Chat Leftovers: Homesick for Comfort Food in Taipei

Taipei, Taiwan: Before I relocated here I was a regular reader; however, with a small and vocal new addition to the family, I've fallen off the radar. It's Monday, rainy, gloomy, I'm far away from girl friends and Mom(!!)...basically I'm exhausted and really low and in desperate need of comfort food. In fact I had been trawling the web fruitlessly when I remembered where to get some sane, veg-based comfort food ideas. Today's a goner, but will be very obliged if you can suggest something for the next time I'm in urgent need of comforting...which so far looks like tomorrow!

P.S. - I can cook but I don't have an oven here so can't bake; also I don't relish Chinese food.

Okay, let's break this down: We've got a down-in-the-dumps vegetarian expat in Taiwan looking for stove-top comfort food, and no Chinese, please. It's hard to tell from the reader's note just how recent her move is, but it's got all the markings of a case of the homesick blues. I'm also getting the impression she's a new Mom.

I've never been to Taipei, but I know a few things:

a) It's a huge cosmopolitan metropolis, and there are tons of cuisines represented, including French, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and Middle East.

b) Don't give up on "Chinese" as you know it from this country just yet; now that you're in the motherland, you've got an amazing opportunity to experience approximately eight regional cuisines, including Hunan, Sichuan and Cantonese. There's a whole world of "Chinese" and it's right there at your fingertips.

c) Given the Buddhist influence, Taipei is known to be a vegetarian paradise, and from what I understand, Taiwanese vegetarian buffets are EVERYWHERE. Check out this long list of places to try and at the bottom of the list, you'll see a few health food stores as well.

d) When a city is as richly diverse in cuisine and culture as Taipei is, it means a prime opportunity for ethnic markets and stocking up on cookware. Have you bought a wok yet? Go, go!

If you're missing your girlfriends and familiar faces, what about making a few new friends by taking a cooking class? Jodie's Kitchen offers mostly vegetarian classes, and French restaurant Le Jardin has a spiffy-looking studio offering Taiwanese classes.

Now, for a taste of home...Since it's cold and rainy, I'm thinking a pot of soup might ward off the blues. I'm betting you could find a few sweet potatoes that you can boil with garlic, onions and ginger, and/or lemongrass. Have you got a blender or food processor handy? If not, pulverize your cooked mixture with a hand masher, then use a whisk.

I find noodles incredibly comforting, and you could serve them over a meatless stock in which you've steamed your favorite veggies (I'm seeing bok choy and bamboo shoots in your future)...and let's not forget, tofu will be everywhere!

Sometimes a little something fried takes the edge off, and once you get a wok seasoned, you can fry up an egg in about 60 seconds. Nothing like a fried egg sandwich to put a smile on that face. Taking the fried idea a little further: Have you ever done batter-dipped fried veggies? Here's a recipe for pakoras, fried veggie fritters, Indian style.

Got any advice for our friend in Taipei? Your home-cooked comfort, Taipei tips or anything else to turn that frown upside down are all welcome in the comments area.

Find more Q&A in this week's What's Cooking transcript.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 28, 2008; 12:00 PM ET Chat Leftovers , Travel
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Yep I second Kim that there are tons of vegetarian restaurants in Taipei although most are Chinese. They serve food buffet-style so you can pick what you like. Give them a try!

If you'd prefer to cook, perhaps a simple pasta with veggies will do?

Posted by: Ed | May 28, 2008 12:55 PM

The Buddhist veggie places in Taipei are delicious, but definitely chinese and sometimes, as I recall from my year there, you just need something more homey. One of my favorites was french toast. Even the crummy Taiwanese bread tastes yummy as french toast. Slap some fruit on top and a little sugar, and it's like Sunday breakfast at home. Of course, I got some maple syrup sent to me, but I was born in VT and can't imagine life without it.

Posted by: Seattle | May 28, 2008 1:45 PM

Agree with Seattle - comfort = breakfast food. A nice big veggie omelet and toast or even better (IMHO) pancakes! Get your hands on some fresh or frozen fruit to make a topping, brew a good pot of coffee or tea - heaven.

Also I adored making Kim's english muffin recipe. The rise makes for a drawn out process time wise, but I didn't feel like it was too much hands on work.

Posted by: Kate | May 28, 2008 2:35 PM

I remember those days of craving something from home, something distinctly "American". My go-to dishes were mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and tomato sauce or roasted veggies (which, without an oven would be difficult).
My other thought would be trying to connect with people at the American School out there. Even if you don't have kids in school, they might be able to connect you with other expats in the area, with whom you can share experiences, food, and worries.
Good luck -- just know that when you finally get back to the states, you'll probably have feelings of homesickness for Taipei!

Posted by: Former Expat | May 28, 2008 3:06 PM

...you could find the makings for grilled cheese and tomato soup??

Posted by: Surely... | May 28, 2008 3:16 PM

potato salad with boiled eggs and green olives.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 7:53 PM

Is Grandma Nitti's still over in the Shi Da night market? You can get great waffles there. There are also tons of places that sell crepes and pancakes (song bing); obviously, you will want to avoid the Taiwanese style fillings (like tuna, corn and mayo-blech!) and go for the peanut butter (hua sheng jiang) or blueberry (lan mei.)

Posted by: Mei qi | May 28, 2008 9:28 PM

Anyone who is hungry for anything in Taipei just isn't looking. It's one of the culinary and foodie capitals of the world. If you can't find a restaurant who serves it, or a market that sells the ingredient, just ask a local and they'll direct you!
Trust me, I gained pounds in just a week!

Posted by: aztec69 | May 28, 2008 10:18 PM

while I agree that a place like Taipei would have everything, she is obviously homesick and feeling blue so 'everything' won't cut it. And if she is not feeling the chinese food - whether authentic or otherwise - at the moment that is perfectly fine. I would suggest really thinking about what your Mom would make for you when you were younger and under the weather or feeling especially moody and THEN go on a hunt for the ingredients. Sometimes wandering with no idea in mind ends up making me MORE frustrated and moody. I agree that breakfast food usually does the trick, at least for me. There is nothing like a hot stack of pancakes and the smell of brewing coffee to make me smile and think of a happy Saturday or Sunday morning at my kitchen table when I was about 10 years old :) good luck!

Posted by: comfort food | May 29, 2008 10:27 AM

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