Saturday, October 3, 2009

Taipei Diary, day 2.

Calvin Trillin once spoke disparagingly of the so-called "Continental Cuisine" so popular in the middle of the last century, describing the style as La Maison de la Casa House, a mishmash of generic European cuisine served with much fanfare and little imagination. I missed that kind of cooking by at least a couple of generations (except for on cruise ships of the 1980's), but after I ate an excellently prepared but unexciting meal at a nice-ish restaurant in Taipei I found Trillin's words coming back to me again.

We found ourselves sitting at the sushi counter of a restaurant that is either Japanese or Chinese. Perhaps it is both, but I can't tell. We order the set menu - personally, I like set menus, because my Chinese is terrible and I don't like making choices, but sometimes it can backfire - and sit back. There is a Western-style salad, with crunchy lettuces, slices of apple, and sweet kernels of corn. The Chinese like to put corn on everything, including pizza. This makes me sad, but the salad is tasty, so I suck it up. Next comes a fat blob of uni on a totally unnecessary bed of grated mountain potato. The icky mountain potato (seriously - it is simultaneously crunchy AND oozy, and that is just wrong) is resting on a thin slice of lime, which goes well with the sweet uni.

Then we have sashimi, with sweet spot shrimp, fatty salmon, oily, sharp mackerel, and mild tuna. It is excellent, at least as good as anything I can get in Seattle. Later my mom tells us that the sashimi was all presliced, and the "sushi" chefs behind the counter were merely arranging the presliced fish on platters before sending it out. This is wrong, but it was still all very tasty. There is steamed fish, simply cooked with scallions and ginger and soy sauce, and a small bowl of noodles in an oily shallot-spiked broth. We end with fried crab, hot with peppers, and yellow-skinned chicken, hacked into pieces, Chinese-style. To finish, there is fruit, and the dreaded red bean soup.

It is one of those meals that begin with a Western-style salad, continue on with a Japanese-ish starter course (why did it have to be mountain potato? WHY!?) and sashimi, and then a succession of standard Chinese dishes. You see it all the time, in this sort of restaurant - clean, modern-looking, decently priced, with a wide variety of set menus to choose from, each more elaborate and expensive than the last. Each restaurant interchangeable with the next; they could be in a hotel, or at a busy intersection of some main street. The Eastern version of "Continental" cuisine, Trillin's Cuisine La Maison de la Casa House.

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