American food in Taipei

Thursday, January 12, 2012

One of my classmates split her time growing up between the U.S. and Taipei, so she's well-versed in both cultures. While she dresses like a Taiwanese girl and loves Hello Kitty, she much prefers American food. So she suggested that we go to a restaurant (with several locations in Taipei) called The Diner, which (I'm sure you can tell) serves American diner food.

I wasn't expecting too much, or maybe I should say that I wasn't expecting to feel any which way about the restaurant, but surprisingly, the little things at The Diner made me realize how much I (or my stomach) do miss home.

Whenever I go to a diner, my go-to dish is pancakes or waffles, but despite being prepared to order pancakes, I ended up going with a dish called "Mexican Scramble," which was eggs scrambled with salsa, green onion and cheddar cheese and came with two slices of toast, sliced bananas, hash browns, orange juice, tea or coffee, and your choice of two links of sausage or two slices of bacon. This dish amounted to $8, which is not cheap by Taiwanese standards and probably not terribly cheap by most American standards, but cheap by New York City standards!

I started on the scramble at once. I was kind of disappointed, as it lacked any real flavor at first, but once I added some salt, some pepper and a couple dashes of Tabasco, it tasted really, really good. The hash browns were as good as they come in the U.S., but the big surprise that got me really excited was the sausage. I couldn't tell which brand the sausages were, but they were exactly the kind I love to eat at home ... and American breakfast sausages seem to be very difficult to come by elsewhere in the world.

When I was in England, all the sausages were mealy, as if they were one part flour and one part pork or beef. In Taiwan, sausages are typically bright pink, sweet and resemble salami. One bite of these breakfast sausages had me doing a happy dance in my seat, and I'm not exaggerating! I didn't eat the toast, but the Smuckers grape jelly (ah, I am reminded of the crazy fit Grandma Saracen threw about grape jelly in season three of "Friday Night Lights," and the ensuing money quote from Matt) was a nice touch. The coffee tasted ultra-American, too, and I'm no coffee connoisseur. 

My friend ordered Eggs Benedict, but the hollandaise sauce looked mighty sketchy to me. It was thicker than it should've been, and a darker shade of yellow. She told me it was "fake hollandaise," heavy on the lemon and light on the butter (or something). But she likes The Diner's version enough to have ordered it, because it wasn't her first time at the restaurant ... I tried the fries and they were true-to-form. I guess it's pretty difficult to mess up fries, though it's definitely happened before ...

Aside from the Tabasco sauce and sausages, my favorite thing about The Diner was its atmosphere. I noticed that its crowd was heavily foreign, and from the accents I heard around me, likely American. A guy sat alone at the table behind us, studying from his Chinese textbook and occasionally asking his waitress for help with the words. Though he must've been at least in his early twenties, he was dressed exactly like the guys in my high school were dressed at age 16, 17, 18 -- some sort of ski/North Face jacket, jeans, a backwards Yankees cap. 

I think I may have found my home away from home. Plus, they have what is a rare delicacy even in the diners back home ... PECAN PIE. Next time.

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