No self-serve vacation is ever complete without a one-day guided tour that brings you to places that all the tour buses go to. We decided to do the generic tourist attractions on Day 2 with a Cantonese-speaking guide. I was much more interested in surveying more local cuisine, but to placate the parental units I succumbed to their demands for a typical Asian bus tour of the city and Taipei’s surrounding rural areas. I apologize, we’ll return back to the regular programming of mystery meats shortly.
Our first stop was to the Yehliu Geopark, a series of mountainous rock formations facing the pacific ocean. I hate to admit it, but it was very scenic. The decades of salt-water erosion have formed some brilliant rock faces.
There was one particular rock face that has become the centerpiece of the park. The formation looks like the head of a lady wearing a hat, as demonstrated by my parental units
Next up is Jiufen, a gold mining town that has become a tourist town now that the gold has dried up. The main street of the old town is surrounded by local shops offering authentic eats and gifts to tourists. I was slightly confused with the setup: This was obviously a tourist trap and good local fare is rarely found in a place like this, but the eateries serve fresh, locally-sourced meats and produce. I had my doubts, but I decided to dip my feet into the local cuisine when I saw tour guides ordering from the eateries.
Our tour guide gave us a tip: The further in you walk the cheaper the fare. Around 3/4ths the way into the town we saw a sidewalk stand roasting king oyster mushrooms over a charcoal grill. My dad loves mushrooms of all kinds, so we began our culinary walkabout with an order. The girl tending the grill basted the mushroom before handing the order to us.
The mushroom was surprising fresh and meaty, and the soy-based sauce wasn’t too thick nor overpowering.
Our appetites sufficiently piqued, we headed for a shop specializing in my favourite of vacation eats: The mystery meats. They offer a variety of mystery meatballs and, for the less adventurous, homemade ramen noodles. The mystery meats waere displayed prominently in the open kitchen.
We order an bowl of pork meatballs in soup and dry ramen with meat sauce. The meatballs were springy and very flavourful, and the noodles were cooked al dente, though there’s got to be an equivialant term in Mandarin that I’m not aware of.
My mom and I heartily approve.
After polishing off the last of this meal, my mom went to find some dessert and my dad searched out for the fabled beef noodle soup everyone was loudly raving about. Surprisingly (or not depending on your opinion of tourist traps), the shop is at the entrance to the town.
Sure enough, a local cooking over several hot pots of broth in an open kitchen was a sign of good food to come.
Unfortunately, my dad and I polished off our bowls of noodles so quickly that I forgot to snap some photographic evidence. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was more delicious than I would have given a tourist trap credit for.
The tour guide took us to a few more places before dropping us off at our hotel. Having been recommended by our tour guide to dine a place called “Chicken House” (Literal translation), we hopped on the MRT and made our way to the restaurant. Our guide didn’t steer us wrong all day, why would we suspect he’ll let us down now?
THE recommend item in particular was a soup made of black chicken, pineapple, and bitter melon. I had my reservations since pineapple isn’t exactly indigenous to Taiwan, but I was willing to throw caution into the wind and give it a whirl.
The soup was alright, but for close to $2000NT, it wasn’t worth the cash. To accompany the pot of soup, we ordered a plate of “A” Choy (which is local to taiwan), a plate of fried fish fillet and the sweet vinegar pork spare ribs.
The spare ribs turned out to be the star of the meal, but you wouldn’t know it since the place was called CHICKEN HOUSE. Seriously. The chicken was a disappointment but the spare ribs were great?
The manager caught wind that we weren’t exactly local. I don’t know, speaking Cantonese where the vast majority of the population speaks Mandarin sort of gives it away. He came by with some after-meal tea in a chicken-embossed glass and some type of ginger flan. Both were a pleasant end to the meal, but it does not cover up the bitter disappointment that was the local recommendation.
Next up… Day 3 in Taipei where we actually begin eating adventurously… in earnest! In the meantime, enjoy this ad for a “Tamago-Ya”, which means “House of Egg”. They claim to serve vegetables, but I think they’re lying.
“CHICKEN HOUSE” – Ji Jia Jiang
55 Chiang Chun Road