Returning Home: A delight of the senses, a delight in the memories.

Oh, the delightful sensations and feelings of home. Oh, the wonderful whirlwind of a first week back. Oh, the memories. Oh, the possibilities. Oh, Canada!

Nothing beats the feel of soft warm grass underfoot, or a late night swim under never-ending stars. There’s the magic felt from holding the earth in my hands as I’m pulling fresh vegetables from the garden. (Of course, this coincides with the pesky feel of incessant mosquitoes!). My heart swells at the touch of the perfect globe—an apple—in my hand as I turn it gently and release it from the tree, ready for its first crisp bite. And then there’s the rush of a cool Canadian breeze balanced beautifully by the warmth of the sun basking on me as I tilt my face up toward a clear blue sky.

Driving through the countryside, I see this crystal clear sky dotted with puffy white marshmallow clouds, the perfect compliment to an expansive green below. I recognize the sights of a rolling landscape filled with fields full of corn, wheat, alfalfa and soy interrupted by beautiful windbreaks of different varieties of my favourite trees. The rivers and creeks are sparkling in the sun. The towns with their old homes and shops are bustling with activity. The flowers are budding and blooming. The wide road stretches on in a Canadian style of forever.

How I recognize the sounds! The pull of the clothesline as the sheets are coming in, the creaking of old stairs, and CBC Radio One playing non-stop in the kitchen. The birds are singing and squawking, insects are playing their orchestra at night, and frogs are making themselves known in their own funny way. And oh, how I know that sound as I hear the clatter of pots going onto the stove and dishes coming out of their cupboards.

Oh, the food! I have missed the smell of fresh sweet basil as I pick it and chop it using scissors in a cup. A cob of corn gives off an amazingly distinct, sweet smell when you pull down its husks. New potatoes freshly dug from the garden share their earthy scent as you ready them in a pot of water. Even green beans have their own aroma as you wash them and take off their ends before boiling. And then there’s the sizzling scent of large slabs of local steak on the grill, flavoured with the neighbour’s special barbecue sauce—the smell of which I can already taste as it’s cooking.

That’s where our senses of smell and taste are so perfectly entwined. I sit down to an outdoor table topped with fresh salads, vegetables and meats from nearby gardens and fields. Good wine is flowing from home-brewed bottles. With every delicious bite from my plate I get a taste of my memories and a sense of belonging.

What ties all of these wonderful sensations together is the connection to the people who surround them. I am so blessed to feel the embrace of my dear friends and family. To see the growth they’ve encountered as they still hold those same smiles I know so well. To hear their laughter and to comfort their tears. And to share in the delightful smells and flavours of good Canadian cuisine.

Oh, Canada. From far and wide, with a glowing heart, I’m home.

Had to be local steak with veggies from the garden and neighbour's corn on the cob.

First meal back. Had to be local steak with veggies from the garden and neighbour’s corn on the cob.

And this is how you do leftovers!

And this is how you do leftovers!

Pig roast!

Carving the pig

Carving the pig

Neighbours all together with their incredible homemade dishes.

Neighbours all together with their incredible homemade dishes.

Rain can't stop us.

Rain can’t stop us.

Pancakes!

Freshly picked.

Freshly picked.

The views!

The views!

The scenery.

The scenery.

The gardens!

The gardens!

Describing the Indescribable: A weekend in a sacred place—Makindu, Kenya

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. If you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please get in touch with me at appetiteodysseys@gmail.com, and I’ll let you know how you can start participating! Click here for the fabulous blogs in the carnival writing on the same topic!

 

 

In all of my travels, there’s a lot I could share with you for this month’s Reach to Teach Blog Carnival, but one special experience trumps them all.

The topic is to share my most memorable travel experience. I can undoubtedly say that this moment came to me one special weekend when I stepped off of a joyfully crowded bus (that was emitting bongo flava music on loud speaker) and I pressed my feet to the rich, reddish-brown earth along the roadside of Makindu, Kenya. What makes this experience the most memorable is a feeling. It’s a feeling that words can only do minor justice to. What I’ve written are the words I’ve found in my attempt to share my experience with you.

I had been traveling for a couple of days, starting my journey in Tanzania. I lived in Tanzania for my field research, where I studied the relationships of food, religion, diaspora, and development surrounding the Sikh communal meal, langar. Almost any time I mentioned my topic of study there, I was told I should definitely see how langar is done in Makindu. “That is the real langar” they would say. It is considered an important site of pilgrimage for the East African Sikh community, and both Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike flock to the gurdwara (temple) gates daily.

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langar in Tanzania

Makindu is a little town nestled on the road between Nairobi and Mombassa. To get there from Tanzania, I had to change busses in Nairobi. I arrived at my stop hoping to go directly to Makindu the same day, but was advised to wait until morning. As a single, foreign female, it probably wasn’t the safest idea to be traveling the road at night.

Following an enjoyable evening in Nairobi, I woke early in the morning and hopped on a bus that was traveling to Mombassa. I could only hope that the driver understood that I needed to get off at Makindu. Time on an African bus is often evasive—hours are undeterminable as delays and unexpected stops, drop-offs, and pick-ups can give you only a very general idea of the length of your journey. So if it’s your first glance at the landscape, you are often left wondering where you are along the road in relation to your stop.

As my head was nodding along with the bumps in the road, we came to another stop. I felt an instinct spark just seconds before the driver started speaking quickly in Swahili, and soon everyone was staring at the mzungu (foreigner). “I must be here!” I thought. Sensing the road calling the wheels of the bus to start turning again, I leapt to action. I grabbed my bag and repeated “asante, asante sana,” with a smile that I hoped conveyed the mixture of things I was thinking as I maneuvered my way off of the bus and onto the roadside.

It was a dry, stifling hot day and the sun was up in its full, African splendour. I wiped the sweat from my brow, and stood for a few moments taking in my new location. I didn’t see a road sign, yet I felt like I was in the right place. The roadside had a little line of tables with vendors quietly displaying their fresh vegetables and goods for sale. I looked down the road I’d come from to Nairobi, and then toward the direction the bus had gone off in. I took a breath, and started walking the way the bus had taken. I was looking for the Nishan Sahib—the flag that proudly beckons your arrival at any Sikh gurdwara.

Before my journey, I could only picture Makindu as a place centered on the Sikh stories I had heard of the gurdwara there. The gurdwara is connected to the town from the tales of early Sikh railway workers. Upon completion of the railway in Makindu, the little gurdwara that had been erected at the time was left attended by a local Kenyan (non-Sikh). There are many versions of the story, but in a nutshell, it is told that the attendant saw a vision of Guru Gobind Singh who asked the man to take good care of the gurdwara. Since that time, a fusion of non-Sikh African and Sikh African and Indian employees and devotees have cared for the gurdwara with its very sacred connection to the tenth Sikh Guru.

The gurdwara has grown over time, and it has become a sacred site of pilgrimage that bonds a multi-ethnic community together through an enjoyment and celebration of spirituality and good food. Like any gurdwara, anyone, no matter what your religion or ethnicity, can enter. You can partake of the free food that is always available in the langar kitchen, and you can sleep overnight free of charge. You can also help out, participate, and donate as much as you are able or want, all in the spirit of seva (selfless service). I was informed this happens in Makindu on a scale and a level unseen in the rest of East Africa. As someone hoping to specialize in the study of langar, you can imagine my excited anticipation to find this special site.

But before I saw the flag, my eye caught a magnificent sight across the road from where I was walking. It was an elaborate and ornate mosque. It took me a moment to realize this was not the gurdwara I was seeking. I had gone there with the impression that the town was quite small, and only boasted the gurdwara. I hadn’t realized that it would coincide in the same town as one of the most beautiful mosques I’d ever seen.

Two men were seated at the gates of the mosque; I assumed they were security guards. I walked across the road and intended to ask them if I could take a picture of their breathtaking structure. My idea to only take a quick snap and be on my way was very mistaken.

One of the men rose and we exchanged greetings in Swahili. I gestured to my camera and asked if I could take a picture. Feeling at first nervous tension, I was immediately put to ease with a broad grin and a hammering of Swahili that welcomed me. I returned the grin, and asked him to speak slowly. He gestured for me to follow him toward the mosque, and in his broken English and my broken Swahili, we began a tour that felt like a dream. It still feels like it was a dream.

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He took me into the quiet mosque, I removed my shoes and raised my scarf above my hair (thank goodness I have a tendency to always wear a scarf when I travel—it’s good for so many reasons beyond providing a blanket or pillow on a long bus ride). The mosque compound had many different buildings and rooms, and he took me into almost all of them, where a scattering of what I assume were regular devotees went about their business of praying, working, and socializing. I kept questioning if it was okay for me to enter the different rooms—he even took me to an observation area where Muslim men were praying. He assured me it was okay for me to be there with him as my guide. The gender and religious neutrality in that moment was both surprising and inviting for me.  He led me up a winding staircase of a narrow tower that went to the rooftop of the mosque. From there, we overlooked the mosque grounds and spent a peaceful moment of stillness above the town.

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We headed back down, and he suggested taking me across the road to a different, traditional mosque. I knew I was on a mission to begin my ‘real’ research at the gurdwara, but I didn’t think a little time exploring the area beforehand would hurt. I think I even justified it as ‘providing context’. I agreed, and he took me along a winding pathway that led to a little one-room building. Again, I removed my shoes and covered my hair. We entered the little structure. It was dark inside, but cozy and intimate. Arabic prayers were written on documents beneath a cloth adorning a little separator in the middle of the room. A red rug covered the floor, which couldn’t have been more than four squared meters.

After pointing at the different readings and showing me around the little room, my guide sat cross-legged against a wall and gestured for me to sit across from him. I did. He produced a set of prayer beads and placed them in my hand. He held his own beads, and began reciting an Arabic prayer.

He indicated that I should join him in repeating the words as my fingers worked the beads.

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I have always been fascinated by religion, yet I do not consider myself to be at all religious. Spiritual? Sometimes. I once coined the idea of myself as a pluralist agnostic. I perhaps believe in… something… but I can never place a name or a practice to that something.  So I have spent my time learning about and appreciating the multiple ways other people have found to name and practice their beliefs.

As I started to say the Arabic words, they felt at first awkward and uncomfortable. But I persisted out of respect to my wonderful guide. Soon, I was overcome with emotion. I can hardly describe the feeling I had in that moment, but I can share that I had goosebumps all over, and warm tears began streaming silently down my cheeks. They weren’t tears of sadness, or even of happiness. They were just tears, and I was not sure why they were even there. A rush of thoughts, from earthly questions of place, family, and friendship mixed with transcendental questions of humanity, spirituality, and religion. And in all of it, I felt both peace and confusion. I became suddenly embarrassed. Why am I crying!?

My guide only smiled knowingly, and began speaking soothingly in his few English words and in Swahili. I can’t recall exactly what he said to ease my thoughts, but soon we were walking around the grounds of the traditional mosque where he showed me an even more traditional African mosque-structure of perfectly placed bricks aligned with spaces for the devotee’s prayers.

A haze had lifted, and it was time for me to move on to my ultimate destination. My guide gave me the prayer beads as a gift, and directed me toward the gurdwara.

I didn’t think my newfound spiritual self would experience anything greater than in that special moment in that special little mosque. But it turns out, it acted like a catalyst for the depth of sacred and profound peace I was then to encounter during my weekend at the gurdwara.

It was a quick visit, but in that weekend I was met with a completely awe inspiring experience. So much of what makes this whole experience worthy as my most memorable travel moment, is that (despite the length of this post), the most memorable part for me is what exists beyond any words that can be spoken or written. I’ll reiterate: it’s a feeling.

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The Nishan Sahib flag of the Makindu Gurdwara

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The immaculately kept grounds of the gurdwara are adorned with flowers, lush green grass, and fountains that serve as an inviting and peaceful setting with a hospital, offices, sleeping quarters for staff and guests, three major diwan (prayer) halls, a large kitchen, and a dining hall. In an open alcove men and women, elderly and young, Sikh and non-Sikh sit organizing, cleaning, cutting and piling vegetables. A few steps away inside the kitchen, mostly women form an assembly line of shaping, patting, rolling, frying, buttering and stacking roti. Massive pots simmer with smells of dhal, sabji, and chai, stirred occasionally by passionate devotees and gurdwara staff. Dishes clang together in a nearby sink as stacks of trays, cups, and spoons are efficiently cleaned.

This kitchen is indeed the measure of efficiency.

Row upon row of bags containing various flours, sugars, lentils, spices and tea decorate the pantry shelves, and a walk-in fridge is filled to the brim with onions, potatoes, carrots, turnips, coriander and other herbs and vegetables. All of these ingredients have been carefully sought out in the markets of Nairobi and along the road to Mombassa. A gentle breeze wafts through the doors of the kitchen, as nam simran (music chanting the name of god) repeats ‘waheguru’ over the speakers, the sound of the music penetrates the senses in sync with the breeze.

That music combined with the breeze infused the experience for me with the feeling that Makindu must be one of the most sacred places on the planet. (I was actually really lucky to find a very close version of the music on youtube, you can enjoy it here).

Tables in the dining hall are arranged in rows, and a variety of people enjoy food together. When I arrived, Kenyan nurses from the hospital were taking their lunch while chatting animatedly, and Muslim men from the mosque I had just visited made greetings. Weary travelers, happy holidayers, pilgrims, families, poor and rich, of all different races, backgrounds, castes, religions and nationalities are welcomed upon their entrance into the gurdwara to fill their stomachs.

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A lovely family was providing langar that weekend in thanks to god for the upcoming wedding of one of their daughters. This family immediately took me under their wing, and held my hand all weekend guiding me through the kitchens and the kirtan services (music prayer services), and answering my many questions providing insight I could never have imagined without their warmth and assistance.

On multiple occasions that weekend, I caught myself feeling filled to the brim with happiness and contentedness. I have visited many gurdwaras, and participated in many different activities within them, and I have always received warmth and welcome. But this was the first time I’d actually felt the simran wash over me during a prayer service. This time, I wasn’t just a ‘participant observer’. I actually felt something beyond my research and friendship interests. The tears that had streamed down my cheeks earlier found me again on a few occasions here, and I felt a profound sense that can only be encountered when you open your heart to such a sacred space.

“What sort of anthropologist does this?” I wondered. Theories in anthropology can leave an ethnographer befuddled with the amount of engagement or detachment one is supposed to have when in the field. I certainly wasn’t going to write my dissertation about the amount of crying I did (I’ll be honest, I cried over that dissertation for other reasons too). Yet above anything, that emotion I felt in Makindu was what drove the experience to another level for me. While I still live a life that can barely name an un-nameable, and I don’t practice what I still feel to be un-practice-able (for me); but I can share with you that in that special weekend in that special town of Makindu, I did encounter it. And I’ll never forget it.

I had to meet a friend of mine arriving on a plane into Nairobi early on Monday morning, so I left Makindu after just a short weekend. I didn’t want to go, but life has a way of moving on us, and I knew I had already gained so much in such a short time. Not only did I have more interviews and participant observation ‘gathered’ for my research than I’d ever imagined, but I knew I was a changed person. I had found a contentedness with myself, and a trust in myself and in my instincts that I hadn’t fully realized before. I hopped onto another crowded and bumpy bus back the way I had come. Yet the road and the journey seemed somewhat different this time.

I leave you with the concluding paragraph of my dissertation that I hope highlights how our memories are so connected to the senses that we experience along our journeys. These sensory experiences along with our memories are such an important part of how we develop our own identities, and how we become who we are. I have tended to dedicate my enjoyment of such connections to the relationships between the sense of taste and memory. But it can also be an interesting thought if we add in the element of a spiritual sensation as well.

In my last few hours at the Makindu gurdwara, I was asked if I would attend a lecture by the Giani ji. I explained that unfortunately, I had to be leaving soon, and that I had hoped to help a little while longer in the kitchen before going. The auntie who had posed the question nodded her head and smiled, “Yes, you must take the smells from the langar with you on your journey.” David Sutton explores the interconnected relationships between synesthetic [multi-sensory] experiences and memory, and the impacts such memories can have on one’s identity. Perhaps I can no longer physically smell the simmering dhal, nor taste the sweet khir and chai while chatting with a new friend. I can no longer feel the gentle breeze blowing my dupatta as I chop vegetables with a happy family, nor can I see the rows of tables lined with diverse Sikh and non-Sikh faces. But as I listen to a copy of the nam simran that played on repeat in the Guru’s kitchen that weekend, I know this auntie’s sentiment echoes that of Sutton’s. I have taken those smells with me, and so much more. I have gained a perspective of the potential that can come from reframing our constructed notions of religion, diaspora, and development, by considering food consumption habits as ‘spiritually powerful’—not simply to reduce such practices or beliefs to their function, but rather to celebrate the diversity and opportunity that can come from them.

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The Flavours of Africa

This article was written for submission in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) Recipe Book. The book is an amalgamation of recipes from the university’s very international group of students. Themes of recipes were submitted from all corners of the world, and were organized according to continent. My written submission introduces the section on foods from Africa. It was a challenging and daunting task to do justice to the foods from such an incredibly diverse continent. The words started to flow for me on the bus between Arusha and Nairobi, and I finally recently finished it for the book. I hope the beauty in the complexity of the food found in Africa comes across. I would never normally want to clump “Africa” together in any sort of overarching statement, but given the task, the following is what I have encountered from my journeys in different countries in the east and the west of Africa, from my encounters with people from all different parts of the continent, and from my education in food studies. I hope you enjoy! When I get the link for the recipe book, I will gladly share with you all (can’t wait for it to come out!).

Market day in the Upper East Region, Ghana

Market day in the Upper East Region, Ghana

To think of recipes from Africa conjures an imagery of the dynamic and diverse peoples that inhabit a breathtaking continent, and its diasporas. As with any region, there is no way to simply “define” its people or its food. In Africa, food choices and the methods of producing, gathering, preparing, cooking, marketing and consuming vary across a rolling landscape with mountains, flat plains, sandy deserts, luscious forests, sprawling lakes and rivers, bustling cities, quiet villages, and a vast coastline.

Fields of wheat and rice, or maize, cassava, and yams often provide basic starchy staples—such as fufu that’s found in parts of western Africa, or ugali in parts of the east. Plantain (with its many local names) serves as a delicious main ingredient whether fried, baked, roasted, pounded, or mashed and is combined with various localized flavours. Groves of trees yield juicy mangoes, pawpaw (papaya), gigantic avocados, young and ripened coconuts, and a plethora of other fruits and flavours.

One flavour that tends to dominate the landscape (though not in all places) goes by many names. It can be combined with tomatoes, onions, beans, meats, and even fruits. It can burn the tongue, and it can warm the soul. It is the wondrous pili-pili, peri peri, piri piri, shito, piment, pepe. This fiery flavour is hot pepper. It comes raw and fresh, dried and ground, in chunks and as powder. It is the pièce de résistance for many important dishes and sauces that pack a potent punch.

Lentils, beans and nuts are fundamental sources of protein for many people across the continent. Other proteins are found in meats such as beef, goat, pork, chicken, and guinea fowl, deliciously enjoyed when roasted, simmered, or stewed; or adamantly prohibited for religious or personal reasons. Eggs can be turned into omelets served with freshly baked bread, or can be added to stews, fried with French fries, or boiled for a quick snack when dunked in hot pepper sauce—best purchased for a long journey on a bumpy bus ride across (or between) countries.

The “cuisines” of Africa have been shaped by the important reproductions of food that are tied to the confirmation and transformation of identities and ethnicities. Foods of Africa have as much to do with nutrition and biological necessity as they do religious symbolism, constructs of self and other, and community building. Sharing food is an especially important ingredient to building and maintaining human relationships. This is evident across various parts of Africa as sharing from the same bowl, pot, or plate is an enjoyable and easy way to demonstrate camaraderie. Inviting someone to your meal is an essential way to acknowledge others, and the subsequent dipping of right (not left) hands into the same delicious dish satisfies a hunger for companionship and social cohesion.

Dynamic and shifting tastes and cultures across Africa reflect an ever-evolving relationship between humans and our food. The inter-culinary influences of Africa could be considered as far back as the growing food preferences of our early human ancestors, to inter-tribal interactions, and to ever-evolving trade routes. Today, pre-packaged and preserved foods found in cans, bottles, plastics, crates, sacs and any other container imaginable are imported from around the world, and are sold, cooked and consumed in innumerable ways. Expatriates from all over the world span the continent, bringing their food preferences with them, and firmly established diaspora groups have influenced the availability and desire for ingredients that warrant combinations of old and new methods of preparation.

In Africa, the production and distribution of food can be bountiful and rewarding, but can also be sparse and devastating. Yields are dependent on changing seasons, the content and quality of the soil, migration patterns (both human and animal), and an ever-fluctuating global market. It is essential to consider the realities of food insecurity, as far too many people suffer the consequences of unequal access to safe and nutritious food. The need for sustainable and sufficient food practices should remain in our hearts throughout our celebration of the flavours and joys that emanate from the cuisines of the continent.

The celebration of African foods can be all consuming. We can find joy through food in the most basic of everyday encounters. A bustling bus station teams with vendors selling freshly cooked specialties for the weary traveler. Along the road, individuals balance trays on their heads, topped with carefully and highly stacked food items (which could be anything from fruit, to freshly made crisps, to packages of crackers or gum), navigating their way through rows of big busses, mini busses, motorcycles, and cars, they offer a brief diversion for passengers stuck in typically heavy and chaotic traffic. One can easily get lost in the intricate, colourful, and noisy mazes of people and food that make up the daily local markets that dominate any African city. And yet that experience of disorientation is coupled with awe at the proximity of seemingly never-ending little details that make up a highly functional system of livelihood. At dusk, the rhythmic sound of your neighbours expertly pounding fufu (a delicate task that requires strength, agility, teamwork and trust) fills the air with the immediacy of the time for families and friends to gather together and find satisfaction of the belly, and of the spirit. Whether you’re buying, selling, cleaning, cutting, cooking, eating or sharing, the enjoyment that can be derived from food is profound and limitless.

Global trends in consumption greatly affect local diets and food practices across Africa, just as local diets and the production of foods in Africa affect global food options and changing food choices around the world. This section of our SOAS recipe book welcomes you to try a mere sampling of the deliciously diverse foods to be had from an enticingly diverse continent. Bring these new flavours and tastes to your own kitchen, and don’t forget to invite a friend to share!

Have you eaten? Why yes, I most certainly have, thank you for asking.

So I hadn’t intended for my last post to start you out on my culinary adventure in Taiwan through a random diatribe about an encounter with pineapple (a food that I’m actually allergic to), but as it turns out, that’s what I did. And there you have it. Today’s post is more along the lines of what I had intended to write in order to acquaint you with the delightful, exaltation-worthy food experience that is Taiwan.
 
In Taiwan, when you greet a friend, instead of simply saying ni hao (hello), or asking ni hao ma? (how are you?) You ask, 你吃飯了嗎? ni che le ma? Which means, “have you eaten?”  You can input the words for breakfast, lunch or dinner at the appropriate time if you like as well, for example, 你吃午餐了嗎? ni che oo chan le ma? “Have you eaten lunch?” The response is either, 還沒 hei me (not yet) or 吃了che le (which means, “I eat” indicating, yes, I have eaten).
 
This common greeting just goes to show how important eating is in Taiwanese culture. And I don’t just mean this as it is obviously important as a biological necessity; but in Taiwan, it is also a culturally significant and incredibly valued aspect of everyday life. This is something that is often neglected in North America. As a culture in North America, we are sadly renowned for stuffing our faces with highly processed products made with corn syrup, and tasteless imports that not only lack any nutritional value but also lack any environmental or social conscience.
 
Thankfully this is slowly changing on that side of the globe as more people are becoming aware of the need to eat locally and seasonally (I’m reading a great book right now by Barbara Kingsolver about this very issue: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle). My main impression about Taiwan is that they’re far ahead of the curve when it comes to consuming and celebrating local foods in season.
 
This is not to say that Taiwan has been immune to the industrialized institution of a harmful food system. I think the three McDonalds in an eight block radius and the incredibly heavy use of plastic bags for everything here would indicate otherwise, but my everyday experience here in Changhua does tell me that they’re less inclined to put such environmentally and nutritionally harmful foods down their throats—I’m sure there are other cases to contradict this, but I’ll get to that another day.
 
When I first arrived in Taiwan, I was actually really sick from the flight and from the insane amount of hours required from work basically straight as I got off of the plane. Despite being so sick for over two weeks and unable to eat much, I could tell I had stumbled across a really special place. A place that (from what I can still tell) values two main things: working hard, and eating well.
 
Let me tell you, if that is the motto, I’m adapting quite well. I work like a maniac, and my appetite is back in full force. Food is available here at all hours of the day, and can be purchased on any street in innumerable forms.  On just my walk to a branch of my school, I pass so many different street vendors selling different treats. Some of these include meat and rice sausages, onion pancakes (yum), quails eggs, sponge cake, sweet cakes stuffed with taro, chocolate or cream, and fried chicken and sweet potatoes. Just up a block from there is a road devoted to many different outdoor eateries, including barbequing a whole assortment of meats, vegetables, and different types of tofu. And these are just the food stalls I encounter in a few short minutes walk. And the city is riddled with them.

Quail eggs - a typical treat I get on Wednesdays after a long day

Quail eggs – a typical treat I get on Wednesdays after a long day

Onion Pancake!

Onion Pancake!

These little stalls are nestled on streets that are also jam packed with restaurants of all different styles, from outdoor seating on plastic chairs where you watch your food cooking, to air-conditioned restaurants of all different varieties equipped with modern and traditional décor. Restaurants that serve either Japanese food or varieties of Hot Pot tend to dominate my city, but there are also all different kinds that serve pasta, dumplings, and a seemingly limitless variety of noodles and soups.
Eating at a delicious Japanese restaurant

Eating at a delicious Japanese restaurant

Hot pot :)

Hot pot 🙂

One of my favourite places is a restaurant owned by two Taiwanese brothers just up the street from me. One brother runs a Vietnamese portion of the restaurant serving Pho (a Vietnamese soup) and other delicious dishes—the beef noodle there is to die for, in addition to the fresh shrimp spring rolls. The other brother runs part of the restaurant that sells Oden, a Japanese specialty, where you pick out your meats, vegetables, eggs, and/or tofu and these are cooked in front of you in a delicious broth, to be served with homemade spicy sauce and soya paste.

 
Buying from a restaurant is often cheaper here than cooking at home alone. However, if you aren’t in the mood for one of the infinite restaurants or food stalls, you can always go to a nearby local market (there is a wonderful fruit and veggie market just near me), a grocery store, or even a local 7-Eleven (convenience store) which you will find on practically any corner in Taiwan.  Check this out for a great post about the wonders of 7-Elevens here in Taiwan.
 
If you think I’m finished explaining where to get food here, I have barely grazed the surface. I haven’t even yet mentioned the many amazing bread shops (the bread here is the most wonderful bread I’ve ever eaten in my life—more to come on that in a future post). And then there are the many tea shops that are everywhere, selling hot and cold teas of all different kinds, and fresh fruit juices that you would think are from out of this world, but are actually made from fruits grown here locally (thank the heavens for mango season, let me tell you). And then of course, the pièce de résistance: the night markets. Stepping into the vicinity of a night market, is (for me) stepping into my Mecca. A literal smorgasbord of all different kinds of food cooked freshly before your eyes. The senses are on high alert, as you walk along the winding alleys and rows of food stalls, you are bombarded with an intensity of exciting flavours, smells, sights and sounds.
Changhua Night Market

Changhua Night Market

 A lot of the influence on foods in Taiwan can be traced to cuisines in Fujian, Fuzhou, Chaozhou and Guangdong in China. And styles of cooking and tastes were also introduced from Japan during its 50 years of colonial rule in the early 1900s. I have yet to venture into the mountains to explore Taiwanese aboriginal culture and cuisines, hopefully that is yet to come in my journey here.  I do have a friend who explained to me that some people here will claim the food is very specifically only Taiwanese, and has no influence from elsewhere, as clearly political allegiance is profoundly bound to how we understand and consume our foods. But however you may look at it, one thing is very clear: there is a lot of diversity to be found on any street providing an endless supply of food experiences for a hungry traveler.
 
Taiwan has produced an excellent website that explores the diversity of Taiwanese food culture, and sums up the constantly changing and amazing food experience in Taiwan here quite eloquently: “The Taiwanese cuisine of today is the fruit of a long, continuous process of evolution and innovation.” I have a lot more to say about so many different aspects of the food here, especially the bread, the teas, the markets, and so much more, so please stay tuned!

 
 

More of Changhua Night Market:
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