Taipei Diary. Road trip.
At some ungodly hour on a weekend morning I am unearthed from my bed to pile in the car with an overnight bag and a bag of bottled water to sleep straight through a three-hour drive, waking in the parking lot of the B&B where we are to spend the night. We check in and then head to the town of Lukang, about forty minutes away. Lukang was an important shipping town, a harbor city in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As the sea receded the town became farther and farther inland, and therefore ceased to exist as a port city. Still, a core of old brick buildings remains, a maze of narrow alleyways and a few substantial temples at the heart of a modern city (although a small one).
Everywhere there are stalls selling snacks and souvenirs, ice cream and iced tea and a guy making wax molds of people's hands (my mom tells me I should get one of my hand - giving someone the finger). We keep going, and the snack stands give way to something more substantial - grilled sausages and then narrow sidewalk restaurants with live seafood and open kitchens, and dining rooms behind glass doors in the rear. We keep going, past stalls with all kinds of cakes and more snacks, the "cow-tongue" cakes (shaped like flat ovals), people calling to us to come try, come buy, sit and have lunch.
We have lunch at one of these restaurants, classic Taiwanese street food: scrambled eggs with oysters, doused in a thick, sweetish brown sauce. There are soft noodles with scallions and a clear soup with clams, and deep fried shrimp with a crackly thin shell. I swig a Vitamin C soda in the sweltering (to me) humidity and dream of cold Seattle fall days. We walk back towards one of the temple, one of the oldest in the area, and come back out again to buy a deep-fried rice cake, sliced into smaller cubes and doused in a sticky-sweet sauce much like the one on the scrambled-eggs-and-oysters from lunch. We continue wandering through the narrow, tourist-packed alleyways, my parents taking turns dispensing history as we go.
Eventually we run out of old alleyways and temples to explore, and pile back into the car to find some dinner. We wind up at a larger version of the lunchtime sidewalk restaurant, still with the open kitchen (and fishtanks) out front, glassed-in dining room in back. We order more noodles and fish soup and fish steamed with soy sauce, ginger, and scallions, and a whole steamed crab (smaller, sweeter, and fattier than the Dungeoness crabs I am used to), and some vegetable side dishes. It is all very simple and fresh, the best kind of seafood cooking.