Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Night Market Food: The Oyster Omelet

In the Idol Drama, “Corner with Love,” Alan “Show” Luo is a starving
artist.  He has moved to Shang Hai to
pursue a career as an artist. Apparently, he was tricked by a unscrupulous agent, into moving to Shang Hai and giving him all his money.  He now has to work for a restaurant called “Happiness 131,” just to make ends meet. 

But while he’s there he makes the restaurant a huge success by cooking a
popular night food market snack, the Oyster Omelets.  He is trying to raise the money for a ticket back to Taiwan, where he has left his grandmother, the best Oyster Omelet cook in all of Taipei.  Along the way he meets the beautiful heiress, played by Barbie Xu (Da S), whose parents suddenly find themselves bankrupt and disappear into hiding, leaving poor Barbie to fend for herself.  She decides to move to Taiwan and well… do I really need to go into any more detail?  It’s a typical idol Drama story.  The rich one falls for the kid from the other side of the tracks and it’s all flowers and rainbows and love and betrayal and the usual nonsense.

But when I was starting to learn Chinese I watched this show.  I know…I’m not their target market, but it was simple Chinese and I could almost follow it.  It was cute, okay?  There, I said it and I’m not ashamed…well maybe a little; it does kind of destroy my macho, man about town image, but that’s only in my mind anyway so…enough rambling.

As I watched I got more and more interested.  Not in the drama itself, but in Oyster Omelets.  You know I talk to people and they call themselves, “foodies,” and I can only assume that they consider themselves
culinary connoisseurs, I have no such pretensions, I just like to eat; some things more than others, and I love oysters.

My favorite way to eat an oyster is to suck it off the half shell, with lime juice and hot sauce.  But I like them smoked, steamed, and even fried, as well.  The local teppanyaki place makes a great Oyster Teppanyaki.  It’s fried with onion and garlic and served with bean sprouts and cabbage and a nice caffeine free wheat tea. 

The most "famous" Taoyuan Oyster Omelet
After three years in Taiwan, I finally made it to the Taoyuan Night Market and tried the most “famous” Oyster Omelets in all of Taoyuan City.  In Taiwan, the words famous and popular are used almost interchangeably.  If a place is well known it’s said to be famous. If the place is popular with customers it’s also said to be famous.  The place we went to is well known and popular…it’s famous!  The name of it is,
“Something in Chinese that I can’t read…yet!”
(The word yet is spoken with the greatest of optimism.) 

The Oyster Omelets is made with a number of ingredients:  Eggs, of course and oysters, and rice flour and some kind of green, leafy vegetable. 
The vegetable is interesting.  I’ve asked the name of it a number of times. That conversation usually goes something like this:

Me:  “This vegetable is delicious, what is it?”
Waitress:  “Vegetable.”
Me:  “Yes, I see that, but what is the name of the vegetable?”
Waitress:  (with some hesitation.) “Vegetable.”
Me:  “That’s the name of it?”
Waitress:  (smiling happily and nodding)  “Vegetable.”

Okay, so I finally figured out that whatever it’s called doesn’t translate well into English.  I would be perfectly happy with the Chinese name, but it probably wouldn’t be enlightening as to it’s nature or composition, anyway, but no matter, there is a type of vegetation in there that’s tasty and apparently safe to eat. 

On top of the omelets they put two types of sauce, one is a red sauce made of catsup and sweet chili sauce and the other is a brown sauce that I
couldn’t discern.  I’m guessing it’s oyster sauce and something else but if someone knows please let me know.  I should write to the people at Taiwan Duck
I will bet that they’ve cooked it and know it well.

I also tried it without the sauce, at the suggestion of a friend who happens to be an American.  I found it to be  too eggy, and dry.   In my opinion, the
sauce makes it.  If you make it to a
night market, this is one treat you need to try.

Other posts you may like:

Eating My Way Through Taiwan:  My Locust Impersonation
Eating My Way Through Taiwan:  The Stink of Adventure

Photos:  Elizabeth Banducci
Vegetable:  Wen's Delight

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On the Move: Finding a Home in Taiwan

Listings on the office window, Taiwan Realty, Bade

We have been in Taiwan about three years.  September 14 will be the three-year mark.  It also means that our lease in our current domicile will soon be expiring.  There have been a number of changes that have taken place, since we got here and we have decided it’s time to move.

When we were looking for this home, people told us that Taiwanese landlords were difficult to work with.  For one, they didn’t want to fix anything; they didn’t clean or paint before you moved in:  They were just plain difficult to work with.  But thatwasn’t our experience the first time, we have a wonderful landlord, who has been nothing but helpful.  Part of the reason for that is that we’re foreigners.  We were talking with the landlord recently about why we won’t be renewing our lease and he said, “Because you’re foreigners you will have favor in Taiwan.”  That has certainly been our experience. 

So we have begun the process to find another place.  This time we’re looking for a flat that is up around the twelfth or thirteenth floor, or higher if we can find it.  It will take a good deal of downsizing but I think it will be good for us.

John (2nd from left) and his co-workers
There is a process for finding an apartment in Taiwan.  The simplest method is to find a real estate agent and he/she will look up flats that meet your criteria and show them to you.  There are several advantages to this.  Often the real estate agents know the owner and can negotiate with him/her.  They do all the footwork and make the arrangements for you.  You just show up and look.

There is one thing that’s difficult, and that is that if you find one on your own, it may be difficult to find out which real estate office lists it.  They don’t seem to have a multiple listing service like real estate agents in the US.  You have to find the office with the listing.

Most apartments in Taiwan are for sale, so when you want to rent one, you have to find an owner that’s renting.  You can’t just show up at the office and ask for vacancies, this is the main reason you need an agent.  There may be more than one apartment for rent in a building or community but each one has a different agent, so it’s hard to find out who lists the apartments.

For us, because our Chinese is so poor, we have to find an agent that speaks English. We got very lucky to meet an agent; his English name is John, on his first day of work at Taiwan Realty in downtown Bade.  His English is excellent and he’s a lot of fun.  I think his boss realized he’d made a good choice, when foreigners showed up and he was the only one who could communicate with us. 

John showed us a number of places that met our criteria.  I, for one, want to live in a new modern place, and we all want a view.  Often, apartments are close together and the view out your window might be of a wall, or into the window of the next apartment over.  We haven’t found the perfect one yet.  They seem to be pretty small.  We’re not opposed to downsizing but we still want to keep our washer and dryer, and our good old American refrigerator.  The refrigerator we have wouldn’t fit into our kitchen so we left it in the garage.  I’ve seen people stop and stare at it when the garage door is opened.   They think all Americans are fatties, anyway.  You should see them look at out cart at Costco. I always try to tell them we live an hour from Costco and only come once a month.  They always smile, roll their eyes and say, “Suuuure.” I know they don’t believe me, they think I’m just fat.  They’ll know what fat’s all about, when I roll my wheelchair over their toe!

This looks interesting, look at the close-up below

Other posts you may be interested in: 

Photos by Chris and Emily Banducci