Keelung to Taipei- Chemistry Class Coffee and 60 minute Dumplings

It was a sunny day in Keelung– the first we had in Taiwan– Typhoon Tamri, after all that suspense, left it’s perch off North East Taiwan and headed towards Japan over night.  I was hoping it wouldn’t cause any damage as it careened across Okinawa and Southern Japan and hoping our flight to Kansai International and nearby Osaka tomorrow wouldn’t be cancelled– fingers crossed. The sky was blue, with just enough wind off the ocean to keep the humidity down. I actually wore pants.

Feeling like breakfast and a coffee, we gathered up our backpacks, dusted off any lingering ants and climbed gingerly down the stairs to the road– yup, our legs were really sore from all the hiking yesterday.  We wandered through the now vacant night market and found a Hokuo Bakery 1, which was perfect. A few melon buns, and baked goodies were a great start– all we needed now was a coffee.  This modern bakery was a real juxtaposition from the surrounding older buildings. Across the street, a market was just opening up so we sauntered over hoping someone was brewing some beans.

Many times in Taipei I wished I could speak Mandarin so at least I could figure out the names of places– case in point– we found a large market which was two floors high and covered over two city blocks, it was huge, but I don’t know what it was called.  I don’t think it was the Keelung Fish Market… However, there were lots of seafood vendors, selling all sorts of fresh fish, huge scallops and oysters, merchants hawking duck, chicken and various cuts of pork– some cooked, some not. Have you ever seen a black chicken– I don’t mean feathers, I mean a black– post plucking– chicken2?  Well, they are common in Taiwan markets, but certainly a first for me. It was a great local morning market with lots to see.

We finally found a coffee shop  upstairs at the market, most stores were not open yet, and a group of locals were sitting around having coffee and an early Sunday morning pre-work chat. It was probably a group of regulars who gathered most mornings over a coffee and newspaper– what you would see anywhere in the world— talking about the news, or local happenings. Well, you should have seen their faces when we walked up to order a cup of coffee.  Now, the barista was using a coffee maker that looked like it came out of a grade 10 chemistry class– beakers and all (I saw the same set up in Kappanbashi in Tokyo– I’m going to have to investigate further!) After some laughs and a convincing game of charades we got a great cup of coffee and ended up sitting down enjoying their company– Google Translator was put to the test with varying degrees of success, but it was fun. One of the ladies handed even us some cookies– a nice gesture.

I wanted to see the harbor area before we boarded the bus for Taipei– and I must say the Pacific Ocean from this side of the world is pretty amazing too– I enjoyed the crisp clean air. Keelung is a major trading container port and it was busy; there was a cruise ship about to head to Japan, several coast guard vessels and a few charter boats. We went to the Oceanic Culture & Art Museum which was interesting- they were running a class on making norimaki– as a tribute to seaweed (it was seaweed month or something like that).  Despite some urging from a friendly staff member, we didn’t stay for the event as we wanted tomore get back to Taipei for the famous Taipei 101 dumplings.

 

 

After a much less exciting bus ride3 back to Taipei, we checked into our hotel and then rode the subway4 to Taipei 1015— now second tallest building in the world.  Looking up at the skyscraper from the bottom is really impressive– it is very, very tall! Now, let’s be clear, we were not here for the views, and there is an elevator up to the observation deck which we didn’t take, we were here for the dumplings at the world renowned Din Tai Fung restaurant6— and dumplings were going to be a 60 minute wait just to get a table. We took our ticket, worked through the crowds, and found some sushi to subdue our hunger and then perused through the international grocer located by the food court until our number was called– finally, a seat!  The dumplings were great- we had pork and shrimp dumplings, with pickled cucumber and cabbage and rice– the dumplings were juicy, flavourful and tender– be careful not to burn your mouth7— the meal was terrific and worth the wait.

On the way back from Taipei Main Station, I stopped at a modern looking coffee shop for an iced Americano 8 and had fun with the barista (who spoke excellent English) and who tried, in vain, to teach me a few Mandarin words. We sure had fun with it though!  I nursed the Americano along while my laundry was in the washing machine. Laundry is a reality when you have a 40 litre backpack for a 3 week trip– thankfully the laundry machines were not busy; I took the opportunity to wash all my clothes before dinner.

Tossing my laundry into the two dryers, we headed out to the modern Ximending Shopping District, a 15 minutes stroll– the crowds of young people, the huge neon signs, and bustling restaurants and clubs were quite different from the older neighborhood where our hotel was located. The atmosphere was vibrant and fun– the difference between old and new, traditional and modern is one of the things I love best about Asia– Taiwan certainly delivered all of that and more.  Dinner was a tasty curry– more Japanese style than Indian– with rice, it was excellent and filling.

A last minute check in with the airline– it looked like Typhoon Tamri had passed by Kansai and it was clear to fly tomorrow– thank goodness.

 

  1. Hokuo Bakeries are a chain store, common in Japan and apparently Taiwan too, which sell a variety of tasty baked goods and pastries
  2. It is a Silkie Chicken– somewhat common in Asia– it has bright white plumage and tastes like, well, chicken
  3. Bus #1802 from terminal near Maritime Center
  4. MRT – Red line to Taipei 101 Station
  5. Taipei 101 is also known as the Taipei World Financial Center– construction started in 1999 and finished in 2004 – this 101 story skyscraper was the tallest building in the world at that time
  6. you can’t miss the restaurant- it is right at the entrance as you go into Taipei 101– in the meantime if you are hungry while you wait, there is an amazing food court further into the building
  7. Use the spoon to lift up the dumpling, and you might want to take  a small bite out of the wrapper first to let out some of the steam before you put the whole dumpling in your mouth
  8. You can spend $4 on an Americano in Taiwan too :-)

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