Sunday, December 18, 2011

day trip continued : jiufen

So after checking out the Yin-Yang Sea, we rode the bus back up to Jiufen. Jiufen got its name because it was first settled by 9 families. Whenever shipments came into town, the families would ask for 9 portions, one for each of the families. So now the town is literally named 9 portions, or Jiufen. The town boomed when they discovered gold nearby but when gold mining declined so did the town. Jiufen was colonized by the Japanese and a lot of the buildings retain the Japanese architecture. A lot of people come to this city to see the famous street, Shuqi Road, that is all over the postcards. Jiufen was also used as the model for the movie Spirted Away. I would recommend going on a weekday since on the weekends are so crowded that it makes it hard to see any of the buildings or take any pictures with everyone blocking the view. All those stairs in this place also makes it risky for older folk and makes it very difficult to take pictures when people are trying to push by.

shuqi road
If you don't want people in your pictures I would recommend walking all the way down Shuqi Road, which are actually steps. However at the lower end of the stairs you won't be able to capture the Japanese architecture. I tried to take some quick pics as I was being pushed up the stairs but all bright street lamps they had around that area messed up my pictures. If you are interested in getting some souvenir stamps from this area I would recommend walking all the way down Shuqi Road to Quiche Road to check out the tourist center. Another alternative is to get off at the bus stop on Quiche Road, check out the tourist center which is right past the police station and then walk the stairs up to the main center of Jiufen. There are only two bus stops for Jiufen. One is on Quiche Road where you will need to walk up a ton of steps to enter the main area or another one further up at Jiufen Old Streets. A much easier walk but you will need to walk through the entire market at a shuffling pace due to all the tourists.

A cool aspect of this town is all the alleys that connect the houses. These alleys are called chuanwu alley and refers to the fact that the front and back doors of certain houses face different roads. You can use these roads to avoid all the heavy traffic on the main roads but some are pretty hard to find. Because of a map that we got from the tourist center we knew a chuanwu alley was behind the restroom on Shuqi Road. We ended out right next to the Shi's House which was a well known family in Jiufen back in the day. Taking another alley we busted out onto one of the main roads, Jishan Street, right behind two store vendors who were chatting it up. I think I gave them a little scare since I was whooping and hollering that we had just taken some crazy desolated alley to reach civilization...

chuanwu alley
The lighting of the street was actually this freaking green color... so creepy. No wonder why no one else went exploring these alleys. A famous alley in Jiufen is the Penetrant Alley which I believe might be a type of chuanwu alley but the brochure gets all confused on that so I'm not sure exactly. There is a huge entrance made of "rock" for it right off of Shuqi Road.

penetrant alley
The Penetrant Alley is basically a cramped tunnel that leads to a teahouse. The rock entrance off of Shuqi Road is made of plaster I believe. I knocked on it and there was a hollow sound. Sorry the picture is blurry, right after we entered all these peoples decided to follow us in also. Super cramped and not pleasant if you are claustrophobic. At the end are some very small steep stairs that you need to climb to exit. We just went through the tunnel and then turned back around after we saw that it didn't lead anywhere. Another main attraction in Jiufen is the Shengping Theater.

shengping theater
They were people here watching an old school film so I couldn't really take pictures of the inside in the dark without using my flash. This is also another stopping point for a souvenir stamp!

old school concessions stand!
Next up was to try the famous local delicacies Jiufen had to offer. First stop was at Auntie A-Gan Sweet Taro Ball located on Shuqi Road, the other end away from the tourist center. This store is very famous and there was a long line of people waiting to buy some taro balls. After you purchase the taro ball, proceed to walk through the back of the store, through an alleyway to reach the dining area which has an amazing view. What is with restaurants where the serving area is a distance away from the dining area? A lot of people choose to continue walking up Shuqi Road to sit on the steps, the end of Shuqi Road. The view from there wasn't awesome since all the buildings blocked the view. Definitely go into the dining area and check out the view from there while staying warm.

cold sweet taro balls
You can get it either hot or cold. Cold comes with ice. I was all hot and sweaty from climbing up all the steps to get to this place so this cold dessert was exactly what I needed. You have the option of adding toppings like red and green beans, etc. I don't like beans so chose not to put any toppings on it. The taro balls cost $40 NT, toppings don't cost extra.

sweet potato ball and taro ball
I don't know why they only call it taro balls when sweet potato balls are usually included in the mixture. There is no such thing as just taro balls. I prefer the sweet potato balls more because they are sweeter. Next up on the local cuisine train is the steamed taro cake.

steamed taro cake
I liked the steamed taro cake but I think it's an acquired taste. For me when I first bit into it I was reminded of the fish patties my grandma makes back home. I know it sounds crazy since its just taro but that was what I got from eating this. When I say fish patties I mean super Chinese where the fish paste? was in a container that my grandma would scoop out with a spoon and flatten it so it became like a pancake and then fried it in oil in the wok. I'm pretty sure you know what I'm talking about.Up next is the vegetarian meat ball with red vinasse. Red vinasse is the byproduct of red wine making, after the alcohol has been removed. My brochure says that the vegetarian meat is made of bean powder and then immersed in red vinasse. I'm not sure if mine was vegetarian because it tasted a lot like meat, specifically char siu, or Chinese barbecued meat. You can also taste a distinctive wine taste in the "meat" from the red vinasse, The dough is made of glutinous rice. A lot of the dough used in Taiwan is made from glutinous rice, no flour here. I didn't like the dough as much as the meat.

red vinasse, vegetarian?
bust that baby wide open
The meat was so red it was kind of off putting. Like how poisonous animals are brightly colored, this bright colored meat was trying to send a signal that everyone ignores. After eating in Jiufen, we decided to go to Keelung to check out the Miaokou Night Market there. We waited at the bus stop for what seemed like an hour for a bus that went to Keelung but all the buses only went to Ruifang. We finally decided to just head back to Ruifang and then take the train back to Hsinchu from there. The next and also the last train to Hsinchu came at 9:30pm. Since we had an hour to kill we just waited for a bus to go to Keelung. The bus we went on had to go through Jiufen first. I would recommend people just catch the bus from Jiufen to Ruifang and then take a bus to Keelung. I'm sure there are other buses that go directly from Ruifang to Keelung. Anyways at least in Ruifang there are more options whereas Jiufan only has two bus lines heading back to the city. The bus that heads to Ruifang from Jiufan ultimately ends up in Taipei.

miaokou night market
I like this market because all the stalls had signs telling customers what they were selling. Well the main dish anyways. The food offerings at this market wasn't as extensive since a lot of the stalls were more like restaurants than actual carts.

First thing we ate was Ding Bian Cuo, which is a type of noodle soup dish. The name is derived from how this dish is made. Ground rice paste is poured onto the rim of a hot pot where it solidifies into a noodle form which is then later removed and placed into a broth.

ding bian cuo
 This dish had two types of fish balls in it. I didn't like either of the fish balls since I'm not a big fan of them. The noodles were ok, had a very chewy texture to them. The broth was salty and that made the entire dish really good. Besides the usual mushrooms and lettuce there was also a day lily flower in the broth. Yummy and only cost $50 NT!

lǔròu fàn or braised pork rice
Tried lǔròu fàn again. This dish was super delicious. The rice had soaked up all the juices from the pork so even when the pork was gone the rice was still yummy. There wasn't that much meat but everything was mixed in so nicely that it didn't matter. This one also had a sweet taste to it. This dish left a nasty aftertaste in my mouth though. Only downside. Someone said it's probably due to the MSG in the dish. The major downside of night market foot is all the MSG in the food.

longan flavored pao-pao ice or bubble ice
Pao-pao Ice is made by stirring syrup into shaved ice and originated in Keelung. What comes out has the consistency of sorbet. This place is really popular and there was a long line. I got the longan, dragon eyes, flavor because I love longans. The taste was not what I expected at all. They are not using longan fruit flavoring but rather the ice has the taste of dried longans. That explains the yellowish color of the ice. I love dried longan and recognized the taste instantly, but as an ice flavor it is not good. I've read amazing reviews about this place though so I will go back and try a better flavor next time. One cup costs $45 NT.

fried sandwich
The fried sandwich is another famous Miaokou Night Market meal. The bed is first fried before filling it with cucumbers, ham, tomatoes, and a lot of sweet mayonnaise. I had one bite of this and did not like it at all. The bread was super greasy from all the oil and just tasted like a doughnut which makes sense. Never was a big fan of mayonnaise but the kind they use was too sweet. One costs $55 NT.

The Miaokou is only a couple of blocks away from the Keelung Train Station. However the last train back to Hsinchu left at 9:40pm and we were cutting it super close. Had to hightail out of the night market super fast and add to the fact that we didn't really know where we were going...stress stress. The train back to Hsinchu cost $150 NT and the trip only took 2.5 hours. Way faster than if we had to take the train back to Taipei and then bus back to Hsinchu. However I would not recommend going by train just because the train seats were super uncomfortable. They were a slightly padded version of the MRT train seats. The uncomfy chairs with the constant bright lights and the fact that you couldn't recline or anything made the journey seem longer than it did. I definitely recommend taking the bus just because you can take a nap and its so much more comfier.

view of the jiufen coastline
Going to leave you with the awesome view of the coastline from Jiufen. So pretty!! For info on how to get to Jiufen check out the details in the previous post. Buses that go to Jinguashi stop at Jiufen first.

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