Stinky Tofu and the Night Markets

Painting detail from National Palace Museum.

Let me just say that when it comes to Stinky Tofu – don’t.

After a slow start with coffee for the adults, Callum struggling with a problem with his computer program, and Declan, grumpily, doing some maths study, we got an Uber to the National Palace Museum. I have to point out that Uber is brilliant in a country where you don’t speak the language. Pick up and destination are all done on the phone without speaking to anyone and you know how much you’ll pay. So much simpler than a taxi.

When the Nationalist government fled mainland China for Taiwan they brought along with them a few hundred crates jammed full of treasures from the Forbidden City. These treasures were some of the best remaining artefacts from China’s Imperial past and they all now sit in the National Palace Museum. Two things leap out: First that the items are exquisite, and, second, that they are mostly practical things that were actually used. So there aren’t ceremonial robes and crowns; there are hairpins encrusted with pearls, tea sets of surpassing delicacy, beautifully executed minutes of government meetings. And many of the pieces are ancient – some of the pottery is neolithic, 3000 years old. Other delicate cups are 500 years old. Even the forgeries of earlier paintings are themselves 500 years old and stunning.

Jade Cabbage with grasshopper.

The fact that one of the most famous masterpieces is a cabbage carved from jade says something about the Chinese approach to art and culture. It’s hard to imagine a turnip amongst the Western royal collections.

From ancient art to ultra-modern, we moved on to the technology district with a quick detour to the train station. The main train station in Taipei is a cavernous affair that is startlingly clean – actually now I think of it everything here has been clean and tidy. Anyway we were moved through a very efficient system to pick up the train tickets we’d booked a few weeks ago online. While Jennifer and I sorted the tickets, Callum and Declan joined the locals in sitting on the floor in the middle of the plaza.

The technology district of Taipei centres on two tall buildings just jammed to over-flowing with technology shops. We spent a happy couple of hours wandering about looking at cool stuff. We also had lunch in the food court of one of the buildings.

Taipei Night Market – sweet potato balls.

The boys wisely chose a great wonton soup. I elected for the spicy hot-pot which turned out to be a confronting stew of all-too-identifiable brains, livers, and intestines. I might have managed to eat a little more of it that I did if it hadn’t been for Jennifer choosing to order Stink Tofu. Now there are those who will tell you that Stink Tofu smells like blue cheese. And then there is us who will tell you that anyone saying that hasn’t smelled blue cheese. When I was a kid we visited my uncle’s pig farm, and as far as I am concerned that’s what Stinky Tofu smells like. And let me share that sitting in front of a bowl of brains and intestines while the smell of a pig farm wafts by you is not a culinary experience I intend to repeat.

Luckily we did better for dinner. We walked up to the Linjiang Street Night Market and had a great time. You wander down the crowded street finding really good food in small servings cooked right in front of you. We had dumplings, and meat skewers, and fried sweet potato balls, and chicken, and egg tarts, and pancakes, and we were full. The edge of the street is crowded with fair-like shops offering you the chance to put in some money and get a trinket out or to shoot darts at things. Declan tried repeatedly to get a claw to grab a Donal Trump miniature and both boys shot balloons to win furry bananas. A great evening.

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