Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pork Chop Soup And Other Delights

It was late on a Saturday night, as I recall, and my Air Force friend Larry and I were headed back to our rooms at the hostel. It had been several hours since we'd last eaten, so we decided to grab a bite at the restaurant in the Roma Hotel, which was located on the corner nearest to the compound.

I don't remember what I ordered, but Larry saw something called pork chop soup on the menu and decided that he just had to try it.

A few minutes later the waiter delivered our food and I can still see the look on Larry's face as he tried to figure out how to eat a bowl of broth with a fried pork shop in it. He managed it somehow, but it wasn't easy. It was fun to watch though.

There were a few food items that I tried only once, like dried squid for example. A Chinese friend talked me into buying some from a pushcart one day and I remember that they grilled it and put it into a small paper bag like the kind you used to get McDonald's french fries in. But -- trust me on this -- dried squid doesn't taste anything like french fries. I tried one and quickly passed the rest to my friend, who happily chewed away on the remainder.

There was one other pushcart item that I avoided altogether. I honestly don't know what it was, but it was usually piled up on the cart and (as I recall) was a sort of yellow-orange color. I always assumed it was probably dried shrimp or something but I never got close enough to see because the smell was just overpowering!

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy most of the local foods. We'd sometimes buy jiaosi (steamed or boiled dumplings) from a street vendor. We could get a plastic bag full of them for very little money and carry them back to the office for lunch. Good stuff!

Long before those little styrofoam cups of instant noodles became the primary diet of poor college students all over this country, I was eating the real kind in Taiwan.

I was more than ready to leave Taipei at the completion of my fifteen month assignment, mostly because I really wanted to get back to my wife and children. But I still have very fond memories of the outstanding cuisine. There are some excellent Chinese restaurants in the city where I now reside but, in my memories at least, Taipei was far better.

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