Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Fancy Lunch and a Visit to the Rustic Countryside of Tainan

On my second day in Taiwan, we woke up refreshed from the Hotel Cozzi and proceeded to eat.  Seriously, it was a nonstop day of food.

We had breakfast at the hotel (which was flooded with young families, each with a baby or two in tow).  I couldn't figure it out at first, but then I realized it was a long holiday weekend in Taiwan, plus, our hotel had an amazing full sized track playground, full of pint-sized electronic cars, for little tots to drive around.  It looked really fun, for both the kids and their parents.

After our breakfast and a few last lingering moments on my super comfortable bed, we checked out and proceeded to lunch at a restaurant in Tainan that prepares "executive food," or food that would be served to the president. Tainan is famous for its dried fruit and shrimp crackers, so it figures that these would be the first platters to arrive. 
 An amuse bouche of shrimp noodles with satay and pork sauce - yum!
Next, an appetizer platter of , in counterclockwise order, shrimp, cuttlefish balls, Chinese sausages, pig kidneys marinated with scallions, and fish roe paired with green onion and white radish.
 This restaurant is famous for its fried shrimp rolls, and I can see why - very crispy and savory!
 This was such a fresh fish - the meat fell off the bone, but still had that firm bounce that indicates it is very fresh.  I would bet that this was alive just a few minutes before it showed up at our table.
 A "geng," or a type of soup very popular in Taiwan that consists of a lot of vegetables and assorted bits all mixed together.  This one had crab, fish maw, cabbage, mushrooms, some bits of ham, etc.
 This was my favorite dish of the meal - crab paired with sticky rice, paired with a delectable ginger sauce.  The amount of crab roe was insane!
 Then we were served a soup with huge green onions, pork belly slices, and what I think were (not shown) snails. 
 Are you sensing a huge seafood theme in the food we ate?  I didn't realize it until I was compiling these pictures.  The dessert, in addition to a fresh fruit platter, was an almond tofu pudding with red bean and shaved ice.  This was so so tasty, I wish I could have eaten the whole thing myself!  Even my family members, who do not typically like desserts, all went back for seconds.
 When we left, we saw the popularity of the downstairs, which was more casual and for "street eats".  Glad we didn't have to wait in line like this!
After fully stuffing ourselves at lunch, we drove to my aunt's childhood house in Tainan.   Most of her siblings still live there, all in very close proximity to each other.  (She is my aunt by marriage.) We pulled up to three houses that they built on a compound, and proceeded to sit in a former garage space that has now been converted into the general hangout zone.

They keep a beautiful garden, with an entire grove of mango trees (pictured below), fig trees and guava trees, as well as some beautiful, old bonsai trees.
They also have a pretty big garden, currently full of tomato plants, celery, spring onions, spring beans and chili peppers, which made me so happy.
We got down and dirty picking the cherry tomatoes.  It was deceiving because the plants were dried out and nearing the end of their lives, but they still had so much fruit!
We managed to pick a whole bucket's worth!
  I didn't pick any pepers, but apparently someone else did because there was a whole bucket sitting at the ready. 
The rest of the afternoon proceeded with lots of food that kept popping up as people (so many family members!) dropped by.  There was "zhongzi," or sticky rice with all kinds of vegetables and meats, wrapped up in bamboo leaves.  There were boxes upon boxes of "tea leaf eggs," or eggs marinated in a heady concoction of soy sauce and tea leaves.
A big watermelon was promptly sliced up and passed around.  "This is how we eat it in the country," my aunt's sister joked.  I haven't had a yellow watermelon in ages and ages, and this one was crisp, juicy, cold and intensely sweet.  
This is a deep fried pocket of dough, packed with vegetables and fresh oysters.  I could not eat anything else at this point and could only nod dumbly as an entire box was unloaded "for people to snack on."  There was also another box full of little fried fish, lightly salted, which were very popular and I missed getting a picture.

For the Qingming holiday, it's tradition to bring this food offering to the tombs of your ancestors as part of the grave-sweeping process.  It's a variety of noodles, roast chicken, eggs, vegetables and pickled vegetables, all prepared and rolled up in a thin, slightly chewy tortilla.
Will you look at that, a Taiwanese burrito.
Everyone was so sweet and nice - someone plucked the largest, perfectly-ripe fig off of one of the fig trees and presented it to me.  It was still warm from the afternoon sun.  I was in love! 
I'd never been to Tainan before, and I'm already kind of itching to go back.  Apparently over the Chinese New Year holidays, my aunts' family have 70+ chickens that they cook in a huge clay pit?!  This I feel like I have to see.    

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