T A I P E I C I T Y G U I D E
Taipei's Treasures Are Good Enough to Eat
Illustration for TIME by Wilson Tsang
By DON SHAPIRO
If Taipei is not at the top of your travel wish list, then wish again. The addition of several parks, combined with improved traffic and pollution controls, are making Taiwan's capital a more appealing place to visit for business or pleasure. And the local currency's 18% depreciation against the U.S. dollar since the onset of the Asian financial crisis has brought costs way down.
No matter how long you're planning to stay, be sure to leave time to visit the National Palace Museum, in the suburban Waishuanghsi district. The stately building is home to one of the world's top collections of Chinese art, including most of the imperial treasures once housed in Beijing's Forbidden City. Although mainland officials still condemn what they regard as the looting of China's national legacy by the Kuo-mintang, Taiwan has long argued that it saved these priceless works from almost certain destruction during the Cultural Revolution. The museum collection--featuring bronzes, pottery, porcelain, paintings and calligraphy--is so vast that only a small proportion can be displayed at one time, while the remainder is stored in vaults within the hills behind the museum.
Try the English-language guided tours, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily. And if the weather is agreeable, take a stroll around the lovely gardens on the museum grounds. Be sure to leave time to peruse the gift shops, which offer not only the usual array of books, slides and postcards but also a classy selection of specialty items (neckties, jigsaw puzzles, etc.) based on works in the collection. The museum is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; for information about what's on (like the exhibition of lotus paintings that continues until June 30), call 8862-2881-2021 or pay an advance visit online at www.npm.gov.tw/indexe.htm (English language site).
Taipei also offers an incredible variety of food from all over China. When Chiang Kai-shek retreated to Taiwan from the mainland in 1949, he was accompanied by far-flung supporters who introduced regional recipes to the Formosa mix. The quality of cuisine is uniformly high, in both humble and upscale surroundings. For Hunanese food, try the smoked fish, Peng's beancurd and Tso's chicken at Peng Garden restaurant, located on the second floor at 380-1 Linsen North Road. Season Garden, at 324 Tunhua South Road, Section 1, serves up Sichuan specialties; don't miss the camphor tea-smoked duck and the dry-fried stringbeans wrapped in pancakes. The large menu at Celestial, on the second floor at 1 Nanjing West Road, offers northern Chinese specialties such as Peking duck; try to leave room for the caramelized bananas for dessert. Din Tai Fung, at 194 Hsinyi Road, Section 2, does Shanghainese cuisine, including crab-meat dumplings and other steamed delicacies. If you don't want to wait in line for a table, head around the corner to Yungkang Street, where several restaurants offer similar fare. And be sure to sample local Taiwanese specialties, such as rice congee with sweet potato. The photos on the menu at Shin Yeh (which has branches at 34-1 Shuangcheng Street and elsewhere in Taipei) make it easy for non-Chinese-speakers to order.
Taipei also offers a surprising number of pleasant spots to walk off all that good food. The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial complex boasts beautifully landscaped grounds; the broad plaza between the National Theater and the National Concert Hall resembles a miniature Tiananmen Square. The city's parks are best experienced first thing in the morning, when exercise buffs run through their t'ai chi routines.
Taiwan's Tourism Bureau distributes brochures to guide visitors on walking tours of the older sections in the western part of the city near the Tamsui River. The area was once a bustling hub for the island's tea exporting business, and visitors can still explore temples with intricate roofs and the historic shopping district of Dihua Street, where vendors now sell dried fruits, nuts and other delicacies.
Visitors to Taipei this month can catch the remainder of the city's annual arts festival, which ends June 15. It features dance and Chinese opera troupes plus a "City Carnival" on June 12 that includes parades, clowns, fireworks and balloons. On June 18, locals celebrate the annual Dragon Boat Festival, a national holiday that is marked by races on the Keelung River and by eating jungtzu, a steamed dumpling stuffed with glutinous rice and other goodies. The annual Taipei Chinese Food Festival will be held Aug. 20 to 24 at the Taipei World Trade Center Exhibition Hall--yet another great excuse for visitors to feast on the city's many delights.