Shanti: Food, food, food! And my homestay experience.

It is Monday of our third week of classes and it feels like time is flying by so quickly, only two weeks to go before I head off home. It feels too soon. More and more, I am feeling at home here in Tainan, I wish I could stay a little longer. I’m still unsure if I’ve gotten used to doing oral reports twice a week, the amount of homework, or waking up at 6:05 AM to go to my 8 AM class every day. But overall, I feel like I am no longer treading my way through the day, after the next week I might just be able to swim.

Many things have happened since my last blog, but this one will be focused mainly on food and my (un-met) goal of trying a different kind of food every day. As mentioned earlier, I’m beginning to feel at home here, which means that I’ve got my own little routine going. This also means that I’ve been lazy and stuck mostly to what I know or tried initially. Thankfully, my homestay parents helped me in my mission and took me to eat as much 傳統 (traditional) Tainan foods as we could in my short time with them. 

My host family and I at Jingzijiao Wapan Salt Fields

I guess I will start with boring you with an in-depth look into my not-so-exciting routine: 

Breakfast: 豬排吐司加蛋 (Pork on toast with egg). Inside they put grated cucumber, corn and barbeque (?) sauce. The bread is lightly toasted with the crust taken off. It takes about ten minutes to make (if I get there before all the kids from the neighbouring school take their orders). I also get an iced coffee which is ready-made and surprisingly good. All in all, it is $85NT ($4.25 NZD). If I decide to skip breakfast or feel especially tired I will buy a mochaccino from a coffee chain called Louisa (similar to Starbucks or Gloria Jeans). Though they remind me of coffee in Auckland, espresso coffee here is an expensive treat as a large cup is $90NT ($4.5) which is more than the price of my usual breakfast. 

Lunch & Dinner: It really depends…
Recently I’ve been going to a small canteen where you can choose one type of meat and four (or more) vegetable dishes. This meal goes from $65NT ($3.25) and goes higher for additional meat or veggies.
But there are lots of different food places close to uni, even a vegan place, so I can always try something new. Another go-to is 牛肉麵 (beef noodle soup) which I mentioned in the last blog, which is around $100NT ($5). There are two places I go to, one by uni and one close to our dorm. Near to our dorm is also a Japanese curry place that has really good chips and tonkatsu.

What I have noticed here is that most food vendors have rotating shifts. One row of shops will have many different stalls operating at different times. First are the breakfast vendors which are usually small stalls along the roadside. There was one breakfast store near our dormitory that opened at 4.30AM! Next are the lunch stores, that are usually indoor and have some seating. Then in the evening, the dinner places will open, which can be a mix of roadside stalls and seated eateries. Obviously, times will cross over, and places will serve both dinner and lunch, but it is not unusual to see many shops with closed doors for most of the day, only to open for a few hours.

Tainan is known as the food capital of Taiwan, with most of the famous dishes originating from its ancient capital. And most of them are Street food. While in Tainan I have been able to try quite a few things. Our dorm was quite close to the Da Dong Night Market (大东夜市) which is open on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Arriving at any night market can be very overwhelming with all the smells, sights, sounds and PEOPLE. Luckily, the first time I went there weren’t that many people so it wasn’t unbearably overwhelming. It was also closed. But, there still were few stalls opened in the usual area and I was able to get my hands on my first traditional Taiwanese snack – Stinky Tofu! I must say, after this first try I wasn’t that convinced but I have since tried it again and I must say, it is kind of growing on me…

Dumplings, egg pancakes and turnip cakes near Cheng Kung University

This week we had an optional homestay experience. This experience was set up with by the NCKU Chinese Language Center, who also helped us UoA students to receive a group scholarship from the Taiwan Ministry of Education to help pay for our tuition fees. I am super glad I went on the homestay experience. My homestay family live in Tainan, and they have two young sons, both under 10, who had their favourite thing to say “不行!No, no, no!” Which they always said cheekily whenever they were asked to do something. My host family could speak English but only used it when really needed. This definitely helped improve my Chinese listening skills as well as my vocab. Since the stay was over the weekend, we had two days together and my host family took me to see some of the historical sights in Tainan, as well as try some local food. The first place we went to was 安平 (Anping) and Fort Zeelandia. This area was once occupied by the Dutch who built a fort on top of a hill by the coast. Eventually the Dutch were driven out by a man named Kongxia who claimed the fort for himself. Presently, Fort Zeelandia is now surrounded by reclaimed land, so the sea that it once looked out on is nowhere in sight.

At Fort Zeelandia with my homestay younger brothers.

During the day the area around Fort Zeelandia has a day market that sells food, products, and also has some games you can play. Here I tried a fried fish cake as well as a very traditional oyster fritter. I am not the biggest fan of oysters but found the fritters really nice. I later tried a pork and vegetable bun and 豆花 (sweet tofu). The tofu was not as sweet as I expected and it came with some red beans and small tapioca balls.

Later we went to Jingzaijiao Tile-paved Salt Fields. Salt is produced here by pouring saltwater over the tiled ground. The sun eventually evaporates all the water and salt is left behind. Here, I tried a salt ice cream, a very delicious tea egg and some skewered fish balls.

One of the highlights of my homestay was going to the Ten Drum Rende Creative Park. This is place is an old sugar factory that was initially bought by a drumming group as a place to practice. But now, it is a cultural park with all sorts of cool installations and activities. There are multiple cafes, a small train, climbing wall, flying fox and a swing that looks over the whole park. The drumming group still practices and performs at the park. They have a special stage built within the factory, on top of the old production line. The drum performance was amazing, I didn’t know that drums could make such a wide the range of sounds. As the musicians played, the still working machinery also began to turn and move.

Before the drum performance.
Within the old factory that has art installations, cafes and even an area where you can play laser tag.

Lastly we went to a restaurant to have some hotpot. This hotpot broth was one I’ve never tried before, usually eaten during winter, the broth was made from ginger, duck meat and alcohol. Both the ginger and alcohol are meant to warm up your body during the winter. Additional ingredients include cabbage, mushrooms, fishballs and jelly made from pigs blood. The overall flavour of the broth was quite strong and bitter.

A hot pot for a Winter night.

Overall, I really had a great time with my homestay family. I was nervous at first as to how it would be, but they were very welcoming and nice. It was good to be in a family situation after spending most of time by myself or with friends. My two homestay younger brothers reminded me of my cousins back at home, especially how they also watched Youtube videos of games and toys, something I found really interesting. I also really enjoyed seeing some sights around Tainan, which I hadn’t really been able to do without a car, and I am really thankful to my homestay family for taking me to such cool places. I definitely improved my Chinese skills and also learnt a lot more about Taiwanese culture.

That is all for this blog post, thank you for reading!

– Shanti Truong-George, 張湘婷。

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