Day 4: Rain, Food Microbiology, and Family Dinners

Hi all,

First off, apologies for the late update for this particular day! Fairly busy, and it’s been raining heavily lately – parts of Taiwan have been reported to be flooded on the news. Last night was INSANE , especially since I had to get back to my dorm from my grandmother’s house via the subway. It freaked me out a little bit, but then I remembered that I had to run a 10 km race in the rain (2016), so that calmed me down a bit haha. But anyways, let’s get to the post for this day!

Part 1: Rain

Taiwan usually gets a lot of rain throughout the year, but the summer months tends to be the heaviest and most frequent. If you’re planning on either visiting or studying here, make sure you have an umbrella with you. In addition, I recommend having waterproof shoes such as rain boots, or even a pair of sandals that can dry off fairly easily. My rainboots are back at home (Pretty bulky to carry in my opinion), so on days like this, I usually wear these. They’re not 100% waterproof (the inside of the upper part especially), but the majority of the shoe doesn’t absorb much water, which is good. If you have a backpack with you, I would seriously recommend getting a backpack cover. Not everyone has one, but it’s kept all of my stuff dry without any problem whatsoever! It’s super light and helpful, especially if you’re carrying a laptop with you everywhere on campus.

Part 2: Food Microbiology

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On Friday (June 2nd), I officially met the professor that I’m working with, as well as some of his students in his lab – which are mostly a mixture of graduate and PhD students. Dr. Cheng’s research focuses on different aspects of food microbiology, such as wine fermentation, microbial bioactivity, enzymes, LABs (lactic acid bacteria for short), and more. I usually freak out about my first impression to other people, since I feel that I’m pretty awkward at times. Another thing is that I only understand enough mandarin to get by, and my vocabulary is kind of limited, so I was worried that I can’t communicate with everyone. Much to my relief, everyone is super nice, and everyone speaks a mixture of both English and Mandarin. I even met a graduate student who watches Game of Thrones and Sherlock – two TV shows that are my current favorites right now, so it’s nice having something in common with some of the students!

I wanted to see what Dr. Cheng’s lab is like because a lot of his research is similar to topics that I learned about in FSHN 471/FSHN 312 last semester: which are food microbiology courses. I don’t know what I’ll be doing yet (I admitted to my professor that I’m not sure where I want to begin), but as far as I know, I’m going to be rotating with the PhD students to see what they’re doing. Out of everything so far, I’m more excited about wine fermentation, but we’ll see how the next few days turn out! At the end of the internship, I think I have to write a paper, but I’ll talk to Dr. Cheng probably sometime this week to confirm.

Part 3: Family Dinners

For those who don’t know me, my family is Taiwanese – we’re mostly spread out between the U.S. and Taiwan, but the majority of my relatives live in Taiwan. One of my cousins found this one restaurant called 新東南海鮮餐廳 (Shin Tung Nan Seafood Restaurant). This place is known for their authentic and fresh seafood dishes (They’ve been imported from places such as Japan, Mexico, and other places!). We all decided to get together (Cousins/their families, aunt, uncle, grandmother from my dad’s side) to eat, and my aunt/uncle basically ordered 13 different entrées, lazy Susan style, for two huge tables full of people (So basically 26 in total since every table got the same entrées). There was so much food, that we were unable to finish everything. I won’t post everything that we ate, but the following four pictures above were some of the highlights of the meal: clams, shrimp, freshwater fish of some sort (I don’t know the name of it, but it tasted incredible!), and yes, stinky tofu. The freshwater fish was my favorite: it had such a tender texture, and when you paired it with shredded scallions and a soy-sauce base (I think that’s what it was, there were other ingredients added to it as well), it was so savory, and the fish literally just melted in your mouth.

Speaking of stinky tofu, this is a dish that is often a hit or miss for everyone. This kind of tofu goes through a natural (and I assume wild) fermentation process, where various ingredients are combined (to make up the brine) with the tofu and are exposed to the air (open fermentation). Different ingredients can introduce different types of bacteria into the food, which increases the microbial diversity in the product. This is an important characteristic because these bacteria can produce different by-products such as lactic acid, and also ammonia, which gives the dish its distinct smell and flavor. The tofu ferments for I think a couple of months, and is then cooked – usually either boiled/steamed, or deep-fried.

I was the only person who tried it out of everyone (LOL), and yep, it definitely had a very strong smell; but that didn’t stop me from trying it. The tofu had a pungent taste, and to be completely honest, I didn’t find it completely terrible. However, I could only take a few bites because of the sauce. Stinky tofu usually has a spicy sauce of some sort to accompany the dish, but this sauce in particular was just way too spicy and overwhelming. The sauce ruined the dish unfortunately. If the spiciness level was toned down a little bit, then it would have been a bit more manageable in my opinion.

Overall, not bad for a Friday! I’ll be spending some time catching up on some blog posts, so I’ll try to get those up as soon as I can!

All the best,

Cassie

 

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