, local dishes. As far as local dishes go, Taiwan has some weird and wonderful ones to contend with. Walking around any night market here is always an adventure, no matter how long you have been here. It’s most likely the first time you’ve seen some crazy looking dishes and smelt some things that you would be happy to never smell again. It’ll be the place where you come to realise that just because there is a long line of Taiwanese people waiting for it, doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy what is put in your hand twenty minutes later. It’ll also probably be the place where you’ll experience Taiwan’s most infamous cuisine, stinky tofu.
Believe me when I say that it’s incredibly difficult to miss this one. The Taiwanese will tell you time and time again to try it, accompanied with the assertion that it doesn’t taste as bad as it smells. This is true, but it smells terrible so saying that barely equates to a compliment. Of course, you should give it a go, if only to solidify the evidence that it isn’t delicious. My close friend here had her first experience of stinky tofu filmed and put on youtube. I think that this is the only positive thing that I can associate with stinky tofu, that she’s on YouTube eating it, and I’m not. (Editor’s Note: These are not Ella’s friend, but they are some pretty genuine reactions to expect.)
In winter you have to contend with duck blood soup and warm grass jelly desserts. You might wander into a restaurant day feeling a little under the weather, looking for a hearty soup to bring you back to health, and accidentally order an intestine soup, which you’ll then have to swallow up in front of the boss looking like you’re thoroughly enjoying it. In summer you’ll have to wrangle with the fact they still eat piping hot soup and hot pot in thirty-five-degree weather.
But once you get past all of those things and more, you’ll realise that Taiwan is home to more of the delicious than the disgusting. My time in Taiwan so far has been an ongoing overdose of dumplings, fried rice and bubble milk tea (also called pearl milk tea or boba tea), and whilst that all sounds incredibly unhealthy, I’ve never had happier mealtimes. Don’t even get me started on the variety of tropical fruit you can buy here. My students regularly give me fruit and more often than not I have to ask a TA what it is and how I go about eating it. I’ve spent my time here living above a traditional market. That means two things. The first is that Taiwanese ladies trying to outshout each other regularly wake me up – a soothing alarm I might add. The second is that when I exit my building, I am immediately confronted with Taiwan’s seasonal tropical fruit. Passion fruits, pineapples and fat mangoes for breakfast nearly every day. There are certainly worse ways to start your day.
The fact of the matter is that I simply don’t know how to go home anymore, primarily because how on earth will I find xiao long bao, or pay next to nothing for the sweetest pineapple, in the UK? There are no stalls in the UK that sell you fresh young coconuts on the side of the road and there is absolutely no way that you can eat an ice cream in December. Nobody wants to have to deal with that.
About the Author
Ella is an English teacher in Taiwan and has been living and teaching in Asia for the last two years. She has loved seeing kids enjoy learning English. In her spare time, Ella has been learning Chinese, climbing mountains and finding hidden waterfalls in Taiwan’s beautiful countryside. You can check out her adventures on her Instagram https://www.instagram.com/ella.watson93/ or read about them on her blog www.byebyeblighty.wordpress.com.