I guess turning thirty is one of those things that was bound to happen sooner or later. Well, it’s better than the alternative! And I’ve had a good thirty years – I can’t think of one I’ve had that I’d want to erase from my past, even the hard ones. So, I guess I don’t really have much to complain about!
My students surprised me with a little party at the end of the school day. They had created a long “HAPPY BIRTHDAY MRS. LIMA” banner, and an artistic card, which they had all signed. One girl (Morgan, at the left) brought in two trays of brownies she had made. A few kids even brought in gifts for me. The ringleaders proudly informed me that they had been planning this for months. It really helped make my day special!
Another special part of my day was when Floyd took me out to dinner at an interesting restaurant called Outer Mongolia. (He had asked someone to recommend the most unusual restaurant in Taichung, and this is what they suggested.) We enjoyed great Mongolian food (the lamb ribs were the best) which we ate in a large red yurt. One of the most fun parts was reading the menu. Here were some of the funniest-sounding items:
mutton tendon salad
roasts the pork
shrimp paste low-quality vegetable beef
banana and mutton roll
hundred fragrant fruits fry the lily
alcohol admix goaty milk
sheet iron anise apricot bao ku
the unwearied effort however mutton clamps the cake
Pretty much every restaurant we’ve eaten in since coming to Taiwan has been a deliciously delightful experience. We wanted to describe a few of them so you’ll know what you’re missing (and remember, come visit us any time – we’d be glad to take you out to all of them!).
Description: This is sort of a hole in the wall, painted bright orange, with indoor or outdoor seating. The cooks and waiters are friendly and helpful; there’s a variety of tasty Chinese dishes. You can read about our linguistic misadventures in this restaurant here.
We Recommend: cashew chicken or pineapple shrimp
We Don’t Recommend: scrambled-egg-and-tomato soup
NEWS FLASH: THE ORANGE GROVE NOW HAS AN ENGLISH MENU! WOW, WHAT A WEALTH OF OPTIONS HAS BEEN OPENED UP TO US THERE!
Description: About fifteen seats are arranged around a single horseshoe-shaped table. You order your choice of meat, and it comes with two kinds of veggies on the side, plus tea and soup (order steamed rice as well). The chef cooks everything on a flat metal stovetop in the center of the horseshoe, then just leans over and plops it into your bowl.
We Recommend: buttered mushrooms or cuttlefish
We Don’t Recommend: sirloin steak (it isn’t bad, but not worth paying twice as much as anything else on the menu)
Description: This little stand right outside our apartment building probably opens at the crack of dawn (no matter how early we get up, we’ve never found it closed except during a typhoon) and stays open till 10 or 10:30. They sell various things we still can’t identify, most fried, though there are also some bowls of soup/porridge and pre-prepared sandwiches.
We Recommend: ONION CAKES!!! (Called dan bing in Chinese.) These are incredibly delicious! They start with a round piece of dough similar to a tortilla but thicker (much like a Kenyan chapati, if you know what that is), but with finely chopped green onions in the dough. As they fry it, they pour a mixture of beaten egg and green onion over it, then fry the other side and fold it in half kind of like an omelette before they give it to you. Eaten hot with ketchup, it’s out of this world!
We Don’t Recommend: the round or oval things with meat in the middle; they’re more expensive and the meat isn’t as cooked as I’d prefer. Just stick with onion cakes and you can’t go wrong!
Description: This is a classy restaurant in a nice part of town, not walking distance from where we live (unlike the other places mentioned here). The decor has a “Shanghai in the 1900s” theme.
We Recommend: stewed shredded swamp eel (I’m not kidding!); the roasted peanuts they give you before the meal comes are great too.
Description: This was the first restaurant Floyd and I went to on our own after coming to Taiwan. Don’t expect to be able to read the menu or communicate with the staff in English, but if you can get past that, you’ll probably have a great experience. Floyd and I came up with a system whereby we randomly point to menu items, then keep track in a notebook of what kind of food comes. I guess you could say we’re building our own English version of the menu. You can read about our embarrassing linguistic misadventures at this restaurant here.
We Recommend: prawns with butter and garlic (column 1, section 1, item 5), spicy tasty fish with onions in sauce (column 1, section 2, item 10), or sweet and sour pork ribs (column 2, section 1, item 6)
We Don’t Recommend: ginger squid (column 3, section 2, item 1) or bland bony fish and tofu soup (column 4, section 3, item 3)
Name: Ho-Yuan (but we call it The Tea Shop or Bambina’s; I think that’s Italian for “baby girl”. They (sort of) have an attempt at Italian food, and there’s an adorable baby girl who toddles around the restaurant in a walker while her parents cook and serve.)
Description: It’s a little restaurant with about four small tables and a limited menu inside. The best part is outside, where they have a separate menu, mostly of beverages, especially the chilled, flavored tea drinks that are so popular here in Taiwan. (The picture is of the outside menu.)
We Recommend: funland juice (that’s Floyd’s favorite)… I’m not sure what my favorite is, but I love almost everything I’ve had there (including the weird Italian/Chinese combo casseroles and pizzas). The chocolate-banana smoothie I bought today was great!
Description: It’s the only place in our neighborhood where you can satisfy that craving for Mexican food (or various other “American” type dishes); they sell a few imported grocery items and craft supplies, too – it’s also the only place I’ve been able to buy scrapbook paper!
We Recommend: enchiladas or any sandwich on sourdough
One of Floyd’s and my favorite little restaurants here in Taichung is called the Orange Grove. At least, we call it that, because much of it is painted orange, and it has big round orange lanterns hanging out front. Maybe someday when we learn to read Chinese well, we can figure out what the sign out front actually says.
Although we love the food at this place, unfortunately, they have no English menu or pictures. Usually in the past we’ve gone there with friends who can translate and order for us, but this time we were on our own… but we figured somehow we’d manage.
Well, we stood there looking dumbly at the unintelligible menu and waiting for inspiration to strike while the three or four employees and one other customer watched us expectantly. One of the ladies remembered us from the last time we had come and asked in Chinese if we wanted the sweet and sour fish again (at least, I’m pretty sure that’s what she was asking; I saw her look of recognition and heard the word for “fish”).
However, we felt like something different this time. Finally Floyd asked for “gung bao ji ding”(kung pao chicken), which, as one of the few dishes we know how to say in Chinese, has become our standby for such times. Then I decided I wanted some cashew chicken, which we’d had before and knew they fixed really well. But I couldn’t remember the word for “cashew”, and all I managed to communicate was that I wanted a different chicken dish. They seemed to think I meant instead of the gung bao, and I tried to explain that we wanted both, and they kept trying to guess what other kind of chicken I might want, but of course I couldn’t understand most of what they said.
Finally the other customer stepped in to help, announcing that he spoke a little English. So we told him in English what we wanted, but he didn’t know what “cashew” meant. Finally, in desperation, I took out a piece of paper from my purse and drew a cashew. The results were instantaneous! Immediately, every face lit up, and they all exclaimed, “Oh, yao guo! Yao guo ji” (a phrase which I have since carefully memorized).
We all laughed in relief, and nodded, and they ushered Floyd and me to a table. Well, we were delighted when the cashew chicken arrived, and it was just as good as we remembered. But the gung bao ji ding hadn’t come by the time we finished, and we wondered if they had gotten mixed up after all and thought we’d changed our original order. So Floyd caught a waiter’s eye and said “Gung bao ji ding,” and he said something and walked away. We thought maybe he was telling us it was on its way, until we heard him repeat our order to the cook. We had to wait awhile longer while they cooked it, before our second dish finally came. And then, to our surprise – it was more cashew chicken! We managed to hide our reactions from the restaurant staff, but needless to say, we were somewhat confused! (They were too, obviously.) The best we could figure was that they must have thought that we thought “gung bao ji ding” meant “cashew chicken” all along. And the worst of it was, we assumed they’d remember us again, and next time we came, if we tried to order kung pao chicken, they would remember that we really meant cashew chicken, and that’s what they’d give us from then on!
Oh well, at least it was delicious!
Well, the sequel to that story happened the next week, when we went to the Orange Grove again, but with our friend Elaine this time (who speaks almost fluent Chinese). Not only was she able to order several different dishes for us, but she also talked to the serving staff and explained our last time’s misunderstanding, which she had gotten a big kick out of when I described it to her. She had a long conversation with them, parts of which she translated for us as it went along. Apparently they told her how we’ve been in several times and that the last time especially was a communication disaster because they have no English menu. The main lady asked very seriously if we had liked the food we had just eaten, so that she could remember it and serve it again every time we come, to avoid further misunderstandings. Floyd and I got a kick out of that! We ended up settling on three particular dishes which the staff assured us they would remember, and agreed that unless we brought a translator or found some way to tell them otherwise, they would serve us those same three things from then on whenever we come.
Is that funny, or what?! But so practical! It was touching how concerned they were for us. And I think it’s fun that for the first time in my life I’ll be able to walk into a restaurant and ask for “the usual” and they’ll know what I mean!
As we were leaving, I turned and said, “Yao guo ji hun hao chi” (the cashew chicken was very good), and they were all excited that I could say that (and say it correctly, apparently, tones and all). I was quite proud of myself! I know it sounds silly to make a big deal over such a small thing, but honestly, our language learning is progressing extraordinarily slowly, so I have to take my little triumphs where I can get them. And knowing we can go to the Orange Grove any time we like and to get a meal we’re guaranteed to love is definitely a triumph!