Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Eating My Way Through Taiwan: Pot Lucks

Every Sunday afternoon we participate in a Pot Luck. Actually, they're fellowships for our church. We started them when we realized that relationships were only taking place between in one direction. Everyone in the church has a relationship with me and my family, but relationships between the people in the church not so much. People would come to church and leave right afterwards, they never got together outside of church. So we decided to use food as a way to gather people. It turned out to be a delicious and successful method. I will always opt to have food-related activities over almost any other kind. In Riverside we had pot lucks, also. They were exciting forays in to Mexican cuisine, by some of the best Mexican cooks I know. Now we are venturing into Taiwanese and Chinese specialties by some of the best Chinese cooks I know. So here is a look at last Sunday's menu:

These are the main dishes. On these platters you will see, clockwise from the top left: Sweet and Sour Fish, this is like Sweet and Sour Pork using white fish. I'm guessing it's Tilapia. Next is To Gan This is like To Fu but it has more consistancy and smoky flavor. Next is kelp. This one is marinated in a vinegarette. Then we have Xiao Long Bao, these are pork dumplings, pork mixed with herbs and spices and steamed in dough.

This is Squash in a nice sauce. It is quite flavorful. I've found, generally, that vegetables an fruits have much more taste here than in the US. I think it's because they are not grown on huge farms but small local farms. As when you grow them at home they have much more flavor than store-bought ones. Fruit and vegetables in Taiwan are excellent.

This is muchrooms, and shrimp with rice noodles. I can eat this over and over and not get enough. The noodles are interesting because they have a little snap to them when you bite them. They're not like Pasta that kind of melts in your mouth you really have to chew them. Awesome!

Cucumbers with a vinegarette dressing. It's served cold and is very refreshing. It gets hot and humid here and a nice cold moist vegetable like this is the answer to the heat wave.

Purple and white Dragon Fruit. Both served well chilled are very good. I've found the purple Dragon Fruit is the best flavor. The white one is kind of tasteless. They have the consistency of pears.

So there you have it. Quite a nice meal. Most of the food is homemade, but some people get food at the local restaurants. It is cheaper, many times, to buy food at a local restaurant then to try to make it yourself. Often, my whole family can eat a full meal for $240 NTD (about $7.00 USD). Our friend Helen, cooks different foods for us to try, and she is an excellent cook. Everyone looks to see what she's bringing to decide if they want to stay or not. I don't have to look, I know whatever she makes is going to be good.

I've read that over and I'm not much of a food critic. Critic implies that there will be a criticism. I never criticize food, I digest it.

Photo Credits: Emily & Elizabeth Banducci

Typhoon Conson: How Did We Cope?

Well it seems that Typhoon Conson was much ado about nothing in Taiwan. I don't want to denigrate the lives lost due the Typhoon. Eighty people are dead because of the impact of the storm in the Philippines, Southern China and Viet Nam. Typhoon Conson was a deadly storm, I'm just saying that it didn't come anywhere near Taiwan.

Emily was overreacting to the news that a Typhoon had formed and was heading in our general direction. The CWB (Central Weather Bureau) website is now floating this banner: There is no typhoon news now !! So the Typhoon went away.

The following is Wikipedia's report on the Typhoon Conson:

"In the Philippines, Conson produced widespread, torrential rains which triggered significant flooding. At least 76 people are known to have been killed across the country and 72 others are listed as missing. Preliminary damage estimates were placed at PHP189 million (US$4.1 million). In China, at least two people have been killed due to wind-related incidents. Hainan Province sustained significant damage from the typhoon, with damage estimated at ¥500 million (US$73.8 million). Widespread damage was reported in Vietnam where at least two people were killed and 17 others were listed as missing."

The weather here was only marginally impacted by the storm. We continued to have daily thunderstorms, and hot, humid days. But I'm sure there will be more Typhoons and we will have something to report eventually.

Meanwhile, here is this picture shows how much we look forward to the next one!

Other Posts you may be interested in:

Typhoon Conson:  Here It Comes
Storm Chasers:  Driving Into the Belly of the Beast

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Here it Comes: Typhoon Conson

I have received the news that a Typhoon is headed our way. This is how I found out. Emily posted it on her Facebook page.


So I looked and sure enough a typhoon is headed towards us from southeast of the Philippines. People have asked me about the difference between a typhoon and and a hurricane. So I am going to do a two-part series on Typhoons. The first part is going to be explanations and information about Typhoons and the second will be our experience with this one…IF in fact, it actually impacts us. Emily is a little frightened, but I’m not for several reasons:

1st. We live in Northern Taiwan; the majority of typhoons have the greatest impact in Southern Taiwan.
2nd: Our house is a safe and comfortable place, with a 1,000 gallon cistern on the roof. So we have water for a while if there is a problem.
3rd: The cistern is gravity fed. If the power goes off we will still have water.
4th. The community has a system in place for early warning of emergencies, and our neighbors care about us and will let us know what we need to know.

So, no big deal…Yeah, right. Emily’s friend Betty (Chinese name is Pei Yu Sun (pronounced Pay You Soon)) had this to say about Emily’s fears

Pei Yu Sun: haha dont be scared its very normal!

She grew up here and so she looks at typhoons like people in Southern California look at earthquakes. So let’s talk Typhoons:

A typhoon basically is a hurricane that takes place in the region of the Philippines or the China Sea.

How are They Formed?

Sunlight warms the water surface, which in turn results in high temperatuires and high humidity in the air just above the surface of the water. The air as it is warmed is inflated in other words the volume of air increases and the warmer air begins to rise or “soar.” As it rises and begins to cool it begins to drop and warms again and rising. Think about what this means as the air rises it leaves a lower pressure area below it. More air is taken into the place and as the air begins to warm again a greater flow of air is pulled into the low pressure area. As these things happen a coumn of air is formed that is of high temperature, light weight and low density (pressure) This is called a Tropical Depression. The air flows from high pressure to low pressure as the air rises and the pressure lessens the air will flow from the high pressure areas surrounding the column of air creating the winds.

In Summer the area of high temperature moves to the north. If you look at the angle of the globe in relation to the sun the area north of the equator receives more direct sunlight causing temperatures to rise in that area. That’s why May, June, July, August and September are warm in the Northern Hemisphere and cold in the Southern Hemisphere. As the air in the Northern hemisphere heats up it pulls the Souhteasterly Trade winds in the Southern Hemisphere up into the Northern Hemisphere. This is the cause of the Monsoon Season. There is head on contact between the Southeasterly and Northwesterly Tarade winds. Causing more air to “soar” once again lowering pressures and drawing more air in. The disturbance of air flow caused by the meeting of the trade winds results in turbulence and can create a vortex, that is copntinually fed by the low pressure vortex draws more air in and increases wind speed. Whne the wind speed reaches or exceeds 62.5 kmh (39 mph) it is upgraded to a typhoon. Average wind speed of a typhoon is 140 kmh (88 mph).

Where do They Start?

If you look at a map of the Pacific Ocean find the islands of Chuuk, that’s eems to be the starting point for most typhoons.


There is a website, www.cwb.gov.tw that is the weather site for taiwan. They track and project the path of all typhoons in the area. This picture shows the direction of the typhoon heading toward us now. The defined points are the actual direction of the typhoon to date. The circles are potential direction in the near future, as you can see this typhoon will miss Taiwan by a good margin probably. Although we may get a lot of rain.

Typical Typhoon Tracks Follow Three Directions:

1. Straight. A general westward path affects the Philippines, southern China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
2. Recurving. Storms recurving affect eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan.
3. Northward. From point of origin, the storm follows a northerly direction, only affecting small islands.


Right after our arrival in September 2009, there was a major Typhoon called Ketsana. (Hurricanes are given people names, but typhoons are named after animals, zodiac signs, and other things.) The typhoon cuased huge disaster on the Philippines. 1.09 billion dollars worth of property damage and 747 people killed. The President of the Philippines declared it a National Calamity. The Photo at the top of the page is Typhoon Ketsana.

The typhoon lasted seven days from September 23rd to 30th with sustained wind speeds of 140 kmh (88 mph) and gusts up to 165 kmh (105 mph). People died from floods and landslide.

Two weeks prior to our arrival in Taiwan, there was a typhoon that hit Southern Taiwan floods killed many people and required the military to evacate thousands of people.

This is a video of a typhoon hitting Taiwan in 2008. Looks like fun, huh?

Other posts you may be interested in:

Typhoon Conson:  How Did We Cope?
Storm Chasers:  Driving Into the Belly of the Beast

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Eating My Way Through Taiwan: Hei Tong Cuo Bing

Taiwanese Shaved Ice

The temperatures have kicked up here in Taiwan. It has been about 35C which is about 95F for you Americans. It is interesting that most Americans, unless they have studied college-level science classes have little or no understanding of what the temperature in degrees C means. C stands for Celsius. It is named after a Swedish Astronomer named Anders Celsius. It is used in countries that use the metric system. In the US, the metric system is only used in science. The common usage in America is the English system. That is inches, feet, yards, degrees Fahrenheit, and weight in oz and pounds. The metric system measures in millimeters, centimeters and meters. That is One thousandth, One hundredth and one meter. It extends to Kilometers, which is one thousand meters.

Using Fahrenheit temperatures, the freezing point of water is 32 degrees. Using the Celsius sytem, the freezing point of water is 0 degrees. Using Fahrenheit the boiling point of water is 212F; using Celsius it is 100C. So temperatures in Celsius are based on the freezing and boiling point of water. The basis for Fahrenheit temperatures is strange. A man, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, based 0F on the lowest recorded temperature outside his home in one year. He based 100F on his own body temperature. (Either he had a fever or his thermometer was not accurate.) When he laid his scale next to the thermometer’s mercury at the freezing point of ice it recorded 32 degrees. Next to the mercury at the boiling point of water recorded 212F. That’s it. Which scale seems to make the most sense?

There is a formula for calculating Fahrenheit temperatures from Celsius temperatures. That formula looks like this: C * 9/5 + 32 = F. So when the temperature is 35C the formula computes out like this: (35 * 9) = 315; (315/5) = 63; 63 + 32 = 95F. When converting from Fahrenheit to Celsius the formula is (F-32) * 5/9 = C. (95 – 32) = 63; 63 * 5 = 315; (315/9) = 35C.

So I said all of that to say “It’s Hot.” The humidity is very high, about 98%. So it’s also “sticky.” I don’t seem to mind that too much, but the rest of the family does. So we were looking for a way to cool off and our friend Ken, suggested a nice Taiwanese Shaved Ice. In Chinese it’s called Hei Tong Cuo Bing (Hay Tong (o makes sound like in home) Tsuo Bing) It means Black Sugar Shaved Ice. Although it really uses what Americans call Brown Sugar. It’s served in a bowl, and the ice with Brown Sugar Sauce is placed on top of a number of other things.

Buried under the ice is the following:

Tapioca Balls (Fen Yuan or Zhen Zhu (They’re the same thing)): These are the little balls that you find in Bubble tea or Boba tea in the US.

Red beans (Hong Dou): These are a kind of semi-sweet bean. They’re sold in the US but we usually use them to make Chili or something. In Taiwan, they are often used as a sweet. Chinese and Taiwanese people don’t have the sweet tooth that Americans have. (You can find Red bean ice Cream, here, not bad by the way.)

White Dutch Runner Beans ( Da Hua Dou): I have no idea what these are. I wouldn’t have recognized them if I did. One thing that worries me about that, is that apparently I will eat anything, whether I recognize it or not. That could be sort of dangerous.


Small Rice balls (Xiao Tang Yuan): The literal translation of the words xiao Tang Yuan is small Soup Circle. These don’t resemble Rice, they seem to me to be made of the sticky portion of rice. Probably it’s starch. They are very, very sticky and have an interesting consistency. They are often used in desert soups. (Ken’s wife is an excellent cook and has made foods for us using these things a number of times.)

The shaved ice is obviously served very cold. I found it to be delicious and refreshing. I think the rest of the family thought that a little bit goes a long way. They didn’t like the surprises hidden under the ice. Oh well too bad for them. I thought it was great.