Eating, Playing, and Living in Asia: My Favorite Meals at the Beach House

On my way to surf Taiwan’s strip of the Pacific Ocean (Asia Society)

By Adam Collardey

On January 8, The New York Times published an op-ed by Jonathan Levine, which was a clarion call in support of taking one’s career to Asia. Mr. Levine’s timing could not have been better, as our Young Professionals Group is planning a February 16 program and networking event titled, “Eat, Play, Live: Stories from Expats in Asia” (mark your calendars!). Along with other panelists, I will be sharing my experiences in Asia during this event. By way of this post, I’d like to give you a taste of the kinds of topics we’ll be discussing on February 16.

I did my fair share of eating, playing, and living in Asia while I was working in Taipei as an English teacher, and as a technical writer for a computer networking company, from 2003 to 2008. My original plan was to stay for only a year, and ultimately the only thing that pulled me back to the U.S. was my family and how much I missed them.
Taiwan is chock full of amazing food, people, and places. My favorite place, by far, was the dirty beach house I rented with some friends from New Zealand, Taiwan, and New York. The place was always in dire need of repair. We paid rent for the place year-round while living in our regular apartments, over an hour away in Taipei. For $20 a month, we each had our own rooms and a little slice of beachfront property as our weekend getaway.
There were two meals we’d enjoy during those weekends that I am still trying to mimic after almost four years of not being at the beach house – whole roasted chicken and simple fresh seafood. I'm an avid cook and as hard as I try, as many ingredient pairings as I test, and as many recipe books as I read, nothing has come close.
The roasted chicken could be had at a restaurant half an hour down the road from our beach house in a town called Jiaohsi, known for its wonderful natural hot springs. The restaurant didn't look like much, but doubled in size over the three years that I frequented Yilan County. Like much of Asia, the restaurant featured half-indoor, half-outdoor seating that added to its charm. Next to the tiny kitchen, there were no less than six homemade outdoor wood burning ovens that each had room for a single unfortunate chicken on a vertical roaster. The chicken was bathed and stuffed with garlic and the drippings flowed into a pail while the chicken roasted. The drippings were turned into a soup (available free of charge) by simply adding more broth and fresh bamboo. The thing to order was a whole chicken, with sides of local vegetables and rice. Other than chopsticks, the only utensils allowed at the restaurant were insulated gloves, used for ripping apart the chicken by hand. I'm still chasing my memories of a smoky, garlicky, greasy chicken as good as the one in Jiaohsi.
The fresh seafood we would get at a nearby harbor, where the boats would unload their catch and sort it into buckets on the docks. Part of the fun was that we never knew what was going to be for dinner. Whether it was a whole red snapper or clawless baby Pacific lobsters, the most we ever added to the main course were a few slices of lemon and onions, or perhaps a generous dose of Thai chili sauce – and a good drink or two. We did a lot of surfing at the beach house and it was always a pleasure to eat the fruits of the sea after being in the salty water all day.
I am not the first to say it, but food is more about the people you’re with and the places and times that you experience together. I was fortunate enough to have both these elements in place to enjoy on several occasions over my years in Taiwan. Of course, none of these great experiences and memories would have come to pass without my having decided in the first place to try living and working in Asia.
Adam Collardey is on the Leadership Council of the ASNC Young Professionals Group. Born in Flint, Michigan, Adam earned a BA in Chinese Studies from the University of Michigan and a MA in Asia Pacific Studies from the University of San Francisco, and then spent five years in Taiwan teaching English, studying Chinese, practicing kungfu, surfing, and hiking. He has recent product development and project management experience at a San Francisco tech startup, and is currently seeking new opportunities in SF.