I love junk food.
I really do. I think it says a lot about contemporary culture (marketing), food culture (types of common foods they turn into junk foods), and food policy (which highly subsidized agricultural product is included in all junk food; hint, in the U.S. it is corn!). It is also fun to see the magnificent ways food scientists have dreamed up for combining those cultural ingredients with fat, sugar and salt. If you haven’t noticed, those are the key aspects of most junk foods.
As much as I love junk food, I have to recognize that I am fairly good at moderation – or at simply subbing out an entire meal for junk food. The unspoken truth is that this inevitably leads to a junk food hangover. It is similar to an alcohol hangover, but less discussed. Luckily, I never hit upon the junk food hangover while in Taiwan. Junk food was a fun diversion, but I was busy eating all sorts of Taiwanese real food, too.
Nevertheless, I found a few favorites that I am sorry to leave in Taiwan, including seaweed chips and taro chips – I LOVE TARO!!!!!
All right, beer is not *exactly* junk food, but then again, it sort of is. Especially when it is Taiwan beer. This is Taiwan’s national beer and along with a few other similar variations, it costs significantly less than imported beers. “Imported beers” sounds so fancy and good, but unfortunately it usually means Heineken. Nothing against Heineken, just that it tastes like ass and I’d never pay extra to drink it. I love the Dutch, though!
A random sweet potato stand in an oceanside park we visited just outside Taroko Gorge National Park.
Another non-traditional “junk” food – hard boiled eggs. I saw so many Taiwanese chowing down on hard boiled eggs that I know it is a very popular food. This photo was taken inside a 7-11 (ubiquitous in Taiwan). These are “tea eggs” – eggs hard boiled in black tea.
A whole new way to eat ‘steak and potatoes’! The texture of these chips was akin to that of any typical potato chip. The flavors were what stood out to me. The steak was unpleasant to me, but might please a big meat-eater. The sweet potato chips were good, but not as good as sweet potato fries, or other more-fresh versions of fried sweet potatoes.
The bag was adorable, too! The seaweed strip chips were light and airy, but somehow still crunchy. The texture was a bit like chewing on that green stuff in produce sections of the grocery store, except the seaweed chip melted as my saliva interacted with it. Crunch, crunch, melty crunch, swallow.
Taro is such a diverse root vegetable. It is mild, yet its flavor is powerful enough to be the solo host of soups (taro soup is delicious if you haven’t tried it!). It adds depth and dimension to any stir-fry. Taro is also delightful in bubble milk tea, as the tea base. These types of bubble teas are almost in the ‘milkshake’ region, but you would never guess it was a root vegetable flavoring your tea. It also has a lavender hue, and lavender delights my senses.
The chips were durable, like homemade chips can sometimes be. Yet, they were sliced thinly enough to deliver a crisp crunch that surprised me. This version’s chips were liberally salted, which was a home run in my book. The biggest drawback is the fact that the taro root on the chip bag looks a lot like a big ring bologna in dark skin. Luckily, the flavor and color of the actual product were enough to make me forget all about ring bologna.
Junk Foods Not Pictured:
*Hi-Chew (yummy, yum, yum, yum – like Kool-Aid-flavored Starburst, but a little more like chewing on a balloon, (in a good way, Steph S.))
*Pea Crackers – a little dry, definite underlying pea flavor (think corn chips, but pea-like), crunch was excellent!
*Shrimp flavored chips.
*Bubble Tea. I actually feel shocked that I didn’t take one single picture of the best contribution Asia has made to my beverage options. You can get bubble tea in many a U.S. Chinatown, and it is spreading. Madison, Wisconsin even has more than one option for bubble tea. Bubble tea is cold tea (of a dizzying variety of flavors) served with tapioca “bubbles”. The concoction is sealed with a fancy machine, and then you are given a straw that is sharp enough to pierce the plastic seal (think Capri Sun), and wide enough to accommodate a tapioca bubble. Tapioca is traditional, though many bubble tea shops have other jellied products if you prefer something else.
*Milk Tea. Ditto the bubble tea reference above, and you can get the tapioca balls, too; this tea is about 50% milk and delicious.
There are so many other food experiences to share, night markets, European style bakeries, and more. Until next time…ciao!