Tag Archives for " Taiwan "

Dec 12

“Sometimes you need someone who doesn’t act professional”: Taiwanese on Trump

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Foreign Affairs , New Writing

Whatever one thinks about Trump the person, the vast majority of Taiwanese are ecstatic that Trump appeared to give their country a little respect and took a (pre-planned) phone call from Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen. I wrote about the circumstances behind Taiwan’s domestic politics at Red Alert Politics and how Taiwan’s youth are increasingly united around independence: What Trump’s call means to Taiwan’s ‘strawberry generation'”.

Now here are brief comments from two other young Taiwanese I talked to recently.

Ryan, a bartender who has worked in Nanjing, China, the Republic of China’s old capital, said:

“Finally there’s a politician who is not political. Sometimes you just need someone who does not act like a professional to make a change. When you try to break through an impasse, you’ll need a random genius to break it, then you’ll have a chance to rebuild something.”

Mohan, whom I met at a hostel in Nanjing, China, said:

“That Trump had a phone call with Tsai Ing-wen made me especially happy. Although China has developed pretty well, life isn’t just about money. The mainstream thinking of Chinese people still isn’t in accord with the tide in the world.”

Mar 07

A guide to Taiwanese snacks

By Mitchell Blatt | Food and Leisure , Travel

I couldn’t help myself while walking around the basement level of the Shilin Market in Taipei. Everywhere I looked there were delicious-looking snacks. Fried salty chicken, crispy crab, dumplings, meats of all kinds ready to be fried… I ate something here and something there, and by the time I got to the end of the line, where I saw an iron griddle restaurant that proudly displayed a set of award trophies, I was full.

A good piece of advice for visiting a Taiwanese night market is to always walk through once to see all the fare before you make your choice. With so many treats, you don’t want to miss something. However, that’s hard to do on an empty stomach, so you should read this summary of Taiwanese snack food instead.

Taiwanese night markets are widely praised in tourist literature. Before even stepping foot in Taiwan, an image of Taiwanese pancake rolls filled with beef showed up on my Facebook feed. “I must eat this when I go to Taiwan,” I thought. So I did.

Lao Dong Beef Noodles (老董牛肉面) is a successful noodle restaurant Taipei that was featured at the Taiwanese Cuisine Exhibit of the 2010 Shanghai Expo as a representative example of Taiwanese fare. Besides beef noodles, it also has other typical snacks like shrimp rolls and beef stuffed pancakes. All three satisfied my taste buds. Though Lao Dong may not be the best in Taipei, it had a lot of variety of snacks for reasonable prices. My favorite was the beef (or pork) wrapped in scallion pancakes. The beef was succulent, and the pancake was cooked crispy on the outside. Visitors in a hurry can purchase them on the go at a window on the outside of the restaurant, which is located at 35 Minsheng W Road, Zhongshan District (民生西路35號,中山區), just outside the exit of Shuanglian Station.

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Beef noodles are also a widespread dish in mainland China, so what is so special about Taiwanese beef noodles? That is also the first thing I thought when Taipei locals told me to try beef noodles there. Beef noodles are so famous in Taiwan that it is considered a national dish. It turns out that Taiwanese beef noodles are indeed different from the Chinese variety, which were popularized by the Hui ethnicity. Taiwanese beef noodles usually have a richer soup flavor, derived from the addition of soy sauce and other ingredients, including sometimes five spice powder. The beef was also thicker—in chunks at Lao Dong—than the thin pieces of meat at Lanzhou Beef Noodle restaurants.

    Night Markets

The most exciting place to try snacks in Taiwan is without a doubt a bustling night market. As you walk through throngs of people, you can see all kinds of food in every direction and breath in tantalizing smells. One of the largest of Taipei’s night markets is Shilin Night Market. Spread of over multiple blocks inside and outside, the area includes both souvenir shops and snack stalls. Arriving by subway one night (Shilin station or Jiantan station, line 2), I could see brightly lit signs hanging from the sides of buildings and a long line of people walking down the pedestrian street.

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The main food area, however, is located inside a building at 101 Jihe Road (基河路101號, 士林區). On the first floor vendors sell packaged snacks that one can take home for friends. Such famous souvenir snacks include pineapple cakes and mochi. Pineapple cakes, with the fruit encrusted in buttery crust, vary in price from machine-manufactured and cheap to the handmade varieties. Bargaining is possible and recommended there. Mooncakes with pineapple or other tropical flavors are also popular in Taiwan.

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The cooked food restaurants are on the basement level of the Shilin Market. It is there that I looked around, unable to decide what to eat. I had a list of famous Taiwanese snacks drafted from research and recommendations:

Oil noodles (担仔面)
Duck soup pot
Eel noodles (鳝鱼炒意面)
Shrimp rolls
Taiwanese meatballs (肉圓 – ba wan)
Braised pork rice (沾肉飯)
Pan fried buns (生煎包)
Taiwanese-style hamburger (割包)
Pepper pork cakes (胡椒餅)
Three-cup chicken (三杯雞)

Some of those are hard to find in Taipei because they are regional foods. Eel noodles, for example, are from Tainan in the south. Others, like braised pork rice, which has fatty pieces of pork braised in a soy sauce-based sauce and put over rice to soak the rice, can be found anywhere. As I walked through the night market, other dishes I hadn’t thought of came to my attention. Pepper chicken (deep fried chicken drenched in black pepper with fried mint leaves) looked and tasted irrestible.

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Others like pan fried buns were simple and nothing special.

To summarize a few highlights:
Taiwanese Meatballs
Like a round dumpling, when you bite into it, your mouth fills with happiness. Steamed rice and sweet potato flour balls filled pork with vegetables like bamboo, usually in soup. While it is called rou yuan (肉圓) in Mandarin, Taiwanese call it ba wan.

Three cup chicken
With chicken cooked to absorb flavor in a mix of rice wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil, this chicken is very moist and flavorful. Garlic, ginger, and basil added afterwards add to make it bursting with savory kick.

Danzai noodles
This noodle dish from Tainan includes pork, shrimp, egg, and spices in soup. In Taiwanese dialect, danzai (擔仔) is pronounced as ta-a.

    Other Night Markets

Night markets are found in abundance in Taiwan. The Taiwanese tourism bureau has a page listing 12 famous night markets throughout. In Taipei in particular, Linjiang Street Night Market and Ningxia Night Market are also listed. I visited Ningxia Night Market as well on my trip. It is near Shuanglian station, along Ningxia Road (at the corner of Ningxia Rd and Mingsheng W Rd). It is completely outdoors, a pedestrian street lined with stalls.

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Feb 07

Why Taiwanese cheer for Team Japan in baseball

By Mitchell Blatt | Culture , Travel

A few weeks before I went to Taiwan, I was sitting in a noodle shop in Nanjing, China when a young man started a conversation with me about how much he hated Japan. China had held a heavy-handed military parade a few months before to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Japan in World War II, and Nanjing was the site of one of the worst brutalities in the Pacific theatre. The Kuomintang (KMT) government that remains in charge of Taiwan until May 2016 instructed schools to teach that Nanjing to be the legitimate capital of the Republic of China (Taiwan), according to a 2013 Taipei Times article.

In the crowd at the Japan vs. Mexico baseball game (part of the WBSC Premier12) in Taiwan’s functioning capital, Taipei, it felt more like I was in Japan. Down 0-1 in the bottom of the second, Japan hit a home run with a man on first to take the lead, and the crowd stood as one and cheered. Some waved Japanese flags. Many wore jerseys of Japanese teams. A few groups in the bleachers even chanted in Japanese. If you want to see the difference between Taiwan and China, a baseball game isn’t a bad place to look.

Earlier that week, I watched as Taiwanese independence activists protested Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeuo’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which was the first such meeting of KMT and Communist leaders since the end of the Chinese Civil War. “Japan is better than China,” more than one protester told me. Even the Kuomintang’s occupation, which included 38 years of martial law and more than 10,000 dead in the February 28 Incident, after fleeing the mainland at the end of the civil war, was worse than Japan’s, some said. “The Kuomintang brought the army,” a Taiwanese scientist who has held low-level government posts summarized to me on a trip to the U.S.

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Back in China, I showed some of the pictures of the Taiwanese baseball fans holding Japanese flags to Chinese people at a hostel who cringed in disgust. It is true that some of the fans, goaded by me, brought a political consciousness to baseball. When I asked a group of young men who were standing and cheering, “Who did you think is worse, the KMT or Japan?” He Jiahui, said, “When Japan was here, the country was developed. When the KMT came, everything was crazy again.”

There is no need to worry about offending KMT supporters, one of his friends joked, because, “KMT people don’t watch baseball since it was brought here by the Japanese. They just watch basketball.”

A Taiwanese resident from Japan.

A Taiwanese resident from Japan.

Underlying the posturing about history is a dispute about the status of Taiwan’s sovereignty. The KMT broadly supports eventual reunification with China, as they believe in a version of the “One China” principle and hold fast to the idea that the Republic of China remains the one legitimate China. The opposition, led by the DPP, believes that Taiwan ought to be independent in an of itself, not reunited with China, and that having good relations with Japan could maybe, hopefully, on the wings of a prayer, help them achieve their goal.

Two study abroad students root for their respective countries.

Two study abroad students root for their respective countries.

However, many people supported Japan just because Japanese baseball is so strong. The Japanese baseball team is perennially one of the best in the world, and the Japanese baseball league is more exciting than Taiwan’s, many fans said.

Indeed, Wu Jumei, a woman who was wearing a Tokyo Swallows jersey, said, “I like Japanese baseball, not the Japanese national team.”

Hu Jiarong's collection of Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks uniforms. The Hawks, of the Pacific League, won seven Japan Series championships, including in 2014 and 2015.

Hu Jiarong’s collection of Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks uniforms. The Hawks, of the Pacific League, won seven Japan Series championships, including in 2014 and 2015.

Japan lead until Mexico’s Torres hit a two-out single in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 5. But Japan came back in the bottom of the ninth, loaded the bases, and drove in the winning run with a hit. After the game, the Japanese players bowed to the fans.

Namura Makoto came all the way from Japan to watch his team play and found unexpected welcome amongst the Taiwanese fans of Team Japan. In fact, he ended up leading the cheering in his section, teaching the surrounding spectators some Japanese chants. They sang a song—“So oh oh oh ley…”—and shouted “Gambari!” (which means “Go!” or “Jia you!”).

It was his first time in Taiwan, and he said, “I’m very surprised so many Taiwanese support Japan.”

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More from Hu Jiarong's collection of Japanese baseball memorabilia.

More from Hu Jiarong’s collection of Japanese baseball memorabilia.

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Mitchell Blatt is an intrepid travel writer, and an author of two top China guidebooks, who brings his readers deep into the cultures of the places he explores. Subscribe now to get real stories of real people in real places around the world delivered right to your inbox.