For the last several years, members of the Basking Ridge community may have missed their neighboring town’s restaurant Thirsty Turtle. Due to the failure to renew a lease in the midst of ShopRite parking lot expansion, residents witnessed the popular establishment’s 2005 demise. Growth Restaurants, the Basking Ridge based industry that brought us Thirsty Turtle, still continued to thrive in places like the Bamboo Grille and Famished Frog. Nonetheless, it seemed sadly poetic to see the Turtle get left behind and crushed, its shell lacking any form of protection.
As the memory of this once successful Bernardsville restaurant may have begun to slowly fade away, though, James Yacenda of Florham Park Realty came to Growth with a new plan. Yacenda’s Regency Plaza Shopping Center had to occupy a vacancy, and it seemed best to do this with one of Growth’s fun-loving, palate pleasing eateries. For this reason, this summer the Ridge community will see the return of its beloved Thirsty Turtle, just 15 miles northeast of its original location. Last month, the Florham Park Eagle excited residents by telling them to “Get ready for a reptile in need of refreshment to soon stake its shell in the borough.”
Oddly enough, several thousand miles away from Thirsty Turtle, restaurant patrons are in need of their own refreshments, with this particular species being on the menu. Roughly 100 miles off of the southeastern coast of China lies a subtropical island. This subtropical island, better known as Taiwan, very recently became my home. Though I have only been living there for one month, I have noticed quite a few different cultural practices, reptile cookery being one of them.
One of the areas that cater to such cuisine is located in the Wenshua District of Old Taipei, near the scenic Longshan Temple. Surrounding this spiritual site are the historically rich, red lantern sprinkled streets of Huaxi Night Market. Properly nicknamed “snake alley” for its abundance of cold-blooded meals, Huaxi is the most ancient international tourist destination on the island. Despite its differing location to the 1984 film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, tourists who have seen this movie may become nostalgic while walking through this bastion of history. There is a range of reptile infused meals to choose from, as numerous customers gather to devour water turtle meat and snake flesh soup. And what better way to wash down a scaly, slimy meal than with the very fuel that drove these animals prior to their execution? Customers can choose between snake blood, bile, or venom, which is all served in shot glasses.
If one is keener on amphibians, perhaps they can satisfy themselves with Taiwan’s renowned fenyuan, which is often referred to as frog eggs. Unlike the snake or turtle dishes, though, these famous “frog eggs” are actually far from legitimate. Nothing more than flour constructed, jelly textured balls of tapioca, frog eggs are only nicknamed so due to their striking resemblance to the real amphibian’s offspring. Nonetheless, I could not help but see the contrast between the smiling logos of Thirsty Turtle and Famished Frog’s mascots and this reptile and amphibian themed night market feast.
While I have tried the frog eggs in both Taiwan and my previous home of South Korea, I have yet to sample any of these snake or turtle delights. On this first and so far only trip to Huaxi, my hunger had already been satisfied by the market’s fried squid, Taiwanese sausage and bread balls. As these treats appear closer to the entrance than their reptilian rivals, they made their way into my stomach first, as did the sweet, refreshing kiwi juice that I guzzled down. Maybe next time I will only be so lucky as to cleanse my palate with a nice, potent shot of snake’s blood.
While the Florham Park Thirsty Turtle fails to include any of these exotic entrees on their menu thus far, it could serve as an ironic twist to this now rejuvenated has-been of a restaurant. After all, I seldom ate at a Korean barbecue joint that did not advertise a cartoon trio of smiling pigs or cows holding hands on the awning. Thirsty Turtle’s menu already includes a healthy dose of Asian cuisine, as it features a Pad Thai and a Bangkok Stir Fry. Why not add to the menu’s Eastern options with a taste of Taiwanese culture and the restaurant’s very own mascot?