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Finding Great Food in Taipei

January 2017, Taipei, Taiwan

I was watching Anthony Bourdain on cable one night and he was bemoaning the fact that he spent $1800 on a dinner at a fancy sushi restaurant in New York City.  When I was in the city in 2006 attending a culinary school, two of my friends and I went to Per Se.  The restaurant is owned by Thomas Keller, a famous chef from California and who owns French Laundry in Napa Valley.  My friend sweet talked the reservation staff into getting us in the following week — a feat impossible to do unless you were a celebrity.  Well, it turned out that the reason we got a reservation was that most of staff came from our culinary school.  Belonging to that special fraternity even got us a tour of the restaurant kitchen after our meal and delicious macarons to take home.   I ended up spending $240 for a chef’s tasting menu and one glass of white wine.  I did feel guilty about spending that much money but over a thousand for a meal — I don’t think so!

I love travelling on a budget.  My trip to Taipei in January 2017, for example,  was typical of how I plan my travels.  I spent around $100 on a round-trip fare from Manila to Taipei (through AirAsia); about $51 a day for a nice and clean two-bedroom condo (Airbnb) and approximately $20 for a 5-day train card.  And the food!   My friend and I never spent more than $10 each for a meal and we ate well.  My entire Taipei trip cost less than 1/2 the cost of Anthony’s meal.

We also found out that night markets had great selection but getting close to the stalls could be quite difficult.  At these markets, you would be literally shoulder-to-shoulder  with strangers that even making a step forward could be impossible.  Instead we decided to check out the back alleys of Taipei after several hours of exploring the city’s great architecture.  One caveat:  those little restaurants were pretty strict about closing around 1 pm, no exceptions.  Another place we found was this restaurant, a few doors from the condo,  that was open late at night.  The meals were simple, delicious and cheap.

One place we loved was Maji Market.  We went there twice on our last weekend in Taipei.  They had a farmers’ market in front, cool re-configured food trucks and the permanent market, with dining area,  towards the back.  Each food booth probably measured no more than 6′ x 6′ but the vendors certainly were able to produce delicious food inside.  An Indian food booth even had a very small tandoori oven.  The naan was delicious and so were the tacos we bought from a couple from Mexico and Columbia.

Maji Market is behind the MRT station that takes you to the Confucius Temple.  We did not know about the market so our first trip in the area was  to the temple.  After exploring the temple, we walked across the street and there was Milk House, a bakery full of delicious confections.  I think we went crazy buying all kinds of pastries to take back to the condo.  On the opposite side of the bakery were these tiny restaurants and tea stores.  Our lunch was a shared bowl of sweet-and-sour soup and 6 pieces of pork dumplings.  The cost was $2 for the two of us.  We went back a few days later and bought bao zhi.  They are steamed buns similar to siopao in the Philippines and fried on the bottom.  Cost was less than $2 for 2 pieces.

Nelia Hostetter

Nel Hostetter was born in the Philippines and came to the United States in 1977. She spent over 20 years in the information technology field but left a management job in California in 2006 to go to culinary school in New York city. She owned Sweet Claire Bakery in downtown Bloomington for five years but moved her commercial kitchen to Spencer in 2015. She specializes in international bread and pastries and sells her baked goods at the Farmers’ Market in Bloomington. Nel’s recipes are influenced by her travels to other countries and a childhood filled with memories of food and cooking.

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