February 24, 2014

Green oranges

Did you know that Taiwanese citrus fruit are green?
Me and my classmates in Taiwan were wondering when we'd find ripened oranges and mandarins in Taiwan.

Green citrus fruits, looking like they are unripe and very sour. The colour of small lime fruit in Europe, or of very early spring leaves
Green citrus fruits, ready to eat. Sweet!
It was in August and all we could find were the green fruits with a few yellow spots, and we all kept wondering when we would find the ones that were ready to eat. All the ones we found looked like bigger versions of limes or green lemons, and we all imagined them to be very sour. That is, until two of us gave up and bought the green ones and, to our surprise, found that they were just as sweet as the ones we would normally find in Europe and North America, but in Europe and North America they would be bright orange.

Because I am curious I bought one extra and kept in my little room, and eventually it started to change colour too, to some type of more yellow, but not orange.

February 18, 2014

Hotsprings. Is there any better way to warm up?

Hotsprings - another good reason to be in Taiwan

Taiwan is cold.

If you don't believe me, visit Taiwan in the winter.

It fascinates me how 13 degrees in Europe can be warm while 13 degrees in Taiwan makes you shiver – the simple answer to why is that wherever you are you are close to the sea – the humidity and the wind from the sea goes through everything. The stone houses and the lack of insulation like in most of South East Asia doesn't help either.

Yes, of course, it's not cold ALL the time, the winter short and you get gorgeous days too, but the nights, oh, the nights. They are not always fun. Better be prepared!

When it was really cold just before Christmas and temperatures at night dropped to around 10 and the temperature inside the houses was about the same a woman from Canada who lives in Taichung, said:

"I opened my fridge and thought it was broken because it felt warmer in there than in the room"
It's no wonder that the hot springs in Taiwan are so popular! Partly an inheritance from the time Taiwan was under Japanese rule the bathhouses are common and spread over at least the main island, but particularly common on the east side, where the majority of the natural springs are.

In Taipei the most known and most easily accessible hot spring area is in Beitou, 北投, in the north of the city. Technically Beitou at least used to be a separate town but nowadays at least the tourists and travellers don't know how to tell the difference.

Beitou is very green, and lush, not just because it is Taipei, which is probably the rainiest corner of Taiwan, but mainly because the hot springs, full of natural minerals. There are a lot of very nice hotels in the area, just like everywhere where there are hotspings, with fantastic spas and excellent service, but this is not where the average Taiwanese goes, especially not to warm up in the winter; Going to the hotel spas is not cheap, if you are on a Taiwanese budget. But there are options everyone can enjoy.

February 05, 2014

Taiwan food markets - a little piece of heaven

Taiwanese food markets - a little piece of heaven for foodies like myself

Dadu traditional market, Taichung City
When you arrive in Taiwan one of the first questions you will hear is "Have you been to the Night Market" – and then the person who asks will ask what you think about it.

And the night markets are fascinating, at least a few times – packed with people and stand after stand after stand with various cooked dishes and snacks, not the least the famous pigblood cake, zhuxue gao -豬血 - and 臭豆腐 - chou doufu, stinky tofu, as well as the special, slightly sweet Taiwanese sausage, often served in what looks like a bread but turns out to be another sausage, a white one.

But what I really love about Taiwan is the traditional markets! The traditional markets that may be on the way to die out as the people of Taiwan cook less and less at home – read more on my post about that worry in this post – the traditional markets that are equal to what we recognise as Farmer's Market in the English speaking world; The market where you go to get your ingredients to cook yourself, normally or often an open market full of little stands where fresh products, very often locally produced, are sold.

The first months in Taiwan I didn't have a kitchen, but I would still go to the market to get fruits and maybe a snack, and after I moved to a place with a kitchen I would go more or less every morning, or at least several times a week, to get my inspiration and my ingredients for the meal(s) of the day.

There are few things that are as interesting to me as strolling through the open market, looking what is available, what looks fresh, and what inspires me – and in Taiwan, a country where close to everything grows it is very easy to get inspired.

Special about the traditional markets is that unlike supermarkets the traditional markets are keeping open only a certain time of the day. Many markets with fruits and vegetables are open only in the morning (meaning from early to around noon), while yet other ones are open towards the afternoon/evening.  If you go there outside of the opening hours, well, then you may not even be able to find the market; At the morning market the sales men come in early, start setting up and then open up for sales; And when the market closes for the day they are equally fast at cleaning up everything and removing every trace that there was once a market. It's quite impressive – a whole market leaves without a trace, only to be set up again the morning after.