taiwan: flora & fauna flora: dragon fruit. i don't know what it is about tropical fruit, but there must be some sort of correlation between extreme climate and messy fruit-insides. unfortunately, when i finally had the chance to eat one of these guys, i didn't have my camera handy. thank god for google images!. it's bright white inside, with tiny black seeds scattered throughout. the texture is sort of a cross between kiwi, watermelon and pear. for such an extroverted fruit, it doesn't taste like a whole lot, but the seeds are also reminiscent of kiwi seeds. like guava, which was in season when we were there (heaps of it everywhere), dragon fruit seems to have suffered from some kind of internal seed explosion. there are no tidy little seed rows in this fruit (and even though the guava seems to have a neater appearance, once you take a bite (the core and seeds are edible) it seems like the seeds are just thrown in at random). most of the guavas (ba la', in taiwanese) we saw were white inside and their flavor seems hardly related to guava juice (you can almost detect a similiarity, if you think about it real hard). they're more pear-like. sugar apples, called shekya in taiwanese for their resemblance to buddha's topknot. when ripe, the flesh is creamy, almost custardy, and quite sweet. you break it open and eat it with your hands. i do a little better with a spoon. my sister and i decided it has a generic 'tropical fruit' flavor. (and no, the seeds here come in tidy little rows. you can see them all lined up inside the fruit's flesh at the bottom of the second photo.) wax apples, lem bu in taiwanese. apple-sized and really, really popular. or maybe just in season. these are really fibrous inside without a core or seeds. they're as watery as watermelon. my sister's favorite, though i don't understand why, since they don't taste like all that much. here, connie holds up a jujube next to an asian pear. i love asian pears, but oddly, i didn't eat a single one while i was there. (and no, you cannot get them in italy.) we'll touch upon the brobdingnagian fruit thing in a sec. durian (background), king of fruits. in front of it, pomelo(e?)s, a grapefruit-like (and in fact, wikipedia tells us that the grapefruit is a cross between a pomelo and orange) citrus fruit with an enormous amount of pith and non-acidic flesh. in front of those are tangerines. oddly, tangerines seem to be the only type of orange that taiwanese eat -- no navels, no other mandarins (like clementines or satsumas). they're really, really good here, though. just to get an idea of size here, the tangerine is nearly softball size, while the pomelo is human head-sized. and the durian's about a football-and-a-half. taiwanese people (and chinese also, probably), not content with just peeling and eating the pomelo, also like to cure it (smoked here maybe? dried also? pickled?) and claim it has medicinal properties (like just about every biological thing over there). they also like to shrink wrap it (like they do with everything else). this is at the night market in douliou. at the same market, the sugar cane stall. they press the cane for juice, but one of the taiwanese native's favorite pastimes is chewing and sucking on the stalk. says my mom. (but then, she also has stories about how they were so poor when they were growing up that sometimes they would just have a little spoonful of lard with their rice for dinner.) these apples were also everywhere. in fact, it was difficult to find normal-sized apples. i don't know if you can tell, but this thing is like 6 inches in diameter. according to the sign at an upscale supermarket (this photo was taken at a daytime street market in douliou) in taipei, these are a japanese specialty, created at an apple lab in aomori. i don't know how good it is because i was too frightened by their enormity to try one. asians also really like to wrap their fruit in protective styrofoam netting. fruit is so, so cheap here. you can get a kilo of tangerines for 50 cents or something. also, i unfortunately missed out on strawberries. they were in season and apparently are a particular specialty of an inland county. besides fear of giant fruit, i'm also afraid of death by sprayed-fruit-induced-diarrhea. taiwan also has excellent papayas, mangoes, persimmons, lychees, star fruit, pineapple, cherries, bananas, melons and kumquats. (i'm not sure if aloe counts too, but they also like eating jelled aloe.) in taiwan, tomatoes are considered a fruit and nearly always eaten raw, following a meal. (my mom does make that savory egg-tomato thing that's eaten all over china, but i think that's more a mainland thing.) they have an incredible variety of cultivars. one thing they like to do with their cherry tomatoes is stuff them with pickled cucumbers and dates (prunes?). they had these at all the markets. fauna: a mynah bird we came across when investigating an old well in the historical town of lukang. not only does he do a totally spot-on cat meow, but he also says 'be quiet!' in mandarin, in both a man's voice and a child's voice. and a really spooky 'HA HA HA' laugh too. taiwanese people love to dress their dogs up. every dog in taiwan was wearing a sweater, a hoody or a parka. (then again, the islanders also think that 20°C is extremely cold and couldn't understand how connie and i could go around in t-shirts and flip flops.) but maybe this is an across-the-board asian thing, because at this bookstore in taipei, they had 20 japanese how-to-make-outfits-for-your-dog (or cat) books. this is a page from one of them. i mean, WHY? and just because -- the cutest little puppy in all of taiwan. he likes to lick the window.


Blogger foo said...

First: Those "wax apple" things were, when I visited Taiwan when I was about ten, my absolute favorite things. I don't remember if I had any the last time I went, and I can't even remember what they tasted like, but I know I couldn't get enough of them.

Also I would like to corroborate the chomping-on-the-sugarcane tale.

1/07/2006 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger foo said...

Also, on fauna: did you notice an abundance of cute puppies and small turtles at the nightmarket? Using contained in large rubbermaid containers? I didn't understand what was up with that.

1/07/2006 10:37:00 AM  

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