Before it was renamed back in the 1940’s, Taiwan was known as Formosa, meaning “Beautiful Island” in Portuguese. On our exciting circumnavigation of this exotic island by tour bus, it was easy to see why.
Taiwan is full of modern and vibrant cities, picturesque mountaintop villages, and quaint seaside settlements. Visitors are treated to a variety of customs, lifestyles and languages, as well as the traditional Taiwanese culture. Essential to any trip to Taiwan is to sample the array of exotic cuisine that will both please and surprise the palate. Eating in Taiwan is something to look forward to, and we eagerly anticipated every meal.
We visited a variety of food establishments, from specialty restaurants, posh hotel dining rooms and neighborhood eateries to roadside stands and even a few 7-Elevens, which dot the roads all over the country. Wherever you go, the tantalizing tastes of Taiwan are graciously provided by warm and hospitable people, who seem to take special pleasure in hosting their guests.
We arrived in Taipei, the capitol city of Taiwan, after a 15-hour flight, and noticed as we drove into the city that even at midnight, the place was jumping! Restaurants, bars, and clubs were open; lines of people were standing outside karaoke parlors and food stands; and if we wanted to go shopping, no problem! Taipei has many night markets, famous for terrific bargains on clothes, toys, leather goods, and electronics. There are also 24-hour foot massage parlors, a 24-hour bookstore, and even the public parks are full of athletes, playing sports in the middle of the night! Our sleepy group passed on the late night activities and headed straight for the hotel this night, but looked forward to partaking of their rocking night life later on.
The next day we started eating in earnest, while doing some sight-seeing of the local area. What follows is a sampling of some of the fabulous foods we savored and five of the special places in Taipei that serve it.
SILKS HOUSE RESTAURANT
The Grand Formosa Regent Taipei has ten restaurants, and their newest, Silks House, is where we were treated to a veritable feast of never-ending courses. We counted 23! Some dishes looked like things we might normally eat, but others that looked strange and sounded peculiar went untasted. I’m not that brave – especially after they told us what it was! “Marilyn, don’t play with your food, even if it is still ALIVE.”
These are just a few of the delicacies Silks House served, along with my comments:
Crispy Eel Sprinkled with Sesame – Dee-lish!
Marinated Jelly Fish Mixed with Celery - Didn’t try it. Hey, I was stung by one once! Vegetable Soup served in a Pumpkin Shell – Divine!
Marinated Pig’s Ear with XO Sauce – It was pig, but I chickened out!
Steamed Winter Melon with Yunnan Ham – Excellent!
Baked Seafood with Cheese in Dragon Fruit – Delicious and bee-yootiful, too. Fermented STINKY TOFU – and they mean it! I couldn’t get close enough to try it.
Roasted Farm Goose – Mmmm, mmmm, good.
Most of the food is wheeled out on carts, but some special dishes, such as the Roasted Duck Grand Formosa Style, are presented with ceremony and splash. First, the chefs presented the mouth-watering red bird with gorgeous crispy skin. Then, they sliced it up and served it on plates with scallions, sweet red bell peppers, sour ginger slices, and a special sauce, all in a light and puffy Chinese bun. All very elegant and so gooooooood!
The 23 entrees were followed by dessert, which elicited a myriad of “oohs and aahs” from our group. Billed as “Seasonal Fruits with Crushed Ice,” it was much more extravagant than it sounds. Presented in a huge bowl, it had a surreal “halo of mist” floating on top and an enormous assortment of colorful fresh fruits, including some we don’t often see in the U.S., such as grass jelly, beans, and black tapioca. This fancy fruit cocktail swam in a punch consisting of crushed ice, condensed milk, and brown sugar. Palate-cleansing and refreshingly cool to taste, it was the perfect conclusion to a colossal feast.
If you like to combine gourmet dining with sightseeing, a new Silks Palace recently opened at the National Palace Museum. You can practice the art of fine dining while taking in the art.
SILKS HOUSE RESTAURANT
The Grand Formosa Regent Taipei - A Four Seasons Hotel
No 41, Chung Shan N. Rd., Section2
Taipei 104, Taiwan
886 2 2523 8000
FIVE DIME DRIFTWOOD RESTAURANT
One of the joys of Chinese dining is taking your share of the food as a Lazy Susan spins around in front of you. At Five Dime, an assortment of exquisite dishes was brought hot and steaming from the kitchen in the ultimate experience of “family dining.”
Our dishes included Spicy Chili Chicken; Prawns with Ginkgo and Lily; Floating Heart Stems with Fragrant Manjack Fruits, and Down-Home Sweet Potato Rice. I tasted them all until the strange-looking, purplish Sea Cucumber stopped in front of me. I admit now to a surge of culinary cowardice. Smiling, I rubbed my tummy and said, “I’m simply too full.”
Many tourists visit the Five Dime Restaurant to view its extraordinary architecture and learn about the owner, Hsieh Li-shiang. At eight years old, Hsieh built a tree house, which became her inspiration for the five restaurants she built as an adult in Taiwan.
Hsieh designs every aspect of the restaurants herself, from the airy interior and nature-inspired exteriors, down to the tables, chairs, and beautifully crafted plates and cups Without any formal training, she started designing buildings based on her love of nature. Driftwood and trees are an integral part of her work, along with colored bricks, oyster shells and rocks.
Her original restaurant, Five Cent Driftwood House, was built for NT$200,000. The newest, Five Dime in Taipei’s Neihu District, cost NT$6 million. Her restaurants are well-known landmarks of both unique architectural style and fine cuisine, created and operated by an incredible woman, with only a middle school education.
After eating, we took time to visit all three floors of this notable restaurant, marveling at the unusual trees, pond, sculptures, and objets d’art. When visiting Taipei, you’ll want to visit Five Dime, for its food delicacies and dramatic atmosphere.
FIVE DIME DRIFTWOOD
No.8, Lane.32, Sec.1, Neihu Rd., Neihu District
PEARL LIANG CHINESE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
We love romance and Pearl Liang Chinese Seafood Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Taipei has a truly romantic history. The owner, Pearl Liang, was born into a wealthy family in old Shanghai upscale society. She grew up in Taipei and later lived in England, Switzerland, and the United States.
While traveling to Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway, Pearl met her true love, an influential businessman. After marrying, they continued traveling the globe, attending lavish parties and collecting memories, along with exquisite pieces of porcelain, art, books and tableware. Hers was a true storybook romance, ending sadly and suddenly when her husband perished in an avalanche.
Pearl returned to Taiwan to live and create her signature restaurant, decorating it with her personal collectibles, in the Grand Hyatt Taipei. Adding to the ambience of this elegant eatery is the background music from Pearl’s favorite artists – including Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, Josephine Baker, Billy Holiday, and Louis Armstrong.
The restaurant combines her passion for entertaining with fine wines, designer fashion, and exquisite home-style Chinese cooking. Many of the secret recipes came from Pearl’s mother, all impeccably prepared in the old fashioned way: by hand on the table and in full view of the guests.
PEARL LIANG CHINESE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
Grand Hyatt Taipei
2, Song Shou Road,
Taipei, Taiwan 11051
Tel: +886 2 2720 1234
THE GRAND RESIDENCE
The Grand Hyatt has an entire new wing for parties and events called The Grand Residence. Designed by international designer Tony Chi, this architectural gem provides a stylish atmosphere for large festive occasions or small business meetings. If you’re looking for a romantic location for your destination wedding or rehearsal dinner, you should consider The Grand Residence.
Conceptually, The Grand Residence blends the usual catering and meeting space with an interactive open kitchen to create a warmer, more hospitable environment than traditional catering houses. It’s almost like visiting friends in their elegant home. There are four dining rooms, one with an adjoining terrace featuring spectacular views of Taipei 101, the world’s tallest building.
Adjacent to the central kitchen is the tasting room, where hosts can have a great time planning their party. They actually get to sample loads of absolutely scrumptious dishes! Another section, called the “glasshouse,” allows party planners to select their favorite tableware, décor, and gifts, which are on display.
We had dinner at The Grand Residence on our last night in Taiwan. I love tasting different dishes, and this was food heaven to me. We simply walked over to the numerous cooking stations at the ultra-spacious open kitchen and each chef placed their individual specialties on our plates. What a treat – cold appetizers, sushi, salads, hot entrees, assorted dim sum and then some. Yum!
Here’s a sample of the entrees I tasted:
Grilled Lamb Loin on Warm Smoked Eggplant Salad
Pan Fried Salmon with Lemon Butter Sauce
Seared Beef Medallion and Duck Liver with Truffle Sauce
Wok Fried Prawns “Szechwan” Style
Stewed Pork Ribs with Rock Sugar and Chinese Tea
Steamed Rice in Lotus Leaf
After our tasting treats, we went into the bar, which was specially set up for our desserts that included Chilled Mango Pudding with Sago and Coconut Jelly, Raspberry Tiramisu, and Soft Chocolate Tart with Five Spice Cream. Did I say I found food heaven?
The Grand Residence is an impressive new addition to the Grand Hyatt and a very interesting alternative to traditional hotel party rooms.
THE GRAND RESIDENCE
Grand Hyatt Taipei
2 Song Shou Road
Taipei, Taiwan 11051
VR GARDEN CAFE
Less than an hour by MRT (Taipei’s rapid transit metro), Danshui is a historic riverbank city rich in diverse cultures and contrasting styles. New streets and old run parallel to each other along the riverbanks; historical monuments and religious temples abut modern shops; contemporary coffee houses stand next to old Chinese style tea houses, all interspersed with stalls selling an eclectic assortment of items like fish balls, confections, fish crisp crumbs, and antiques. Danshui is a pleasant diversion from the intensity of Taipei.
The highlight of our visit to Danshui was dinner with the Governor of Taipei County, Hsi-Wei Chou, (Roy Chou). He and his wife greeted us by the wharf, and as we walked along the old streets he pointed out the local historical monuments, including Fort San Domingo, the 1800s Canadian Pastor George Leslie MacKay’s wall, the British Consular Residence and Fu You Temple. Local citizens were also thrilled to shake his hand and snap cell-phone photos with us. A charming and gracious host, Mr. Chou attended USC in his twenties.
After our walk, we all went for dinner at the charming outdoor VR Garden Café. Danshui is particularly proud of its local artisans and actively promotes them. Three artists were featured at VR on our visit and were on hand to show us their paintings and even offered us custom-made works of art on the spot.
One artist, David Wu, drew animal images with people’s names embedded in them. Since I’m the author of “Never Kiss a Frog,” I asked him to make me a frog with my name in it. Within a matter of minutes, I had my own personal David Wu Froggy, with “Marilyn” etched in its belly, to take home. Interestingly, Governor Chou is an accomplished artist as well, and I brought home a coffee-table book filled with stunning pages of his paintings.
Our five-course meal at the VR Garden Café was served American style, with appetizer, soup, salad, entrée, and dessert. I was so busy getting my original frog art that I forgot to write down what I was eating. I just gobbled it up, savoring every morsel.
Afterwards, the artists treated us to a traditional tea ceremony, served with a teapot and plates made by them. Our delicious meal and special company was capped by a dramatic sunset and spectacular nighttime view of the harbor. In fact, one of Taiwan’s Eight Wonders is the “Danshui Sunset,” famous because at sunset, a leaf of golden rays shows up on the surface of the river.
VR GARDEN CAFE
Danshui, Taipei County
To burn off some of those extra calories we collected from so much eating we had to do a little sight-seeing, and get a “taste” of local culture. These are some of the not-to-miss spots in Taiwan.
Taipei 101: Built to resemble a stalk of bamboo, this is the tallest building in the world, with the world’s fastest elevators. You reach the 89th floor observation deck in just 30 seconds!
The Grand Hotel: Built by Madame Chiang Kai-shek in the style of Beijing’s Forbidden City Palace, it stands majestically on a hilltop, offering spectacular views of Taipei.
National Palace Museum: This fascinating museum is the world’s fifth largest. It contains more than 700,000 artifacts representing Chinese art and culture from the Neolithic period to the end of the Qing dynasty.
Lungshan Temple: The Dragon Mountain meeting place of the gods known for the wealth of deities worshipped here.
Confucius Temple. This grand temple of the Jiangnan style was built in the first year of the Guanghsu period to worship Confucius. The annual ceremony of Confuscius’ birthday will be held on September 28th.
Night Markets: Don’t miss the excitement and energy of the throngs of people winding through the stalls with exotic foods, clothing and other bargains. The Shilin Night Market is the foremost among all the night markets in Taipei. I got a handbag for about $25 that I saw in the U.S. for $225!
Foot Massage Parlors: Taipei holds the world’s record for the most foot massages given in one day.
Tea Shops – A glorious history of tea growing exists in Taiwan, with tea shops all over, each with a counter for tasting, drinking, and talking with friends and servers.
Cosmetic Surgery: If you have some extra time for a little tightening here and there, medical costs are a lot less expensive in Taiwan. Surgical costs are generally half the price.