Taipei (Day 21): Taking it easy in Taipei

March 21, 2016

It was our last full day in Taipei (with my sister, Noel, and Nate) before heading south to Kenting. We headed to Ximending (west Taipei) to walk around and grab some snacks to eat.

The first stop was KFC. My sister and Noel hadn’t tried their egg tarts before so we got a box of six (140 NT = $5.65 for 6). They were warm and delicious, if only KFC North America would serve these for dessert instead of deep and delicious cakes (although, deep and delicious cakes are (Tim: deep and) delicious too).

KFC Portugese egg tarts
KFC Portuguese egg tarts
My last Hot Star chicken cutlet..
My last Hot Star chicken cutlet for a while
Yu's Almond Tofu
Yu’s Almond Tofu
Almond shaved ice with almond tofu and mochi (which are all on the bottom) 90 NT = $3.60 CAD
Almond shaved ice with almond tofu and mochi (which are all on the bottom) 95 NT = $3.80 CAD

After walking through Ximending, we went looking for a store called Hakka Blue (the front of the store says “Art Yard”), that Tim’s Mom had told us about that sells “xiao long bao” condiment sets and other crafts made in Taiwan. The store is located in a historic area in Taipei on a street called Dihua. It took about 20 minutes to walk to this area from Ximending. Dihua street reminded me of most cities’ Chinatowns – cobbled streets full of dried fruit and herb stores.

Dihua St. in the old part of Taipei
Dihua St. in the old part of Taipei
A minute later we ran into some guys who play football in our 778 flag football league – small world!

Tim’s Mom hosted an exhibit a few years ago called “Made in Taiwan” and she had these xiao long bao sets on display – this is where my sister fell in love with them. When we found the store, it was not only filled with those xiao long baos, but it had an assortment of other crafted items that were really neat. I could see why Tim’s Mom really likes this store.

A display at Hakka Blue
A display at Hakka Blue
Inside the store
Inside the store
This is the set my sister bought
This is the set my sister bought

We made our way back to the apartment early in the afternoon since we had to pack and clean up before tomorrow morning. We had dinner at a place close to the apartment – a restaurant that is typically for late night eats but is popular for the normal dinner time crowd as well. I wasn’t feeling 100% so I just had a bit of congee and went home and rested.

Can’t believe it’s already been a week since my sister, Noel and Nate have been in Taipei! Nate is finally feeling at home in the apartment and now we’re leaving tomorrow. His favourite place in the apartment is on the balcony because you can see the MRT trains, buses, cars, scooters and a digger in the lot beside the building – it’s a little boy’s dream. Looking forward to going to Kenting tomorrow. It’ll be a nice change of pace and scenery from the city and hopefully we will be able to see some sun.

Our total steps today: 18,000.


Taipei (Day 14): We Have Visitors!

March 14, 2016

It was another early morning as my sister, Noel, and Nate arrived in Taipei this morning at 5:30am from Vancouver. Tim and I set our alarms and waited for their arrival. They got to the apartment with Uncle Albert around 7am. They dropped off their bags and we headed straight to our favourite breakfast place – Yong He Soy Milk King! We were excited to share our love for this place with our Vancouver visitors.

Nate tasting his first sao bing with egg. He loved it and almost ate it all
Nate tasting his first sao bing with egg. He loved it and almost ate it all

After breakfast we went back to the apartment and the travellers took a nap before we headed out for the day. Since the weather today is a bit cold (around 15 degrees) and gloomy, we decided to go to Taipei 101 to check out the mall and eat at Din Tai Fung. But before we went to Taipei 101, we went to Daan Park to stop by the children’s playground for Nate to play. He seemed a bit scared about where he was so we wanted to bring him to the park to cheer him up; it worked!

At Daan Park
At Daan Park

Once we got to Taipei 101, we could see the hoards of people waiting in front of Din Tai Fung. The wait was around 50 minutes (this was at 1pm). The wait actually went quicker than we thought it would be and we only had to wait about 30 minutes. Since we told them we needed a high chair, when we got to table they had the high chair set up with a Din Tai Fung plastic dish set (how nice). The dish set was really cute and we asked if they were for sale. Our waitress said they are but they are all sold out at the moment – the set (bowl, plate, utensils, cup) is 350 NT ($14 CAD). So now we’re on the hunt for these.

With my sister and Noel here, we were able to try a variety of dishes. We were also really hungry when we ordered since we hadn’t eaten since 7am. Nate was polishing off the noodles and loving the food. It actually slipped my mind to take pictures of a few of the dishes because I was too hungry to think about it. The dish I really enjoyed that isn’t pictured is the DTF house special appetizer dish. It’s a cold dish of sliced bean curd, (organic) bean sprouts, julienned seaweed tossed in a slightly spicy sesame sauce. (This dish was 70 NT = $2.80 CAD)

Nate and the cute dish set
Nate and the cute dish set – I want one!
We ordered 30 XLBs - so delicious! Nate loved them too (200 NT / 10 XLBs = $8 CAD)
We ordered 30 XLBs – so delicious! Nate loved them too (200 NT / 10 XLBs = $8 CAD)
Spicy sesame and peanut noodles (100 NT = $4 CAD)
Spicy sesame and peanut noodles (100 NT = $4 CAD) – really good, would order it again
Pork chop noodle soup (190 NT = $7.70 CAD). Mostly for Nate - he loved the noodles
Pork chop noodle soup (190 NT = $7.70 CAD). Mostly for Nate – he loved the noodles
Hot and sour soup - medium (140 NT = $5.60 CAD)
Hot and sour soup – medium (140 NT = $5.60 CAD)

After lunch we walked around to the neighbouring malls and ended up at the 24 hour Eslite Bookstore (Xinyi location). We started on the top floor and worked our way down. Nate walked around the children’s floor and enjoyed looking around and touching everything. He even made some Taiwanese friends in the book department.

The little girl was telling Nate to not touch her book.
The little girl was telling Nate to not touch her book.

It was fun to watch Nate interact and observe other kids and their parents in the bookstore. A Dad was reading his son a book in Mandarin and Nate sat really close and kept inching closer hoping to listen. As he inched closer and closer you can tell from the look on his face that he didn’t understand anything that was being said. Pretty sure Nate knows he’s in a foreign land.

Eslite has floors of books as well as boutique shops within the bookstore – we took our time going through each floor since Nate fell asleep in his stroller.

Tim trying on an ostrich pillow - the lady said "just try it on and take a picture. Don't buy it, it's too expensive and not worth the price". She was right, it was $4000 NT ($162 CAD). She was the worst/honest sales person.
Tim trying on an ostrich pillow – the lady said “just try it on and take a picture. Don’t buy it, it’s too expensive and not worth the price”. She was right, it was around $4000 NT ($162 CAD). She was the worst/most honest sales person.
Ostrich Pillow Box
Ostrich Pillow Box
"Chick Lit" is a genre at Eslite
“Chick Lit” is a genre at Eslite

After spending an hour or so at Eslite we made our way back to the apartment area (we decided to just walk there instead of taking the MRT two stops). We stopped by a 7-Eleven for pudding (to eat later) and bubble tea from “50 Lan”. We’ve seen this bubble tea place everywhere and have been meaning to try it out (there’s one located just down the street from our Airbnb). We ordered pearl milk tea with mini pearls – the tea was good, but I think I still like the bigger pearls (or a mix of both like the Panda bubble tea in Taitung).

50 Lan - We ordered pearl milk tea with mini pearls - large size (50 NT = $2 CAD)
50 Lan – We ordered pearl milk tea with mini pearls – large size (50 NT = $2 CAD)

After we got our bubble tea, we headed to MOS Burger for dinner. We decided to have a low key/casual dinner because everyone was getting tired. My sister and Noel were doing well staying awake considering they’ve been up for over 24 hours with minimal amount of sleep on the plane. MOS Burger is a Japanese fast food restaurant with multiple branches in Taiwan. I was waiting for them to come so I could try it out. We decided to just eat in since Nate was still sound asleep. I ordered the shrimp patty burger and Tim ordered an “Australian Wagyu Beef” burger. He ordered one combo which came with a drink and a side of chicken nuggets (default option instead of just fries). My sister and Noel tried their more famous burgers – ones that use rice instead of buns. I had a bite of my sister’s sukiyaki burger and it pretty much tasted like you were eating a donburi (rice bowl) in your hands.

MOS Burger
MOS Burger
Our two burgers and chicken nuggets (75 NT = $3 CAD for my shrimp burger and 170 NT = $6.90 CAD for Tim's combo)
Our two burgers and chicken nuggets (75 NT = $3 CAD for my shrimp burger and 170 NT = $6.90 CAD for Tim’s combo)
Tim's burger - Wagyu beef with cabbage, lettuce and a thousand island type pink dressing
Tim’s burger – Wagyu beef with cabbage, lettuce and a thousand island type pink dressing
Chicken nugget dip - "Chinese Sauce" which is a sweet and sour
Chicken nugget dip – “Chinese Sauce” which is a sweet and sour

After an eventful afternoon/early evening, we headed back to the apartment. Everyone washed up and now are fast asleep. Tim and I are still awake working on our blog posts. We expect them to wake up really early like how we did during our first week here.

I hope tomorrow will be a good day after they get their much needed rest. Even though we are far from being locals, the fact that they came to visit us here, I feel like we’re responsible for getting them to like Taipei and enjoy it as much as we have. I hope the weather improves – we were blessed with such great weather our first week here but now it’s so cold.

Traveling around the city with a 20 month old is challenging and also enlightening to see how child friendly Taipei is. I noticed that it was really easy to get around with a stroller – especially in the MRT stations, which is something not to be taken for granted (ahem, NYC subways). Also, in each MRT station they have super clean bathrooms and “breastfeeding rooms” (which are also family rooms used to change diapers).

I’m really happy my sister, Noel, and Nate are here to visit us. I just hope that (even travelling with a toddler), they will be able to experience as much as we have so far during their time in Taipei.

Our steps for today are: 18,000 steps (I was surprised we walked so much with Nate – it was mostly because we walked back from Taipei 101 instead of taking the MRT).

Taipei (Day 5): Just relax

March 5, 2016

We ended up going to bed around 11:30 last night, which is late compared to our regular 8:30 nights.  We were excited when we both woke up and looked outside and saw it wasn’t dark (it was 6:45am).

After our long day yesterday, we said we were just going to take it easy and that’s exactly what we did! What’s taking it easy in Taipei? Eating.
Other than a few sights in the city, doing as the locals do is basically just eating. Tim keeps referring to the CNN’s list of 40 Taiwanese food items you can’t live without and I don’t think we’ve even cracked 10 yet.

We walked to our new favourite breakfast place (I love that it’s so close, even closer when we move to the Airbnb) and saw it was a lot busier today and then realized it was because it was the weekend. The line up went really quickly and we ordered a couple of things to share: rice ball wrapped in a green onion egg, pan fried lo bak go (turnip cake), XLBs and a cold soy milk.  Tim made me order this time because he thought it would amusing since I can’t speak Mandarin.  I just took the pictured menu and pointed to things, it was pretty anti-climatic.

Rice ball with green onion egg wrapped around (45 NT = $1.85 CAD)
Rice ball with green onion egg wrapped around (45 NT = $1.85 CAD)
Lo bak go (15 NT = $0.60 CAD)
Lo bak go (15 NT = $0.60 CAD)
They're not known for their XLBs but we gave it a try. They weren't nearly as delicate as DTF but they were still pretty good (10 dumplings for 80 NT = $3.25)
They’re not known for their XLBs but we gave it a try. They weren’t nearly as delicate as DTF but they were still pretty good (10 dumplings for 80 NT = $3.25)

After lunch we walked to Zhongxiao Fuxing area and walked through SOGO- it’s basically like a Japanese Bloomingdales.  We went to every floor walking around and taking advantage of their free wifi like hobos.  We gawked at the prices of some of the items, like their Barbour jackets.  My Barbour jacket was 22,000 NT, which is like $900 CAD!

Oh right, I forgot to mention that when we walked into SOGO, being that we were part of the first wave of customers to shop/browse this morning we were greeted by 10 people standing in a row (expressionless) bowing to us.  Before we walked into the store I saw them and thought they were mannequins for a second.  The girls were wearing Japanese school girl like outfits (Tim: not really) and the fact that they were expressionless made me think that they belonged in a Japanese horror movie. Tim and I will probably go back another day right when SOGO opens to record it.

After browsing through SOGO, we walked along Zhongxiao Road towards a shaved ice place that was recommended by a few people.  The place is called “Ice Monster”.  I think it’s in all the Taipei guidebooks because most people we saw there were Japanese or Korean tourists and they had their guidebooks turned to a page where all I could see were pictures of shaved ice.  We got there around noon (just in time for lunch…), and ordered the mango shaved ice with strawberries.  Mango isn’t in season right now in Taiwan so no fresh mangos, a bit disappointing (I know, more first world problems).  Tim and I shared one order since we knew it would be quite big.  As we looked around it seemed like everyone was ordering their own, it was lunch time after all.

The shaved ice was good, but it was pretty expensive for what it is.  But I guess Ice Monster is in all the guide books and they are clearly milking it!

Mango shaved ice, a panna cotta-ish custard, mango sorbet and a side of strawberries (250 NT = $10 .25 CAD)
Mango shaved ice, a panna cotta-ish custard, mango sorbet and a side of strawberries (250 NT = $10 .25 CAD)

After our “lunch” we ventured back into the sun and made our way back to the apartment.  We wanted to spend some time planning our next week, as we want to go around the island and visit other cities before my sister and Noel get to Taipei.

We’re planning on heading down the west coast to Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung and come up the east coast to Taitung and Hualien.  We won’t have as much time as we had hoped to go around the island since our time in Taiwan is split up as to when we need to be back in Taipei.

I was feeling a bit frustrated this afternoon about not having had planned things out better and “wasting time” in Taipei when we could be seeing other cities since we have plenty of time here later.   But I know I have to keep reminding myself that it’s okay if we aren’t going to see everything and that “seeing everything” isn’t the point of this trip.  Those of you who know me well know that I love to plan things out – especially trips and figuring out the logistics of everything.  So to wing something like this is a bit foreign to me. I know it will take some time to adjust and maybe at the end of it I’ll be a different type of traveler.

On that note, I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of Taiwan even if it’s just for a day or two in each city we visit.  We plan on leaving for Taichung tomorrow morning and will be back in Taipei next Sunday.

After a bit of planning and hotel research for Taichung, we booked a place on Expedia.  It was the #1 rated hotel on Tripadvisor, close to the Taichung train station, and it was only $68 CAD! I booked using Expedia for TD, since it gives me 9 times the points on my visa.  Basically this was the only thing we booked for the week, I was looking at other accommodations for the other cities but decided to hold off just in case plans change (see, I’m learning!).

So after a couple of days of not having any greens besides cilantro and green onion garnishes, we vowed to have some vegetables in our dinner.  My favourite type of hot pot is Japanese/Taiwanese shabu shabu individual style, like Pearl Hot Pot in Burnaby.  Basically they give you a big bowl of vegetables and assorted items like fish cakes, tofu, meat balls (it varies) then you pick your meat.  Usually they give you an iced tea and a dessert all included in your meal.

There are a ton of shabu shabu restaurants in Taipei, but English material online for them is limited. There are only so many shabu shabu places that the “Hungry girl in Taipei” (food blogger) can go to and the majority of them don’t have English names which makes it hard to find online.  We found one that was fairly close to our apartment, but when we got there the menu was pretty expensive and it looked too fancy for us.  We decided to just continue down the street and see what else we could find.  A few blocks down we found a restaurant with exactly what we were looking for! The restaurant’s name is 佶田日式涮涮鍋, which means, “Something… Japanese Style Shabu Shabu” (Tim: Ji Tian Japanese Shabu Shabu).

I was really excited because I had been craving hot pot and it had vegetables! We sat down and looked at the menu, the prices were less than half of the expensive shabu shabu place and also similar in price to our shaved ice from earlier.  Tim asked the waitress if they had an English menu, she kind of giggled and politely said no.  Tim told her we wanted beef and she pointed to the section on the menu that had beef (Tim: I know how to read beef in Mandarin… I pointed to the beef section and she and the waitress helped us pick out 2 different cuts of beef), we picked two different types (we still don’t know which one was which).

The drinks, sauce and dessert (ice cream) were all self-serve which was great.  We made our sauces and Tim went crazy on the garlic.  Taiwanese people love raw garlic on a lot of things.  My mouth actually tastes like garlic at the moment…gross.

Vegetables and assorted items. I forgot to take a picture before taking out some of the cabbage
Vegetables and assorted items. I forgot to take a picture before taking out some of the cabbage
Taro and mango ice cream. Ice cream was also self-serve. I wasn’t a very good ice cream scooper

After dinner we walked back to the apartment.  We both felt super full. Despite all the food that I’ve been posting on our blog, volume wise we haven’t eaten as much as you may think since we share one portion of everything.  But today was our first high volume meal that we had to ourselves.  It was the first time we felt uncomfortably full since being here. But it did feel good to eat some veggies…

Now it’s time to pack up and get ready for our journey down to Taichung tomorrow. Our friend, Daniel, is originally from Taichung, was just there last week (we missed him by a day) and gave us some ideas on where to go. We’ll definitely check out his suggestions, the Miyahara store looks really neat.

One random note, I’ve decided that the most popular dog in Taipei is a miniature red poodle (I’ll take a picture next time I see one).  I think I’ve seen over 20 different ones in the past couple of days.  I’m going to start a count on them starting next week when we’re back in Taipei.  Also, on another dog note, people in Taipei don’t like to let their dogs (mostly white dogs) walk.  Most of them are held and others have their own doggy stroller. Even the stray dogs that we see are extremely clean for strays. Dogs are living the good life here!

And our step count for today is only 18,600.  Our chill out day meant we didn’t even reach half of what we walked yesterday.



Taipei (Day 2): Let’s eat!

March 2, 2016

After our day of travel, we woke up at 6:30am, feeling refreshed and excited to explore! The first thing that came to our minds was, Taiwanese breakfast.  We’re staying around the Daan and Xinye Anhe MRT stations so we decided to pick something close by.  I googled “The best Taiwanese breakfast in Taipei” (I know, my google skills are top notch).

永和豆漿大王 (English translation is “King of Soy Milk”) came up as one of the top picks that was only about a 10 minute walk from us.  We left the apartment around 8am, and made our way to the breakfast place.  From the looks of it and the amount of locals inside, it looked promising.

Restaurant store front 永和豆漿大王
Restaurant store front 永和豆漿大王
Pancake with egg, Rice roll with pork floss, pickled veg with Chinese doughnut Soy millk and Chinese doughnut
Pancake with egg,
Rice roll with pork floss, pickled veg with Chinese doughnut
Cold soy milk and Chinese doughnut (This was all 95 NT = $3.86 CAD)

















Everything hit the spot.  The Chinese doughnut was super light and just out of the fryer which made it super delicious.  I can see us going here multiple times during our time in Taipei. I have to keep telling myself that we’re here for a while, so we don’t have to eat everything in the next two days.

After breakfast we went to Daan Park (Taipei’s “Central Park”) and walked around and checked out the children’s playground area.  My sister, brother-in-law, and nephew (20 months) will be visiting us in Taiwan in two weeks so I wanted to check out to see if it was “Nate friendly”, and it was!

Entrance of Daan Park

Look Natey! You can play here :)
Look Natey! You can play here. There’s a huge sand pit too!

I always love to visit parks in the middle of the city, to escape the hustle and bustle.  Although Taipei is a pretty laid back city, there wasn’t that much crazy hustle and bustle to get away from, but it’s always nice to have that option. Tim and I said we could go running around the park together, we’ll see if that actually happens…

We continued our walk to Taipei 101.  Last time I was in Taipei, we went at night so we didn’t really get any good views or were able to go inside. When we got to Taipei 101, they had just opened the doors to the mall at 11:00am, it was like we were waiting for it to open like the several groups of Chinese tourists.  The mall is filled with multiple floors of luxury brands and free wifi!

Din Tai Fung also has a location at Taipei 101, so we decided to just go and have some xiao long baos.  We know we’d go again (likely to the original location) with my sister and Noel.  We didn’t have to wait for a table, which was good but when we left the line ups looked outrageous (Tim: Actually, the sign said 5 minute wait).

We ended up ordering 10 XLBs (200 NT), Green beans with minced pork (110 NT), and Beef Noodle (230 NT) = 540 NT + 10% Service Charge = 594 NT = $24 CAD (Tim: Current “priciest meal” champ). Everything was good and the service was excellent – my tea cup was never empty.

Din Tai Fung Xiao Long Baos
Din Tai Fung Xiao Long Baos
Gotta take pictures of the food!
Gotta take pictures of the food!

After our early lunch we walked around to the neighbouring malls and checked out Eslite 24 hour bookstore (8 levels) which was also filled with so many cool boutiques and restaurants within the store.  If this wasn’t a backpacking trip for us, I would probably buy a lot from here.

On our way back to the apartment, we passed by the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall and decided to check it out.  It was filled with Chinese tourists – which was reminiscent of some of the temples we saw in Bangkok with all the tour groups being dumped there at once. Inside, they had the changing of guards in front of a huge statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen.

Dr. Sun Yet Sun Memorial Hall
Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall
Inside the memorial hall
Inside the memorial hall

At this point in the afternoon, it was about 25 degrees celsius and we were both wearing t-shirts and jeans.  With the sun beating down on us, we were warm (Tim was obvs sweating)! It was funny because we passed by so many people wearing parkas, wool jackets and 80% of people had scarves (it is winter I guess..). Even when we got back to the apartment, a lady talking to the doorman looked at us and said “they hardly have any clothes on, it makes me feel like I’m wearing too much” (this was Tim’s English translation for me). Maybe we’ll start to acclimate soon.

It was nice to relax in the afternoon – I started this blog and Tim caught up on the Walking Dead.  We started to get a bit sleepy but we had to get ready for dinner with Uncle Albert.

Uncle Albert picked us up at around 6pm and we headed to the Ningxia Nightmarket for dinner.  I was pretty excited for this because last time we were here, I was only able to eat one thing (stinky tofu) at the Shilin Nightmarket because we had a huge dinner beforehand.  We ended up starting off at a Taiwanese chain restaurant called “Formosa Chang” for their stewed pork on rice and a couple of other sides. We ventured back out to the stalls and Uncle Albert ordered us a bunch of things to share – BBQ steak bites, bacon wrapped chives and a shrimp paste patty wrapped in a spring roll but presented like a pancake. We also ordered a chicken thigh that was fried, grilled and glazed (delish!) and I got my favourite ai-yu jelly drink.

Ningxia Nightmarket is located right outside an elementary school
Ningxia Nightmarket – which is basically right outside an elementary school.  This nightmarket was a lot more local feeling than what I remembered Shilin was like.
Formosa Chang – stewed pork on rice 30 NT ($1.20)
at Formosa Chang
at Formosa Chang
Fried glazed chicken thigh stand
Fried glazed chicken thigh stand (70 NT = $2.80)
It was sliced and put in a bag
It was sliced and put in a bag. It was piping hot and delicious!
The ai-yu lady with her coins on top of her cart
The Ai-yu lady with her coins on top of her cart
Ai-yu jelly drink 35 NT ($3.40 CAD)
Ai-yu jelly drink 35 NT ($1.40 CAD).  It’s a lemony flavoured drink with jelly and tapioca in it.

After our non-stop eating, Tim and I were fading.  It was 8pm and we both fell asleep in the car ride back.  We washed up and Tim tried to finish watching the end of Survivor and we fell asleep at 9pm.

I got woken up by a phone call and couldn’t go back to sleep – it was 4:30am.  I started to write this blog post and catch up on what happened on the Bachelor on Monday (I knew Ben didn’t love Caila… poor girl)

To offset everything we ate, we walked 24,761 steps yesterday. Yay!