If you ever find yourself traveling in rural Taiwan, you might want to bring someone who can tell you what you’re eating. Let me clarify: if you ever find yourself on the lovely little tropical island of Xiao Liuqiu (off the coast of Donngang), and you’d like to know what you’re eating, you’ll NEED to bring someone who can tell you what you’re eating. While many of the restaurants in Taipei have pictures of their food items or, if you’re lucky, an interesting English translation, nowhere in rural Taiwan will afford you this luxury. Save for my fruit juice extravaganza yesterday, this is where my culinary adventure has begun.
In my soup this afternoon (there is a picture to your left), I found the following items: 2 fully-intact clam shells, one purple octopus leg, two balls of something-fishy-tasting (example to the bottom right of the picture there), a pile of ground meat (beef? pork? something else entirely?), three shrimp, a selection of scallop parts, some fried white meat-like substance that tasted more like beef than the other meaty stuff, three strips of hot pink tofu, some cubed brown pieces I imagine are a third kind of meat, one piece of fried tuna, and lots of noodles and green onion slices. The delightful chef, a sweet Taiwanese woman with a shy smile and a dear love for cooking, excitedly took me into the kitchen, which, yes, was actually a six-burner stove next to our table, and with flourish, pointed out every single item for me on the item, pointing to the Chinese characters and then pointing to the corresponding dish cooking on the stove. While this did give me a kind of ballpark, to be honest, I didn’t really have much of an idea of exactly what was what on the burner itself, but I did appreciate her very kind attempt to help me navigate her restaurant. Everything, by the way, smelled fantastic.
In a leap of faith, I pointed at one of the bowls, smiled, nodded, and sat down. Sipping my papaya-milk and waiting patiently for lunch, I hadn’t any idea that I’d just ordered an absolutely delightful soup–with just the right amount of chili pepper, just the right amount of noodles, and just the right amount of octopus legs and unidentifiable meat-like objects.
What I’ve learned today is that sometimes, you’ve got to just close your eyes, point, and hope for the best. After all, when it comes to navigating culinary delights in countries with characters, you simply have to trust the experts.
Welcome to Xiao Liuqiu!