Thursday, October 25, 2012

Polish Restaurant in Taiwan - Oak pod Debem

Oak - Pod Debem - is newly opened Polish restaurant in Taiwan and it is currently the only restaurant on the island to provide Polish food. I was very excited to hear that I can finally eat food I remember from childhood. Nothing, absolutely nothing stopped me for giving it a try - not even 40 minutes drive by car from Taipei. I was very eager to try it and I must say it - my expectations were quite high. Most of expats do miss 'mama' food, so you know I am writing about.

I went to Oak during the lunch hour and - let pictures not confuse you - the place was packed. I got a table by the window, in the corner - so it was actually easy for me to explore the entire restaurant. Visually - it is quite nice and relaxing. Tables are separated from each other so you do not feel like stepping on other tables, and while waiting - you can check some Polish sovereigns or travel books about Poland.

The menu offer some traditional Polish food. Even though menu does not have many choices - they do offer many specials - just ask for them. I wanted to try as much as possible, so I have ordered quite a lot - potato pancakes (placki) in mushroom sauce, delicious Flaki (beef tripe soup), a portion of Hunter Stew (Bigos)
and Apple cake. I did not know that every portion of the main dish comes in form of a meal, so you can imagine how much food that was. The meal consist of drink, soup, potatoes or french fries and a desert. Nonetheless - somehow I managed to eat all - it was very delicious.

The staff is great and friendly atmosphere makes you feel relaxed after whole day of studying / whole week of working. I met some other foreigners there and we join tables together with owners of the restaurant. I can really say that this can be a place where you can have a lunch, tea time or dinner, hang out there and meet new people. The great additional of live music during some evenings and able to order some Polish shots or beer - gives Oak even more thumbs up.

What shocked me the most are really low prices on the menu. It must be due to the proximity to some major universities, but still. I was expecting to spend a lot, but I am glad I was wrong. You can get a healthy portion of food here, very delicious with materials imported from Europe for price lower than MC Donald's set.

A meal that cost from NT65, Beef tripe soup that goes for only NT40 and my favorite of all times - Placki with meat or mushroom sauces for NT115 (I might be wrong here +/- NT10, was too happy ordering food) - you simply can't go wrong with at least giving it a try. I learned that some locals go there almost every night, and why shouldn't they? It's good and extremely good priced. I got food to go.

The only issue I have is the location, or I would go there pretty much every couple days. Perhaps owners one day decide to open branch in a large city?

The address is here: 桃園縣中壢市中央路216巷8號
Phone: 886 3 4202599
Open: Tue-Sun from noon to 10 pm, kitchen close at 8 pm.

(some picture borrowed from their FB page, you can check the album for the rest)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Instant and Microwave Food in Taiwan

In the recent post I have been complaining that food in Taiwan is getting more and more expensive. The money that I spend on food takes a large portion of my budget, and usually eating out is the first thing I cut when I need to save money. I like to eat at home whenever I have a chance, but when everyone works full time and have other responsibilities between work and sleep, there is hardly enough time left for cooking, the first choice is to grab some lunchbox or noodles from stands, or some burgers from some fast food chain.

Then it really hit me. I really enjoy microwave food. It might not be the healthiest of choices out there - but it does its job: get me from starvation to normal functioning again. If you are not that picky, and take your time with choosing which microwave food you prefer, you might be really surprised with the quality of the microwave food and how really low it is priced.

I go to do my grocery shopping about once a week both to local Cosco and Carrefour, here in Taipei city. I always buy so much frozen food that I have dilemma of stuffing it inside my freezer. I do have additional freezer at home, but I do not want to turn it on to save on power, but anyway,  probably when summer comes, need that extra space for ice creams. In Cosco I love their frozen pizza - there are 2 choices, 1 party size pizza or 4 large pizzas together. They also have meat and vegetable burritos which I also enjoy quite a lot, and German sausages. If you really have huge freezer, get their french fries. For around NT230 you get like 4kg of fries - its just really cheap. I stay away from their frozen Pasta, because it is... not good enough for the price they ask. In Carrefour, I look for the deals. Every week they have different frozen food on sale. Wait till the one you like is on sale and then buy it. I love the pasta (as on the picture) which normally sales for around NT50, usually on sale for NT35. Frozen fry rice is also awesome, but I think the best are the soup pots - like lamb soups, chicken sops, and beef noodle soups.

Unfortunately, you will not see many (or at all) western style TV Dinners, that usually have some veggies, meat and mash potatoes, but for that the closest choice you can get is in any local convenient shop. A bit pricey (NT50-80) but that really hit the spot when you are craving for some other food.

Totally another story goes with instant food, like instant noodles. There is no better place than Taiwan for the variety of choices and it is incredibly cheap. You want to have some instant noodles? What would you like? Regular? Vegeterian? Chicken, Pork or Beef? Maybe craving for seafood? Or more Oriental taste, like Tom Yum, or spicy Kimchi? Do you want just noodles, or with meat inside? Tons of choices, and instant noodles are really cheap, starting as low as NT8 per pack.

Here is my shopping list of the frozen food that I do every Sunday when my freezer can still fit:
Pizza 1 pack (4 large cheese pizzas) NT399 - 1 large pizza is 3 meals for me.
Party pizza is NT270, but the pack is much much better deal.
Burritos: 1 cost NT39, but you need to buy a dozen
German sausages: For about 2 dozens, NT220  I love them, quick breakfast with eggs and I am full till dinner. You can freeze them
French Fries: 4kg for NT230 (those are tasty fries, the curly ones. You will do good owning an oven)
Beef noodle soup: 4 pack for NT399. It might seem expensive, but 1 pack is good for 2 people. It is really delicious
Tom Yum instant noodles: 1 costs around NT14, you need to buy whole box, I think there are 24 inside.
Red Pasta- 4 servings, NT159. I stay away from it, I don't really like it, but maybe it is just my own preference.
Hot Pockets: Sometimes they have it. If they do... snap it. NT20 for a hot pocket, in the box total of 20. Usually they have cheese and ham inside.

Frozen fry rice: I wait till price drops to NT30, then buy at least dozen
Pasta: Green, Bacon and Red, I wait for at least NT39, then buy like 2-3 dozens
Rice with cheese, curry, mushroom, etc: Same brand as above, so same price.
Sometimes when you see promotion lady, ask if they have any freebies. I usually get some extra freebies for every 3 items I buy.
Instant noodles: Like I said, countless possibilities. NT8 to NT50 per pack

7/11 and other convenient stores
Most of the food you can think of that can get into microwave, but its expensive. Just if you are on the go, or don't own a microwave :)

If you only feed yourself on instant food and microwave food (please don't do it) then the monthly expenditure on food would be no more than NT1000.

When I eat outside, and do not care about saving money, each month spending on food can reach NT20,000!

Its delicious, its fast and is convenient. As long as you keep it in balance, its good way to save time and money.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Inflation vs. Salary in Taiwan for the Past Few Years

Recently on the Taiwanese news everyone is blaming current president Ma for prices of goods and services to be increasing too fast. When he was elected for the 2nd term, he promised an economic stability and better living quality for Taiwanese people. So far, all I can say these promises were false, probably spoken as a election talks to get enough votes to secure his position for another couple years. Since president here can only be elected twice, now the fruits can be observed.

How bad does it get? Bad, to the point many voters want to vote for President Ma to step down. Will this happen? Hard to say, but in my opinion, no - it is really too difficult to push it, and while most poorer folks are loosing due to price hikes, some do profit.

What is my take on this? Well, this is the way I see it:
- Gas prices went up by 10-15%. That's about extra NT1000 for me a month spending
- Coffee in 7/11 went up by 10% from NT50 to NT55. What I do? I don't drink it anymore.
- Coke in 7/11 went up from NT25 to NT29
- My favorite fry rice from NT70 to NT80.
- It get worse, 5 years ago I could buy 10 dumplings for NT35, today? NT50-80!

I go to supermarket, like Carrefour, or market, vegetables, fruits, meat all went up (mainly due to prices of gasoline.) On average, everything cost much more than just few months ago.

House market? Tripled in last 3 years. That means higher rent to pay or higher mortgage if you buying a house.

Now, what about the salary? Usually when the price go up, salary slowly increases as well. Unfortunately, for locals, the salary stays the same. What about foreigners? Suppose you are an English teacher - 5 years ago without experience you could make about NT600 per hour. Today? Same or less.

If couple years ago you were making here NT50,000 to NT70,000 a month as English teacher, that would be considered a lot. Today? Try to stay home, cook, have some entertainment - maybe you will save up enough for tickets back home. Compared to locals, who usually make NT25,000-NT35,000 after graduation, it is a lot, but considering they are staying with their family, so no need to worry about food and all the bills, it is really hard to save now.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cost of owning car in Taiwan

Owning a car in Taiwan can be a blessing and a burden at the same time, depending on your needs. Taiwan is very convenient place and the public transportation is very good - there are many ways for travel - using metro system connected to bus network and rail system as well as taxi transport at every single intersection. If you are planning to own a car in Taiwan, you must clearly understand what costs you are going to have on monthly basis.
In 2009 I have decided to purchase a new Honda CRV from the Taiwanese dealer. The process is simple really - you do not even need to have a first payment as long as you own a credit card. I ended up paying for loan NT15100 a month for 5 years. I paid it off after 2 years, to save money that I would pay for interest (about 5.9% per year.)

So what else you need to worry about while owning a car in Taiwan? A lot:

- Fuel tax: Each year government will send you a nice bill called fuel tax. It depends on the value of your car, I get hammered NT6500 a year.
- Licence plate registration: Another government tax per year. Around NT11000
- Insurance: Basic starts at NT12000 a year and premium around NT60000. The more expensive car you have, the higher the premium.
- Maintenance: need to bring car about twice a year (every 10k km) for regular check up. Add costs like changing tires, batteries, etc. Roughly, 6000-10000NT, twice a year.
- Gasoline: Expect to spend NT4000-7000 monthly
- Car wax: NT450 for small car, NT600 for SUV, every 3 months.

So I calculated all the costs, changed to monthly and I end up with the range of NT7608 to NT15324 a month for car expenses that you will have to take in addition to paying loan for the car.

Wait, this is not all!
Parking space: NT3000 a month to rent a place (range NT1500-4000)
Parking on the street, malls, parking lots: The sky the limit :)
Tickets: try not to break law, and it will cost you nothing.

So after adding parking costs the range becomes:
NT9108 to NT19324 + any loan payments for normal, non-luxurious car.

Car is a sink investment - buy it only if you really need it .

Sunday, February 19, 2012

School Supplies From Taiwanese Stationary Store

New semester begins tomorrow for most universities across Taiwan, so naturally there is need to buy pens, pencils, paper, notebooks and even a new backpack. Yeah, right. Not for me. Grab some paper, a pen that hopefully works and off to go with notes that I will probably lose the next day.
To not disappointing my blog readers, I checked for supplies in the stationary store around my house. It was rather a short trip, ending with a comment to my wife 'how about we just buy this stuff in Cosco?" A 80 page notebook went for around NT70-100, a ball pen for about NT15-NT30, paper about NT100 for 500 pages, hard cover notebooks approaching NT200 and backpacks... let just say the best way for you to shop for a nice backpack is to visit a night market and get one, solid one for NT500-1000. 

I don't want to sound cheap or anything like that, but I was disappointed that stores that make a living from selling stationary putting such a ridiculous prices. I rather go to supermarket and pay a third for supplies. 

How Much Should I Put Into Red Envelope While Attending Taiwanese Weddings?

Many friends asked me that many times, how much to put into red envelope while attending friends wedding? It really depends how close you are to the person that you attend wedding, what is your and their social status, or if you are related in some way or another.

The idea is that you try to give a sum that have those numbers: 2, 6 and 8, and make sure you avoid 4. Six and especially 8 are considered to be lucky numbers, while four sounds like 'die' in Chinese, so people avoid it. 

If you are not close to the couple that are to become officially husband and wife, you should at least offer enough to cover your food and reservation - NT1200, NT1600 or NT1800 are good sums if you arrive alone or with maximum of one person. 

If you are closer friends, start with at least NT2000 and up, depending how close you are. Again, make sure you avoid sums that will have "four" in it. Just one word of advice, giving too much might be also not advised. Later when it is your turn to have your own wedding, your friends will feel responsible to give back to you the same amount, and often - even more, simply to 'save their face.' If you already had wedding, and for some reason they were not invited - you can feel a bit more generous.

Last part, but not least - the infamous visitor book. You will have to put your name in it and the amount of money you put in the red envelope, for everyone to see. Ain't that sick? :).

Being Vegetarian in Taiwan

I am not a vegetarian. I never plan to become one, with my cultural background (full of meat) it would be hard for me to adopt, or even, I would not really want to be one. But but but this topic is not about me, but about those of you who plan to be in Taiwan and worry about if being a vegetarian will cause some major adjustments.

Well, don't. From what I heard from other expands that travel around Asia and end up one way or another in Taiwan is that Taiwan is ultra vegetarian friendly. No matter if you plan to cook at home, eat outside, hang out and eating with non-vegetarians,or even attend wedding banquet - there is plenty of food around to let you stay full without a touch of meat. 

If you eat at home, which is by far the cheapest way to nourish yourself (do not kid yourself, even if you are single - eating and cooking at home is still far cheaper than eating outside local food.) I usually get my groceries in local supermarkets, Carrefour and Welcome, or local wet markets (some are open in mornings, others at nights.) Local markets might not be necessary cheapest - that depends, but they do have freshest fruits and vegetables there directly from farmers. 

Eating out? A bit more expensive if you ask me, and it can get quite monotonous if you dine in just specific area. You will find a lot of vegetarian only restaurants almost everywhere, as well as other restaurants offering vegetarian food. In case you do dine in a local restaurant that offer meat, make sure that cooks know you do not want any meat. They often put some pork or meat sauces on the vegetables for a better taste.

If you attend any party or a wedding banquet, announce beforehand that you are vegetarian. It is not a problem at all for the host, because venues are prepared for that and you will be served special menu to accommodate your needs. 

As for the average costs, I won't mention it here, because it would be way too broad. However, vegetarian food tends to be more expensive than non-vegetarian food.