I know I talk big with this blog title and talk of grandiose adventures all over Taiwan, but in reality it’s all Tim. I am totally not adventurous. I love to plan, and make lists, and stay in my comfort zone. I won’t watch a movie unless I am sure I will love it. If I plan to eat a grilled sharp cheddar cheese and tomato sandwich on rye bread and a spinach salad with balsamic vinaigrette, I won’t touch anything else until I have found my perfect meal, or until I starve. I am painfully picky (and I apologize to anyone in my life who this has affected).
Needless to say I have a really hard time choosing restaurants here. I can’t really read menus apart from a few random characters, and I am always worried about how the owners will react to serving non-Chinese speakers. Most importantly I am terrified that the food will be awful, and I will have wasted an entire meal.
You probably aren’t as insane as I am, but if you are, let me give you a small piece of advice. Go inside the restaurant, sit down, and pick something out. It will probably be delicious.
That weird, dark hole in the wall with random plates of unidentifiable foods might turn out to be your favorite vegetarian buffet. Who knew buffets could actually be good? Not me. How about the seemingly dingy restaurant next to the creepiest dentist’s office ever? It may turn out to have super friendly owners and some amazing Vietnamese food.
I’ve found that these small, family-run places tend to have the most accommodating and friendly staff. Even if they don’t speak a word of English, they will try to help you have the best experience possible. When Tim’s parents were here, we were driving from Kenting to Hualien, and stopped in a small mountain town to have some lunch. We stumbled into what turned out to be a pho joint. I was really not in the mood for beef noodle soup, and I have to admit, I was a little bit grumpy about the lack of restaurant choices. However, everything turned around when I told the woman working “bù yào ròu.” She smiled, nodded, and specially prepared a bowl of delicious vegetarian noodles for me. She even used a completely separate area, away from where all the meat was cooked, and showed me which of the sauces were vegetarian by pointing and saying “kěyǐ” or “bù kěyǐ” (okay/not okay). I am proud to say I am not quite that picky, but I think it really shows how welcoming and helpful people here can be.
I know all too well how hard it can be to trust that your restaurant choices will work out, especially in a country where you aren’t familiar with the food or the language. It’s a little daunting (and maybe a little gross), but seriously, go into that weird looking shop with plastic children’s chairs and an ancient man smoking a cigarette while turning meat over the barbecue, it’s most likely amazing.