After some time of trying to find the translation for “a nail caused a flat tire” in Mandarin and mentioning that we couldn’t wait until the next day for someone to come by, the rental car company sent a repair person in about an hour.
He came with an assistant and swapped the flat with a spare in about five minutes. We then asked whether there was a place we could get a new tire, as we didn’t feel comfortable driving far on a spare. In the casual Taiwanese manner, he motioned to auto shops down the street and said we could probably go to any of those shops. Oh. That should’ve been obvious to us, but after seeing our blank expressions, he told us to follow him a few blocks down.
This man took us to a mechanic’s shop, where the shop was clearly closed and the mechanic was comfortably lounging in front of a TV drinking a beer. He explained our situation to the mechanic, negotiated to have the tire swap done right then and there for a reasonable price, made sure we were satisfied, and let us go. It may have been a small act, but in that moment, my heart swelled with gratefulness, and I was so proud to be Taiwanese.
In another episode of Jay-and-Sophia-navigate-Taiwan-with-limited-Mandarin, we headed to Yuli to begin the second half of the week. There, I had made reservations for a prix fixe meal at 大洲魚寮, a beautiful restaurant which my mom had suggested. A server led us to a table, which that had already prepped and promptly poured fresh water for us. Neither of us read Chinese, our translation app made poor efforts, and they did not have an English menu. Eventually, the restaurant found a server who could at least translate the basics of what we had to choose from the preset menu (which thankfully, were only drinks and entree proteins), and we were ready to eat.
Because of this, I can only describe certain dishes because I am not entirely sure what everything was. There was an herbal juice, salad, beautiful sashimi plate, fresh seafood and beef hot pot, grilled chicken with lotus root, cabbage, and some kind of tempura sushi, an amazing fried taro cake, local roasted red duck (supposed to be from Yuli), almond pudding, and a rose-flavored alcohol of sorts. They also gave us candied kumquat with our check.
Now, the main reason we came to Yuli was for OMGTREX’s fondness of whiskey. Yuli is home to Kavalan, which is a relatively new distillery and stunned at the World Whiskies Awards by taking home a few medals in recent years. You can get a free tour of the premises (self-guided or English ones can be arranged in advance) as well as a tasting. Perhaps the best perk is finding bottles at a cheaper price than anywhere else in the world. Kavalan is also owned by the same company as Mr. Brown Coffee, which is on the same grounds, but we didn’t have time to visit.
With our haul packed away, we drove back to the bustling streets of Taipei to return the car.
We met up with a family friend who took us to an incredible xiao long bao and beef roll spot he frequents (to be honest, I cannot remember the name), and they were better than Din Tai Fung. That’s right. And we didn’t have to wait in a crazy line, so that’s a major plus in my book.
Every night market will have excellent offerings, but Raohe in Taipei is one of the best. Pictured is the black pepper pork bun which crisps up in a sort of open oven. The bun is so flaky, and the filling comes out piping hot.
While we missed out on summer fruits, I did enjoy some fresh steamed taro and milk. Taro in Taiwan just seems more fragrant and sweeter than what we usually get in the US.
I know, I know – not everyone is a fan of stinky tofu. However, I am, and this spot in Raohe is one of my favorite places to get it! I love eating it with a generous helping of pickled veggies.
In the morning, we picked up a couple fat rice rolls from a stall right outside Raohe Night Market for breakfast and met up with a driver we booked through KKDay (we booked a Mandarin-speaking one for 8 hours, as English ones cost about $30 USD more). He worked with us in our custom itinerary, with the first stop being this Futuro (and Venturo) houses spot. If you’re looking to go to a bunch of different places outside of Taipei in one day, I’d highly recommend it, as public transit between some areas are not great and parking can be challenging.
These are space-looking, pre-fabricated homes from the 60s and 70s, and less than 100 were ever built worldwide! Originally, this spot was supposed to become a vacation destination, but it didn’t pan out, and many of the pods are abandoned. Peeking into some of the homes, you can still see some dilapidated furniture like round couches, beds, and television sets. That said, it appears that there ARE still some people living in this community, so be respectful of that, and don’t walk into any home unless it looks obviously uninhabited.
Afterwards, we stopped by Yehliu Geopark, which has these unique sedimentary rocks. Unfortunately, there were also a ton of tourists, so we walked around for less than an hour and headed to Shifen. Knowing the spots where we wanted to go and our dislike for huge crowds, our driver helped us navigate times when the following destinations would be a little less busy. At this point, it was rainy, but the views were still nice.
Jiufen Old Street is an often cramped street lined with vendors and steep stairs – but it does have a few food gems! Notably, this peanut shaving ice cream roll (with cilantro and a wrapper exactly like the spring roll we had before). It sounds weird, and you may not think that the flavors would match, but they totally do.
Handmade sweet potato balls are one of my mom’s favorite things to have in an ice dessert. This one (阿柑姨芋圓) is located at the top of a set of stairs and has a tiny stall with a larger kitchen to the side.
I know a lot of people romanticize Jiufen about being the inspiration behind Spirited Away, but Miyazaki hasn’t explicitly confirmed that this is true. In any case, the town has definitely taken advantage of this supposed connection with Spirited Away-themed trinkets everywhere, and it’s gotten a lot more touristy in recent years. Another common misconception is that this particular street is super old, when it was really only revived in the 90s.
In fact, this area was known for mining, and the Thirteen Levels is a remnant of that time. Thirteen Levels is also a misnomer because there are eighteen levels. Some urban explorers have gone in for cool shots, but it seems like there are now surveillance cameras at the entrances.
We wrapped up from the places we wanted to see outside of Taipei earlier than expected and asked our driver to drop us off. Originally, we wanted to go to a couple beef noodle spots, but since it was a Monday, they were closed! We walked to another random beef noodle soup place which was good but not amazing. So, we walked to this spot for a more satisfactory bowl of minced pork rice. I don’t remember the name, but I believe it was on Xining Road, near The Red House.
This was a particularly food-heavy post, but sorry-not-sorry, food is my favorite thing about Taiwan! It truly makes up for all the mosquitoes bites suffering. The last spot I’ll mention is one that’s on a lot of Taipei’s must eat lists, but it was my first time here: Addiction Aquatic Development. It’s half live seafood market, part refrigerated market, and part bar. You can find teriyaki bentos, sashimi platters to take home, braised fish, and so much more! We stood at the sushi bar and ordered one of the smaller sets, which was really cheap and well worth every penny. One of the best things about being an island is that Taiwan has access to amazingly fresh seafood, and this was no exception.
If you made it this far, thanks for sticking it all the way through. Taiwan is a country so near and dear to my heart, and I am so happy to share some of my experiences with all of you. 🇹🇼