After a brief hiatus for Thanksgiving, I am pleased to resume my series on my summer trip to Taiwan. Now that it’s getting chilly in North America and chilly by Taiwanese standards in sub-tropical Taiwan, it’s hard to remember how hot and humid a Taiwan summer can be. Temperatures in the high nineties (Fahrenheit) and humidity in the 80% range make sightseeing a challenge to even the hardiest traveler. You could excuse a person for sticking to the air conditioned comfort of Taipei’s innumerable department stores, malls, and underground markets. But the more adventurous and perhaps foolhardy among us ignore external and internal thermostats and venture on. I had great memories of visiting the Taipei Zoo when I was around my younger daughter’s age, 7 or 8, and so I was determined to share the experience. The subway ride was an easy and climate-controlled journey. We preceded our zoo explorations with a ride on the Maokong Gondola. When I hear the word “gondola” what comes to mind are ski lifts or Venetian boats. In Taiwan, this is a different kind of gondola. Gondolas are used both for transportation (in Taipei, between the Taipei Zoo and Maokong, a village surrounded by tea plantations and temples) and as destinations in their own right. (There is another gondola at Sun Moon Lake). The vistas are spectacular– the lush variegated greens of tea plantations and sub-tropical forest, mountains, and the hazy view of Taipei 101 and downtown Taipei in the distance.
However– the gondola cars, which began operations in 2007, are not air conditioned, which might not be a problem in France, where the system was engineered, but could be a serious health hazard in a Taipei summer.
That said, we enjoyed our ride of approximately 45 minutes each way. At the Taipei Zoo, we spent most of our time viewing the Formosan Animals area, where we saw some pretty unique, if not conventionally attractive, animals including wild boars, bears and monkeys. It was feeding time for the monkeys, and we looked on somewhat jealously as the monkeys scarfed down some very ripe tropical fruit, including this one enjoying his papaya.
That gave us an idea to quench our own thirst– papaya milk. This is basically a papaya smoothie, and long before boba/bubble tea stole the spotlight, papaya milk was a popular fruit drink in Taiwan. When I visited Taiwan as a child in the 1970s, you could either drink this on the spot in a tall clear glass marked “500cc”, or take it away in an inexpensive pack consisting of a plastic bag sealed tightly with a rubber band around a straw. These days, the packaging is much more sophisticated using plastic cups and a fresh vacuum seal of plastic film. Fresh versions are best, but it’s such a popular taste in Taiwan that you can buy “papaya milk” in grocery and convenience stores, which is similar to the chocolate and strawberry milk sold in North America. I’ll drink that in a pinch, but whenever I can get my hands on a ripe papaya, I’d rather blend my own.
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Taiwanese Papaya Milk
1 cup papaya (peeled, cubed, seeded)
1 1/2 cups milk (any kind, though whole milk is traditional)
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1. Wash the papaya, cut it in half, and scoop out seeds with a spoon.
2. Peel the skin with a knife.
3. Cut papaya into 1 inch cubes. Extra may be frozen for later use.
4. Place cubed papaya in a blender, add milk and sugar and blend until smooth. Serve over ice.
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If you’d like to read more about Taiwan, please visit these posts:
And for more Taiwanese recipes: