Here’s a shot of everyone most involved with the day-to-day operation of Pacific English Institute (minus two sisters Ariel and Sunny who are helping out in the classrooms for the Winter Camps): Charles, Angel, Mingdaw’s mom, Iris (Mingdaw’s wife), and Mingdaw. We were at their house tonight to hangout and have another New Years feast. Spending time like this is about the only chance we get to learn a few words of Mandarin as all our spare time right now is taken up with course work.
In less happy news, we found out what those black gooey rectangles-on-a-stick are, the ones we’ve been eating the last couple days… pig’s blood on a stick! Ugh, ignorance was bliss. Does anyone know – assuming I can get over the gross-out factor – if that is safe to eat or not? I have to admit, it tasted good; we ate several the last few days. If it’s safe to eat I might try using it as a self-administered mind-over-stomach therapy, where you tell yourself it’s good even though you want to barf and see if you can actually force yourself to like it. Kind of like when you take someone who’s afraid of the dark and lock them in a closet until they’re OK with it. Mind over flesh… this is starting to sound biblical!
Tonight, for only the second time in the entire time I have known him, I saw Joel cry. I’d love to tell you that it was because we had some big emotional bonding moment or something, but it wasn’t. Joel’s tears tonight were the product of another one of our culinary adventures. Since we don’t read Chinese, our method of finding dinner is to walk down a street and see what the vendors are selling from their carts…or, look in a restaurant window and see if they have pictures of the food with the prices next to them. Tonight we happened upon a little restaurant that had two pretty good looking dishes (one looked like chicken curry with rice, and the other looked like a beef noodle soup – but it had flames coming out of the bowl). We figured the flames were a good sign that either the soup would be spicy or the waiter would come out and set it on fire in front of us. Both options seemed fun, so we went in and ordered.
When the food arrived, I gave his soup a try. It tasted so good, but the longer it was on my tongue…the hotter my mouth got. So I stuck to the curry while Joel ate the soup. It wasn’t long before I noticed that he was sniffling a lot, and that beads of sweat were forming on his forehead. He kept saying, “Wow, this stuff is hot!” and pretty soon, he had tears rolling down his cheeks. I really did try not to laugh, but had to give up because it was funny to watch him eating, sniffling, crying, and saying how good it tasted. After we left the restaurant, he said that the spiciness of that soup was “Almost prohibitive.” That says a lot coming from Joel, who never backs away from any spicy food.
On a sweeter note, one stall we found had 6 inch diameter muffins! And at another sidewalk cart a guy was selling little egg custard hockey puck waffle things. We bought two hockey pucks at first and ate them as we were walking away. They were so good that we decided to turn around and buy a few more. I think we must have made the vendor’s night, showing up less than a minute after we left with half-eaten egg custards in hand and wanting to buy more.
An R.D.A. is when, like last night, we are on our own at dinner time to wander the streets and find something to eat. In a best-case scenario, you can actually see what your options are and thus pick something that at least looks like it might be tasty. In a not-as-good case, everything is underneath metal pot lids and the menu is entirely in traditional Mandarin. Normally there are little food stands everywhere, but during the holidays a lot of them close up shop so last night we were sort of at the mercy of whoever was still open.
The first two places were good – one had little fish-ball things covered in spices and sauces. The other had a hot black gooey (bean paste?) rectangle-on-a-stick covered in spicy sauce and rolled in crushed peanuts and cilantro. We were doing pretty good at this point – one or two more places like these and we’d be done for the evening.
But there was only one other place within three blocks of our apartment, and it was a not-as-good case scenario. Jessica decided to hold out in hopes of still finding something else, and I picked a menu option at random.
At first it looked like a cup of chopped up little egg roll pieces. About halfway through I took a closer look at those little tubes… hey, is that a blood vessel?
In Taipei today, a big bowl of intestine soup will cost you about $1.60.
Chinese New Year, 05-06. We were invited to Charles and Angel’s family dinner, with their grandparents and brother.
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Chicken feet for lunch today. Unfortunately, they came chopped up so we didn’t get the whole talon experience. Better pictures next time, but here’s Jessica eating a toe. It doesn’t taste bad, though some people might not like having to suck the skin and flesh off the knuckles before spitting out the bones. Click the images to see them full size.
The people investing in the school welcomed us with dinner at a famous restaurant downtown. The menu listed “God steamed” and “Srnorked goose,” though we didn’t try them. Most of what we ate we couldn’t recognize, but it was really good. Lots of fresh seafood, too, including jellyfish served in enough wasabi to knock you off your chair. It was really good… in small bites.
Pretty much every meal we eat things we’ve never seen before, so we’ll just post about the most exotic.
I’m (Joel) on the lookout for duck feet and chicken feet. I (Jessica) am on the lookout for them as well, but not with quite as much fervor as Joel. There’s also this (in)famous dish called “stinky dofu” that is stinkier than whatever you’re imagining. Our Canadian boss calls it “the south end of a pig going north.” I have to try it, but it really is repulsive. The first time I smelled it I literally started looking around to see where the open sewer was.
We’ve had lots of wonderful things to eat as well. We’ve tried bubble tea (tea with tapioca bubbles that are about the size of a small bubble), duck, and several local specialties that I think will become favorites. Maybe we’ll have to post pictures, since they are somewhat difficult to describe. One is called a “fan tuan” which is some kind of crunchy spicy/sweet meat surrounded by sticky rice. And we also had this great stuffed pancake thing yesterday…it had a crispy dough skin that surrounded a mixture of yummy vegetables. And, there is a plethora of Thai food as well…we found a great place the other night right next to the stinky dofu stand.