Cold dishes, a variety of pickled vegetables, typically eaten before a meal in Taiwan
Internet community, I’ve failed you. I’ve been waiting to tell you a story, but I can’t finish it, and it looks like I’ll never be able to.
You see, last month in Taipei my dad scouted out a little haunt in his old stomping grounds around Taiwan Normal University. My dad chose a little alley for us to venture down, an alley that was teeming with local delights. Like a bloodhound, my dad was on a mission, and he walked purposefully past at least twenty tasty-looking places, not even pausing to sniff. My mom stopped in front of a modern-looking teahouse. From the double-glass doors, we could see a few patrons inside milling about lackadaisically.
“This looks good.” She had to yell those words up to my dad, who hadn’t even registered the place and had scurried several yards ahead. He was carefully studying a placard above what looked like a tiny shack of a place and watching a cook out front make juan bing, a rolled flour pancake stuffed with brisket and scallions. He glanced back at my mom, who’d stopped in front of the teahouse. They’ve been married almost 36 years, and sometimes I still think it surprises him when he catches himself thinking of her as a gastronomic amateur.
Stir-fried nien gao, or rice cakes, usually eaten at Chinese New Year
“We’re eating here,” he announced confidently. It’d been about twenty minutes since we entered the alley, and we’d passed no fewer than thirty or so hawkers. I knew there was a method to his madness, so the hubby and I dutifully followed. My mother seemed a little dubious, but she knows this battlefield all too well and thus decided it was best to capitulate. If she’s a foot soldier in culinary combat, my dad is an armored tank. There’s no victory for her there.
Once inside, we didn’t hold back. A cornucopia of food soon ended up on our table — dumplings, stir-fried rice cakes, spicy won tons, juan bin, and chong you bing (scallion flatbread), along with a tray of cold dishes typically eaten before a meal. Consisting of a variety of pickled cabbages and vegetables, the hubby’s favorite is kao fu, a sweet and savory bean curd with soybeans.
Our over-indulgent lunch fare
But, my lovely internet people, here’s the part where I failed you. Even before I started blogging, for years I’ve photographed and cataloged a variety of food experiences that I keep for myself. Once this blog came into being, I ramped up my efforts and rarely leave a meal with less than twenty photos of the food, a business card (if available) of the place we’ve eaten, and notes scribbled down in my little red Moleskine notebook. Once I get home, I write my post from memory, using my notes and the photos to help me put forward as much information as I can recall. I pick the best two or three photos from the lot, edit them, and then throw them up on this website.
Well, on this particular day, I let my emotions get the better of me, and I lost my cool. All I remember is that everything was delicious, cheap, filling and that I may or may not have cried real tears of actual joy. In the end, I came home with only about five photos. My notes on the place say this: “kao fu omg amazing hungry.” That’s it. Five words. I can’t tell you where this place was, or its name, because even though the place had business cards and I took one on the way in, the card was printed entirely in Chinese and it’s nowhere to be found. It’s possible that I accidentally ate it along with my lunch that day.
I started this blog in part because, up until this point in my life, my travel stories are just rolling around in my head, and I have little recollection of the places I’ve been other than to remember the food I’ve eaten. For example, when I was 11, my dad took our family to his favorite little trattoria in Venice owned by either a man named Mario or by a man who thought my dad’s name was Mario. Such was how they greeted each other: “Mario!” my dad would say. “Mario!” the man would say in return. I remember eating black squid ink tagliatelle with garlicky clams. I remember picking up the clam shells with my fingers and sucking out the briny juice that mingled with white wine sauce and that crazy black pasta, which I’d never seen before. But I can’t tell you where that restaurant was or if it still exists, and the Type-A lawyer in me shakes my head that I didn’t have the foresight as an 11-year-old to document and catalog that experience so I can go back there one day.
So there you have it: a meal with no substance. A story with no ending. My blog is supposed to be my way of sharing with you the memories I’ll leave Kuala Lumpur with, and for me to look back one day and remember exactly where I was, what I ate, and who was there. Unfortunately, for today, this meal in Taipei, that elusive alley, those amazing brisket and scallion rolls — well, they’ll just have to go the way of that squid ink tagliatelle: filed away in my brain as a foggy, once-upon-a-time story. And, because I am a terrible yarn-spinner when it comes to memories that I haven’t written down, in a few years, by the time you hear me recount the story of this meal in Taipei that was so unforgettable, I’ll lead you to think I ate dinner with the Queen of England. I hope you’ll forgive me. I tried.
Delicious lunch | Somewhere in Taipei, near Taiwan Normal University | Taiwan