Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Taiwan Day 2

Day two in Taipei was planned to visit Jiufen & Shifen. These two places are gorgeous, especially Shifen. The thing with Shi fen is that there are seven stops and the only way to get there is a train that runs every hour. Jiufen has gorgeous view of the mountains and the sea. It is also where most of the Spirited Away art is from. Especially the street of the red lanterns. The view and food are pretty wonderful but it is a full day trip.

We started the day by getting breakfast from 7-11. I absolutely love 7-11 in Taiwan. There are tons of them. There was about 3 from our hostel to the train station entrance. They offer tons of food and the workers are really nice. They have everything from fresh sushi to bentos, and they offer to heat it up for you. They also have a collection of stamps program that you can trade in for things like plats. I will elaborate more on that later. I started the morning with a steaming hot spicy pork bun. The bun was so yummy. The bun was fluffy, the filling was just enough spiciness and I like the pork proportion. Great start to the morning!!

We had to hop on a train from the main train station, where the train has both sitting and standing seats. Unfortunately for us, we got standing seats as we didn't want to wait another 30 minutes for the next train. I can't remember where we got off exactly, as my older cousin was the one who planned it all and I just followed her instruction. Though based on my photos, I think the stop is called Reifang.

We went to Shifen first as it requires a train that only comes by every hour and it has more stops. Jiufen only required a bus ride and you can walk around. I love how the train has this older look to it, though the controls are pretty modern.  I got stuck right next to the conductor on the way back and had to snap a picture as it is all computerize. I really thought it would be all manual.

We decided to take the train all the way to the end and then take the train back to the train station to catch the bus to Jiufen. This was definitely a good decision as we found out on the way back. The train was so full that there was absolutely no way people at the first stop from the main station could have hopped on.

 We first stopped at Jingtong, and I snapped a picture of their logo as I thought it was a very unique sign. We did not explore too much at Jingtong, we only looked around for about 5 minutes and hopped back onto the train. There was mostly stands from the locals selling sky lanterns, which are a local specialty. We saw plenty of mini versions at this station but actual ones at the following stops.
 The next one is Pingxi station and we decided to stop here and actually explore. The station has a little plaque with a little background on the station. The view behind the station was gorgeous. It felt like I headed back 20 years to a quieter time where everything was so much simpler.
Since the train was not coming back for another hour, some people decided to hop onto the train track and take pictures there... Despite a sign saying do not walk on the the tracks. Though we were guilty of that as well. But we did hop off once we saw the sign. There were also people setting sail of some sky lanterns. Like I said earlier, these were sold pretty much at every stop. The large ones are about $300 NTD or roughly $10 CAD and the purchaser is encouraged to write things on the lantern. It is then set sail into the sky and it is done at night so you can actually see the lanterns lit up and sail off in the sky instead of a black blurb.

During our exploration, we found a little shop that had this super adorable mailbox. They even had a few stamps of this character and we spent a good five minute there stamping our books.

We picked up some foods as we were getting a little hungry. We picked up two pieces of sausages. One was a pork sausage with wasabi sauce and had slices of garlic wedged in it. Another one was pork sausage wrapped in sticky rice. Both of which was delicious. I thought the fresh garlic would give me bad breath but it did not. Thank goodness. It adds a little punch to the sausage and I wish I could have eaten more. I couldn't take pictures as I was in charge of stamping everyone's books.

We also picked up something called peanut wrapped ice cream. Even though it is called ice cream, it is actually more like finely shaved ice. This is a Taiwan specialty. We picked two types. One that only has peanuts and the other one has cilantro in it. It is basically a thin piece of rice paper wrapped around a layer of shaved peanuts and a chunk of flavoured shaved ice. It is DELICIOUS! I love the shaved ice, it has a consistency of a fluffy slushee, that is the closest I can describe it. It didn't feel like I was eating ice but it definitely doesn't have the taste or consistency of ice cream. The shaved peanuts doesn't have too much of a peanut taste, though it can be accidentally inhaled wrongly since it is shaved so finely.. I definitely accidentally inhaled it and had a coughing fit in a full train. Oops. ..I liked the one with cilantro added to it as I really like the taste of cilantro. Just personal preference really. Though the lady running the stand was extremely nice. My younger cousin was bitten by mosquitoes and developed really huge bumps and asked if they had any mosquito repellant or recommend any. The lady went and got their own and allowed us to use it. Which worked really well since my cousin did not get any more bites for the rest of the day.

We hopped on the train again and headed to the most popular stop, Shi Fen. This is really popular as it leads to the Shifen waterfall. They have a little stand right in the train station. It says Shi Fen <-> Happiness. In Chinese shifen means very. So the literal meaning is very happiness. My translation is that it is the road to eternal  happiness. There were a lot of merchandises and signs selling the whole Shi Fen <-> Happiness schtick.

Though to be honest, I would love to have one of those tickets that says Shi Fen to Happiness, effective for eternity.

There were a lot of food stands as well. We picked up a stuffed chicken  wing. It is basically a chicken wing stuffed with different items. Ours was stuffed with rice and egg and it was so delicious. We also picked up a lot of drinks as it was getting extremely hot. I got a drink called lemon lime aiyu. Aiyu jelly is derived from the aiyu seed and it has the consistency of a softer jello. It has a slightly bitter after taste like that of a lime rind. I liked the slightly bitter aftertaste since it went well with lemon lime.

We went up  to this bridge thinking it leads to the waterfall. Boy were we wrong. It  leads to the local's residences. Though the view on the bridge was gorgeous and we were very thankful to have benches to rest our feet.

Upon heading back to the station, we finally see the map that informs us the waterfall is still a few kilometres away. There were a few taxi drivers that was trying to hustle customers to the waterfall. However, we didn't feel like spending the money and decided to walk around some more since we missed the train.

Once the train came, we decided to head to Jiufen. This was a good decision as there was no way we could've gotten back onto the train.. We did want to get off at Sandiaoling to see the little feral cat village but it just was not worth it to try and fight the swarms of people trying to get on to the train.

Taken from the bus window.
Once back at station, we went out and caught the bus to Jiufen. You can use the bus pass on these buses and it is air conditioned. The bus ride to Jiufen is about 30 minutes and I recommend sitting on the left side of the bus so you can see the gorgeous view on the way.

Jiufen has many little stands and the first thing you see is a sign that tells you to watch your belongings due to pickpockets. So you are well warned!!

We first stopped at a shop to try some meatballs. I can't remember the name but it is close to the entrance. We got the seafood meatballs and variety of meatballs. I call them meatballs but I don't know what they are actually called in English. They are really meatballs in my eyes anyways. Both are wonderful and it is delicious. The meatballs were bouncy and the soups were flavourful.

The second one we tried was something I will not try to translate or remember what is called. It is basically a piece of barbecue pork wrapped in tapioca coating and is deep fried or boiled. It looks like it was sitting in oil so I am assuming it was fried. When it is ordered, it is taken out, cut up and drenched in a sauce. The tapioca coating is chewy, like the bubbles from bubble tea. The meat and veggies from the filling is sooo yummy. The meat is tender and falls apart easily. They have some for sale to cook at home. Since we didn't have a microwave or a kitchen, we couldn't buy any. :(

The last one we tried were the taro and sweet potato balls. We got it from a really famous shop but I can't remember its name. Though you can probably find it since it has a sitting area next to it and another one two stands away. You can choose if you want it cold or room temperature. They do it by just adding ice chunks for those who choose cold. The balls are cooked in a sweet syrup and is scooped into a bowl with water added separately to dilute the sweetness. The taro and sweet potato balls were chewy, like a tougher version of mochi. I love mochis so this was a great dish for me. I am pretty sure they added sticky rice flour or something else to add the chewy consistency.

I wanted to try these grilled oyster mushrooms and was lining up for it until the cook announced the grilled ones are twice the price of the deep fried ones. I stepped away from the line as I didn't want to pay twice as much for something grilled. As I stepped away, the cook noticed and started to call me out on it while on a speaker. I really did not appreciate being called out on. I am the consumer I can choose if I don't want it any more, especially if I have not paid yet. Blargh.

After sampling the food, we went to  pick up these drink mixes from a store where the lady noticed we bought some from their Shifen branch. She was extremely nice, offering to look after our purchases and any heavy stuff we want to leave with her so we can wander some more. After we returned and asked where is the best view. She directed us through a small local route to find the best view in her opinion. Man! I am so glad we asked her, because what we saw was gorgeous! I loved it so much!

 From Jiufen we took a bus that dropped us near a train station. We proceeded to the Ningxia night market from there. This is a small night market that mostly locals go to. We found few interesting dishes.

 The first stop was a little store front where we ordered a squid dish and oyster omelet. Oyster omelets are pretty famous in Taiwan and I always hear about it on the variety shows. The squid was really good! It was crunchy and chewy, and since it had a ton of sauce, I really wished I had a bowl of rice to eat with it. It was super delicious. The oyster omelet was interesting. The egg was fully cooked and it had some bok choy or other green veggie smothered in a sauce. I don't like the fact that the egg was fully cooked but I love that the oysters were still tender. The oysters were so yummy but I wish it was bigger and cleaner. I have a fear over finding sand so I tend to stay away from oysters and similar shellfish. So again, personal preference really.. The dish is well done overall though.

The next one we tried were the scallop stand. They had a little TV showing when the variety shows came over and tried their food. There are quite a few choices for flavours. We chose four flavours, which includes wasabi, seaweed and soy sauce. I can't remember the rest. *This is why I need to do blog posts soon after I experience it not 2 months later.. Duh.* The scallops were grilled but they are tender and not dried out at all. They are skewered so need to be careful when trying to eat it, don't stab yourself in the back of the throat. I think I would have preferred them just plain to let the scallop's natural flavours shine through. Though the wasabi and seaweed ones were quite yummy as well.

I also went to get some stinky tofu. This is not what I was expecting. I thought it would be a piece of fried tofu fermented in a vegetable sauce or it's been deep fried again. This is just a piece of firm tofu with some cabbage and bean curd.. It also came with a little  baggie of sauce to go with it. The soup and tofu didn't really stink, well the tofu kind of stunk a little after we ripped it open. I really enjoyed the soup, even though it was a 30 degree evening. I couldn't stop drinking the soup even though it was so oily. I am still thinking about it right now. It doesn't have a very distinct taste, it was just a general beef soup base with a little hint of heat.

My cousin also picked up some minced pork rice. It is essentially ground pork with sauce drenched on top of a bed of rice. It was quite greasy and I don't prefer to taste the grease in my rice so I had to stop after two bites.

Our last stop was to the marinated stand, where we picked up duck tongue. I will not gross you out with a close up of the duck tongue so here is a picture of the stand instead. Basically you order what you want and they will heat it up on the side and toss it with salt and pepper before tossing it into a baggie with sticks for your enjoyment. The duck tongue was interesting and  it was surprisingly tender and meaty for such a small piece of meat. It was a good end to our trip to a night market.

 Upon our return to Ximending, we saw there was a couple posing for pictures right outside of the train station entrance. I think it was their wedding pictures and they are playing the frog and the princess.. I feel bad for the guy who had to wear that suit and pose in front of everyone. I am sure the suit stinks since it's constantly 30 degrees in Taipei. I hope the pictures turn out well  for the couples despite the onlookers.

Food wise, we were not done for the night. We picked up these noodles from Ah Zhong noodles (I think that is what they are called in English). They are quite good, there are pieces of veggies and meat in the noodles. It was quite good. Interesting tasting too. The noodles are really soft and it feels like they are floating in the soup instead of falling in the bottom of the bowl. It feels like I am drinking the noodles instead eating them. The noodles also has a strong smell so we had to tie it up in a plastic bag and leave it outside the door so it does not stink up the room.

 The day can't end without a piece of fruit. I can't remember what this fruit is called but it is a blend between an apple and a pear. It had a crunch when you bite into it,but it's flesh is slightly airy. It is very juicy like an apple but it also taste like a pear. It was quite a good end to a full day of sight seeing. :)


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