Thursday, November 01, 2007

Taipei, day 13.

E. invites us to lunch, and I find myself at the appointed hour in a bright, airy teppanyaki restaurant. The main room has two teppanyaki griddles, each seating eleven or twelve customers. We take our seats and E. suggests the beef set lunch, and the eating begins. Most of the time, I don't know what I am eating, and some of it is weird, beginning with the tea, which tastes of preserved plums. The chef chatters away, and I have trouble understanding him less because my Chinese is inadequate and more because of the surgical mask he wears, muffling his words. So I am not sure where the salt he is grating (from a large rock) onto our plates comes from - I think from Peru - but as I understand it, it comes from a mine up in some mountains instead of the sea. Ok.

Three large grapes - I think they are grapes - go onto a bamboo-mat-covered dish, which is then covered with a huge metal dome. When I say the grapes were large, I mean roughly the size of a small egg. A Cadbury's creme egg, perhaps. Each grape sprouts a delicate white flower which I cannot identify. But that mystery will have to wait, as we eat our soup, which is sweet with fruit - I think there is pineapple juice, and I may or may not have eaten a piece of what tastes suspiciously like pear - and fragrant with mushrooms, perhaps those white Enoki ones that come vacumn-sealed in plastic back home. There is a piece of toast made of some weird bread; glasses of warm beet juice are poured. That giant grape is soft and warm and infused with the fragrance of that white flower, which tastes like it smells, almost like honeysuckle.

There are some other dishes - a sort of salad, if you could call it that, and the most recognizable item of the day, a single, griddle-steamed white mushroom - and if my own food perplexes me, E's vegetarian lunch is even stranger looking. A lull in the strange foods parade produces some tender white fish and giant prawns. The beef, when it comes, is not steak, but rather, sliced thin, as for sukiyaki or hot-pot. Each slice is briefly cooked on the hot griddle and rolled around a different filling - some kind of cheese on top of a slice of what appears to be seaweed, a shiso leaf spread with what tastes like mustard, a piece of dried mullet roe. (I cannot assume that any identifications I made are correct. Most likely I am wrong).

At last there is fried rice, made with onions and garlic and eggs and bright green scallions, instead of fruit, which is what E. has. The rice is savory and tasty and I would have eaten more, except I am full and there is dessert to come, fruit and black-sesame popcorn (cooked right on the griddle, popped underneath that same gleaming stainless steel dome that covered everything else cooked in front of us) and some kind of sweet soup. E. offers me some of her soup, which has that same ruffly white fungus-mushroom that Taiwanese people like to make sweet soup with, and I barely escape having to eat it.

Like most of the meals I've had over the course of this trip, much has been unrecognizable, some has been just plain weird, but on the whole everything has been incredibly good.

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