Thanks to Taipei Eats for sponsoring our Dadaocheng Traditional Food Tour. All opinions remain our own.
The first thing you should know about the Taipei Eats Dadaocheng Traditional Food Tour is that you will eat a lot, but you won't feel sick. You ramp up and down as time goes on, but be sure to come hungry. Our group of four, led by the wonderful Jean, did a wonderful job eating our way through this historic part of Taipei.
The second thing you should know, is that what we ate was the best version of that thing that can be found. Each time we took a bite we all chimed in and said "that was the best version of (insert your chosen food here) that I've had".
The day of our tour was gorgeous - not too hot, not too steamy and some sun peaking out here and there. There were three of us participating in the tour and found a ready ease with one another. We quickly began discussing our lives and where we live and all the usual things you discuss when you first meet someone, but peppered in with these discussions were comments about food. The woman who was on the tour with us was from Portugal but had lived for years in Bolivia and Mexico as well.
When we stopped to try pork jerky, we had a great discussion about pork around the world. It seems to be the most ubiquitous meat (except in Muslim countries, of course) and is really a curiosity to me. You see, I don't like pork. But as we each bit down into our piece of dried pork our heads started nodding our approval. It was light, slightly sweet and not too porky. Zac said it brought back memories of honey baked ham holiday dinners with his father in Ohio.
Our Portuguese companion told a story of how the first time she had preserved pork in China, she was expecting it to be salty as she was used to in Portugal and Spain. She received quite a shock when it was sweet. This one we tried fell right in between. I still was sort of "meh" about it, but could see how people would like it and how it would have provided great sustenance for workers.
While we were in the shop we noticed another dried food item that turned out to be dried squid. Now this dried squid looked nothing like any we had seen before. It was light and you could see the individual fibers instead of seeing a flattened kind of "woody" consistency. Jean was kind enough to satisfy our curiosity by getting us a taste. We were all so glad she did. We each bit down into the squid expecting that waft of pungent dried fish smell to hit our noses. Yet none came. We expected a really dense consistency, but all we got was lightness and tenderness. This was the best dried squid we've ever had. I definitely preferred it to the pork and our new Portuguese friend purchased some for her upcoming train trip through Taiwan.
We walked through the streets of the Dadaocheng until we came upon more delicious food. The pattern of this tour is really well crafted - heavier savory dishes followed by light sweet bites or beverages designed to assist digestion. At some point in the tour we found ourselves standing in front of this beverage cart. The sign was written in Chinese so we had no idea what was on offer.
Jean immediately smiled to the vendor and was offered a cup of "something" and then she began to tell us what was on offer here. This row of beverage purveyors are known for their herbal drinks that offer specific healing properties. There was the green grass option that was meant to help with digestion and the Indian comet grass tea that was meant to help with bloating and water retention. Then there was the bitter option that is also supposed to help with digestion, though most people don't choose that one because it is so bitter. We all took a pass on that one and opted for the other two choices. I do believe it helped me digest a bit because when we were done, I was ready to consume a bit more.
As we moved throughout our time together we grew deeper into conversation. We marveled at the history of many of the food stalls we visited. These businesses are multi-generational, focused on doing one or two things really well. The shark ball restaurant, for example, had many artifacts from the original food cart the business started from. It was a wonderful tribute to the man who came to Taiwan from China during the civil war and dedicated his time to perfecting this food.
All of us at the table noted that we were all sort of scattered in our focus. None of us are "specialized" in one thing. We marveled at the devotion and the consistency in doing such a thing as perfecting shark ball soup. I wondered if I would ever find something that sparked my interest enough to dedicate myself to it.
And this, these conversations, are why we love taking food tours. For sure, the food itself is interesting and educational. But the conversations one strikes up with fellow travelers over food can be so much richer than in other circumstances. We've been on tours before where the guide is lackluster and the participants even more so. We didn't like those tours much. I think the small group size and the small restaurants on this tour engender discussion. Jean also did a great job of providing insights and just generally being more like a knowledgeable friend than a guide.
This was a great way to spend a few hours in Taipei. We absolutely love the Dadaocheng neighborhood and plan to head back for another taste. If you find yourself in Taipei, do yourself a favor and schedule the Taipei Eats Dadaocheng tour early in your visit. Who knows? Maybe you'll make some new travel friends. You'll definately know where to go for some really good food.