My piece on eating in Taiwan is published in today’s Observer – for me at least, it brings back some delicious memories. I first visited Taiwan in 1993, when I took an intensive Chinese course at the Mandarin Training Center, before travelling around China and Tibet for six weeks – and making my first, fateful visit to Chengdu. At that time I barely spoke Chinese and knew almost nothing about Chinese food, but a few food memories stand out from that sultry, tropical Taiwan summer. The glorious mangoes that were then in season: I remember eating them constantly, dressed in light summer clothes, with juice running everywhere (and I remember objects around the place I was staying, including telephone receivers) being helplessly sticky with mango juice. A revolting cloud of stinking tofu vapour that I passed through every day on my way to school: I thought the smell came from a rubbish dump or rotting drain, and only later
discovered its true origin. The wonderful self-service buffet restaurants near the college, many of them vegetarian, where one could pile a plate with samples of a vast range of interesting dishes, for a modest price. Sitting on tatami mats for Japanese lunches.
Later, in about 2004, I went back to Taipei to research an article for Gourmet magazine (unfortunately it’s not available online, but I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written). It was a fascinating and wonderful trip, and I’ve been longing to go back ever since, so it was great to be able to visit again this year.
Apart from the food, of course, you can’t miss the National Palace Museum, with its imperial Chinese treasures, including the famous ‘meat-shaped stone’ 肉形石. The hot springs are rather restorative, too, and it’s fun drinking tea in the hills of Maokong. Next time I hope I’ll be able to explore some of the stunning scenery in the centre and east of the island.