August 29, 2015

Pineapple cake - OH so Taiwanese

May I offer you some pineapple cake?

The most important food souvenir there is from Taiwan? It might just be the pineapple cake, 鳳梨酥 - (fengli su). It's actually more of a shortbread, with a pineapple jam inside, and the pieces come individually packed, just enough for one bite, or maybe two. It's a common gift to bring to friends, and a common thing that tourists buy - fact is that pineapple cake is so popular and so important to the Taiwanese that I am told the country started to grow new types of pineapple to make sure there always are pineapples that are in season - what's in season is important to the Taiwanese. True or not, I don't know, but pineapple cake is always available - in nice gift boxes with a layer of individually wrapped little cake bits, or sold separately, bit by bit, to happy customers from all over the world. Where you get the best one? I can't say, but I know where I am returning to! 

Closeup of fresh pineapplesThe last time I was in Taiwan I spent the last day in Tamsui (Damshui), in Taipei, at the very end of the red line, by the water. It's, to be picky, in New Taipei, which basically is the extended Taipei, it stretches out beyond the old, central quarters of the city.

I had an older Swedish couple with me, and I was showing them around. On the way back from Tamsui, where we had looked at the boats, eaten special noodles, had ice cream from the Turkish ice cream vendor juggling with the ice cream cones before handing them over to the customer, we stepped in to a shop selling pineapple cake, a nice little shop on the tourist street, which is full of shops selling whatever the tourists may be interested in - and yes, that goes for Taiwanese tourists as well.  As I was explaining the pineapple cake and the importance to the Swedes, in Swedish, the young Taiwanese woman in the shop looked oddly at me - and then she started to talk to us, in Swedish! Very unexpected - and another reminder how small the world is, and how many amazing people and fantastic situations you may find yourself in if you just keep an open mind, and an ear open to what's going on around you.

August 25, 2015

This is not a travel blog

Don't ask me for advice

Or do, but be aware that the response you get might not be what you expected or answer the question you had. Never follow my advice blindly. Unless my advice says "always carry tissues when you travel in Asia" because that's actually a good one in a part of the world where you don't always have toilet paper. 

This is not a travel blog.

This is a blog about my passions, about things I feel are important - sustainability, food, equal rights, and a lot more. Yes, there is travelling here as well, because travel is a part of my life, a part of who I am - but don't ever call my blog a travel blog or me a travel blogger. 

It isn't. I'm not.

Nor is it a traditional blog full of "Top 5 things to do" or "How to pack your bag" or "10 things you didn't expect" because that's not who I am. I gave up on even reading tips like that years ago - they never reflect what I feel is best practise for me, or how I travel, or what I have done or want to do. We are all different and we travel for different reasons and with different agendas. I can't even give myself the same advice every time I travel, because a business trip is not the same as a leisure trip, a trip to a big city isn't the same as one to a village. A trip with someone is not the same as a trip on your own. Thinking it is would be as stupid as believing you could cook all food the same way; If you boil your pasta as long as you cook your lamb steak your pasta will be turned in to a sticky dough, or your lamb will be raw.

August 13, 2015

Tea in Taiwan (and China)

Oolong - the Black Dragon - and other teas

If you think of a drink in Taiwan or China, you are probably very likely to think of tea - we westerners tend to associate China and Taiwan with tea - and for a good reason, a big part of the tea we drink in the world is had in the Chinese speaking world - if you read the stories tea has been around in the Chinese culture for around 5000 years - if not more. 

Tea Plantations in Alishan
There are whole ceremonies surrounding the tea drinking, and we are not talking the teabag in a cup, hot water from the kettle, and some milk. You rarely drink milk with your standard teas in China and Taiwan, at least not the tea you have with your food - no one but a barbarian would think of putting milk in their tea that comes with the food. And very few would dream of using a tea bag, especially for the tea that is served with the food. If you get tea made with a teabag in Taiwan or China, you are most likely in a foreigner's home, or with someone who is international and is trying to adjust to you (or have tea for breakfast). In Taiwan and China you get tea by the pot, and you drink it out of small cups.

When it comes to dinner, I try and drink tea the way the Chinese and the Taiwanese drink their tea. In tiny cups and with frequent refills. Save the big mug for your European style morning tea.

Real tea doesn't come with milk.

Yes, there is the "Bubble Tea", 珍珠奶茶, zhenzhu naicha - "Pearl Milk Tea" as well, very common in Taiwan, where it has the roots, and spread to the Western world, but Bubble tea is more of a refreshment, almost like a soft drink, and only if you are lucky there might be some real tea in it, often there are just fruit juice extracts. Bubble tea comes in big cups, contains a lot of sugar and in the original there is milk, and tapioca pearls. And yes, black tea, but nowadays, it's just as often a sweet juice with tapioca pearls. That doesn't count. Bubble tea is not tea.  Not tea the way we think of it. And I have, to be honest, not even had bubble tea in Taiwan, it's spread out enough over Europe, and I had it here. I am not a huge fan. I like proper tea. Why not Oolong tea, at least it has a great name.

August 07, 2015

Take the opportunity to see - China 8

China 8 - a mesmerizing exhibition 

Contemporary Chinese art - in Germany 2015

Hand holding chinese fortune cookies and a note "China 8"
CHINA 8: Overview - Blicke auf China (Ausstellungsansicht) 
© NRW-Forum Düsseldorf, 
Foto: Andreas Kuschner / ALIMONIE 
If you join the German tour, or if you join me for the English one - that's not what matters. At least not to me. I'd love to have you on the English tour, of course - I get so much energy from doing these tours, and due to the audience, no tour is the same - but what really matters to me is that you come and see what China8 has to offer. 

China8 is indeed unique and it is an exhibition that deserves your attention! You never know when you will get the opportunity to see and learn so much again, and I recommend taking a tour. In English or in German - just come an join us! If you come to NRW-Forum in Düsseldorf for the English tour you'll be listening to me, while one of the other excellent guides are doing the tours in German. 

China 8 is the biggest exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Art ever put together - 8 cities in North-Rhein Westphalia are participating, 9 museums all together, and around 120 of different artists - I wrote about it on the blog before

I have lived in Taiwan myself, and spent a considerable time in South East Asia, on my own, with my friends and my family, privately as well as on business - in China, Hong Kong, Macao, but also in other parts of South East Asia, where the Chinese presence is high, and throughout the years I have seen many art exhibitions and attended many art seminars - I have always had a strong interest in art - and I can honestly say that the way I felt when I first entered the museum and spotted the first painting I saw, was quite special, and quite unique. It is hard to describe - it was the painting "2008" by Lü Shanchuan, 吕山川 - and it was as if I had been pulled back to Beijing, I could hear the chatter, smell the food, feel the anticipation - the painting shows a banquet hall during the Olympics in Beijing 2008.

August 02, 2015

Ugly carrots

On the topic of Food Waste

On the topic of food waste which I wrote about recently, when posting a link to John Oliver's Tonight Show about Food Waste:

The super market chain Intermarché, in France, ran a campaign 2014, a campaign trying to get the consumers to buy the fruits and vegetables that aren't picture-perfect, but are just as healthy and as tasty as those who are. 
The campaign is called "Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables"

And it is an absolutely brilliant campaign, if you ask me - because why on EARTH do we insist on throwing away huge amounts of perfectly good and healthy food just because it doesn't follow some beauty norm we have set up?

We definitely are strange, we humans.