PEARL MILK TEA AND PIG FEET: TRAVERSING TAIWAN THROUGH ITS CUISINE

By Kirstie Yu
Staff Writer

Every summer for as long as I can remember, I visit my family and relatives in Taiwan for up to a month. Late last year, Taiwan became only the 37th nation to be included in the United States’ visa-waiver program, so for the first time I was able to stay for a little over 45 days this year.

What made this year’s trip special was that I was extremely blessed to have my uncle and aunt take me to see so many new cities and to have my dad introduce my brother and me to the city of Tainan, where he works. Every city I traveled to has a distinct flavor that really defines both the region and Taiwanese culture as a whole.

Taipei

When I visit Taiwan, I always stay with my grandmother and aunt in Taipei (台北), the capital of Taiwan. Taipei is in northern Taiwan. My absolute favorite pearl milk tea (珍珠奶茶) in the entire world is from Chen San Ding (陳三鼎), a local shop in a Taipei shopping district called Gongguan (公館), right across the street from National Taiwan University (台大).

Chen San Ding originated the use of brown sugar pearls in their milk tea, but had to change the name of their place after several knockoff shops began to pop up. They coined the name “Frog Hits the Milk” (青蛙撞奶) for their pearl milk tea, which alludes to how the pearls look like frog eggs.

Every night and even sometimes during the day, locals and foreigners alike will line up and wait for as long as 20 to 30 minutes just for their $1 cup of milk tea.

Another of my favorite restaurants is Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐), known worldwide for its Xiao Long Bao (or small steamed buns, 小籠包). The buns here are unique because soup runs out when you take a small bite of one, making them more special than regular dumplings and steamed buns.

Since their first restaurant opened in Taipei in the 1980s, Din Tai Fung has opened new branches in the United States, Japan, Hong Kong and elsewhere. However, having been to a branch in Arcadia before, I can say that the American branch just does not taste quite the same as the real deal in Taipei.

There is a window there where you can watch chefs make the Xiao Long Bao with precision.

Kenting

The first city that my uncle and aunt took us to was Kenting (墾丁), in the southernmost part of Taiwan. We went to a restaurant called Xiong Jia (or Bear Family, 熊家) that is famous for its stewed pig feet or knuckle (滷豬腳). The restaurant was in a large warehouse-like building that could seat up to 200 people.

Stewed pig feet is a traditional Taiwanese dish that I grew up with, but I had never before had it the way Xiong Jia makes it. The meat was extremely tender and their special garlic sauce was exquisite as well.

The next stop on this culinary trek across Taiwan was Houbihu Marina (後壁湖). We went to a seafood restaurant at a local fish market that was right by the pier.

It was here that I had the most delicious platter of sashimi (生魚片) I have ever tried. Prior to having this specific plate, I was not a big fan of sashimi because of the fishy aftertaste that is common at many Japanese restaurants in America. However, with the fish being so fresh here, the aftertaste was not as strong, and I quickly became hooked.

Kaohsiung

Kaohsiung (高雄) is a little northwest of Kenting, so this was the next stop on our trip. My cousins both went to university in Kaohsiung, so my uncle and aunt were relatively familiar with the city. There was a famous shaved ice (剉冰) shop right near our hotel. I am not a huge fan of the traditional Taiwanese shaved ice which has taro, red beans, etc., so I ordered a fruit one that had watermelon, banana, pineapple, mango and guava chunks in strawberry shaved milk ice.

Jiaosi

After our trip to Kenting and Kaohsiung, we went to Jiaosi (礁溪) and Yilan (宜蘭), both of which are in the northeastern part of Taiwan. Jiaosi is known for its hot springs and Yilan is known for its summer concerts and surfing. On the way there, we stopped by an attraction called Nanya Peculiar Stone (南雅奇岩).

Under a highway bridge, some local scuba divers were cooking some sea urchins (海膽) that they had found on a small pit, as well as some chicken that they had brought from home.

They were also stewing some fish soup in a large pot. Although we did not try any of their food, it was an intriguing sight that I had never seen before.

Ali Mountain

The most famous tourist attraction in Taiwan apart from Taipei is Ali Mountain (阿里山) in central Taiwan. Tourists from China and Japan flock here in hordes just to see the elusive but captivating sunrise. We went to a traditional restaurant near our hotel.

Many aborigines live in this region. In this particular restaurant, they use bamboo everywhere in the construction and decoration of the restaurant.

Starting from the upper left in the image below, we had some spicy tofu, veggies, bamboo shoots, chicken (traditionally served cold), fish and a mushroom soup.

Fenqihu

Ali Mountain is famous for the train that can take you from the base of the mountain to near the top. Since a typhoon had just hit before our visit, the train was closed. Despite that, we still decided to visit Fenqihu (奮起湖), a small town that marks the midway point to the top of Ali Mountain. We went to a restaurant in a hotel known for its boxed meals, or bento 便當.

The restaurant had wooden stumps for seats and beautifully carved wooden tables.

The boxed meal itself is typical of the kind that many businesspeople or tourists would buy and take with them to eat on the train. For a little over $3 per box, this specific meal had a nice chunk of grilled pork, a chicken drumstick, and other veggies (小菜) inside, all over a big scoop of rice.

Xitou

Xitou (溪頭) is a city that is also in central Taiwan. Its Forest Recreation Park (森林遊樂區) is an area of 2,500 hectares where we saw many indigenous trees, bamboo forests, waterfalls and the famous bridge at University Pond (大學池) where Chiang Kai-Shek posed for pictures with a group of college students in 1960. The food that most represents this region is rice cooked in a bamboo tube (竹筒飯). Originated by Taiwanese aborigines, rice is placed inside a bamboo tube and steamed until fully cooked, which infuses the flavor of the bamboo into the rice.

Tainan

My brother and I visited Tainan (台南), where my dad works for a high-tech company. Tainan is a city in southern Taiwan, right above Kaohsiung, which used to be a Dutch colonial settlement. We went to one of his favorite restaurants, a Japanese-inspired seafood restaurant called Shan Ji Fish Shop(山記魚仔店).

Local fishermen catch the fresh fish they use every morning, which provides a succulent flavor in all of their dishes. Here is a platter of yellowtail tuna sashimi.

My dad loves their fish soup. When the fish used is fresh and the soup is cooked just right, the soup has a sweet flavor to it.

Sardines are also a local delicacy, flavored here with some onions.

Jiufen

Our final destination on this culinary tour of Taiwan is Jiufen (九份), a beautiful town in northern Taiwan that served as the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s film “Spirited Away.” With architecture strongly influenced by Japanese colonization, Jiufen was a prosperous gold mining town but is now predominantly a tourist attraction.

No meal is complete without dessert, and we had a Japanese-inspired dessert, commonly known as dorayaki (or red bean pancake, 銅鑼焼). It is the favorite snack of the cartoon character Doraemon (小叮噹), which I grew up watching. Instead of using red bean paste, the owner of this shop uses ice cream, and I chose a simple yet heavenly dorayaki with vanilla ice cream.

With such a wide variety of food everywhere I went, it was hard to choose just a few of my favorite meals to show. However, I can definitely say that my time in Taiwan this summer traveling to so many new cities was very well spent. I hope I can continue to explore more of Taiwan’s incredible cuisine next summer!

All images by Kirstie Yu, Prospect Staff Writer

MODERNITY AT LARGE IN PERU

This week Prospect Journal is publishing a series of photo journals about international travel – join us as we explore a diverse set of countries by reading our “Changing Perspectives: Journalism Through an International Lens” series!

By Joe Armenta
Staff Writer

Peru is among the fastest growing economies in Latin America as a result of export-oriented policy and an expansion of foreign direct investment. Increased growth has led to greater prosperity among many Peruvians; however, it has also run into some new and existing challenges. This photo journal provides a brief look into these issues.

The municipality of Miraflores serves as the financial hub of the country, and is perhaps the most prominent emblem of Peru’s economic success. An expanding middle-class has created a housing boom, leading to the development of residential skyscrapers that tower over public spaces. As population density explodes in these highly concentrated urban zones, the need for central planning for utilities and infrastructure is crucial for residents.

One of the key components to the Peru’s 21st-century economic strategy is foreign direct investment brought about by international tourism. Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, is at the forefront of this surge. The site attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors per year, the majority of whom spread their foreign currencies throughout the country creating a large tourist industry.

Snowy peaks provide ample environment for backpackers seeking adventure, but also provide a challenging environment for the development of small communities in the highlands. The Peruvian Andes stretch down the middle of the country separating the desert coast from the lush Amazonian rainforest. Few roads exist that wind up the peaks of these mountains, which reach more than 21,000 feet in altitude.

Loreto is the largest region in Peru land-wise, and also harnesses some of the biggest opportunities for growth in the nation. The Amazon rainforest possesses a wide variety of natural resources that can be used for food and pharmaceuticals. However, much of the development of the region is hindered by the lack of infrastructure. Outsiders can access this area only by plane or boat. While rivers are often referred to as the highway of the rainforest, it often takes days to reach desired destinations using boats.

Protests are a common occurrence throughout Peru. As the highly centralized country continually grows, public servants regularly go on strike demanding higher wages. Public gatherings can be small, as is the case for this photo, or large collections of people halt the streets of the capital, Lima.

The success of the Peruvian economy should not overshadow one of the country’s most dire problems: inequality. On the outskirts of Lima, the slums of San Juan de Lurigancho house thousands of people who live in destitution. Poor living conditions are coupled with public health problems as well as the lack of basic necessities such as running water and adequate electricity. Houses are usually constructed with scrap material from industrial zones.

This is Patty’s house. Slum life is accompanied by many uncertainties. Access to quality education and healthcare is limited, as is the security of a long-term, well-paying job.

The urban explosion of Cusco, shown in the background, has pushed many residents higher into the mountainsides where utilities such as running water, sewage, and electricity are scarce. Residents often rely on traditional means to survive and build such things as terraces and llama corrals out of loose rock found nearby their homes. This creates a problem for archeologist studying the area, as many of these modern constructions are built upon centuries-old remains of the Inca civilization.

While Western culture has seeped into the country in the recent years, Peruvians still devote a great deal of energy to celebrating local festivities. In October, thousands of limeños turn out to celebrate the final days of a procession paying tribute to “Nuesto Señor de los Milargos.” This is a tradition that began during the colonial days and combines Catholic, African slave, and indigenous histories.

The presence of Catholicism is largely felt in Peru. During the colonial days, Catholicism was used as a form of recognizing administrative legitimacy and establishing control. Today, the religion plays more into the everyday lives of Peruvians and the decisions that they make.

Adding to the land of ruins that makes up Peru is a boat that rests on the beach of Chiclayo. The rusty marine craft is a by-product of the fishing industry of the late 20th century. A once dominant trade, the profession has since been replaced due to several factors including a territorial dispute with Chile and the loss of government protection. As the ship slowly deteriorates, a new country is emerging with the help of a boom in economic activity. While growth has bettered the lives of many Peruvians, there is still much work to be done both in terms of social and technological advancement.

HISTORY, HOLIDAYS AND HAM: A YEAR ABROAD IN SPAIN

This week Prospect Journal is publishing a series of photo journals about international travel – join us as we explore a diverse set of countries by reading our “Changing Perspectives: Journalism Through an International Lens” series!

By Emma Hodson
Staff Writer

I was going to Spain, and on the plane ride envisioned myself lisping to waiters to bring me more paella. While I never picked up the famous Spanish lisp, I did have my fill of paella, flamenco and my personal favorite —architecture left over from Islamic Spain. I spent a year in Granada, a major city in the southern province of Andalusia. There, I attended University of Granada, where my classes were conducted entirely in rapid-fire Andalusian Spanish. While Granada was my home base, and Monday through Thursday were generally spent haphazardly navigating the Spanish education system, I took weekends as opportunity for travel. It would be impossible to document every memory of every corner of Spain I was able to visit, but the following pictures will have to suffice.

Granada, Spain
Granada is the capital city of the province of Granada within the southernmost autonomous community of Andalusia. Like many other cities in southern Spain, Granada is known for its architectural and cultural remnants of the Muslim rulers who controlled the Iberian Peninsula from the year 711 until the conquest of the Catholic monarchs in 1492.

Alhambra
Granada’s most famous landmark is the Alhambra, a palace built during the Nasrid Dynasty in the 1300’s. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Alhambra is one of the most visited sites in Spain. I personally visited the Alhambra two times, and its beauty certainly did not diminish. The exact geometric patterns of its architecture, its arched doorway, and the carvings of Arabic calligraphy are breathtaking.

Alhambra
As a student of the Arabic language, I was particularly amazed by the Alhambra. Unfortunately, as much as I tried, I could not decipher the Arabic inscriptions on the wall. Regardless, long portions of my visits to the Alhambra consisted of me staring adamantly at all the ornately carved walls.

Generalife Gardens
The Alhambra consists of a few different parts, including the Generalife gardens. The Generalife was the summer palace of the Nasrid kings, and visitors of the Generalife will have no doubts as to why. The lush garden walls are draped with flowers and fountains run throughout. I was struck by the use of water as an architectural element in the Islamic architecture in Spain. In the summer months, with temperatures rising over the 100 degree mark, the water provides a cooling and calming atmosphere to the gardens.

Carre Supermercado, Granada, Spain
While Spanish food is often raved about in the US, it seems to me that the emphasis is unfairly placed on paella. In reality, ham, or in Spanish jamón, is truly the dish that epitomizes Spanish cuisine. Served in everything from tapas, to breakfast foods, Iberian ham is abundant, and can often be found hanging in restaurants, cafés, grocery stores, gas stations, Chinese restaurants—or really, anywhere. In Spain, no time is a bad time for ham.

Nerja, Spain
The Mediterranean Sea is only a few hours away from Granada, duly named the Costa del Sol, or the Sunny Coast. Its sparkling blue water, white sandy beaches, and its usually sunny weather have been a huge attraction not only for Spaniards, but for ex-patriots from the UK, looking for sunnier skies. Especially in Nerja, one of the most popular beach destinations, Irish pubs and English taverns are never too far from sight.

Mezquita-Catedral, Córdoba
One of my favorite places other than Granada in Andalusia was the city of Córdoba. Its streets are lined with orange trees, and the old Jewish quarter recalls again the days of the Islamic empires, where Jews, Christians and Muslims cohabited the cities while maintaining their separate niches. This coexistence of course was not maintained, and this fact is most visible in Cordoba’s most famous landmark, the mezquita-catedral, or the Mosque-Cathedral. Once a large Islamic mosque, it was converted into a Catholic cathedral during the Reconquista. Massive in size, the Mosque-Cathedral maintains its Islamic architecture while still having ornate catholic paintings, statues, pews and chapel features.

Besalú, Catalunya, Spain
Barcelona is famous for obvious reasons, but less-renowned cities in Catalunya are definitely worth a visit. I particularly enjoyed visiting the medieval city of Besalú, a few hours outside Barcelona. It was there that it was truly apparent that Catalunya had a distinct culture from much of Spain. Our tour guide unmistakably spoke Spanish as a second language as she explained to us the long history of Besalú and the various groups that had occupied it throughout the ages. Though it had been occupied by the French as well as the Islamic empire, today the Catalan flag flies high on the stone gateways to the city.

Mallorca, Spain
Since the Spanish University seemed to be fond of excuses for a holiday, I was able to have a second Spring Break of sorts, which I spent in Mallorca. One of the Balearic Islands, Mallorca, along with Ibiza, Minorca, Formentera, and a few other islands, compose an off-shore component of the Spanish nation. Mallorca is home to the famous tennis player Rafael Nadal, and is often thought of as a party destination, but I experienced it as a place of incredible natural beauty, with rocky cliffs, crystal blue water and sprawling hills.

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain
The last place I visited in Spain was Bilbao, another large city in Basque Country. Mostly an industrial city, Bilbao draws most of its tourism because of its famous Guggenheim Museum, which resembles a massive ship as it flanks the river. Designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, the museum is a strange albeit beautiful landmark, and it houses a large variety of modern art. Though the museum is the main attraction, I enjoyed Bilbao by strolling along the river by day and eating Basque tapas, called pintxos, by night.

My year in Spain was beyond doubt the most incredible year of my life. Spain’s history, culturally varied autonomous communities, its art and architecture, and its natural beauty are only umbrella terms for the experiences and memories that I will have for my entire life.