Food is the subject of this week’s post, for a number of reasons beyond the fact that I live in Taipei, a city well known for having some of the world’s best cuisine.
First off, there’s been a bit of what my Canadian friends might call a kerfuffle in the media recently about arguably Taiwan’s most well known culinary gift to the world, bubble tea. The New York Times ran an innocent enough article about the drink which had a few good points, and acknowledged Taiwan’s role in starting the craze with the line “After becoming a hit in Taiwan, bubble tea was embraced throughout Asia.”
But the writer kind of lost some street cred by not being aware of the fact that the drink has been popular for years throughout the States, instead spinning bubble tea as if it was some brand new trend. Fans of the drink reacted on chat boards, and the paper changed the headline from the somewhat questionable “The blobs in your tea? They’re supposed to be there” to a more nuanced “Bubble Tea Purveyors Continue to Grow Along With Drink’s Popularity”
But not before other publications, including the Huffington Post, razzed the Times over the issue.
But it’s good to see Taiwan’s favorite drink getting recognition, and it’s also good that Taiwan’s being ahead of the culinary curve is being acknowledged. (For the record, I found bubble tea in NYC 20 years ago, and my girlfriend says she first had it in Taos, New Mexico in 2010. So yeah, on the American craze scale, Bubble tea falls somewhere between The Macarena and Gangam Style.)
Bubble tea aside, the subject of Taiwan’s place in the culinary world has been much on my mind this week. On Wednesday evening, the MyTaiwanTour gang went out to explore venues for a brand new food tour we’re planning to launch next month. We’re designing the tour to give guests a balanced mix of dishes, flavors and places, from traditional markets to streets that are known for having a high density of excellent restaurants to (of course) the best stalls in a night market where even the average stalls would be rated as pretty good by most discerning diners.
This of course begs the question of how does one choose the best spots in a town where there’s just so much good food from which to chose? It’s no secret that Yongkang street is a nexus for Taipei’s restaurant scene, but even narrowing the hundred plus restaurants in the neighborhood down to a cool half-dozen “best” is a) highly subjective, and b)almost impossible. (Ditto with the stalls at any night market.)
Taiwanese people tend to go by line length – all those people must be waiting for a reason, goes the logic. There’s a BBQ place around the corner from my apartment in the Muzha district that always has a line. (It won’t be on the tour since Muzha is kind of in the boonies, but if you leave a comment below I’ll send you the address.) After passing it by several times, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Totally worth the wait – the chef has some secret recipe that’s kept people people coming back for years.
But my experience has been that a long line isn’t always indicative of an outstanding meal, and I’ve had amazing meals in restaurants where I was the only customer. For me, the best strategy is to compare a few of the same dishes at different places, and above all, to maintain an adventurous spirit.
Which brings us back to the bubble tea thing.
About a month ago, I noticed the bubble milk tea place around the corner from my apartment was offering something called “Bubble Latte”. Being a coffee purist, I initially turned my nose up to the idea. Bubble tea is one thing, but coffee…coffee is a grown-up beverage, not to be sullied with chewy balls of tapioca!
(I wonder how many old Taiwanese men said the same thing about bubble tea 30 years ago when it first started becoming popular here?)
A few days later, my girlfriend brought one home, and I tried it. I was hooked.
I’m expecting to see an article in the New York Times about the bubble latte craze any time between now and the year 2029.
Until next week,
Joshua Samuel Brown
Interested in finding a truly superlative meal in Taiwan? Need directions to the best BBQ place in Muzha? Dying to try a bubble latte? Leave a comment below and We’ll get back to you!