Tales from the road: the cuisine of Taipei
This occurred years ago. My first trip to Taipei (before even the hello-kitty one). As is customary for bleary-eyed travellers who have just touched down from far away, one is forced to go out for a big heavy formal dinner more or less instantly. Your body says sleep or breakfast, the customer says let’s eat big.
Now, one thing I have noticed, no matter where you go, they always associate some other food as exotic, and want to take you there. Go to Mexico? Someone wants to take you for Thai. Go to Germany? Someone wants to take you for Italian.
So I politely suggest that, hey, I’m in Taipei, lets go for (not tapas, you thought I would say that!) but local. So we do. ~10 of us sit down at this big round table, chit chat, I consider whether toothpicks to hold my eyes open is acceptable.
Our host orders a round of what turns out to be cuttlefish. They are steamed and about the size of an avocado. He turns and asks if I I know what cuttlefish are, I respond yes, some weird classmate of mine in University used to bring dried cuttlefish snacks in a box that looked just like Sugar Puffs the cereal and tasted a bit fishy. They had a photo, but no other Engrish.
So, cuttlefish arrives, everyone pops one in their mouth, all in one. So I do. Its not bad. In unison they all make this sort of spitting motion and the host confides in me “You don’t eat the eyes”. I’m like, are they poison? Will I die? I cannot fish out cuttlefish eyes with my tongue from what I’m chewing, I missed that etiquette class. Then they make this fingers to mouth pulling motion. “You don’t eat the ink sac either” he says. Great. Probably I’ll die.
I live. The next ~10 days every single day we go out for dumplings. They are (ok, you thought I would say delicious. They are merely ok). On the last day the host says in this heavy accent “I did not think you americans (ha!) liked zee organ meat”. Double great. What have I been eating? Organs of what?
On some of these days we pass these pizza places that are common there, “Canadian Pizza”. He remarks we must have thousands of them. I’ve never heard of this (local to taiwan) place. I can only assume they have pineapple on the pizza.
We then go out the last night and walk through a ‘night market’. This is a big thing in asia, sort of like a street carnival of crap to buy. He is talking big about this local delicacy, you can only get it in taipei. We get one. Its a donut. Not even a complex donut, your plain old-fashioned. He looks disappointed when I politely say that, although we don’t have Canadian Pizza places, we do have this small regional thing called Tim Horton’s, one or two of them, and, that I’m pretty sure they can also make donuts.
So… I ask you, bleary eyed and jetlagged, thrust into a social setting, and given a plate of whole cuttlefish like the photo above. Do you think after a few chomps you could pick out the eyes?