a Taiwanese feast

everyone knows that grandmothers cook the best food. so when our friend Sharon told us that her grandmother wanted to have a group of us up to Taipei to cook us a traditional Taiwanese feast, of course we were in! [for the sake of brevity, I'm going to just refer to Sharon's grandparents as grandma and grandpa from here.]

we arrived while grandma was still cooking, so we sipped jasmine tea and listened to grandpa show off his collections of glassware, stamps, and coins from around the world. [I was getting nostalgic about the stamps, since I helped my Dad sort through my grandfather's collection a few years ago.]

then we were ushered upstairs to the dining room, where the table was laid out with a feast of dishes. we also met Sharon's aunt and uncle. after a group photo in front of the giant light-up picture of the Canadian Rockies [that also made running water noises] we dug in.

the dishes that grandma made for us were some of her specialties, and all very traditional Taiwanese. Taiwan has a unique blend of influences from various regions of China, Japan, and many other cultures that have made their mark on Taiwan. the result is a cuisine you won't find anywhere else.

there were chicken wings with specially spiced hard boiled eggs [滷蛋.] a braised pork dish [滷肉] in a delicious gravy/broth. a melt-in-your-mouth fish dish with green onion and pork bits on top, and shrimp and vegetable stirfry.

this cold salad with seaweed, bean sprout, mushroom, and clear noodles was one of my favorites. apparently, grandma went to DinTaiFung and ate their 招牌小菜, and decided she could make a better version at home.

there was a platter piled with small bites which disappeared quickly: fried vegetable balls, vegetables wrapped in seaweed and tofu, and fried chicken rolls.

another favorite of mine was this cold tofu dish. it was in a marinade with vegetables and a strange japanese jelly "noodle" called konnyaku [also known as devil's tongue.] the texture was really interesting, almost gummy. I'm not making this sound very appetizing, but trust me, it was GOOD.

we sampled the dishes, then took seconds. and occasionally thirds. there was almost an arm wrestling match over the last fried vegetable ball, until we were reassured there were more downstairs. there was more of everything. and not just more of the foods that we had been stuffing ourselves with... more dishes to try!

the next to emerge was a giant steaming bowl of "Buddha jumps over the wall" [佛跳牆.]  Aunt Michelle explained it is called this because the dish is so tasty, even the Buddha himself would jump over a wall to eat some.

this was followed by a dish of greens sautéed in garlic and peppers - a fairly common [but really delicious] way of eating greens in Taiwan. grandma wanted to serve us a vegetable that we had never tried before. this green stemmed vegetable with tiny curls might have been my favorite thing... green things sautéed with garlic and peppers are always tasty but the best part was the name of this vegetable: DRAGON WHISKERS [龍鬚菜.] you guys know I love my dragons, and the whiskers did not disappoint.

and then came the fish ball soup [阿嬤的手工魚丸 .] this is one of those dishes that doesn't sound very appealing, but tasted a thousand times better than you'd imagine. and of course, grandma made these fish balls from scratch. starting with a fish and making it into a paste, forming it into a meatball-like lump, and cooking it in an outrageously delicious broth chock full of cilantro and green onion.

for dessert, there were FOUR dishes to try! first came the fried taro balls and sweet rice formed into little squares with fruit. then one of Taiwan's signature pastries: homemade pineapple cakes [阿媽的鳳梨酥.]

for the grand finale, there was dessert soup [湯圓.] it was a sweet broth filled with tiny balls of mochi dough and dried fruits [which were rehydrated in the soup.] I was both surprised and happy to discover that even though the gummy balls were made from glutinous rice flour, glutinous rice is actually gluten-free. hello new world of desserts I can eat!

many of the dishes we ate are becoming rare to find homemade, since they take so long to prepare. most people just go to the store and buy pre-made fish balls and pineapple cakes. I don't know that we will have the chance to eat any as good as we were served this weekend. [though we did come home with a leftover un-sliced chicken rollup, and Husband totally threw it in the toaster oven and then ate it like a burrito.]

all in all, there were SIXTEEN dishes for us to try! everything was delicious, colorful, and so very Taiwan. I'm so grateful that we had the chance to experience some of Taiwan's traditional cuisine in this manner - that Sharon's grandparents were so kind to open their home and cook us this feast.

have you ever had any of these dishes? I would highly recommend trying them if you ever have the chance. Taiwan is a great place to eat and any of these dishes would make a great addition to your list to try!

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