Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Taipei Tales - Part Four

We spent the first half of the day with Mr. Wang or Uncle as we called him, driving around the Yangmingshan National Park. Uncle and his wife -Aunty are uncle and aunt to the Boy's postdoc advisor and they played hosts to us for the remainder of the trip.

~Uncle and I at Flower Clock near the Park Entrance

The park has a few hot springs leftover from ancient volcanic activity. According to Uncle the puddles of bubbling hot water are good for one thing alone -boiling eggs!

~The Boy and I at the hot springs

After some more sight seeing fueled by copious amounts of Oligosaccharide Barley Drink*, during which Uncle managed to get a park ranger to give us a ride back to the parking lot; we stopped at a little shack by a babling irrigation ditch, off the mountain road for lunch.
~Uncle consults with the shack owner about our lunch order

Fifteen minutes later our lunch arrived. A hot pot of chicken soup flavoured with preserved pineapple and bitter melon **(this is the national vegetable of sorts) deep fried river fish, garlic-ky greens and basic noodles. The dining was basic - a sheet of red plastic was fixed to the table top with some water and then the edges were tied to the legs. There were disposable soup bowls and soup spoons for the soup and for everything else there was the table cloth, a stack of chopsticks and napkins. You pick your vegetables, noodles, fish etc with your chopsticks and somehow figure out a way to get it into your mouth. And before I forget this is 100 % chopstick country. So if your chopstick skills are rusted or non-existent, buy a packet of disposable sporks before you even contemplate visit to the visa office. With our average chopstick skils we found maneuvering itty bity morsels of food quite challenging at times. The plastic sheet also serves as a repository for all that is inedible like the fish and chicken bones.
The soup pot came with its own gas burner and the soup bubbled in this contraption for sometime before Uncle declared it fit for consumption. For starters we took a peice of boiled chicken and some soup each. The soup was great but the chicken insipid. Luckily Uncle put us out of our misery by letting us know that were to eat the soup only. The crunchy fried fish was an experience as we had to chew up the whole fish -bones, head, tail , everything. Sounds horrid...but with salt and pepper it actually tastes fine. I loved the greens but don't know what kind they were. At the end of the meal, our server just gathered the platic sheet and in one fell sweep the table was cleared.
~ Fried fish, noodles and garlic-ky greens

~ The soup pot

Uncle then drove us to Wulai, one hour south of Taipei for a dip in the famous hot springs. The hot water from volcanic springs is piped to baths in various spa facilities around Wulai township. At the spa, we decided to settle for the communal bath instead of the couples bath as the couples room looked really small. The communal baths are gender segregated. There were three separate pools in each bath - cold, warm and hot along with sauna facilities. After lying around in the hot and cold pools with alternatedips in the jaccuzi, umpteen cups of green tea and some extreme sweating in the sauna we called it a day and relaxed on the deck with cold coffee and freshly baked cookies. The cookies were a revelation - all that a simple cookie can be yet never is. Soft, crumbly and utterly butter-ly delecious.

~ View of the river by the spa

Later in the evening Aunty and the Boy's advisor joined us for dinner at the local curry place - Dazzle Indian Curry. Uncle loves the curry at this place wanted the opinion of real Indians for a change. The place looks mediocre at best, with its faded yellow paint and ratchety music but they do serve a mean "rip of lamp". That would be a rib of lamb for those not used to the strange Taiwanese spellings. I would go so far as to say this is one of the best lamb dishes I have had. The lamb is well done and juicy, this might be a problem for those who love a bit of red in their meat. The pooris were a earthy brown hybrid of bhaturas and parathas. The chicken curry packed a wallop though the aloo gobi, raita (too sweet) and the coconut rice were imminently forgettable.

Aunty also got a huge bottle of wine to celebrate. In Taiwan, everything and anything in the liquor department is called wine, as we soon found out. Wine in this case was that ginormous bottle of brandy you see in the picture below. Most eateries it turns out function on a BYOB basis.

So if you are in Taipei and craving Indian food, head to
Dazzle Indian Curry
No.84, Sec. 3, Ren-ai Rd.
Da-an District
Taipei City

Beware! they don't have any Indian desserts though. The manager informed us that most Taiwanese find Indian sweets to be sickly sweet -so there was no gulab jamun for the Boy.

~Clockwise - The Boy, Uncle, Mrs. Wu, Me, Aunt

* that is exactly what the label on the bottle said. The Boy thought some fermentation might have improved on the taste. If not top shelf, the fermented product would ceratinly make a half decent whisky!

** karela

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