Sunday, 16 July 2017

tainan: old-world charm, fish noodles, and cat cafes

Eating out, with a side of geese, in Tainan (台南).

So look, I have pretty much good things to say about every place we visited in Taiwan, but I'm going to come right out and play favourites here: I am particularly fond of Tainan. This city has so much character - it's just such a beautifully warm blend of old and new. On one side you may see little shops that look like they have been around for centuries, offering traditional goods and services that are increasingly rare in the modern world. On another, you might come across youthful, trendy stores and eateries with cosmopolitan vibes and experimental twists.

Just to give you an idea of what I'm talking about, this traditional puppet parade was one of the first things we stumbled upon on our first day exploring Tainan city. I think it's part of some Taoist ceremony, but that's my best guess. I asked a local bystander, and she didn't know, either!

Giant puppet parade in Tainan.

Soon after that, we strolled by a roadside setup where you can try your hand at making a traditional Taiwanese candy with sugar and baking soda, a crunchy treat similar to what you might know as honeycomb, hokey-pokey, or cinder toffee.

Cooking candy in the streets of Tainan (煮碰糖).

One moment, we'd be eating "top scholar" cakes (狀元糕) - traditional little rice cakes steamed in curious contraptions that look like mini totem poles, with ground peanuts or black sesame...

Top scholar cakes, also sometimes translated as champion cakes, from Wang's stall (王家庄狀元粿).

But another moment we'd be eating mini Belgian-style waffle ice cream sandwiches.

Belgian waffles with ice cream from Gold House (金色小屋比利時松餅).

We'd slurp down delicious douhua (豆花) - tofu pudding - from well-established shops that specialize precisely in this type of dessert. You can get it in the basic original flavour, which is simply sweetened, or you can get it with toppings such as red beans (adzuki), green beans (mung), tapioca pearls, lemon, and barley. You may see tofu, or bean curd, with a subtle grayish tinge - these are made from black soy beans instead of the usual yellow ones. Some shops add charcoal, making the gray colour way more distinctive and prominent.

I am partial to getting my sweet soybean curds with red bean topping,

Black soy bean tofu pudding with red bean topping from Mao's Black Sweet Tofu. (茂記黑豆花大王赤崁店)

While Simon can never seem to resist getting them with black tapioca pearls.

Tofu pudding with pearls from Tong's Anping Bean Jelly (同記安平豆花).

And we'd indulge in sweets from this sleek Japanese dessert shop - at the time we went, it also had
a casual photo exhibition in the upstairs dining area, and I think the pictures were from the shop owner's travels - so that was pretty interesting.

This fish-shaped cake, known in Japan as taiyaki, has an exterior that is made with a batter similar to what is used for pancakes or waffles.

Red bean and matcha taiyaki (紅豆抹茶鯛魚燒) from Hanami UJI Matcha WA-Sweets (宇治花見), 25 NTD.

The filling is part red bean paste, part matcha cream, and it is absolutely divine, especially when the whole thing is still fresh and warm. The sweetness of the red bean paste and the gentle bitterness of the matcha cream complement each other wonderfully.

The taiyaki's crisp exterior and lush fillings are a seriously fabulous combination.

And if you feel like something cold, there's the combination milk-and-matcha soft serve.

The soft serve milk-and-matcha twist, 80 NTD.

One thing I really wanted to try in Taiwan are fish noodles, which are not noodles and fish, but literally noodles made from fish. It's not terribly common - there's supposed to be a fish noodle stall in Cijin Island of Kaohsiung that's excellent, but it wasn't open when we went there. So it was to my delight that I found that there were two shops in Tainan that do handmade fish noodles!

At both places, I tried the fish noodles, as well as fish dumplings. As I've mentioned, the noodles are made from fish, but the cool thing is that the dough for the fish dumpling skin contains fish as well. Meanwhile, it seems that the dumpling filling is typically pork or a combination of fish and pork.

We went to the Xia Family Handmade Fish Noodle Shop first.

Behold their fish noodles...

Xia's fish noodle soup (夏家手工魚麵), 45 NTD for a small bowl, 70 NTD for large.

And their fish dumplings.

Xia's fish dumpling soup (夏家魚餃湯), 30 NTD.

Then we sampled the fish noodles from Zhuo Family Shantou Fish Noodle Shop...

Zhuo's fish noodle soup (卓家汕頭魚麵), 45 NTD for a small bowl, 75 NTD for large.

And also their fish dumplings.

Zhuo's fish dumpling soup (卓家魚餃湯), 35 NTD.

Honestly, it's been so long that I can't remember if one of the fish noodle shops was obviously better than the other one. In any case, they're both well-regarded and are located within a 10-minute walking distance to each other, so if you're in the area, it totally makes sense to try both anyway.

After eating fish noodles, relaxing in a cat cafe with a drink is a good idea. We went to two cat cafes in Tainan, and we found them to be superbly pleasant. We were entertained by the cats, and the cats seemed content and comfortable with the cafe setting and can easily choose to engage with guests or peace out in a safe space, which is so important, and exactly how cat cafes should be.

(AT) Cats & Tea is the more elaborate one, with a generous number of cats, and lots of space.

The bright orange sign was very effective in getting our attention.

(AT) Cats & Tea (茶飲輕食) cat cafe in Tainan.

We found this cute grumpy cat amusing. Despite the disdainful expression, it was amenable to being patted.

Cat with grumpy face at Cats & Tea.

And how about this adorable tabby being all loaf-like on a chair?

A tabby loaf at Cats & Tea.

Oh, my heart.

Fluffy blue-point cat taking a cat nap at Cats & Tea.

The other one we went to, Cafe Moment, is a very modest setup in comparison. It's more like a cafe that happens to have a couple of cats hanging around all casual-like, rather than the expected style of cat cafe that has more of a playground element to it, if you know what I mean.

Cafe moment (貓門咖啡).

I think we saw two cats while we were there. This cutie was there by itself for awhile before another one made an appearance.

One of the cats at Cafe Moment.

The menu has such a sweet personal touch, and the coffee here is so very pretty!

Cafe Moment menu and coffee.

I didn't mean for this post to end up being so long, but seriously, it could have been much longer, with way more pictures, more thoughts. There are many things I enjoyed in Tainan, and this is but a mere glimpse of what it has to offer.

Dragon fountain at Koxinga Ancestral Shrine (鄭成功祖廟).

So I say, if you get the opportunity, go stroll the streets of Tainan, and experience its charms for yourself!

A walk in Tainan.

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