Food in Taiwan

The problem with unleashing the biatch on the many Epicurean disasters available within a stone’s throw of wherever you happen to be sitting as you read this is, “Where to begin?”
The sheer volume of deep-fried, borderline inedible, culinary threats is overwhelming. But eat you must and, therefore, ingest unknown ingredients and awful taste you will. And biatch I am, so let’s get to it.

First, the sidewalk vendors. It’s not like you need much experience to understand that pork left sitting in the hot sun all day is not a good idea. But then nothing teaches like experience, so be sure to insist on the slab with the most fly larvae, or the hunk closest to the curb, thus ensuring maximum bus exhaust marinade.
The only real question with street cuisine is whether you will make it home before experiencing your dinner in reverse. It won’t taste any better coming back up, but you’ll be glad to have it out of you.

Next, the buffets. Any buffet. All buffets. After the third visit, I wanted to rent one of those speaker-laden blue trucks and drive all over the island repeating: “Attention Taiwan…chickens COME in parts!” It’s no secret. A chicken almost dismembers itself to make eating it easier. See the drumstick? Rip it off and eat it. The leg? The thigh? Two fingers, a wee bit of leverage and you have a nice handle (otherwise known as the bone) surrounded with easily gnawed meat. But for some unfathomable reason, Taiwanese cooks insist on dicing the whole chicken into bite size pieces, each of which contains a hunk of severed bone cleverly hidden in the middle. Popcorn chicken this ain’t. Severe risk of choking to death this is.

There’s plenty of jokes about Taiwanese dietary habits and they’re funny because they’re true: The Taiwanese will eat anything with four legs, except the table; the only job you cannot give a Taiwanese is zoo keeper…. After all, we are talking about people who WANT to eat tiger penis, and consider an egg boiled in horse urine to be a delicacy.

I was watching an episode of The Sopranos – nice Italian mafia family sitting down to dinner. One of the kids mentioned that the Chinese invented spaghetti. Tony, expressing his compact world view, asked, “How in the hell are people who eat with sticks gonna invent a food you need a fork to eat?”
Good point, Tony…and who in the name of God ever told them it was for breakfast? Or properly served in a clear plastic baggie?
Just imagine what would happen if you tried to hand Luca Brasi his take-out cannolis in a clear plastic baggie. You’d be sleeping with whatever mutant fishes manage to survive in the canal.

This is yet one more of the many reasons why foreigners will never truly understand Taiwanese culture. You may develop a superficial understanding of things like “Face” and “Guanxie”, but when you see your students happily gnawing on a length of intestine and then those same students gag at the sight of you licking the tip of your own finger to better turn a page, it’s just plain mystifying.

One Noobie I know suffers intense frustration because the clerks at 7-11 force him to take the small cardboard box every time he buys a hotdog. How he can eat 7-11 hotdogs is another thing, but his problem is this: He doesn’t want the box. He wants to simply set the bun in a napkin, place the dog therein, pay and eat it. I tried to tell him how filthy the clerks think his hands are, but he insists that he would touch the hotdog, in any event, at the point of eating. Foolish man – using logic like that. Logic has no place here.
Even if you can find a decent grilled chicken breast, it comes covered in “Spicey Thai Sauce,” which is simply three pounds of crushed chilli peppers melted in a microwaved mixture of Velveeta, spoiled coconut milk and those tiny little crunchy fish. MmmMmmm. Please, folks, stop making my food so interesting.

Getting a meal you can actually eat around here is frequently like Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces. All he wants is toast, but they don’t serve toast. The toast is only for the sandwiches.
JACK: “I’d like a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce.”
WAITRESS: “A chicken salad sandwich. Hold the butter, the lettuce, the mayonnaise. Anything else?”
JACK: “Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken and bring me the toast.”

It’s amazing what your Taiwanese friends can con you into eating with the phrase, “This very traditional Taiwan food…very delicious!”
Like that gelatinous puck of unknown substance wrapped around a meat-looking thing which insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that it was once pork.  Surrounded by mysterious fare like this, it’s no wonder I survive on Salut pizza, where you can ASK for corn on your pizza, but you can’t HAVE corn on your pizza.  And that’s the not just the way Tony Soprano thinks it ought to be…that’s the way it should be.

Now all you wok-wielding gourmands fuck off, I’m full.


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