Jiufen offers glimpse of traditional Taiwan

Jishan Street in Jiufen, Taiwan.

Jishan Street in Jiufen, Taiwan. Image courtesy of Anna Cheong.

Submitted by Ana Cheong

 

If you crave traditional Taiwanese snacks and yearn for the mountains, Jiufen is one of the best destinations in Taiwan. The mountainside village was once a prosperous gold mining town. After World War II, the mining business declined, leaving behind quaint streets and well-preserved tea houses. While the roads leading up to the town remain dangerously steep and narrow, the tranquility and hazy atmosphere adds a haunting loveliness. With views of the Pacific Ocean, traditional snacks and handmade leather goods, it is a hot tourist attraction.

Walking along Jishan Street, we smelled an aroma that made our stomachs growl. We saw old ladies busy preparing famous taro balls, known as “yuyuan,” served in sweet hot red bean or Chinese herbal soup. Nearby, fish balls made from the daily catch floated in warm broth, with some as large as ping pong balls.

As Taiwan was colonized by Japan, mochi or sticky rice with sweet fillings are available. The black sesame mochi have earned a reputation for being the preferred dessert of President Ma Ying-Jeou. We could not resist the fresh pineapple cakes either.

One must-have savory snack is the Hakka chaguo. The freshly made rice dumplings are stuffed with sweetened red bean, green bean, and white bean paste, complemented by dried shrimp and salted shredded radish. Another savory snack is the “luwei” or stewed tofu, duck tongue, quail eggs, duck kidneys, chicken wings and even chicken butts.

If you are interested in ox bone combs, leather goods and other handicrafts, Jiufen has many options.

Near the end of the street, big red lanterns along the old cement walls of a traditional tea house. At the bottom of the winding stairs is a small square with classic movie posters, featured in director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “A City of Sadness,” which won a Golden Lion award at the 1989 Venice Film Festival. After a long trek up the stairs, the Taiwanese tea houses brew Chinese tea from the nearby Li Shan and Dun Ding (Oolong) tea plantations.

Jiufen offers a leisurely look into life during the gold mining days, along with a taste of local delicacies.

 

Getting there

From Taipei, take the train to Ruifang Station, then switch to the Keelung Transit bus to Jiufen and Jinguashi.

 

Traveler’s tips

• Visit earlier to avoid crowds.

• A half-day trip will suffice to experience Jiufen. You can continue on about 30 minutes to Pingxi, where you can light large lanterns.

• All shops close at sunset.

This post is also available in: Chinese

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