Taiwanese food update from Mr. Taster's 2006 Asiapalooza tour
I have seen fruit I'd never dreamed possible.
One thing I'm slowly adjusting to is the fact that things Westerners would consider wildly exotic are really quite mundane and ordinary here. I know it's a trite statement, but you really must be here to experience the full force of this observation. Case in point, DRAGON FRUIT (see photo in my linked travel blog). It is a wildly bright, fluorescent pink color with weak green spikes and a tapered shape. Inside, it is white or red, spotted with black seeds and has a very mild, sweet flavor. In America, this fruit would draw stares. In central Taiwan where I am right now, it is on every corner fruit stand.
There's another unusual pyramidal shaped fruit indigenous to Taiwan. There is no English name but the Taiwanese name is some approximation of lieng ou (see photo), and its appearance seems to be a cross between a tomato, an apple and an asshole. The texture and flavor of this fruit is sweet, crisp and juicy, like an asian pear.
Roadside markets abound, springing up out of the ether, in a manner unlike I've ever seen. You're riding on your scooter on a wide city street with apartments and shops on either side. You make a left turn, and suddenly you're in an impossibly narrow street in what you would consider to be a pedestrian style farmer's market. But in Taiwan, scooters reign as they weave through the pedestrians, between the tents, the old people sitting on the ground husking corn, the fresh pancake carts and dumpling steam carts which extend for what feels like miles in each direction. Drivers pull up to one of the 1,000 vendor stands, order their ro yuan, and zip off into the smoggy yonder with little bags of food hanging off their handlebars. This is drive-thru dining on a scale I've never experienced nor dreamed of before.
This market culture is amplified in the outrageous NIGHT MARKETS which spring up all over Taiwan. They open at dusk and run until late-- midnight or 2:00am in some cases. The smallest night markets can be equated to small farmers markets, with fruit, food and clothing vendors under tents that open up when the sun sets. By contrast, the largest night markets are the equivalent of entire urban downtown areas which only open at sundown. You are surrounded at all times by thousands of people, flashing neon lights and Chinese signs (with the occasional hilarious misspelled Engrish sign and club mix Taiwanese and American pop music and vendors blaring their sales pitches into wireless microphones. Imagine Times Square on a smaller scale (but with what appears to be just as many people) and you can get a sense of what it feels like to be in the center of this totally surrealistic, alien experience.
I've linked to my page with lots and lots of photos of the food from the markets in Taya and Taichung.
Dragon fruit draws very few stares any more. About a mile from your old place (I know Mr. Taster) - the Gelsons sells them in the fall, white interior. Venice Farmer's market has a guy who sells nice juicy ones from May to September.
It's easier to find the dragon fruit here than in China. You can also find it in Latino markets under the name pitahaya or pitaya. Many places blend the pulp into drinks.
Apparently, the plant is native to Mexico, and was brought by the French to Vietnam (where it is still popular). It was later introduced to Taiwan, prob. under the Japanese occupation.
Now, HOW ARE THE PINEAPPLE? When I was in China years and years ago, the only thing people knew about Taiwan was that the pineapple was supposed to be exquisite.
for those who want to see some pix of pitahayas - click below
Jerome, sometimes you puzzle me! Certainly you can't be asserting that it is easier to find dragon fruit in LA (which may or may not be found at specialized grocers or markets as you state) versus the literally hundreds of street vendors in every neighborhood here in Taiwan where the stuff is as common as apples are in the US? (Incidentally, we bought an apple the other day for $3.00 USD... however, the *incredibly delicious pineapple* with an exotic flavor I'd not encountered before was 50 cents :)
I don't frequent the Latino markets in LA but I regularly visit the Asian markets and have never seen dragon fruit there. But even so, Taiwan is a market intensive culture-- especially in little towns like Taya, where I am now, there's a huge street market around every other corner. And I guarantee you, here you can trip over bushel barrels full of huo guoa on your way from random point A to random point B whereas I'd have to at least dig a little (or a lot) to get to them in LA.
I emphatically reassert my claim that I am dragon fruit! :)
re: Mr. Taster
For what it's worth
the pulp is readily available frozenin any good Latino market. Ask for pitahaya.
I've also seen them in gelsons. And at the venice farmers market.
You won't find them in a lot of Asian markets because they're unknown on the mainland and not well known in Hong Kong.
they are common in vietnam.
They're native to tropical AMERICA not to Taiwan. Like the tomato.
Mr. Taster, thanks for the pictures... they look wonderful and bring back wonderful memories. Looks like you're having a wonderful time there and are enjoying every moment. The lien ou that you mentioned is correctly identified by others in this thread and they also have it in Costa Rica, which has the same name as in thai, Manzana de agua (water apple). The variety in CR is slightly dry... kinda makes you lips pucker up if you get a real dry one. One thing that I'm not sure if you're aware is that Taiwan has an amazing wealth of hybrid varieties of fruits and vegetables. One area that they have excelled on are pineapples. Please do enjoy them as much as possible because they're not allowed into the US and this might really be the only oportunity to try them. I'm sure there are more people that can explain such issues in Taiwan if you bring up the subject.
Water apple? Interesting. In Thailand and Cambodia, I've always heard this fruit (known as "chomphuu" (more or less) in Thai and Khmer) called "rose apple"... Does anyone know what the direct translation is from Thai?
Interesting to hear that it's also available in Costa Rica. I wonder if this is a relatively recent development? I don't remember seeing any when I lived there (1993-95).
Hi-I'm really enjoying reading about your experiences. I've been to Taiwan and it was probably the place in the world where I've felt the most "foreign" and I've been to over 30 countries. You're very lucky to be traveling with someone who can explain all these weird and wonderful foods to you. Enjoy your trip!