Especially when the weather grows cold in Taipei, everyone takes part in a favorite Taiwanese pastime—hanging out at a hot pot restaurant. This is a must-have experience here.
Usually at each seat or table there is a cooking pot sunk into the table and fueled by propane. Diners have the option of controlling the temperatures of their own hot pots as they add meat and vegetables to the broth (which can be ordered with different levels of spice). The items in the pot cook for up to 15 minutes, depending on personal preference.
When dining at a hot pot restaurant, you either order several raw ingredients or pay one price for the buffet-style selection of raw vegetables, wontons, egg dumplings, and seafood. The meat is presented as thinly sliced and rolled, making for easier cooking. In all the places I visited, I was usually required to order a selection of raw meat (chicken, beef, etc.) from the waitress before getting up to add the other ingredients. Some restaurants do feature the meat at the buffet counters though. My favorite part of hot pot is the dipping sauces—there are a number of delicious sauces to experiment with after your food is fully cooked.
All-you-can-eat buffets are common throughout Taiwan and in the larger cities, they can be quite fancy and full of abundant choices. Some of the fancier buffets can be found in Taipei, where there also are some pretty cool sushi buffets.
Typical buffets consist of Sashimi and appetizers, roasted meats, seafood dishes, mixed vegetable dishes, ice cream and other desserts.
The buffets are of course, full of mostly Asian fare. Many of the options are presented in unique and creative ways.
I guess my preconceived notion was that Taiwan was boring, industrious, and just a smaller version of China. Boy, was I wrong as the Portuguese rightfully named this “beautiful island” (Ihla Formosa). I didn’t realize that the Japanese had ruled the island for fifty years till the end of World War II (and, in fact, didn’t formally give up Taiwan until 1952 with the Treaty of San Francisco). While Tokyo is more than five times larger than Taipei, my visit here reminded me more of that Japanese city than Shanghai or Beijing. Whether it’s the architecture, the temples, the abundant hot springs, amazing public transportation, or the friendly people, Taipei felt like a manageable, less culturally-insular Tokyo.
The Longshan Temple (there’s even an MRT subway stop at the temple) and the Huaxi Street Night Market on a full moon were a joy of devotion and commercialism.
Longshan, along with the Bao-an Temple and Confucius Temple, is Buddhist, but also has Taoist tendencies, a bevy of deities, buzz of activity, and a blaze of incense. Pai-pai festivals, dedicated to “city gods,” happen here nearly every day as you’ll see lavish feasts left for the gods and people using joss-sticks to learn their fortune. Visit at nighttime as it’s beautifully-lit and allows you to enjoy the night market across the street.
And, most Taiwanese towns have some kind of lantern festival to celebrate the 15th day of the new Lunar New Year. I chose Pingxi, which I talk about in my other posts here.