I love you, but don’t look at me while I eat this

This is an archive of an email we sent to our mailing list on 14 November, 2018.

Dear Discoverers,

Sometimes we just want to sit in a corner and eat something without anybody watching.

Like this:

Discover Discomfort - Fried Chicken
O sweet temptation, thy name is fried chicken.

This is a food made for eating with the most intimate of friends. You buy it at a single stall in one night market in Kaohsiung, sit on a dimly lit bench by the side of a major road, and eat it with a friend or loved one. “Seven minutes in heaven”, I think this is called.

What you’re looking at is Taiwanese Fried Chicken. You think you know Chinese food because you’ve gone one step above General Tso’s Chicken or dumplings? We thought we did. Turns out we don’t know anything about Chinese food in Taiwan. But Jo and I do know how to find the good stuff.

Finding food in China (and Asia in general) is an art form. You’re familiar with the idea that a really authentic Asian joint is filled with Asians. Preferably being noisy. It’s a strong indicator! Just like how an authentic American burger joint is filled with people who may or may not identify as being American.

The best indicator of a good eatery anywhere in Asia is how “hot and noisy” it is. Sound terrible to you? More on what “hot and noisy” means here in our guide to eating in Asia.

Politics aside, Taiwan is not just China; it’s so much more China than China. For example, outside Taipei, English is rare, and poorly spoken. Even in Taipei, English menus are a rarity, and often take the form of the poorly-translated mishmash that we’re used to. In the Mainland, English menus are good quality and vastly available, thanks to a massive standardisation effort before the 2008 Olympics, the scale of rapid social transformation by the billion that only China is able to do, thanks to its top-down “this is the only important thing this week!” management style. So in Taiwan, speaking Mandarin and reading Chinese helps a lot… more than in Shanghai, I think.

The food in Taiwan is at times the same as in the Mainland, and at times totally different.

Take dessert.

Discover Discomfort - Taiwan foods - Beans - Dessert

In most parts of North China, dessert is, in non-fancy places, limited to complimentary watermelon or orange slices after a meal at the local eatery. If you’re lucky, they might have egg tarts in a small stand nearby.

The southern offerings are different. Frankly, they’re a far cry from the patisserie of France, the gelato of Italy or the doughnuts, pies or cookies of America (or many other things… those guys know what’s up), but there’s more to be had. There are the sweet baked goods. Many varieties of bubble tea – more than just sweet tea with pearls, think combinations with matcha, ice cream, custard, cake and other things inside. There’s mango shaved ice, which is an obvious win until you see red beans and start questioning the reality of the word ‘dessert’.

Yes, eating fried chicken and sweet tofu and red bean pudding is a delicious but unsustainable lifestyle. These are “sometimes foods”, and sometimes can’t be “12pm and 6pm every day”. When I first got to Taiwan I panicked and thought “but where do I get my vegetables??” I hate to be a killjoy, but I have to be, or joy will kill me first. So we put together a guide to being a killjoy in the land of fried breading: how to eat healthy in Taiwan. We’ll make these in other countries too.

Red beans are everywhere, and I love them.

I love you,

Dana & Jo

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