In Taiwan, there are many, many, many kinds of cheap eats that are sold primarily on the streets, and rarely in formal restaurants. One of the things that I have been most looking forward to is to catch up on all these foods that can only be had in Taiwan, and on the streets. Ask any Taiwanese, and he or she will recount for you right off the bat over twenty kinds of mouth-watering varieties of street foods. Street foods are firmly and deeply a part of the culture.
Earlier this evening, my friend Robert and I went to the Shih-Pai Central Market two MRT stations away from my home, where we ordered up a storm at one of the hole-in-the-wall eateries.
Robert and I couldn't decide on what to have, so we ordered one each of stir-fried rice noodle (its name in Mandarin is pronounced "chao-mi-fen"); traditional meat dumplings in thickened broth (better known and pronounced as "row-gun" in Mandarin); rice with soy braised shredded pork topping ("lu-row-fan"), and "tempura" (tem-pu-ra).
The stir-fried rice noodles ("chao-mi-fen") are famous and popular as a snack rather than a formal staple served as a meal. My mother's family is originally from the city of Hsin-Chu, which is 1 hour south of Taipei by car, and is famous for two things: the science park which accounts for such a huge portion of Taiwan's IT product-based GDP, and secondly but not less famously, the rice noodles. Growing up, Mom frequently made this dish for us at home. Today we ordered one huge servings for the grand price of US$1.5 dollars.
The "row-gun" soup is a nice, steaming hot dumpling dish in thickened soup base, with profusely fragrant herb topping. I love it and have attempted to make it in the States by myself--to miserable failure. For some reason these street stands make these specific dishes so much better than one can at home; and they just seem to taste better if you eat them sitting down on a little stool on the streets...
Another all-time-popular local dish is the "Lu-Row-Fan", which is white steamed rice with savory but sweet soy sauce-braised shredded pork topping. A huge bowl of it is US$1.5 dollars, and it's so filling I couldn't even make a dent in it.
Lastly, here's a dish that I enjoyed tremendously--the dish that is referred to in Taiwan as "tempura". When one goes to a Japanese restaurant, "tempura" refers to prawns or vegetables in pieces, battered fried to golden crunchy exterior. Here in Taiwan, on the streets, "tempura" is essentially fish cake drenched in this red spicy sweet sauce.
The fish cake is much similar to the Thai fish cake, or the Japanese Satsuma-Age. But the perfectly steamed fish cake with the red sauce topping makes it a refreshing snack to have that hits the spot when I get just a tiny bit hungry in the afternoon...I don't know why the fish cake is called "tempura" here. It is perhaps one of those misnomers that remained since the Japanese occupation times.
Due to the diet that I am still on (yeah, it's hard, but I'm trying!!) Robert finished about 2/3 of the entire portion. Still, both of us walked away completely stuffed. Those were US$8 dollars well spent.