Wanderlust Taiwan- Cafe Sole at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park 松山文創園區, A Heritage Site

I was at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park 松山文創園區 for a playdate with my artist friend and her children. Songshan Cultural and Creative Park had been a tobacco plant since the Japanese colonial days in 1937. In 2001, the Taiwanese government designated the location as a cultural heritage site. In 2011, it was transformed into a creative hub for local artists to exhibit their work to the public. We walked around the center visiting the exhibits, got hungry and stopped at Cafe Sole for a snack and breakfast.

Cafe Sole is not only about coffee but also about creating a dialogue between the environment and the taste of coffee. The environment of Songshan, its history and creativity, brings a uniqueness to the coffee in Cafe Sole. (ok, I did not make this up. This is a direct translation of their About Cafe Sole in the Chinese site). Cafe latte. Cute bear. Excellent coffee. Cafe Sole sources internationally award-winning coffee beans that are produced out of small villages in central Taiwan. Shame on me- I had no idea that Taiwan produces coffee beans let alone award-winning ones. Ham and Cheese Panini. Made with love. Very well executed and presented.Raspberry Vinegar Tea. This is not something you see everyday in New York. Vinegar tea is very popular in Taiwan; it’s similar to the idea of drinking apple cinder vinegar to boost your immune system. The vinegar tea is usually combined with a variety of fruits and flowers.Chocolate muffin. It’s made with good dark chocolate. 🙂

Afterwards, we got freshly squeezed watermelon juice. Nothing can compare to delicious watermelon juice on a hot, scorching tropical summer day. It was a perfect day with culture, friendship, fine coffee and tea. Cafe Sole is a great stopping place for tired feet. Songshan Cultural and Creative Park should be on the list for international visitors.

This experience took place at

CAFE SOLÉ 日出印象咖啡館
at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park 松山文創園區
No. 133, Guangfu S Rd,
信義區台北市 Taiwan 110
+886 2 2765 1388
台北市光復南路133號
Mail: cafe.sole.tw@gmail.com

Wanderlust Taiwan- Le Pain Grille| Agnès b. Rue de Marseille for the Expats 

There is a large population of foreign workers in Taiwan. There are the manual labor types who usually come from the South East Asian countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. See my post on the Mail Order bride who became a beautician. There are the professional types (the expats) who come from around the world to capitalize on the Taiwanese technology, highly developed infrastructures, language and associations to China. I met a few people like that on this trip. They are from the US, Holland, Colombia, Canada, Switzerland,and the UK. What better way to get to know someone than to bond over a meal or tea?

One of Le Pain Grille’s restaurants, Agnès b. Rue de Marseille, is located near Taipei 101 where almost everything is in English and the food is geared toward tourists and expats.
 Ratatouille Provençal $290NT or $10USDThis is a decadent chocolate dessert which if I recall correctly is dark and not so sweet, exactly the way the French dessert would be. Beautiful and smooth. Unfortunately, it’s not on their online menu. This is their pineapple flavored tea which is recommended by my expat friend. It was delicious but not my cup of tea. I don’t think pineapple and tea should be combined. Pineapple in Taiwan is so full with flavor and sweetness and therefore takes away the bitterness of the tea. I don’t like it. For me, it should either be tropical fruit juice or tea. But not combined.
Staying true to the French way, Le Pain Grille has a long list of chocolate drinks. Really really yummy.  Never too sweet and dark.

Would I return? Maybe, if I live in Taipei for many months and crave French food. It’s decent. But the set up is weird… They charge for bread and you can’t ask or tap water. That’s not the worst thing… The worst is that they explain it to you like you are three and explain it multiple times.

This experience took place at

1~2樓, No. 16, Songgao Rd,
Xinyi District, Taipei City,
Taiwan 110

Wanderlust Taiwan- Home Cooked Taiwanese Cuisine for the Gypsy

I got lots of feedback on my “Wanderlust Taiwan – Leaving in a Few Days with a Heart of a Gypsy” post. People wrote to me. My ex-pat friends took me to lunch as did my local friends. They made me cry and felt that perhaps I do have a place where I may call home. Although homesickness is universal, it’s harder on the soul when the home has no geographical address. It leaves the heart in mid-air and between continents.

What do the Taiwanese do when we feel sorrowful? We eat to restore a sense of belonging and love.  I am proud to be immersed in this tradition.My local friends made me a well-thought out home-cooked meal, starting with a Nespresso coffee.
Clockwise from 9pm: stewed tofu滷香豆干, parboiled Taiwanese spinach清燙空心菜, stinky tofu fermented辣味蔭鳳梨臭豆腐 by my lovely friend, Nancy, at her home especially for me, garlic and vinegar cucumbers蒜味醋拌小黃瓜, carrots and daikon, noodles麻油麵線. In the center is stewed beef and tripe,滷牛腱,牛肚(堅持要用台灣牛)+翁家版酸甜辣椒醬. 
Handmade tapioca balls from lotus root flour with no preservatives
Tapioca balls in caramelized brown sugar,黑糖蓮藕粉波霸. Ends with Oriental Beauty tea.

Here is a clip of how the stinky tofu was steamed and prepared.

My love affair with Taiwan will continue next summer when my heart will beat with delight and my soul soar with glee. This is the journey of a gypsy.

Wanderlust Taiwan: Seven Eleven Cafe Mocha, Best Taiwanese Cafe Mocha

I have been told that I am too critical of food and restaurants. So not true – I just need to love it, like I do for the Cafe Mocha from the Taiwanese Seven Eleven.  For $25 TWD (less than $1 USD), this is the best Cafe Mocha in the world even if it comes from Seven Eleven. Chocolatey, creamy, easily accessible and value oriented. Click here to read my other post for authentically European Cafe Mocha.

Non-Alchoholic Taiwanese Drinks

I swear that Taiwan has more variety of drinks than anywhere else in the world because it is so hot and because it is just what the Asians wanted.  It has all the teas and weird concoctions of the Eastern worlds plus all the Western coffees, espressos and their counter parts with a Taiwanese bend.  Below are just a few of my findings and my favorites.
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This soda itself is not that special but I have not had it since a young child.  One of the very vivid memories of my childhood is a freshly opened can of soda, pouring into a glass with ice cubes.  Can you just hear the bubbles and the surge of the liquid bubbling to the top of the glass?  Don’t you want to quickly drink it before the liquid rises out of the glass?  What a cool way to remember a hot summer day.

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This is wheat tea.  It decreases your “stomach heat,” a traditional Chinese medicine condition.  It is very nicely sweet and has no caffeine.  This is my go-to drink.  Interestingly, there is little to no artificial sugar in Taiwan.  Taiwanese rarely puts sugar in their tea or coffee.

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This is a lemon soda with a shot of Vitamin C, correctly named CC Lemon! It states that it will give you all the Vitamin C you need in one day and it includes fruit juice.

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This is bubble green tea.  There are so many tea drinks in Taiwan and they are everywhere in your face.  Have you ever been in a gourmet supermarket and feel overwhelmed by all the options you have on say, pasta, when all you wanted was a plain rigatoni box?  I got very tired of all the tea choices in Taiwan especially because I am not a big tea drinker.  There are variety of green tea, black tea, Jasmine tea, Oolong tea, just to name them off top of my head.  Taiwan is a tea drinker’s heaven with tea farms galore.  Taiwan produces some of the best Oolong teas in the world.  Taiwanese Oolong tea is very sought after.

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This is Vitali soda that claims to give you Vitamin B12.  The play on words for the name of the product implies that it will give you power.  The color of the liquid looks like the color of pee after you had B12.  It tastes so sweet that is an acquired taste.  This drink was popular in the late 70s with trucks showing the advertising billboard driving around the cities in Taiwan.

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This is golden oats tea.  No sugar and no caffeine.  Guess what?  It tasted so good despite that.

 

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White gourd tea. Where else other thanTaiwan can you possibly get white gourd tea? This is a great summer cooling drink and has been around for hundreds of years.

When I have enough time, when I finally reside in Taiwan, I will go through the entire refrigerated shelves of Seven-Eleven and drink every funky concoction there is. Taiwan is a heaven for drinks.  No need for solid food anymore!

When you are in Taiwan, remember the best way to chill on a hot summer day is to head toward a Seven-Eleven and try one of these drinks. May your drink be sweet and refreshing!

A Civilized Experience at the Westin Hotel Taipei

Have I complained how hot it is in Taiwan yet?  Averages in the high 90s in July and August, with high humidity and a possibility of thunderstorm most days.  The sun is bright and always on top of you. In the first few days, I was a sun seeker: tank top, short shorts, just taking in the glorious warmth.  Soon after, the parasol or the “sunbrella” quickly opens up as the first ray of sun hits my shoulders.  Coupled the sun with walking being the primary mode of transportation, I am constantly seeking a nicely furnished place to duck in that has a strong AC and without mosquitos.  That’s why the experience at the Westin Hotel the other day felt so civilized.

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This is the tower of desserts. They may look beautiful and up to par for being tasty desserts. But my verdict is that they are better looking than tasting.

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The tower of desserts were served to us while we sat in this cushioned, fluffy big sofa while looking out to a Japanese garden with a waterfall feature and a pond while AC strongly blasting cold air at us. Just superb!

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Who can resist a heart-felt hot chocolate?

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For those who are hungry, this is the most tasty sandwich in a civilized afternoon tea setting in the city of Taipei.

I live like the locals when I am in Taiwan.  I go to small noodle stands without AC, sit by the side of the road.  I go to small restaurants that has not updated their decor since they first opened and with their AC cover on the floor.   I go to the nigh market and farmer’s market and eat things on a stick and out of plastic bags. These are fresh, delicious and extremely yummy food at an incredible price.  But they lack ambience and the comfort that I am used to in the States.

I also walk everywhere in Taipei and that means sweating and soaking through whatever I am wearing during all the walks.  It was a nice change of scenario to be  in the Westin for a slow afternoon, enjoying the beauty of the dessert and the AC.

I highly recommend the Elite Concept Cafe at the Westin Hotel Taipei, especially if you go with a friend who is a member of the Westin Hotel and has a discount card where the entire afternoon spent with eight middle school friends turned out to be only a little more than $10 per person.

This experience took place at the

Elite Concept Café

THE WESTIN TAIPEI

133 Nanjing East Road, Section 3

Taipei,104 Taiwan

Map

Phone: (886)(2) 8770 6565

What Taiwan is known for: Night Markets. Visit to Linjiang Street Night Market 臨江街觀光夜市

If you are in Taiwan, a visit to a night market is a must see. It’s part of the culture. It’s Asian. It’s great bargains and fantastic food.

I finally made it to a night market with a camera and some patience on a not so steamy night. This is my neighborhood night market, Linjiang Street.

In full disclosure, I am a bad night market shopper. I am easily irritated by the crowds, the heat and the noise. I pay the asking price and don’t haggle much. I am also too shy to stick the camera in people’s face! So really the pictures do not do the night market justice. The market is so much more than just food! I hope you will enjoy them as I did – with much love to you!

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Grilled stick food. Anything on a stick.

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Mysterious stewed food. Looks like chicken feet, gizzards and tripes.

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Steamed egg cups. Steamed fish cakes, tofu, seafood.

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Stinky tofu. Did not try it though. Still being cautious with my system.

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More grilled stick food. They labeled the food for those “Americans” like me: chicken necks, gizzards, hearts, legs, blood sausages, tofu, German sausages, Taiwanese sausages, bacon wrapped sausages, and shiitake mushrooms. Do you notice a theme here?

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Cake made using animals-shaped and apparently gun-shaped molds. This is hugely popular with the kids.

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Grilled corn, a childhood and adulthood favorite of mine. Yum!!

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Sashimi at the night market! It’s fresh and it’s cheap. Didn’t I blog about how cheap sashimi is here in Taiwan? Heaven!

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Fresh cut up fruits: wax apples, passion fruits, Taiwanese melons, guavas, cherry tomatoes with plum, sapodilla, white meat dragon fruits, watermelons, and pineapples. I LOVE this. I HEART these fruits.

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Bigger than your face steak! At 14 ounces for $199NT or less than $7US.

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Red bean cake

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Taiwanese sausages

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This is grilled pork sold by folks from one of the Taiwanese aboriginal tribes

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Another stinky tofu stand where they serve the mala, 麻辣,version of it. This is from Szechuan 四川, China. Oh, they also sell duck blood.

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One of the many arcades

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People browsing

The night market is located on Linjiang Street and Tonghua Street in the Daan District of Taipei City.