DJ Neil Armstrong needs no introduction for hip-hop fans. He was Jay-Z’s touring DJ for all of 2008 and 2009 and has shared the stage with the likes of Rihanna, Beyonce, Kanye West, Young Jeezy and Timbaland in a storied career. He’s also performed at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and spun alongside Common, Neil Young, Coldplay and Linkin Park. Talk about an eclectic mix. Back in April, Neil took over our Instagram during a four-week trip to Asia and it turns out that music is not his only flavor. The takeover – in which the DJ took our followers on an incredible tour of Tokyo and snapped photos and videos of robot sushi, turtle soup and gigantic burgers – went so well that we asked him to keep a travel journal on his next overseas trip, to Taiwan. Take it away, Neil!
Neil Armstrong, your friendly international DJ here, bringing you along for my food adventures around the world!
My next stop is Taipei City, Taiwan for the kickoff party of Powwowtaiwan – a massive gathering of great artists from around the world, where their canvases are the walls of Taipei.
Above is a new piece in progress by world-renowned painter James Jean, located in a “not so secret” part of the Taiwan Zoo.
Even though I was out there to provide the soundtrack for the festivities, I wasn’t about to miss Taiwan’s amazing food offerings.
Growing up in NYC, all I knew about Taiwan was that “Made in Taiwan, ROC” stamp on the toys and goods in my crib. The stamp usually indicated that the product was cheaply made, possibly bootleg. I wanted the Hasbro Optimus Prime Transformer; instead I received the “Robo-Changer Ultimate.”
Unlike my childhood experience with Taiwanese goods, the food I ate was unique, delicious and satisfying. The only adjective that stayed the same was “cheap.” If you wish, you can easily eat for less than $10 a day. All you have to do is keep it “street,” as in “street food.”
I often travel with a very limited time schedule, so my favorite places to go in Taiwan are night markets where you can get socks, electronics and – yes – street food.
Some of my favorites:
1. Bao offerings are a pretty regular occurrence in today’s culinary world. For the uninitiated, think of bao like an Asian taco. Bao is a steamed bun – easy to fill, portable and super-quick to make. This is Lan Jia Gua Bao, around since 1953 at the Tonghua Night Market. The bao starts with preserved mustard greens, then gets topped with pork belly and shaved peanut powder. The cost – 50 Taiwanese dollars or about two bucks.
2. I don’t speak/write Chinese, so I don’t know what this is actually called, but my local guide Andrew Song likes to call it “burrito ice cream.“ It’s also located at the Tonghua Night Market.
It starts with this super-thin egg roll crepe wrap, topped with shavings from a huge block of Chinese peanut brittle.
Scoops of pineapple, taro and mango ice cream are added, along with fresh cilantro. Then they wrap it up like a burrito — the perfect portable dessert.
When you bite into it, all the ingredients come together: the crunch of the peanut brittle, the cool sweetness of the ice cream and the fresh hits of cilantro. The only place I know to get it is out here in Taiwan.
3. Hot Star Large Fried Chicken – As you can see from the picture, the term “large” is an understatement.
The picture is self-explanatory. A huge piece of chicken is flattened and breaded, then fried and sprinkled with special Hot Star seasoning, all for about $2. This is actually a chain, and this location is at the Shilin Night Market.
Happy eating, fellow travelers!
Read about Taiwanese food on Food Republic: