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Wednesday October 22, 2014
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Asian Niches

 

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Snacks can be like appetizers, shared around a big table before a meal. Or snacks may comprise the entire meal, as in dim sum (which originated in Canton). In Taiwan, the snack culture is further propelled by the island's "night markets," the most famous being the Shilin Night Market of Taipei City. Operating from late afternoon to midnight and beyond, these are huge districts, veritable food fairs where vendors dish out multitudinous snacks. The night markets are enormously popular for locals and tourists alike, says Lee--"the prices are good and the selection is so great, you don't have to go to a big restaurant."

When I tried out Asian Legend soon after it opened, I was given only the standard menu of mainly Sichuan dishes; you had to ask for the Taiwanese menu. Nowadays the word is out, and the Taiwanese menu (which includes both snacks and main dishes) is passed to everybody. There's yet a third menu, a secret list of daily specials, which you still have to request--and which you have to read Chinese to understand. You have to wonder if this is a commentary on Midwesterners' lack of adventurousness.

I suppose I fit that stereotype by passing up the pig intestine and the pig ear. I guess I could say that I was on a diet (I usually am). But no, I am sometimes squeamish when it comes to potentially recognizable body parts and internal organs, especially if I don't know the animal's pedigree. Besides, if I were sticking to the diet story, I'd have to pass up a lot of appealing and more approachable dishes.

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