On our 10th day in Taiwan, we met an old friend of Shuwen, Yvonne. She used to live and study in the United States, but returned to Taiwan later. Driving down from the higher elevations of Qing Jing Farms to the lower elevations and into the bustling city of Taichung (a city at Taiwan’s west coast), the humidity had us back, and after picking up Yvonne from her parents home (where she stayed for the night to meet us, because she actually lives in Taipei), we were glad to enter a fine restaurant with a wonderful A/C.
The restaurant was a hot-pot place, and while I already knew hot-pot from restaurants in San Diego, this one was different, more elegant. We had the “split pot” where one side contains a rather spicy broth, the other side a normal broth for ordinary people like me. 🙂 The spicy side also had large, dumpling-shaped clumps of clotted duck blood in it – that was definitely weird. Well, at least for me.
What was even weirder though (well, at least for me, again;-) was the fact that every single time a waiter brought something to the table, fixed something on the table, or whatever, they bowed and said “thank you” (Xie-Xie, pronounced “shea-shea”, or something like that). It’s just the thing of that restaurant, and more common in cities according to Shuwen, but it just feels weird to ignore the gesture (I guess you’re more or less supposed to), and not react to it. You drop one of your chopsticks and need a new one. Duh, stupid you. Waiter brings new chopsticks, then bows and says “thank you” – what the hell?
Or, to illustrate the feeling that it caused: you’re in the middle of a conversation, and a waiter needs to add fresh broth to the pot – that’s an interruption already, and I’m kind of ok with ignoring that and continuing the conversation (because that waiter is doing her or his job), but the bowing and saying thanks?! I felt the need to look at the waiter and say “thanks” back to not appear rude, but at the same time I also felt that this gesture was “forced” upon me, like adding to the interruption of our conversation.
But anyway. The food itself was delicious and very enjoyable. After lunch, Yvonne took us to a recreational area at the wetlands near Taichung’s waterfront, but it was so hot and humid there that we headed back into the city instead, where we walked a little bit through the streets near the university district (which itself is gigantic), and had a nice, cold dessert at a fancy place which name I totally forgot. 😛
The sun was getting lower (sunset was around 18:00h) and we headed back to the wetlands for a little photo session with Yvonne (she was dressed up really cute, anyway;-). The dam that separates the coastal marsh area from the inland areas was teeming with photographers and other folks that came to enjoy the sunset already, and the temperatures were much nicer (unfortunately, that also meant a lot of mosquitoes, and it seems that I have very sweet blood?!). We walked around the dam, made photos of Yvonne, the sunset, and the surrounding area, before we headed back into the city.
Dinnertime! What to do, what to do? The girls were making plans as we were driving back, speaking Chinese, and I could tell that they reached some sort of agreement when one name kept bouncing back and forth between the two of them: Din Tai Fung – a restaurant we had just recently heard of in an episode of “The Layover”. It’s a really mighty famous dumpling place, some of it’s locations have been awarded with a Michelin star, even.
So, when the conversation between Yvonne and Shuwen went something like: “We could also go to Din Tai Fung” – “There’s a Din Tai Fung?!” – “Yes, there’s a Din Tai Fung.” – “Oh wow, shall we go to Din Tai Fung?!” – “Yes, we can go to Din Tai Fung!” – “Awesome, let’s go to Din Tai Fung” … I, erm, kind of knew that we’d be going to “Din Tai Fung”. Because that’s the only word that I understood in the conversation. 🙂
Din Tai Fung in Taichung is located inside a big shopping center with stories of shops, restaurants, more shops, bakeries, and yet more shops. And needless to say, there was a wait at the restaurant – it was Friday evening! Because the place is so popular, it’s highly streamlined, and very efficient though: you leave your name and the number of people, get a waiting number, and you’re told the approximate wait time. When I saw that the number being called was something like 150 while our number was something like 180 I thought “oh boy, that’s gonna be a wait” but it was really just 15 minutes. The restaurant is that big, and that efficient.
While we waited outside of the restaurant (but inside the shopping mall) we were able to watch how the dumplings (Xiao Long Bao, what the restaurant is famous for) are made, because that area of their kitchen has big glass walls. The speed, efficiency and precision of the people working there is amazing. There’s at least four people involved and they all work standing around a table: the first one rolls the small dough balls into flat discs at an incredible speed, then tosses them into the middle of the table; the second has a small scale and weighs every portion of the filling that goes into the dumpling before placing it onto the dough disc; the third one picks it up and folds the dough around the filling, with a minimum of eighteen delicate and exquisite folds; the forth person puts the finished, raw dumpling into a steamer, 10 pieces each.
We also had (delicious) chicken soup, vegetables and other sides, but the “main event” of course were the dumplings (and the spicy won-ton). They even have a small card (see photos below) that illustrates how to enjoy them: take them out of the steamer, dip in the sauce (a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar), add a little bit of the finely sliced ginger, place on the spoon, pinch a hole in it to release the broth from the dumping’s inside onto the spoon, and then sluuuuurp up the whole delicious thing. Hmmmmmmmmmmm! Sooooooooooooo good. 🙂
After dinner, we stayed at the shopping mall, wandered around the various levels, and found ourselves some dessert near the top level of the building before driving Yvonne back to her parents home (through the crazy traffic of Taichung, with gazillions of scooters blazing past in every possible direction), and continued to Nantou, where we’d stay in a motel for the night. Thanks, Yvonne, for taking the time to show us around and a great, enjoyable day!