Jinguashi 金瓜石 and Jiufen 九分
Sunday morning was an early one–not to mention a wet one. Holding strong to my umbrella in the pouring rain, I made my way to Taipei Main Station to meet up with Pia, Virginia and Randi to catch the train to Jinguashi and Jiufen. Jinguashi used to be an old gold mining town controlled by the Japanese. When the mines were shut down, the place essentially became a ghost town until the government poured money into its renovation as a tourist destination. Now, there is a giant geological park complete with hiking trails on a mountain, a gold museum, a craft vendor area, environmental center, gardens, old Japanese-style residences, an interactive gold-panning exhibit, and mine tunnel walk-through. It was free admission if one presented an old convenience store receipt.
- Admiring old Japanese gardens
- Crafter making jewlery
We went through the old mining tunnel. Watch your head!
And hiked up to an old Japanese Shinto shrine.
Stomachs growling, we left Jinguashi and hopped the bus a little ways back down the mountain to Jiufen. Jiufen has two long, narrow and winding streets — Jishan 稷山街 and Shuqi 豎崎路– full of food vendors (this is beginning to become a pattern, I know), gift shops and tea shops. I made it a point to sample lots of different things.
I bought one fresh made mochi–steam glutinous rice buns stuffed with different fillings. I tried a savory one that had spicy vegetables inside. I think I’ll stick with a classic red bean paste one next time…
Fish balls on a stick in a not-so-sweet sauce. They were OK. Pia liked them, but the rest of us were so-so.
Shaved ice with special toppings is a very popular dessert in Taiwan. Jiufen is especially known for it’s sweet potato balls and taro balls mixed with glutinous rice. They are very chewy and have a slightly sweet flavor. I love ’em!
And finally, my favorite snack of the day:
I have absolutely no idea what this is called, but it’s delicious! Basically, the woman takes a tortilla and scrapes off some peanut shavings from a giant brick of peanut brittle. Then, places a few scoops of ice cream and a sprig of cilantro, wraps it up and voila! The weirdest wrap they’ve ever come up with, but it’s super tasty. She didn’t put any cilantro on mine; I guess she though foreigners don’t like it. Whatever, I’m actually not a huge fan of cilantro though it would’ve been neat to try the real thing.
All in all, I think the best part of our trip was the end. We meandered our way down a rather deserted crooked street to the bottom of the infamous (in Jiufen anyway) staircase of teahouses. Teahouse after teahouse after teahouse lines the way. After much deliberation standing out in the rain, we decided on a large three-story teahouse. We were seated on the second floor balcony overlooking the town and the oceanfront. Spectacular view, really, and it was fun to be outside and dry while it rained away five feet in front of us.
The waiter was very nice, though could not speak very much English so we squabbled a bit over what to order. Probably a bit frustrated with us naive foreigners, he finally gave us a 25% discount on the tea so we only had to pay $600NTD. We were spoiled. He performed an entire tea ceremony–heating the teacups and pot with the hot water, having us smell the tea leaves first, steeping the tea leaves and washing the cups…It was a little like wine tasting the way you have to swirl the tea in the tea flask in your palm and inhale the aroma deeply. Then you take little sips. It was a truly pleasant and relaxing end to our trip.