Stinky-stinky

I have an annoucement to make:
J’ai une annonce à faire :

I finally ate some stinky tofu!
J’ai enfin mangé du tofu-qui-pue !

Yay for 臭豆腐!

You have to understand that this is a big accomplishment for me. When I first arrived, every time I was walking on the street, my nostrils would be tickled by a very special scent: the stench of what I could only describe as a steaming pile of old meat left to rot for a week or two under the burning sun. Vile. After routinely traumatizing my nose with that stench, I started to realize that this smell came from one specific source: Stinky tofu stands. Stinky tofu is one of the culinary delicacies of Taiwan. Not trying stinky tofu in Taiwan is like going to Japan and not having ramen, curry or real sushi. Everyone kept asking me: “Have you tried stinky tofu yet?”. My answer: “我不敢!” (I’m afraid to!). But with Nancy’s encouragement, I finally gave in. Thankfully, the stinky tofu I got from a stand in Danshui wasn’t as stinky as others. I gotta ease into it!

J’en fait des caisses parce que c’est un grand pas pour moi ! Quand je suis arrivée à Taïwan, tout était nouveau, même les odeurs. De temps en temps, mes narines étaient agressées par une odeur bien particulière, extrêmement forte et sérieusement désagréable. C’est très difficile à décrire, mais je dirais que le niveau de puanteur se situe entre une pile de viande laissée à pourrir depuis une semaine ou deux au soleil et une paire de chaussette dans laquelle quelqu’un aurait sué pendant quelques matches de tennis pour ensuite l’oublier dans un sac de sport. Ça pue, quoi. Mon bon sens m’a empêchée pendant un bon moment de rapprocher cette odeur d’une quelconque source normale, mais j’ai dû m’y résoudre : c’était bien de la nourriture qui dégageait une telle odeur. Plus précisément, le bien nommé tofu-qui-pue (littéralement, c’est comme ça que ça s’appelle), un mets très apprécié et typiquemen taïwanais. Mon instinct me disait qu’aucune nourriture qui sentait si mauvais ne pouvait approcher de ma bouche sans laisser des séquelles. Ça me semblait juste contre-nature de manger un truc pareil. Pourtant, tout le monde prenait un malin plaisir à me poser la question : “Alors, alors, tu as goûté au chou doufu ?”. Ma réponse : “我不敢!” (Je n’ose pas !). Finalement, avec les encouragements de Nancy, j’ai fini par essayer. Heureusement, le tofu que j’ai acheté à Danshui n’était pas aussi puant que d’habitude. J’y vais en douceur ! Eh bah en vrai, c’est pas si mauvais ! L’odeur ne se retrouve pas dans la bouche quand on mange, la texture est marrante (un peu spongieux) et c’est épicé juste ce qu’il faut.

Stinky tofu is usually fried and then grilled. The inside is mushy, and the outside is chewier. Usually vendors sprinkle some spicy powder on top, and sometimes add pickled vegetables.
En général, le tofu est frit et ensuite grillé. L’intérieur est spongieux, l’extérieur est un peu solidifié. On rajoute un peu de goût en saupoudrant du piment dessus, et on adoucit le tout avec des légumes marinés dans du vinaigre.

I did it!
J’ai tout mangé !

饒河夜市 - Raohe Night Market And A Strange Encounter

You probably know by now that one of my favorite things to do here is going to the fabulous nights markets. There’s just something about the atmosphere and the extra Taiwanese-ness of those places (Yeah, i invent words now) that I love. I’ve never seen something quite like night markets, anywhere in the world.

So when Elsa asked me if I wanted to go with her to a new night market, I was all in. And boy, I do not regret it. We went to Raohe Night Market, which is located in Songshan District. It is not as easy to access as most night markets, but it is definitely worth the 15 minute walk from the MRT station (we got off at Yongchun on the blue line).

Les marchés de nuit ! Oh oui, oh oui, oh oui. Bien sûr, on a des marchés en France, des marchés de Noël, des marchés traditionnels, etc, etc. Mais on n’a pas de marché de nuit taïwanais. Et le principe n’est absolument pas le même. Les marchés de nuit reposent sur un concept : “à la bouffe !”. Et ça, ça me parle. Surtout que la nourriture est souvent délicieuse : c’est de la restauration rapide niveau 10000. Et bien sûr, particulièrement pour les étrangers, l’excitation de la découverte de nouvelles saveurs amplifie le plaisir. Raohe est une parfaite illustration de cela : sur les 1,2km de parcours du marché de nuit, je n’ai jamais autant de nourriture que j’ai eu envie de goûter. Des soupes, des desserts, des boissons… À mon départ, tout ce à quoi je pouvais penser était : quand est-ce qu’on y retourne ?

Songshan Road, leading to the night market
Songshan Road, sur le chemin

A wild temple appears! Right next to Songshan Train Station.
Et soudain… un temple au milieu des buildings.

The temple on Raohe Street is extremely impressive, bigger and higher than any temples I’ve seen before. It’s currently being renovated, hopefully they finish before I leave so I can visit it.
Le majusteux temple de la rue Raohe, extrêmement impressionnant. Il semble avoir été posé là par une grue géante, magnifique !

Here we are! The beautiful entrance to the night market.
Impossible de manquer l’entrée du marché !

The first few meters are decorated with cute lanterns.
Les premiers mètres, le marché est très bigarré.

Crowded as usual! But because of the configuration of the night market it isn’t as bad as elsewhere, because everyone goes the same way along the street. Street vendors are separating the street in two lanes. Literally, you just need to go with the flow!
Du monde partout ! Mais comme le marché est installé le long d’une seule rue, il est facile d’y naviguer : il suffit de se laisser porter par le courant.

Oh my, that roasted pig looked so delicious! The vendor was cutting strips directly from the carcass and selling them as is. We wanted to try but didn’t really know how to ask. Next time we’ll be less cowardly!
Un cochon entier ! Waouh ! Le vendeur coupait des tranches de viande directement sur la carcasse. La prochaine fois, je goûterai.

A real bargain: three bowls for $100. One delicious, fragrant portion for $33 (less than 1€), what else can I ask for?
Une vraie bonne affaire: trois portions pour $100. Ça tombe bien, on était trois ! $33 (moins d’un euro) pour une délicieuse portion, que demander de plus ?

Who wants some squid?
Envie de calmar ?

Meeeeeee! The fact that the squid comes whole and is cut in front of your eyes is a big bonus.
Je n’osais pas acheter du calamar frit car j’avais peur que ce soit trop gras et écoeurant, mais en fait c’est délicieux, et pas aussi gras que je ne le pensais ! 

People, more people everywhere. Looking back, I should’ve taken more pictures but I have to say I was more focused on the food. Oops?
Du monde partout ! Maintenant que j’y pense, j’aurais sûrement dû prendre plus de photos, mais j’avoue que toute cette nourriture m’a tourné la tête. Et puis le monde tout le temps en mouvement n’a pas facilité les choses.

Puppies! I’m always amazed at how well-behaved pets are here. Could you imagine running a clothes shop with 3 dogs?
Je suis toujours très étonnée de voir que la plupart des chiens sont très bien dressés ici. Qui pourrait prétendre travailler tranquillement dans un stand de vêtements avec 3 chiens ?

One of the dogs was really excited to be petted by Elsa!
Un des chiens était particulièrement content de recevoir les papouilles d’Elsa !

I have yet to determine what those are. Apparently, they’re push-up bras cases… Or something.
Des… range-soutiens-gorge ? Hein ?

So a vendor was selling stuffed sandwiches… With a French & Japanese twist? The only problem is I’ve never seen anything like that anywhere in France…
Un sandwich fourré, avec la Tour Eiffel en mascotte ? Je sais pas vous, mais j’ai jamais vu ça nulle part en France…

In the mood for a foot rub?
Envie d’un petit massage des pieds ?

Obligatory Jeremy Lin merchandize pic.
L’omniprésent Jeremy Lin.

Watermelon Juice! Ingredients: watermelon. So refreshing!
Jus de pastèque ! Ingrédients : 100% pastèque. Tellement rafraîchissant !

Crowds, crowds everywhere!
Ça grouille de monde !

Surprise! A perfectly articulate French sentence on a t-shirt!
Du vrai, du bon français ! Quelle émotion !

I had an awesome night at Raohe. The only thing is… I made an encounter that I could’ve gone without. It was raining on and off, and vendors were starting to roll out their roofs. I was walking when a lady looked at me and gasped, as I felt something moving in my hair. I thought it was a feather or something and I patted my head to get it out, when I felt something much harder and heavier than a feather roll down my shirt and fall on the floor. I looked down and, horrified, saw a GIANT cockroach flee from between my feet. And for the first time in my entire life, I screeched, and did that hand-shaking and feet stomping dance that people do when they see a spider. It took me several minutes to stop shaking. I HATE being around cockroaches. Here, they are ginormous, super fast and they FLY. That particular cockroach was probably chilling on the roof before it fell off, and it was as scared as I was, which caused him to move around in my hair and on my shirt and aaaaaaaaaargh. Just thinking about it I get chills. For the next 15 minutes I felt like I had something moving under my shirt. Horrible! Gaaaaah.

你笑得很漂亮

*You have a beautiful smile

"你笑得很漂亮",the clerk told me as he examined the documents his colleague had handed him. A second earlier, the confused look on his face had revealed that he wasn’t expecting to see a foreigner when he looked up. The startled look he had had for a fraction of a second had made me smile, and he very spontaneously paid me that compliment after I said hi. It’s the spontaneity of his compliment, the way he blurted it out, that really made my day.

Little things like that easily trump any weird look, any awkward situation I come across, any day. I picture my mood as a scale that goes from ecstatic to suicidal (never went that far though. Probably went as low as “miserable enough to want to stuff my face and actually do it”). Every morning, the cursor starts in a neutral position, at 0. Something positive happens? Someone complimented my Mandarin, an interaction went smoothly? The cursor goes up. Someone stares at me, something makes me feel awkward, i run into a problem, I get molested by a coked-up bald crazy girl? The cursor goes down. The key to being happy in a foreign country is to make sure the cursor stays above zero, so that you end the day on a positive note.

Today, I sure did.

If it’s the little things that matter the most, then I can be very grateful that some people take time to say nice things to individuals they don’t even know. That clerk will probably never know that his nice comment made my day. That lady who laughed with me on the train, that student who always seems happy to see me when we run into each other on campus, the security guards at the entrance of my apartment complex who never fail to say hi, and so many others… They all very selflessly contribute to my happiness. It’s not always easy being a foreigner in such a homogenous country as Taiwan, but some (as in, a lot of) Taiwanese people sure make it easier.

I hope that in France, the Taiwanese person I traded places with (what, isn’t that how traveling works?) feels the same way. I really do. I hope that enough of us are capable of making newcomers feel at home. Yeah… I said I was hoping.

Cuteness Overload In Danshui Stores: Part 1

Taiwanese people love cheesy stuff. Just… Yeah. Hearts, couples, romantic places, pink, ribbons, bows & rainbows, puppies, plushes… All of it. So when I found out about an awesome store that sells everything from stickers to plungers, I wasn’t surprised to find some super cute stationery, plushes and overall useless, adorable stuff that I’d love to own, but that I at least have on camera now.

Les Taïwanais sont très friands de tout ce qui est mignon, je peux le remarquer chaque jouer et à chaque heure. Alors quand j’ai eu l’occasion de visiter une grande boutique/bazar qui vendait tout cela et bien plus encore, je n’ai pas résisté à l’envie de vous en donner un aperçu en concoctant une petite vidéo.