poor scientist. will blog 4 food.

the culinary adventures of a self-described foodie


Taiwanese Beer Snacks

For our last weekend in Taiwan, my big sister P suggested that we have a sisters-only (plus significant others) outing. This sounded fun enough, but what made it more exciting was the venue: a traditional Taiwanese beer snack restaurant. (Note: I don’t know if this is what they’re called, it’s just what I’m calling it for the purposes of this blog.)

In all my visits to Taiwan, I had never heard of such a place, let alone been to one. Taiwan consumes much less alcohol compared to its neighbors Japan, Korea, and China, so it surprised me that such restaurants actually exist. The idea is simple: eat lots of cheap, fried, salty foods that taste great with a beer (or two, or three). If my memory serves me right, most dishes were only NT$99 (US$3), with some special snacks costing a bit more. I forgot how much the beer was, but I did not think it was outrageous. Plus, we got to sample pineapple and mango beer!

View of the restaurant from the street.

The fish tanks out front.

Pineapple beer. We also sampled mango beer. Both were good, but a little too sweet for my taste.

Clams, greens, and some unidentifiable food (mushrooms? sausage?)

Veggies, ribs, and stir-fried greens with beef.

Fried pig intestine with basil and scallions.

Fried oysters with salt and pepper for dipping.

Fried fish with peanuts. A classic beer snack.

Fried fish filets (front) and beef with vegetables on a sizzling platter (back).

Green beans, garlic, and an unidentified meat product.

Two of my brother-in-laws with TC.

Yay sisters!

All in all, I thought the food was really good and went very well with the beer. After dinner, TC and I joined my sister P and her husband for a karaoke outing — TC’s first time ever! It was a very fun evening and one that I will remember for a long time to come.


Beautiful Santa Barbara

Last weekend, TC and I drove down to Santa Barbara to visit N & M, two good friends from my grad school days. When N & M moved to Santa Barbara 5 years ago, I promised to visit. Well, 5 years later, I still had not made the trek down to see them. With my POU in full swing, I finally had the time to make good on my promise. And I’m so glad I went. We had a great time visiting with N & M and seeing all of the beautiful sights that Santa Barbara had to offer.

Our drive down to Santa Barbara was going very smoothly… so smoothly that we were ahead of schedule. We decided to stop by the super weird town of Solvang, 35 miles north or Santa Barbara. For those who haven’t heard of this, er, quaint? town, all of the buildings have a traditional Danish influence: there are windmills, a Hans Christian Anderson library/museum, and horse carriage rides. Needless to say, the Danes are probably horrified that this tourist trap is marketed with their country as its theme. After walking around for about 10 minutes, we were both bored. I suggested we go get a beer and TC heartily agreed. So we used my Yelp app (which has come in SO handy, btw) and located the Solvang Brewing Company.

A couple pints of refreshing beverages after a long drive

According to Yelp, their house brews are not great. However, according to a flyer I saw in the women’s room, they hired an award-winning brewer to come in and improve the brews. One other thing they could change is the ambience. The place looks like a 70’s style brew pub (e.g., lifted straight out of Three’s Company), which is cool if that’s what it is, but it’s not. It was built in 2010. Usually, I like this kind of kitsch, but something about it seemed weird. But whatever — a beer is a beer, and this one satisfied our needs.

After finishing our beers, we headed to our destination: N & M’s place in Santa Barbara. They live close to Old Goleta, a low-key, diverse area with ethnic restaurants and shops. We had dinner at their favorite Thai place, Pattaya. My vegetarian pad kee mao was just so-so, but TC’s shrimp and pineapple curry was delicious. Also, M’s pineapple fried rice came in a pineapple!

Our gracious hosts!

On Saturday morning, after a breakfast of pancakes, TC and I went off on our own to tour downtown Santa Barbara. We walked along the beach and down Stearns Wharf (the pier). It was cloudy and gray but still quite beautiful. One important thing we did was to stop by the Tourist Information Center. There, we got some valuable coupons for wine tasting (see below).

Goofing around in downtown Santa Barbara

Wine tasting is a popular thing to do in the area, as made more famous by the movie Sideways. Since neither of us had done any research on the area wineries, we picked our first place, Gainey Vineyard, based on the “2 free tastings” coupon we got from the Tourist Info Center. $20 saved! Ch-ching! I wasn’t impressed by any of the wines we tasted, but the tasting room was quite nice, with huge wine barrels lining the walls. Our pourer was also very friendly and generously asked us if we wanted to re-taste anything (we passed). Oh, and there were bread sticks! Very helpful for staving off the wine buzz.

Next up was Kalyra Winery, started by an Aussie ex-pat. We had a 2-for-1 coupon, saving us another $10. Ch-ching (again)! Also, we got to keep the wine glasses. Score. The wines here were better, and they even threw in a couple of dessert wines, totaling 8 tastings in all (I think). We ate a bunch more breadsticks but the wine buzz was inevitable, so we went to sober up with a late lunch.

For the second time, the Yelp app came to the rescue. We had a great lunch at Dos Carlitos, a nice sit-down Mexican restaurant in Santa Ynez. Since we were supposed to sober up, I skipped the hibiscus margarita and went instead for the grilled vegetable tostada. TC ordered a chile relleno. We were both exceedingly pleased with our food. My tostada was super fresh, tasty, and healthy! Unfortunately, it was also gigantic, so I only ate about 2/3 of it.

The chile relleno at Dos Carlitos.

Grilled veggie tostada, with avocado dressing. Nutritious and delicious!

I surrender!

For dinner that night, I made BBQ noodles with assistance from N. It was one of his favorites from our grad student days. I gave N the recipe years ago, but he had a lot of trouble recreating it. Now that we’ve cooked it together, hopefully he’ll have lots of successful noodle ventures in the future.

Sunday morning, the four of us headed to Camarillo, about 45 minutes south, to get dim sum at Peking Inn. No photos, unfortunately, but trust me when I say that the food was good and the drive scenic. After lunch, we went with N to UCSB campus. While he worked, (A postdoc’s work is never done!) we took a brief walk around campus. Whereas we weren’t impressed by the buildings or the layout, the beach adjacent to the campus took our breath away.

Such a beautiful beach, only a few minutes from campus. Ah, to have such distractions...

We finished off the afternoon by revisiting downtown Santa Barbara. First, we had to go see the world’s biggest fig tree. It supposedly shades up to 1000 people at noon. Our assessment: yes it’s huge, but we were skeptical that it would shade that many people. Then again, I’ve always been terrible at estimating volumes and areas, so I’m probably wrong about this too.

me and the giant fig tree

Next, we strolled along State St, the main thoroughfare. It’s very upscale and reminded me of Palo Alto, only bigger and prettier. For dinner, we relied on our friend the Yelp app, yet again, to point us somewhere delicious. And again, it came through! We had dinner at Zaytoon, a cute Lebanese restaurant that doubles as a hookah bar. Even though we were there before sunset, it was easy to imagine going there with friends for a relaxing evening of drinking wine, smoking hookah, and staring into glowing warmth of the fire pit in the middle of each table. Alas, we wanted to get a quick dinner and get on the road, so no meandering for us. Both TC and I ordered the vegetarian choice, which was a platter of hummus, baba ghannouj, falafel, grape leaves, tabouli, and fatoush salad. So yummy! And just the right amount of food to satisfy without sending us to food coma.

Vegetarian Choice at Zaytoon

All in all, a wonderful trip! I’m thankful for the fun time, good food, beautiful scenery, and great friends.

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Japanese Drinking Snacks

One style of Japanese dining that I really wanted to try was izakaya, which is basically beer- or sake-accompanied snacks. Think of it as Japanese tapas or pub food. Typically, you order as you go along, and you’re expected to order food throughout your visit. I was pretty intimidated by this format, as I wasn’t sure how common it was for a young woman to go to an izakaya by herself. Luckily, during the conference I was attending, a few of my fellow scientists were game for trying izakaya too!

We ended up at a large chain izakaya that was 3 or 4 stories tall off of the main drag in Gion, Kyoto. Our hostess showed us to a large, private tatami-covered room with a cutout under the table for our legs. At our table was a small round disc that served as the pager for our server. How convenient! The Japanese really do think of everything. R, who is of British origin but now works in Kobe, guided us through our English menu, pointing out his personal favorites. Photos of our dinner are below. The only dish not pictured is the fried chicken (very good). Enjoy!

#30: Grilled Chinese yam & cod ovum, aka cod eggs. As scientists, we appreciated the proper nomenclature. As diners, not so much.

Small appetizers: pickle salad and macaroni salad. Random.

A few of our dishes: grilled big fish, shrimp omelette (yum!), grilled smaller fishes.

Close up of the smaller fish.

Egg, bean sprouts, and pork stir fry. This was really good, to my surprise.

Some baked cheesy thing that I didn't try. But everyone else said it was delicious.

I think these were fried rice cakes, and I think they were quite tasty.

Another baked cheesy thing in a clam shell.

My happy dining companions!