Chiang, who died in 1975, is memorialized in the central city. A massive memorial dominated by a statue of the generalissimo and guarded by stone-faced soldiers looms near the stiffly named National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. In the museum, hagiography sometimes trumps history. Chiang's medals and swords fill glass cases, and his black Cadillac with mirrored windows is on display. He is pictured in wall-mounted photographs with world leaders: Eisenhower, Churchill, Sun Yat-sen.
I enjoyed a less martial side of Taiwan on the outskirts of town at the National Palace Museum, a recently renovated, sprawling hillside complex that houses treasures of Chinese art and 5,000 years of Chinese history, also brought to Taiwan by Chiang. The museum includes splendid holdings of jade, exquisite ivory carvings as delicate as lace, artful bronzes, landscape paintings, vintage coins and early pictographs that evolved into the characters used in Chinese writing. It is a must-see for anyone interested in Chinese culture.
If you hunger for more than art, the museum's recently opened five-story restaurant Silks Palace serves traditional specialties, among them Yunlin Goose -- boneless goose meat seasoned with honey, salt and onion pepper and steamed with alcohol and chicken broth.
Silks Palace is a place for an elegant repast. But Taipei is also justly famous among Asians for its homey neighborhood restaurants and street food. Locals savor heaping bowls of steaming beef noodles just about anywhere. An easy mix of locals and travelers jam the always-busy Din Tai Fung restaurant and dig into succulent pork and chicken dumplings -- bursting with flavor and delicious juice -- and wash down the food with oolong tea grown in Taiwan at elevations of up to 10,000 feet.Near Din Tai Fung ,in the traditional neighborhood Wanhua, is an ideal place for dessert: Ice Monster, a no-frills sweet spot favored by locals who go there to snack and cool off in Taiwan's characteristic heat and humidity.