I’ve yet to try stinky tofu* though the smell is as ubiquitous to street and alleyway, night market and food court, as are jasmine and camphor to Taroko mountain side. Like strong cheese it’s not unpleasant; just alien to western olfactory sensibilities. As for the taste, Teuton Torben, studying accountancy in Taipei, says he’s yet to meet a westerner who likes it but then, as with sex and whisky, some things have to be endured at first hand. You shouldn’t, as Bob reminds us, let other people get your kicks for you.
Speaking of stinky, durian, banned from every farang hotel in Asia, is the fruit to epitomise the east. Sweet or savoury? You tell me, ditto a whole bunch of sweets that mix seemingly uncooked but probably steamed dough with sugar and seaweed to deliver surprisingly moreish snackettes.
My initiation to food and drink on the cusp, not so much sweet and sour as the one negating the other, came on a sun-withered afternoon at Hualien City Harbour. Parched to the max at the wharfeside equivalent of the Marie Celeste – only mad dogs and an Englishman abroad – I found my oasis in a drinks dispenser for the jolly tars, labels and instructions in Mandarin. The latter I could hack – a vending machine’s a vending machine when all is said and d. But telling what was what on the contents front, once I’d ruled out the gassy brown sugary stuff – all mouth and no trousers, and not for nigh on a century listing cocaine in the small print – that was a different kettle of f.
Sensing thirst-busting leverage in a cool green number – something of the lime about it, I felt – I thumbed in two ten (Taiwan) dollar bits, index fingered my verdict and heard with the keen ear of the liquidly challenged the downward thump of beverage-in-plastic on the dispenser floor. Incapable of the caution my position on the edge of the potably known would otherwise warrant, I took my first glug at a kombu seaweed concoction that may or may not have been sweet, and may or may not have been enjoyable – I couldn’t rightly say – but my draining that bottle in seconds flat seems to me an indicator of higher than random significance.
Anyway, here’s to food. To those who make it their business to bring it to us in exotic and delectable forms. To those of us who love to put it away, barely able to contain our oohs and lip smacking ahs. To food then; and in this case to its manifestations at the night market of Keelung, port city a few miles to the north of Taipei and, even by Taiwan standards, a foodie paradise.
It’s hard to deny vegetarians have a point. Octopus and pigs are known to be highly intelligent animals.
Life below the counter. As Manchester indi band, James, observe: all roads lead onto death roe.
It’s not all carnivore city though. This lovely man specialises in fungi.
Braised, diced and doused in spices and lime, it’s a knockout. Stuffed I may have been but I did an Oliver Twist on this.
Since man cannot live on bread, or even seafood, alone, I took the op to get some spiritual nourishment from the temple halfway down Keelung Night Market’s heaving spinal walkway. The dude on the gate looked scary but gave me no grief.
Ever since my macrobiotic days in the early seventies I’ve liked the yin/yang symbol for its expression of life’s dialectic but here – unless I’m missing something big – colour dilutes the message. In monochrome, black dot features on white and vice versa to show – watch out, Hegel’s about – a unity of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.
But a chap can only expend so much time and energy contemplating such matters. Obladi oblada.
Bit of a lad, this next guy. Demand for his deep fried sweet potato and taro balls was high but he didn’t let that stop him flirting in limited but effective English with a pair of western girls drinking it in. And check the muscles, ladies. A chap can rearrange the bedroom furniture to order with biceps like these …
More? Oh go on then …
* Update. Have now tried stinky tofu. Perfectly acceptable IMO but in common with all forms of soya bean curd, and despite curious pong, bland. I had to shovel on the chilli sauce to help it down.