I started the day early since I’m still working on jetlag. I went to my breakfast place and had a bacon egg bun and an iced coffee.
Afterward, I went on a walk through the neighborhood, and stumbled upon the morning market, which is always spectacular; the fruits and vegetables, the butcher shop, the porridge counters, the people setting up for lunch.
I found a noodle guy on the corner, offering a simple looking bowl of noodles. The sign reads 大腸麵線 Tripe Noodle Soup, but when you first look at the characters you might see “large intestine noodle string” but whatever.
The man asked me “large or small?” and I said “small bowl” and within seconds there was a delicious bowl of slimy tripe noodles in front of me, right there in the intersection. I say “slimy” because the broth was thickened, maybe with cornstarch. I don’t usually order tripe, but it was fine. The star of the show was the flavor of the broth, and the freshness of the noodles. The broth itself was screaming hot temperature, so it made me sweat. I added minced garlic and hot sauce.
At that point I looked up to see where I had wandered too. Walking through the morning market is disorienting and I had the attitude that I had to get lost in order to find my way around. So I had no idea where I was, but I looked up from the corner and started recognizing the intersection. Through all the twisting and turning through the market, which was sometimes covered and not a little labyrinthian, I had ended up at the large intestine noodle string stand just around the corner from my building. I guess I wasn’t so lost after all.
The problem was, it was still 8am and I had nothing to do all day. So I went to another cafe, and sat down and ordered another iced coffee and a thick piece of toast; a third breakfast. There, I just sat and read my book; Delancey by Molly Wizenberg. I finished the book and then sent some fan mail. It was a fan tweet, actually, which is a little weird but here we are.
At noon I wandered over to the school to have a chat with J the Administrator, so he could gauge where my Chinese was and warn my teacher about me. Then I met 喬丹 and Amy; Amy wanted to take us to her favorite beef noodle place.
We took a train down to the 西門町 Ximending District and found our way to a soup shop with no sign; customers entered in the alley. We were sat after a couple of minutes with a Taiwanese gentleman in a dress shirt was was probably there on his lunch break. We ordered a plate of pickled cabbage, a little basket of steamed short ribs in sticky rice, and then we each got bowls of soup. Amy got 清燉 clear broth , and 喬丹 and I both got 紅燒, which has soy sauce and chili oil.
The beef was tender slices of brisket, braised for hours until the connective tissue melts into jelly, but still firm enough to chopstick. There was a lot of beef in the bowl. The broth was savory and beefy, and we added pickled mustard greens at the table. It was delicious; one of those situations where the food arrives and then there’s no talking until everyone has finished.
When I got home later I realized I didn’t remember any of the words I learned from that experience, so I googled around for the secret, signless noodle shop in Ximending, and found out that the place is pretty legendary, and that there are plenty of blog posts out there with better descriptions and photos than the ones I took, so heck, let’s just link to one.
We wandered around and did a little shopping in Ximending, and then I went back to my room. I really had nothing to do, so after a little bit of facebooking, I practiced my ukulele alone in my room in the middle of the afternoon. It’s weird to have nothing to do. And hot outside, anyway.
Around dinner time I wandered back outside, did a big loop through the night market to Heping Road and then to Guting to see all the places I recognized, and what had changed since I was last here two years ago. I ended up at Mix Cafe, which is one of my favorite spots. It has a quiet, air condintioned dining room, ideal for old people and very obedient children. It has several 套餐; in International English we’d call this a “set meal” but for Americans it might be easier to think of it as a bento without the box: a tray full of easy-to-chew goodness.
Starting with rice and working clockwise: 魚香豬肉 minced pork in fragrant sauce, steamed zucchini, green peppers with smoked tofu, chewy cut noodles that might have been tofu as well, chunks of pineapple, a clear broth with a single meatball, and in the center some mung beans in a barely sweet syrup. After you’re done, they bring you a drink; mine was iced green tea. Altogether it was 200 kuai; i.e., less than $7 USD.
I didn’t have anything to do after dinner, so I figured I’d find an air conditioned cafe and try and write. I decided to go to Naissance Cafe, where I used to hang out with Aussie L. We called the place “Benny’s” because he had sighted a certain Irish Polyglot there several times during his 3 month mission.
Anyway, I was walking in and OF COURSE Aussie L was there. He insisted that he hated that cafe, that he was just walking through the air conditioning on the way to get dinner. I told him to go eat first and then meet me afterward. We got caught up on the past two years since we’d last seen each other, and then I yawn/sighed in the middle of the conversation, which was the signal that jetlag was yanking on my chain.
Went to bed at a pretty respectable 10 pm, pretty good for a day two.
Day three: who knows. I’ll have breakfast, find a place to write, maybe meet Aussie L for lunch somewhere.