The Taiwan I Know -- By Alice Tu

            Traditional Taiwanese dishes, desserts, drinks, and exotic fruits are a few of the things that instantly come to mind when I think of Taiwan. Yes, these are all things to eat, but because food is essential to everyone's diet X and one of my very favorite topics X it seems a most fitting subject of exposition.

            Nothing compares to the taste (and price) of the food in Taiwan. Even the little loh beeh dah's (street vendors) dispense extremely scrumptious foods. Living in California, I am very fortunate to be able to enjoy many of these Taiwanese delicacies and treats, but even here it lacks that truly authentic local flavor. We enjoyed some delectable treats such as the prevalent and popular boba nai cha V the bubble tea drink that fills everyone's palettes with delightful chewy, subtlety sweet tapioca balls; tswah biung (Taiwanese shaved ice), available at the same tea shops that serve boba, topped with your choice of any mixture of red beans, green beans, ai yu (jello), almond jelly, grass jelly, fen yuan, and bai mu er (white fungus); other teas, hot and cold; snow ice drinks; mu gua niou nai (papaya milk V one of my other favorites); and buttery brick toast V yum!

            Throughout Taiwan it is easy to find a meal. Dotting the sides of any major street you can find traditional Taiwanese fare in the form of succulent loh bah beng (rice with stewed beef), oily u-beng (glutinous rice), bah-zhang (sometimes called a Taiwanese tamale), dan zi mien (traditional Taiwanese style noodles), chewy dah tsang (large intestine), zu shueh (pigs blood) floating in broth, tongue-burning oy ah mi suah (oyster noodles), oy ah zhen (oyster omelet) dressed in sweet and sour sauce, and juicy shiao long bao (dumplings). Luckily, the famed Din Tai Fung Dumpling House on Hsin-yi Road has a branch in Los Angeles where I can always find mouth-watering shiao long bao, which is always worth the long wait. On this last trip back to Taiwan, I was able to enjoy all these traditional dishes from the homeland and I realized that when compared in most cases, Taiwanese dishes in sunny California just aren't the same.

            Unfortunately, some of the most longed for and tasty foods simply aren't available anywhere except their native land. What instantly pops into mind? Lembu of course, and all of the other exotic tropical fruits of Taiwan. Star fruit, dragon fruit, lychee, and guava are some of the others (although they can be occasionally found in the States). Fruits simply taste better in a tropical environment: the juicy white peaches, round and ripe grapes, crunchy asian pears, delicious papayas, and sweet pineapples all taste divinely selected.

While there are many things to see in Taiwan, I find food to be one of the most enjoyable experiences of Taiwan. Hopefully, the next time you are in Taiwan you are able to experience all these wonderful flavors for yourself.