Travel stories, tips and suggestions from Taiwan

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Taiwan: From Layover to Love Affair

We recently wrote about how much we love Japan. And we do. But perhaps one of the most surprising occurrences during our travels was when we realized just how much Taiwan had wormed its way into our hearts and made us fall totally in love with it – more than any other country we’ve yet to visit.

How Taiwan Stole Our Hearts

We hadn’t planned to visit Taiwan. In fact, we were supposed to fly from Toronto to Vietnam with a short layover in Taipei, but when a series of events added up, we made the decision to stay in Taipei instead of boarding our connecting flight to Ho Chi Minh.

We had no clue what to expect. We hadn’t researched the country and we had barely read or seen any travel blog posts or videos on it but we were cautiously optimistic. With two months in the country, we certainly hoped it would be a place we would enjoy and since we are usually good at finding the positive in most situations, we weren’t overly concerned.

travel taiwan hiking jiufen

What we found over the two months in Taiwan was more than we could’ve expected. In fact, before we left, we actually contemplated returning to Taiwan and living there for a while – we still bring it up occasionally.

From Taipei in the north to Kenting in the south, and back again, we explored the country, immersed ourselves in the culture, stumbled our way through the language and enjoyed some of the most amazing food.

The Beauty Of Taiwan: A Video Montage

When we left Taiwan we left a piece of ourselves behind and so we wanted to show a bit of our journey through this incredible country and share some of the many moments we cherish from our time there.

So What Is It About Taiwan?

It is a country of incredibly generous people who invited us into their homes and families, and ultimately found their way into our hearts. With each new place we visited we found people who would go out of their way to help us find ours, small family restaurant owners who would bring us a “special dish” to make us feel welcome, people who would always try and help us overcome the language barrier, and a country full of smiles for us foreigners, with no price tag attached.

We spent a week with our friend’s family celebrating Chinese New Year and found ourselves warmly embraced into the fold. Yes, everywhere we went it seemed as though there was an abundance kindness and generosity.

taiwan food candied fruit and why we love taiwan

 

It is also a country with incredible natural beauty from the rugged coastal regions, to the beautiful outlying islands and the incredibly varied inland sights like mountains, forests, gorges, and natural springs. We hiked up mountains for stunning views over villages below, visited tea plantations, walked along the sandy shores of the southern beaches, and motorbiked through national parks overlooking incredible coastal landscapes.

We explored the cities, walking what seemed like every inch of Taipei, visiting night markets, temples, memorials, and making friends with locals and expats alike.

We made such strong connections and so many wonderful memories that it’s hard to think we may not be back there for quite some time. Taiwan will always have a place in our hearts and you’ll be sure, when we get the chance to return, it won’t just be because we happened to decide to stay at our layover destination.

 

Have you found a place that grabbed hold of your heart while travelling? Comment below and tell us about it!

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Chinese New Year – Beyond The Red Envelope

We know it’s been a while since Chinese New Year but we wanted to share the amazing time we had spending New Year with our Taipei roomie’s family in Hsinchu (just south of Taipei). We spent 6 days filled with food, family, sightseeing, and a large amount of karaoke in between. It was a truly incredible experience to share such an important holiday with their entire family and we will never forget their kindness and generosity during our stay.

Our First Chinese New Year… With A Bang!

chinese new year, hsinchu taiwan, taiwan new year

Before we were invited to celebrate Chinese New Year we had no idea what to expect. The only thing we really knew was that there was a tradition of giving money-stuffed red envelopes to the youngest generation from the elders. We were about to party with a family we didn’t even know and celebrate a holiday, we had only Googled.

Once we arrived, and stepped off the super-fast bullet train from Taipei, we were instantly greeted by some of our friend’s family. Without hesitation, they began what would become a week long effort to show us the sights of Hsinchu and keep us incredibly well-fed. They took us to the closest night market to grab a quick bite of some “Famous” dumplings and showed us the unbelievable Taiwanese generosity by not letting us pay and making sure we were full and satisfied before we left (this was a recurring theme throughout our week-long stay).

Chinese New Year a week-long celebration

hakka food, hakka taiwan, taiwanese food, taiwan, chinese new year

We discovered that Chinese New Year, while it is a time for families to get together, revolves mainly around food. Okay, its pretty much all about the food! Everyday we were picked up from one location and dropped off to the next, and every place we stopped had a spread that was a literal feast.

Chicken, pork, rice and beef all cooked the “Hakka” way (Hakka people are a culture to their own, with their own language, food, and traditions); sides of various veggies was a usual sight as well, filling the tables to the point where we didn’t even know where we should sit as there was little room to even put our plates.

While hakka food is different from Taiwanese food, there are some similar dishes. We’ve written about our experiences with Taiwanese food in great detail.

Celebrate Chinese New Year with a Bang

bamboo cannon, taiwan, chinese new year

Food isn’t the only things that Chinese New Year is about. Of course, family is important, but so are, apparently, firecrackers. For 6 days and nights, even up until 4am, people shot-off various firecrackers and noise makers seamlessly and without a break. We heard the sounds of bottle-rockets and cherry bombs throughout the night… every night.

On one particular day we were told that we were going to head up to the family cabin in the mountain and make, as we were told in English, “a bomb”. Although slightly concerned, we knew there was probably a less frightening sounding translation.

We quickly learned that the Chinese word for a cannon is ‘da pao’ (pronounced dah-pow) which should not be mistaken for the ‘dah pao’ that is translated to sex (though this might be slang – we’re not too sure). Unfortunately, we have a limited ability to pronounce the various Chinese tones and so we’re pretty sure we mixed the two up on more than one occasion.

hakka family, hakka, taiwan, taiwan ,hsinchu

 

Not too soon after arriving at the cabin, Macrae and our friend Marko were sent into the forest to cut down some bamboo for the elders to chop into 6 foot pieces, pour some sort of flammable liquid in, and light with a torch to create a big bang – much like a cannon, hence the previous description of creating a “bomb”.

Macrae was called up to light this sketchy bamboo cannon at one point and the entire process was camptured on camera. Check it out:

 

Party Like Its The Year Of The Goat

drinking tea in taiwan

We’re pretty sure it’s always a large party no matter what year it is, but this year happened to be the year of the goat (or sheep) and day three of festivities was the day of Auntie’s” big party. Over 50 people showed up for another Hakka feast.

Tables were lined with food, there was high quality tea tasting with a traditional tea ceremony and people drinking Taiwanese whiskey, There was also some unbelievably great live performances from family and friends. And, of course, we ended the night with karaoke.

This is how a celebration should be. sometimes we feel that back in North America we’ve forgotten how to have a good time  it seems, at least to us, that as the years pass on, people are more eager to head home early and not stick around family functions anymore and it was nice to see the festivities continue well into the evening.

Teahouse in the Mountain

goose head mountain taiwan, taiwan, hsinchu,

We usually found out what was on our daily itinerary the day of, or night before. For the overnight trip on the fourth day, we were told a day ahead of time that we were heading to the mountain for the night. No one really understood what mountain, but as we think about it, we didn’t ask much about it.

We knew what ever our new Taiwanese family had in store for us would be a great time, and we were right! We headed up the mountain in the middle of the day, making some pretty hair raising turns along the way.

hakka family, hsinchu, taiwan chinese new year

 

Making it to the top, we were told that the mountains name is “Goose Head Mountain” (at least that’s what we think they were saying). Anyway, Goose Head Mountain is a place where they grow a delicate green tea called Oriental Beauty, which we tried at Aunty’s house a few times and really enjoyed it (she sells this amazing green tea and many others). After being exposed to it several times, we knew this tea really well and so we were excited to see where it was grown.

tea ceremony, taiwan, hsinchu

We quickly learned that the cabin we were staying in was the only one on the mountain and was owned by the family that grew the tea. All of the tourists at the coffee shops and restaurants on the mountain were heading home for the evening while we got to stay and have a giant feast of fish, pork, chicken, veggies and so much more. It feels like we stayed up all night eating, laughing and of course KARAOKE!!!  
 

What We Now Know about Chinese New Year

taiwan blossoms, taiwan hsinchu

Heading in to this adventure we knew nothing about Chinese New Year. We still don’t know enough but what we definitely know is how to party and eat our way through it. We had a blast with our new Taiwanese family and couldn’t have felt more accepted. We will never forget these wonderful 6 days or the friends we made throughout them.

Have you ever celebrated Chinese New Year? If so, comment below and let us know where and how! If not, where would you like to celebrate it if you could?

 

You can do it too!

Don’t be afraid to join in on something you know nothing about. Most people are happy and willing to teach you their ways. So keep an open mind and be willing to do anything.

You can visit our Taiwanese family too!

Taiwanese Auntie is always welcoming new people into her home and heart. If you’re in Hsinchu and you want to visit this lovely woman and her family, leave a comment below, and who knows, you could be teaching English at one of her schools or camping out on her lawn for a few nights.

 

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weekend travel inspiration

 

 

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A Guide to Taiwanese Food We Dared to Try

Taiwan is a veritable culinary playground. Street food, night markets, Taiwanese restaurants and cuisine from around the world are found in abundance and are almost always delicious. During our two months in Taiwan we came to realize one of the fundamentals of Taiwan culture is Taiwanese food. Sure, most countries find strong cultural roots in their food and the dishes unique to their homeland, but Taiwan seems to be a country that revolves around food, more than anything.

After that first traditional meal in Taiwan, where we had stinky tofu soup and chicken bums, we tried a whole host of different and new dishes and foods. Sure, we had our ‘go-to’ chain restaurants in Taiwan for when we got too hungry to think, but for the most part we were looking for new places to go and new food to try, like always.

Although we learned how to say and read some of the essential food words – beef, rice, noodles, chicken, pork, fish, etc – there were times we were unable to decipher a sign at a small restaurant we had our sights on, but we would sit down, make the gesture for ‘2’ and begin a fervent prayer that whatever was about to be placed in front of us was not one of the rare things we do not eat. The food was always good and they were always so happy to serve us. Sometimes, we even got a free special side dish that the cook wanted us to try.

Our culinary tour of Taiwan took us around the coast and with each new city we visited, a new local dish or treat was discovered. While there are a large number of Taiwanese dishes and foods to be covered, we’ve given a summary of most of those we tried, although there are quite a few, especially in those restaurants where no English was spoken, for which we have no name and have therefore not included.

Taiwanese Food, Nothing Short

Of A Culinary Playground

Beef Noodle Soup

One of the first Taiwanese dishes we tried, beef noodle soup is hearty, flavourful and very satisfying. The portions are usually large enough to constitute an entire meal and made with stewed or braised beef, beef broth, noodles and sometimes vegetables. Oftentimes, you’ll have the choice of beef soup without noodles, with noodles or the noodles and broth with no meat, at varying price points.

Taiwanese Beef rolls

Taiwanese beef rolls are one of our favourites and while we usually go for beef, you can also find pork rolls. Flaky, green onion (Taiwanese) pancakes are wrapped around tender pieces of braised beef, green onion and usually a savory sauce. You can see our later description of other ways of eating the Taiwanese pancakes. We first tried these in Tainan and they became a regular dish for us when we found them. Match this up with some millet congee, described below, and you’ll see a very happy smile on Carolann’s face.

Taiwanese food, beef-rolls

Braised or Minced Pork with Rice – Lu Rou Fan

Typically, pork belly is used for this common dish in which the pork is minced or braised, marinated and served over rice. We tried it several times while in Taiwan and while the flavours did vary, the meat was always tender and it was a hearty and filling dish.

Bubble Tea

We talked about our love of bubble tea in our post on our ‘go-to’ chains in Taiwan. For us, drinking bubble tea was pretty close to a daily event. After walking for hours, exploring the city or town we were visiting, we would grab a bubble tea as a reward and continue on. It was also a filling drink that would keep us, when we were starving, until we could find someplace to eat. While we prefer bubble milk tea, there are a wide variety of flavours (e.g. melon, oolong, etc) and there is usually the option of jellies and/or tapioca pearls (bubbles).

Taiwanese Dumplings

Pan fried, boiled, steamed, pot-stickers. If you’re really hungry and want to have a really cheap, but delicious, meal, dumplings would be your best bet. Search on Google for ‘8 way‘, its a great dumpling house chain that we’ve already talked about in our post on chains in Taiwan. Otherwise, you’ll find random dumpling houses as you go, usually with decent prices for these delicious mouthfuls.

Pot Stickers from Din Tai Fung - Taiwanese food

Pot Stickers from Din Tai Fung

Taiwnaese Dessert Soup

Never have we eaten so much of such a sweet and tasty dessert and felt like we were eating healthy. Before finding this soup, we found the desserts in Taiwan to be rarely sweet. The dessert soups we found in Taiwan were absolutely delicious and we were sad we didn’t discover them until the second month we were in Taiwan. Typically, a sweetened base – clear broth or peanut soup (as Macrae would generally prefer) – is boiled along with various ingredients of your choice – beans, barley, fungi, peas, seeds, tapioca pearls, jellies, dried fruit, and the list goes on. It’s a pretty hearty dessert that satisfies the sweet tooth and lets you feel like you’re making a healthy choice….whether it’s true or not!

Fried Chicken Cutlet

Our first experience with this deep-fried deliciousness (fried chicken cutlet) was at the Shilin Night Market. Long lines of people seemed to be growing from every vendor serving it and we decided we just had to wait for our chance as well. It was well worth it. We tried it at a few other night markets and street vendors, and while they were all good, they never seemed to match that first cutlet, with its perfect seasoning, crispy breading and tender meat.

Fried Whole Squid

One of our favourite night market foods, these whole squids are often chopped up after being deep fried and were the best tasting calamari we have ever had. Although you can find deep fried squid at most night markets, chopped or served on a stick, we found one stand in particular, at the Tonghua Night Market, and revisited when we were in the area – we may have also made an hour long walk, there and back, just to have another. Seasoned well and served with your choice of several sauces, we always picked the sweet Thai chili sauce and enjoyed every last bite.

Taiwanese Fried or Grilled Stinky Tofu

Our first encounter with stinky tofu was last summer, back home in Toronto when we attended the Asian festival. We had no idea why we kept smelling sewage. We finally discovered that it wasn’t sewage at all, but stinky tofu. At that time, we didn’t dare order it. Fast forward 6 months. We knew next to nothing about Taiwan when we arrived other than how they loved night markets. One of our first nights there,we headed out to one of these lovely markets and there was that smell again. We knew right away it was stinky tofu. “How could someone eat this?” we asked ourselves when we found out it is tofu soaked in fish brine (along with a bunch of other things) for days, weeks or even months! After making some Taiwanese friends however, we finally tried this special delicacy and learned how it was made. At first, it wasn’t our favourite but after a few times, Macrae started to love it. He says its perfect when it’s cooked right and with a dab of hot sauce. Carolann’s not so convinced.

Taiwnaese foor - stinky tofu getting deep fried

 

Taiwanese food - stinky tofu

Taiwanese love their stinky tofu a lot…and we mean a lot! We weren’t so surprised to see it (and smell it) cooked in all sorts of different ways. Fried is probably the most popular choice but coming up in a close second is grilled. Usually grilled with a sweet sauce, it’s a bit less stinky than the fried version. If you want to try stinky tofu, we would recommend the grilled one for a first timer.

Gua Bao – Taiwan burger

Carolann, being the burger aficionado she thinks she is, is always on the lookout for a good burger, so when we heard of “Taiwanese burgers” we were immediately intrigued. The typical Gua Bao is a steamed bun closed over braised pork belly and accompaniments. We happened across a restaurant advertising “Taiwanese Burgers” and found chicken, pork and fish options. They aren’t our number one choice for burger-like food but in Taiwan, where a good burger is harder to find then in Southeast Asia, we took what we could get!

Taiwanese Medicine Soup

We were introduced to this healthy soup a few times. All we know is that is consists of beans, lentils and a random assortment of other unknown items, and Taiwanese people believe it to have a great health benefit. We don’t know the actual name or precisely what is in it, but it was good for something purportedly having high medicinal value. You’ll be able to find it in many restaurants, including many dumpling houses, throughout the country.

Millet Congee

Millet congee is possibly one of Carolann’s favourite breakfast (well, really anytime) dishes. While the first thing we thought of when we heard congee was what we recognized as the Chinese, often savory, dish of rice porridge – although there are versions of the same in Korea and Japan – there was more than just that type in Taiwan. The millet congee we were eating in Taiwan was made with thin millet grain porridge that is sweetened. We’d often find it served free at various Taiwanese restaurants, especially those dumpling houses we keep mentioning.

Mochi

mochi-ice-cream-617732_1280

Mochi is a rice based treat originating in Japan, made with a glutinous rice. Called môa-chî (麻糬 or 糬) in Taiwan. Mochi is made by soaking rice overnight and then pounding the cooked rice with wooden mallets in a mortar. It takes two people, one pounding and the other turning the mochi, keeping a steady rhythm without hurting each other with the mallet. Then the mochi is formed into all different kinds of shapes, usually a rectangle and different flavors are added like green tea and peanuts. The most traditional are filled with bean paste and rolled in peanut powder.

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Peanut Snack/Taiwanese Pudding

A delicious snack involving tofu pudding in a peanut broth with peanuts. If you enjoy peanuts then you can grab one of these bad boys in any night market around.

Pigs blood rice cake

You’ll be surprised in how much you’ll enjoy pigs blood rice cakes. these are deep fried cubes of coagulated blood… but don’t let that turn you off. With a crispy outside and a chewy center, it is a delicious savory treat. Everything tastes better deep fried, doesn’t it?. Take it from us and just try it.

Pineapple cake

Pineapple cake, a dessert usually made into squares with a pineapple filing. You can find boxes of these sweet cakes in stores and throughout Taiwan as well as specialty stores that only sell pineapple cakes and pineapple products. The stores always have samples out to try and it’s the best way to get the best brands. We were told that pineapple cakes are a great gift to give to someone during Chinese new years as the meaning of a pineapple in Taiwanese culture is wealth, luck and excellent fortune.

Shrimp Fritters – With Icing and Sprinkles

Yep, you read correctly. Funny enough, the icing and shrimp part wasn’t what got us thinking. It was the sprinkles. We’re not too sure why many places include sprinkles on this dish but nonetheless, colourful sprinkles generally adorn the plate. We found the dish surprisingly delicious! It’s really more of a sweet mayo/icing that’s used and it works well with the fried batter coating the shrimp.

Soup Dumplings – Xiao Long Bao

Soup dumplings (Xiaolongbao) are something you must try in Taiwan. They are dumplings but there is also a soup broth inside, which is a nice tasty touch. The most famous place around is Din Tai fung, a Michelin star restaurant that wont hurt your wallet. They even have guides on how to eat these dumplings – put them in your spoon, break a hole with your chopstick to let the soup out (it’s pretty hot in there!) add the ginger, soy, or other accompaniments, and then, enjoy!

Taiwanese food - soup dumplings from Din Tai Fung

Workers making dumplings at Din tai Fung in Taiwan

Workers making dumplings at Din tai Fung

Taiwanese Spicy Tofu soup with Duck Blood

Our first experiences with stinky tofu was in a soup. Our second? Also in a soup, but this time with duck blood. We were asked by our host, what Taiwanese food we’ve tried so far, and our answer was “not much” (which you should never tell a Taiwanese person because they will cook or buy everything that they think you should try – and usually it’ll be the strange things they think you’d never dare). By dinnertime, his father had a feast out on the table that included not only stinky tofu, but stinky tofu and duck blood soup. Coagulated duck blood to be exact. The same consistency of jello, it was surprisingly pretty good! If you can get past the fact of what is actually in the soup, you might enjoy it.

Taiwaneese food - stinky tofu and duckblood soup

Taiwanese Suncakes

Originally from the city of Taichung, these round cakes are a flaky pastry of different flavours, including milk and honey – two flavours we tried, and loved. We saw many suncake shops all around Taichung and they always seemed to be busy with boxes of the popular pastries flowing out the doors.

Sweet Potato

It may sound like an odd dish to put on a list of Taiwanese food, especially since sweet potato is fairly common in quite a few places, but it seems like in Taiwan, sweet potatoes are a staple. Baking in convenience stores, barbecued by street vendors and served almost everywhere, we found these, yellow-centred, sweet potatoes to be sweeter and more flavourful than their counterparts back home and involved in quite a few more dishes – from breakfast to dessert.

Sweet Potato & Taro Cubes – ‘QQ’ – YuYuan

QQ describes a particular texture and, as we were told, was developed mainly as a promotional word. Basically, anything with the jelly-like chewiness of, well jellies, as well as mochi, or the like, is considered ‘QQ‘. We first heard this word when referencing colourful squares sold at the Jiufen night market (and other markets as well). These cubes of taro or sweet potato have the distinctive ‘QQ’ texture and are a tasty treat. If you’re in Taiwan, be sure to find a way to use the term ‘QQ’ when speaking to a Taiwanese person – you’ll probably make them laugh or, at the very least, give you a big smile.

Taiwanese Hot Dog

Like the Taiwanese burger, this is not what you would come to expect from a hot dog. Sure, there’s a grilled pork sausage involved, but instead of a fluffy hot dog bun, the sausage is wedged in a grilled sticky rice sausage. We can’t say we ordered this more than once, but it was worth a try and judging by the lines at most of these stalls, it’s a popular street food!

Taiwanese Savory Pancakes – Dan Bing

Taiwanese food - Savory Pancakes - Dan Bing

These savory pancakes are made with dough (rather than batter) and green onions and, when cooked, become flaky and delicious. We’ve seen them filled with a variety of different things, like the beef rolls we mentioned, but we saw many street vendors cooking them with a scallion omelette and a delicious sauce. No matter the filling, these pancakes are a must-try!

 

Disclaimer: We tried our best to record Mandarin names when possible.. Should we have misspelled or misnamed any of the dishes, please let us know so we can make the corrections.

 

Do you have a favourite dish from a visit to Taiwan not listed above? Comment below

and let us know!

Or let us know which of these dishes you would, and wouldn’t, try!

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The Number One Thing to Know About Taiwan

Okay, so it may not be the number one thing you need to know, but we feel it’s a pretty good thing to find out about before you get there!

When we first got to Taipei, we endeavoured to meet new people and really get a sense of Taiwan – the food, the culture, the hidden local secrets – and we did meet quite a few people in the first week who showed us around, pointed us in the direction of restaurants with amazing food and told us about some local hot-spots. But no one ever mentioned a lottery. The second week in Taipei we met up with a couple from the US who had been teaching English in Taiwan but had decided they would head back home after travelling a bit. We were fortunate enough to catch them on their last day in Taiwan and they invited us along on a hike. What we didn’t know is that they would provide us with the one piece of information that we (or at least Carolann) think should have been the first thing anyone told us upon arrival in Taiwan:

There’s a lottery in Taiwan… and it’s free!

BUT you have to save your receipts!! We discovered that each receipt issued contains a set of numbers at the top which are part of a country-wide lottery. The number is valid for the months also listed on the receipt and the draws occur for every two-month time frame. So, for us, the receipts we collected while there in January and February are all part of the same lottery with the numbers to be chosen on the 25th of the following month – March.

Known as the Uniform Invoice Award this bi-monthly lottery was put into place to encourage establishments to register with the government and make legal tax claims. It is an incentive for the customers to shop and dine at places that provide these receipts and thus an incentive for these establishments to register. After all, those 8-digits on the top of each receipt can win you up to 10 million NT (approximately $400,000CDN ) so it’s definitely motivation to frequent establishments that issue these “legal” receipts. Fortunate for us, foreigners are able to participate as well!

This might explain why most tellers are persistent, and consistent, in giving you your receipt.

We would estimate that around 85% of the places we ate or shopped at issued the receipts. In total, excluding the first week we were in Taipei (we threw away receipts because we didn’t know) we collected 167 of them.

That’s 167 lottery tickets for buying things we needed anyway! And that doesn’t include our receipts for our time spent in March.

How The Uniform Invoice Lottery Works

Taiwan lottery receipt

In total, 5 numbers are drawn. One 8-digit special prize draw for 10 million NT, one 8-digit grand prize draw for 2 million NT (about $80,000CDN), and three 8-digit numbers for the remainder of the prizes. For the three remaining 8-digit numbers you need to match the last 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8 digits to claim a prize from 200NT (about $8CDN) to 200,000 NT (about $8000 CDN).

There are also three 3-digit bonus numbers and if you match these to the last three digits of any of your receipts, you win 200NT. It’s a bit confusing but once you have your receipts and see the outline of the prizes, it becomes much clearer.

The only downside for us was having to collect and carry all of the receipts wherever we went. We even had to bring them to Japan as the draw was not held until recently and we will now be carrying our March receipts until May 25 when the next draw is held.

So, you may be asking, did we win? We did win 200NT but it would need to have been a hefty sum for us to go back to Taiwan to claim the prize! It was still fun to hope for more, and hey, there’s still the lottery tickets – er receipts – from March!!

 

You Can Do It Too!

It may seem a bit daunting to have to go through so many numbers to check if you’ve won but it really isn’t so bad. You just have to start by checking the last three digits of your receipts and work backwards from there. 

 For example, the three main 8-digit numbers for Jan and Feb were 63856949, 39459262, and 61944942. Matching the last three digits – 949, 262 or 942 – would win you 200NT; matching the last four digits – 6949, 9262 and 4942 – will win you 1000NT and so on. 

If you’re looking to collect receipts, you’ll want to be aware of which places issue these “legal receipts” and collect them as you go.

Winning numbers will be posted on the Ministry of Finance, ROC, website on the 25th day of every odd numbered month. The draw is for the previous two months receipts and each receipt contains the lottery number as well as the months for which the number is valid (e.g. 01-02) for your reference.

Tip: We created an Excel spreadsheet with all the receipt numbers we got as we went along and kept the receipts bundled together. We were then able to simply search for each of the prize numbers (last three digits first) to see if they matched any of ours. We’ve set one up for our March receipts as well. It may take away from the fun of checking each receipt, but we really don’t have the time to do so and, as long as we typed the numbers in correctly, we’ve created a quick check for any winning receipts.

 

What do you think of the lottery? Comment below and let us know! Is this something more countries should implement to increase legal taxing and accurate tax claims?

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When Hunger Strikes – Taiwan Edition

5 Chains To Count On in Taiwan

So, you’ve landed in a new country and are still trying to learn the ropes. It can be tough figuring out where and what to eat, how to order (especially in places where you no little to none of the language), and how much things should cost. During the first little while, we always anticipate that we will spend more, get hungry more often and take more time to find places for food and drink.

While we typically enjoy finding local culinary treasures and trying new food we also enjoy finding our ‘go-to’ places that we either label our favourite or have on standby in case of an urgent hunger pang – we tend to get distracted while travelling and only notice when we are too hungry to think.

Our word for the times we get so hungry we become moody and angry? Hangry. And we use the ‘go-to’ places we find as a way to quash the hanger as soon as possible.

We usually identify at least one place in each city and town we visit but it can take time to find and is not always in the most convenient of locations.  In Taiwan however, there are 5 such places that we frequent when needed, or when the craving strikes, and we have found each one of each of those in almost every city we have visited.

If you are headed to Taiwan and want to be able to find a few reliable chains to tide you over while you look for your own favourite places or local flavours, here’s a list that will guide you through!

50 Bubble Tea

50 bubble tea logo taiwan

One of THE most famous  authentic Taiwanese drink is the bubble tea. Originating in Taichung in the ’80s, this beverage has found it’s place in pretty much every city and town in the country with a seemingly unending number of shops.  This beverage is made with either milk tea, a fruit or herbal based tea and contains balls (sometimes called pearls or bubbles) of tapioca at the bottom which are sucked up through the straw while drinking. We read somewhere that as of 2013, there were over 16,000 stores selling bubble tea! We’re positive that number has increased since but we definitely aren’t complaining.

50 bubble tea taiwan

While it may not be the healthiest of choices, we often order a bubble milk tea or ‘zhen zhu nai cha’ but figure since we ask for it with half sugar and fresh milk and walk most of the day it probably balances out, right? Since we look for our fix of bubble tea almost daily, we’ve managed to try quite a few different brands.

What we settled on as our favourite is 50 Bubble Tea. Their yellow and blue sign brings a smile to our faces whenever we see it in the distance and almost inevitably beckons us to the counter. We’ve found a 50 in pretty much every city we’ve visited, from Hsinchu County to Tainan, from Kaoshiung to Kenting and up through Hualien and the east coast.

Since we find drinking a bubble tea staves off intense hunger until we can find a restaurant, we occasionally stop for a bubble tea at another shop if we need, but our preference, and a reliable source of our bubble milk tea, is 50.

85°C Bakery Café

85 degree cafe taiwan

While bubble tea shops are abundant, don’t think that you won’t be able to find a cup of coffee while in Taiwan. These shops are numerous as well and many chains can be frequently seen while travelling through Taipei or the whole of Taiwan. We found however, that 85°C Bakery Cafe was one of the most reliable of coffee shops throughout the country with pretty good beverages including a sea salt coffee that, despite sounding circumspect, is actually tasty. While the style of the shops differ – from indoor seating, outlets and WiFi to outdoor seating only, the reasonably priced menu allows you to get that caffeine fix almost everywhere you go.

85 degree coffee sea salt

First opening in Taipei, 85 Bakery Café can now be found in China, Australia, Hong Kong and the U.S.A. and while we’ve yet to try one of their delicious looking cakes or breads, the option is always there if our hunger gets the best of us!

8 Way Dumplings / 八方雲集

8-way dumpling house taiwan

We were told about this chain of dumpling houses, 8 Way in English, by friends we made from MovingMeowtains and we visited this restaurant all along the coast of Taiwan as we travelled and inevitably found ourselves hungry and looking for a quick bite.  Easy to pick out by it’s yellow and red sign, 8-way is one of our ‘go-to’ restaurants for three reasons: 1. they serve some really good potstickers with several flavours 2. it’s cheap and 3. there are many locations.

This dumpling house has more than just potstickers and dumplings and often times the types of other dishes, such as their soups, differ depending on which location you are visiting.  We like it when we find something new on a menu to try. While we don’t eat at 8-way too regularly, we definitely keep it in mind wherever we go in Taiwan and usually know where we can find the nearest one – in case one of us becomes hangry!

If you are looking to find an 8-way, be aware that it is known in Taiwan by it’s Chinese name and asking directions to ‘8-way’ will probably not be fruitful. Fortunately, simply doing a google map search for ‘8 way’ will provide you with most of the locations in your area.

Sushi Express

sushi express logo

You only need to be in Taiwan for a short while before you notice the influence of Japanese culture on the country as a whole.  Though Japanese rule in Taiwan lasted only 50 years, a lasting effect of that time can be seen on the transportation systems, urban development and the culture itself, extending to an obvious love of Japanese food judging by the number of Japanese and sushi restaurants. Among those is the popular chain Sushi Express.

sushi express taiwan conveyor belt

Like the conveyor belt sushi restaurants of Japan, Sushi Express delivers plates of food on a circulating conveyor belt. At only 30NT (roughly 1 USD) per dish (1 dish = 2 pcs of sushi or rolls, 3 pcs sashimi, or a plate of one of their sides) it offers an affordable meal with fresh fish and enjoyable dishes with all you can drink green tea. Sushi Express is also readily found around the country. When we are just too hungry to look around or are craving some sushi, as often happens, we head to Sushi Express for an enjoyable and filling meal.

7-Eleven

7-eleven sign taiwan

Alright, we know how this sounds, especially to those of us who grew up with the 7-Eleven as a place to get junk food and a Slurpie, but this is actually a good option for finding some food when hunger strikes at inconvenient times.  Yes, it’s true that there are usually several rows of delicious – err junk – food, and that we’re not sure whether or not the refrigerated meals section (they heat them up for you) with noodle and rice dishes are good for you, they also have a variety of fruit and veggie cups, salads, fresh made soups, steamed pork buns, and boiled eggs, amongst other options. They will also make you feel like you’re eating at a restaurant as most have a café area with tables and chairs or counters with chairs along the windows.

7-eleven food

The great thing about the 7-Eleven in Taiwan is the sheer number of them. To try and explain how easy it is to find a 7-eleven, you can imagine it like this: all you have to do is stand at the entrance to one of the 7-elevens in the country. Look to your left and you’ll probably see another 7-Eleven sign, look to your right, there’s another – no exaggeration, especially in the larger cities.

Whether you’re looking for a quick snack, hungry during the night, or really just enjoy those prepared salads like we do, the 7-Eleven is an unexpected, but constant, chain you can count on to find food in Taiwan.

Chains vs. Local Shops

We did pause for a moment when we decided to write this post. We love to write about traditional foods and local customs. We are big advocates of finding local restaurants and cuisine and immersing oneself in the culture and community, however we also have realized that things such as chain restaurants are also a part of the country and the cultures we visit. We’ve come to the understanding that whether we’re sitting down at Sushi Express or that small restaurant with two tables and some stools and no menu in sight, we are still amongst the local people and are still allowing ourselves to be a part of the culture.

 

Comment below and let us know which ‘go-to’ restaurant you’d make your way to first if you were visiting Taiwan!

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An Introduction To Taiwanese Food: Chicken Bums & Stinky Tofu

One thing we’ve discovered while travelling is that the CouchSurfing website is an amazing way to meet people who, well, just want to meet people! Regardless of whether you are staying at their house, many in the CouchSurfing community are open to getting together for a meal or for showing you the sights around their hometown.

It’s an amazing way to make friends, learn about a city and a country and hopefully provide a good friend in return and often, an opportunity for practicing English. So far we’ve made several friends through CouchSurfing, even though we’ve only been guests at a few houses thus far.

Our first week in Taipei had us meeting with a Taiwan native, Ken, and a couple of his friends. After meeting up for coffee we all decided to grab something to eat. The three of them were determined to take us for some traditional Taiwanese food. We settled on a popular and quite busy restaurant with absolutely no visible English.

couchsurfing friends taiwanese traditional food

We let them choose the dishes and order, although they did consult us before ordering a few of the dishes to make sure we could eat certain foods. We generally have no reservations when it comes to trying food so we told them to order away!

We were incredibly excited to be shown Taiwanese cuisine from those who would know best and thus, we had our first official introduction to traditional Taiwanese food. After the meal, we spent the next few months in food heaven trying what we could in an attempt to make our way through as many Taiwanese food options as possible. We even put together a list of the food we tried as a guide to Taiwanese food!

1. Fried Chicken Bums

fried chicken butt taiwan

Don’t be surprised if you hear them called chicken asses as it appears to be the translation used most often. Since that night, we’ve read and heard some comments about it being an odd thing to eat. To be honest, we didn’t really think too much of it. We eat most parts of the chicken in North America and the butt is really just the extension of the thigh on the chicken but it does take a lot to make either one of us to consider a food disgusting, or inedible, before we’ve tried it.

Having said that, even one of our Taiwanese friends thought the dish to be unappetizing. It is a common food to find at night markets and food vendors around Taiwan. Ours were fried and seasoned nicely and served with green beans. It was one of our favourite dishes of the night and definitely something we look forward to having again.

2. Stinky Tofu Spicy Soup

spicy stinky tofu soup taiwan

You can smell it from quite a distance and once you have, the smell won’t soon leave you. It has a way of clinging to your olfactory receptors and holding on for dear life despite how desperately you work to rid yourself of it. A combination of rotting, cooking garbage, body odour and soured milk, it’s putrid scent becomes easily recognizable as you walk by a stall amongst the markets and vendors of Taiwan. That, in a nut shell, is the reason why it is called stinky tofu, or Chou Doufu.

You can easily find fried stinky tofu at any night market as well as many street stalls and restaurants.. The stinky tofu spicy soup is something we first saw at the restaurant that night but have since seen around town, albeit less frequently than it’s fried counterpart. As we mentioned, both of us generally save our criticism of food until after we’ve tried it, no matter the description or type of food we are eating. Stinky tofu, though, had us both pausing.

We were told that traditionally, this dish is made by soaking the tofu pieces in a brine made from fermented milk, vegetables, such as cabbage, and meat. It can also include shrimp, fish, herbs and pretty much whatever else the cook decides to use. The brine is left to the fermentaton process for days, weeks or as long as several months, which explains both the smell, and our hesitation to eat it.

Our Taiwanese friends tried it first and told us that we would be fine as it “wasn’t stinky enough”. Apparently, the stronger the smell, the better the taste. It ended up being different than we expected, probably in large part because of the spicy soup that downplayed the, ‘not-so-stinky’ tofu pieces. Since, we’ve grown pretty accustomed to the smell and it has become far less offensive to us. We’ve even ordered eaten stinky tofu on several additional occasions, in various different ways, and enjoyed it!

3. Pig Intestine

 

Fried pig intestine, or chitterlings, is actually a common dish in many countries throughout Europe and Asia but was not something we had previously tried. We were served narrow pieces of fried pig intestine, sliced down the middle. The casing was crispy while the inside was tender and although seasoned, it was not included with any additional sauces as is often the case (or in a soup as it can be served as well). Carolann felt the taste to be strong and overpowering and left this dish for the others in favour of the chicken butts but Macrae enjoyed the dish and helped the others finish it off.

4. 3-cup Chicken – San Bei Ji

3 cup chicken taiwan

3-cup chicken is a popular Taiwanese dish that gets it’s name through the recipe which involves mixing a cup each of three different sauces: soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil. Tender chunks of chicken (typically bone-in) and veggies filled this dish that was savory but with a touch of sweet. You could definitely pick out the flavour of the garlic also used to complement the sauces. We ate this over cooked rice and it was absolutely delicious and one of our favourite dishes of the evening!

5. Water Spinach/Morning Glory – Kong Xin Cai

 

We ate a lot of morning glory in Thailand and thoroughly enjoy the vegetable, so we were pleasantly surprised when it showed up on the table as one of our vegetable dishes. The Taiwanese version was quite similar to what we had tasted in the past but had slightly more flavour to it and definitely more chunks of garlic. It was great and apparently a common veggie here in Taiwan.

6. Radish Omelette – Cai Fu Dan

radish omelette taiwan

We’ve discovered a common ingredient used here in Taiwan – radish. Although the radish omelette was our first encounter with it in the country, we’ve since eaten our fair share of radish-containing meals and enjoyed every one. This omelette was delicious and is actually a quite simple traditional recipe – basically it is exactly what it’s name would suggest an omelette made with dried radish (and also green onions) – and this one was quite flavourful with garlic and other seasoning added.

 

Since that first meal, we’ve tasted an ever-increasing number of Taiwanese dishes and foods and have had an amazing culinary experience. Stay tuned for a follow-up on Taiwanese food and traditional meals we’ve had while touring around the country and its many night markets… you won’t want to miss hearing about some of these seemingly bizarre foods!!

 

Disclaimer: We tried our best to write down, ask and record the names, in Mandarin, of the dishes we ate. Should we have misspelled or misnamed any of the dishes, please let us know so we can make the corrections. We hope to get some complex dish names down before we leave Taiwan but so far we’ve just got the essential food names down!

Have you ever tried any of these dishes? What did you think? If not, would you try any and if so, which ones? Comment below and let us know!

 

 

 

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Why We Missed Our Flight To Vietnam

Carry on suitcases backpacks

From Vietnam to Taiwan

“Why don’t we just NOT get on our connecting flight and stay in Taiwan?” That was the question that lead us both here, to Tiapei, Taiwan and a completely different travel schedule from what we had planned when we left southeast Asia and headed home to Canada for Christmas.

With our ticket to Vietnam already booked, we didn’t give much thought into changing our schedule. Sure, we realized a little too late that it was probably not the best country for us to head into next. While we both want to get there eventually, there are certain key factors that made it unsuitable for travel right now.

For one, our budget would have to include travel visas which we were going to purchase while in Canada and would allow us up to 3 months. Depending on the current stamping fees in Vietnam, the total cost would have been a minimum of $175 CDN for the both of us. In addition to this, we read in one report that Vietnam is rated second worst for internet connectivity…in Asia! Having left Malaysia, ranked fifth-worst, before Christmas and suffering some pretty brutal periods of poor to no internet connection we decided that if we were going to pick up our post frequency, develop some online initiatives and prevent any more grey hairs from growing, we’d better think carefully about whether it would be a smart decision to head to Vietnam at this point in time.

Added to the poor internet connection, a country-wide ban on many websites, including Facebook, Twitter and many US email providers would force us to use backdoor methods that frankly, we just don’t know very much about. We would run the risk of continued periods of downtime and while there are ways around these problems, and many digital nomads have survived before us, we were not ready to test our problem solving skills and patience.

How We Decided on Taiwan

Streets of Taipei Taiwan downtown city

We started looking for cheap flights from Vietnam to other countries nearby and figured we’d just take another flight right after we landed. That’s when we realized we already had a flight, bought and paid for, to Taiwan. As it was our layover destination we started thinking about whether we could just stay. Just get off the plane in Taipei and keep walking. As our decision to NOT stay in Vietnam hinged on some important factors, so did our decision about whether we would stay in Taiwan or not.

It came down to these four points:

1. As Canadians we are able to get a 90 day landing visa, free of charge. We are able to remain in the country and explore it to our hearts content without paying for a tourist visa.  If you are interested in travelling to Taiwan, be sure to check if your country of residence has visa-exempt for entry into Taiwan.

2. In the same report that ranked Vietnam’s internet as next to last, Taiwan’s internet was ranked higher than even the US – and so far so good. In Taiwan we have been using the Magic Jack app without any issue unlike our attempts in Thailand and Malaysia. This time around the reception is clear and we aren’t attempting ridiculous positions in order to get, and maintain, reception. We started to feel as though our bodies were being contorted like the rabbit ears on old TVs!

traditional taiwanese cuisine taiwan food

3. After a quick bit of research we learned that prices are reasonable and the food is good! If you’ve read some of our other posts on the site or seen our One Modern Couple Facebook profile, you’ve probably noticed that we base a large number of our decisions on food, particularly our endeavours to find good food. Hearing that Taiwan has good food was just one more check mark in the pros column and over the past few days here in Taipei we’ve found some pretty great Taiwanese food and are excited to keep exploring the culinary landscape of the country.

4. Taiwan is located in northeastern Asia and as the flight was 16 hours from Toronto to Taipei, chances are we wouldn’t be in the area again for a while since we plan to keep heading west. We figured we might as well take advantage of the location and visit some of the countries in the area before we head back to southeast Asia and then, hopefully, onward to Europe. It helped to read more about the country from one of our fellow blogging couples – MyTanFeet – and it gave us some added encouragement to finalize our decision.

What It Took To NOT Board A Flight

streets of Taipei Taiwan city

You’d think it would be fairly simple to just forgo getting on a flight that has been booked. While it’s not incredibly complicated, there were a few things that were unexpected.  For one, it took several phone calls to our airline’s Toronto and L.A. branches in order to confirm that there was no way we could change the second flight to another location and date for a fee.  Since our flights were “married”, they came as one package and one price from Toronto to Ho Chi Minh. We then confirmed that all we would need to do was to inform the ticket kiosk that we were not getting on the second flight (no need to worry about tagging the baggage correctly as we are only travelling with carry-ons).

Taipei tower taiwan 101 building

This is where things got a bit complicated. Once at the airport, we informed them we did not need a second boarding pass as we would be staying in Taiwan and not entering Vietnam. After consulting with his superior for a lengthy period of time, and giving us some odd looks, the attendant at the counter told us we would need to do three things:

1. Provide them with the number of days we planned to spend in Taiwan as we did not have a return ticket through them – we did purchase an exit ticket out of Taiwan before we left and were able to give them all the information

2. Pay the airport taxes for Taipei – this ended up being an additional $11CDN per person and was paid directly at the check-in counter. After the large amount of airport taxes already paid on the flight for Toronto and Vietnam, Macrae had a hard time digesting this fee – even though it was only $22

taipei taiwan downtown streets in the city

3. As they were unable to do anything more than leave a note explaining our circumstance, we were told we had to call the airlines once we reached Taipei to explain to them that we were not getting on the second plane. This ended up being unnecessary as, when we reached Taipei, a stewardess for our next flight was waiting for us and we explained the situation to her.

Upon landing, we had no trouble getting through immigration, getting our 90-day visa stamped (after providing our total planned days in the country) and finding our way to the bus terminal to take us into the city.

 So, What Do We Think Of Our Choice?

101 Building Love Sign Taipei Taiwan

We can’t believe how glad we are that we decided to change our plans. We’re sure we will love Vietnam when we do get there but we are absolutely in love with Taiwan, the people and the culture and would’ve missed an amazing experience had we not thought to be slightly spontaneous and jump into our sudden change of plans with both feet.

 

You Can Do It Too

Sometimes all you have to do is step outside the box and the plans that have been made and the possibilities present themselves. It’s very easy for us to get stuck on our schedule and plans and forget that things are rarely ever set in stone. The change in plans and flights didn’t cost us anything and the price of the ticket would have been the same had we had bought a direct flight to Taipei instead (fortunately, the flight was purchased using points so it was an even bigger non-issue). The only thing that changed was our mindset. We knew earlier on that Vietnam was not the best option for us but the ticket had been purchased months prior and we didn’t delve any further into our options. Once we realized that we had a choice and that our future plans were ours to dictate, we started thinking outside the box and ended up making a deviation to our plans that has turned out to be for the better.

Opening yourself up to different opportunities doesn’t just apply to travel. Sometimes stepping away from a situation and your fears and looking at what is possible will present you with a new and exciting option that may end up being better than your original plan. Don’t be afraid to seize a new opportunity or forge a new path!

If your change does involve travel and you are looking to make a flight change or destination alteration there are several factors to take into account.

  1. If you are simply doing what we are doing and NOT taking a connecting flight, you may want to check with your airline carrier to see if you can change the second flight for another date and time OR get an open (any date, any time) ticket for a small fee.
  2. If they don’t and you are just forfeiting the second flight, make sure to notify the check-in counter in the event there are extra airport taxes to be paid as it may cause some complications at your new destination. Having knowledge about the entry requirements is always important wherever you go as many places require a return ticket or exit ticket and some places require a visa purchased in advance. (As an aside, we are still not sure why our airline didn’t happily accept our change of plans over the phone and use the opportunity to re-sell the ticket)
  3.  If you’ve purchased your ticket through a third-party agency or points redemption service, you may want to give them a call first to see if they can provide any support or mediation with the airlines

 Have you ever forged a new path or made a huge change in your plans? Was it difficult to do and did it pay off?