11/20/2008

Tainan, Taiwan's Wa Gei


I had this traditional dish which is called Wa Gei in Taiwanese - no idea how to write that in Chinese - yesterday in Tainan. It's like a hard cream of wheat with salty shrimp mixed in. The concoction is topped off with a salty, tangy goo that is really delicious. Taiwanese people usually douse Wa Gei with a garlicky wine sauce that calls for a cold beer to wash it down. The dish, which dates back to the Ming Dynasty (明朝), comes in a solid chunk that needs to be chopped up with a fork before it can be handled with chopsticks. Yesterday, I was in a bit of a predicament as I was on my way to a school to give a speech to some teachers. Inebriation and foul breath don't usually go down well at these moments.

Just as I was considering my options, a middle-aged woman pulled up on her bike and said: "Good. You gave 'the foreigner' a fork", noticing my chopping utensil, "because he can't [even though I have been in Taiwan since the nineties] use chopsticks." That's right. If there's no fork available, I just eat with my hands. I put ketchup on my dumplings too. And I simply talk louder when people don't respond to me. I know that everyone can speak English. But many people are hard of hearing.
*****
I've blogged about this before, but I still can't get over the range of temperatures in this small country. When I left Taipei yesterday morning on the high speed rail, it was drizzling and cold. An hour and forty minutes later, 274 kilometers south of Taipei, I stepped off the train to a tide of warm air. I checked the baseball thermometer coming down the escalator in the Tainan High Speed Rail Station; it was registering 26 degrees Celsius - just another beautifully sunny day in Tainan without a strand of cloud in the sky. When I returned to Taipei seven hours later, the city was so cold and wet that my eyes watered and nose became red. Today, at three o'clock in Taipei, it was 15 degrees Celsius. We had a humidity of 67.5 percent.
*****
The Taiwan HSR is running a promotion right now. If you ride during an orange hour, you save 35 percent on your ticket. If you go in a blue hour, it's 15 percent. Otherwise, you save nothing. When I purchased my ticket down, I was charged NT$875 (around US$25). "No," I explained, "I want reserved seating. It should come to NT$1080." I know this because I go down on an almost weekly basis. That's when I found out about the color-schemed savings. For my trip back, I, actually my company, was charged NT$1350. I'm figuring that costs are going up in general. The color times are a way to put sugar on this fact.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

If I may, how and why does a "foreigner" like yourself who likes ketchup on dumplings stumble upon an outlet that serves traditional foods such as wa gei in Tainan?

EyeDoc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

In Chinese, it's called "wan guo" (碗粿) although nobody in my family calls it by its Chinese name. Tainan in general is famous for its wa-guei (spelling out Taiwanese is so arbitrary), but there is one particular store that is so well-known it has opened stores around Taiwan selling its wa-guei. I don't remember the name, but in Taipei there is one store right across from the Longshan Temple MRT station.

MJ Klein said...

Patrick, did that woman say that you don't know how to eat with chopsticks or did she say that the dish cannot be eaten with chopsticks?

in all my years in Tainan i've never seen this dish. i gotta try it!

Patrick Cowsill said...

MJ, she informed me/them that I didn't know how to use chopsticks. She told the proprietor of the Wa Gui shop that looking right at me, as if I were a wraith. Simply put, my skin color was off for comprehending how to put to little sticks together in order to eat.

Anon 1, I don't actually put ketchup on dumplings. I prefer them with vinegar and hot sauce. I was being ironic. I used to eat this dish when I first came to Taiwan, and was living in the rocky canyons of Yonghe (永和). The stand was across from my place, out of the bright lights. It didn't open until very late, meaning if I ordered a bowl, it was safe to have it garlicky and with a beer.

Anon 2, thanks for the insight. I need to get on top of my Taiwanese. I used to study Hakkanese. They actually have their own characters for many words. I wonder if something has been attempted for this in Taiwanese.

CheRio said...

Hi, is it too cold to cycle in Tainan now? Am going next week. :)

Patrick Cowsill said...

It'll be warming up to the high twenties come Saturday (Taipei).