During our Taipei trip, we hired a taxi driver for a day to take us out to the surrounding areas. The historic town of Jiufen was our first stop.
Located in the Ruifang District of New Taipei City, Jiufen is a 45 minute drive away from Taipei city. It was a long and winding road but it gave us the chance to appreciate all of Taiwan’s natural beauty. I had no idea how lush Taiwan is. There’s an incredible amount of greenery (which I suppose comes from all their heavy rainfall) and the country is home to many incredible waterfalls which we stopped to admire along the way.
Jiufen translates to “nine portions” as the town used to be home to nine families during the Qing Dynasty. The village would always request 9 portions of shipments, hence the name. Some time later, Jiufen became a booming gold mining town which brought thousands to the town. After the gold rush died down in the early 70’s, most residents ended up leaving. The town regained popularity after being the location of several film sets and Jiufen is now a prime tourist destination.
We arrived at around 10:30am and by the time we left (around 1:00), we were shoulder to shoulder with tourists as we tried to make our way down the narrow pedestrian-only streets. The quaint streets are lined with tea shops, souvenir shops and street vendors. Here’s a look at some of the things we indulged in:
Fish Balls. Upon entering the narrow streets, we saw a large crowd gathered in front of Chang’s Traditional Fish Balls. We picked up a small sampler consisting of three different types of fish balls. Tasty!
Grilled Pearl Sausages. Everywhere you go in Taipei, you’ll see street vendors selling Taiwanese sausages. Unlike sausages in North America, Taiwanese sausages contain quite a bit of sugar which gives them this delicious sweetness.
Grilled Snails. The vendor grills them in the shell and after taking your order, she’ll take the snails out of their shells and top them with a blend of salt, black pepper and hot sauce. They were surprisingly tender and I loved the accompanying hot sauce. While Mike and I really enjoyed them, food poisoning definitely crossed our mind as we were eating them. But we lived to tell the tale and I’m happy to report, we didn’t get food poisoning!
Taiwanese Meatballs. We saw these things everywhere in Jiufen so we decided to give them a try. You get one large dumpling with a red meat filling encased in a translucent, gelatinous skin. Before serving it to you, they ladle a spoonful of gravy-like sauce onto it and top it with cilantro. Honestly, I had no idea what I was eating but we both really liked it! It’s certainly worth a try, especially given the low price point. Street food in Taiwan is dirt cheap!
Hakka Glutinous Rice Cake. We walked by a vendor which was selling these like hot cakes. Everyone who walked by would stop and purchase bags of them. Like the Taiwanese meatball, we had no idea what these were but picked one up anyway given their popularity. They offer several variations and with the language barrier, we couldn’t figure out what each one was filled with. We picked a random one which turned out to be a real winner! It was filled with what tasted like preserved veggies. Really delicious!
Yu Yuan. At the top of a steep street, we found a popular shop (Ah Gan Yi Yu Yuan) with folks lined down the street. Without even knowing what the line was for, we got in line. I wanted a piece of the action! When we made our way inside, we realized they were selling sweet potato dumplings served with ice and mixed beans.
As we waited in the store, we watched as they would knead the dough, roll it out and cut them into small bite-sized portions. The dumplings are boiled and tossed into a bowl of ice, a sweet syrup and mixed beans. The dessert was incredibly refreshing (especially with the intense humidity) and while I enjoyed the chewy sweet potato dumplings, I’m not a big fan of beans so I could’ve done without them.
A-Zhu Peanut Ice Cream Roll. This dessert consists of two scoops of ice cream, ground peanut candy and celery leaves wrapped in a popiah skin (a thin crepe-like wrapper). It might sound like a strange combination with the celery leaves but this worked perfectly. It turned out to be one of the best things I ate all day!
There’s definitely no shortage of food in Jiufen. Make sure you come hungry!