Day 021: Damsui/Tamsui
I had been reading about a magical place near Taipei called Damsui. A seaside town for biking, an nearby island for hiking, and LOTS OF SEAFOOD. I was perplexed because I couldn't find Damsui on the map. Reason: they changed the English name from Damsui to Tamsui weeks before I arrived. This makes no sense. Its still pronounced Damsui, but will forever on be known as Tamsui. Its accessible by the Taipei subway system only 45 minutes or less. Go there if you're in Taiwan. Its nice, and the food is wonderful.
I visited Tamsui on a bright, bright, extra sunny day. One of the first sunny days on my trip. As a rule all museums and attractions are crowded on weekend. Once you're used to the bustling of crowds the relaxing slower pace and people watching forgive the lack of space. I was with a group of 6. A boon to all the new street foods. The more people you have the more variety you can nibble on.
Seafood is no joke in Tamsui. It is the freshest I have ever tasted. Squid, fish, shrimp and crabs are everywhere in every form. Above is a cup of baby crabs, about 1-3/4 inch in width, fried whole, and seasoned. They taste like crab chips, but with brains and faces. They're really good. The other fried stuff on from the cart was good too. The seafood has a pleasant firm texture, not the soggy stuff that comes out of the freezer and goes into the microwave/deep fryer. When seafood is fresh it has a neutral taste. Not at all fishy. "Fishy" is a sign of old seafood.
Squid balls being made
Who doesn't love meat in ball form? So much easier to hold and swallow. Squid balls are another specialty in Tamsui. Chunks of fresh squid are chopped up and mixed into a batter. The batter is poured into semi-spherical hot irons. With great speed and dexterity the squid ball maker then spins the batter over itself as it cooks. A little bit like the same process as making an ebelskivers. By the 3rd or 4th pass the batter is fully cooked and the squid ball is nicely browned on the outside. Our squid balls were seconds old before they were dressed with what seems like mayonnaise and some bonito fish flakes. It took much longer for the steaming hot squid balls to cool than for them to cook.
Wall of iron eggs
Iron eggs are another local special. Iron eggs are bird (quail, chicken, etc) eggs that have been steeped in spiced soy sauce until turning a dramatic black color. The eggs have a dense texture, and are a bit chewy. Not a bad snack. Some how against all odds I was able to bring a pack home through customs and quarantine.
Candy coated tubers
Taiwan loves its sweets. These are candy coated sweet potatoes and taro roots. Not unlike a similar to the candied tomatoes I ate at Longshan, very similar to a candied apple. A bit sweeter perhaps. I found these inelibly sweet.
The eating will not stop until we try 2 more of Tamsui's specialties. The first is cellophane noodles wrapped in tofu skin served in a pool of reddish-pink sauce. I don't know what the sauce is made from. Its certainly been thickened with starch. Its more than a little sweet and that turns me off. I like the noodles wrapped in tofu part. Its a great way to add texture and flavor to the otherwise plain tofu. The other dish is fish ball soup. This is winner. Its ground seasoned fish meat. The texture is firm and a little resilient making for a pleasant bite. The broth is simple, and clear. Very satisfying, the stuff of comfort food. Our group sampled these dishes on the 4th floor of a towering restaurant facing the ocean. The food was brought up on an electric dumb waiter. The joint was packed.
Besides the seaside food stands littered with the ocean's goods stands the Santo Domingo fort. The fort was built by the Spanish in 1629. The Dutch took over the area in 1642 and rebuilt it to look as it is today. The fort has a red exterior and is referred to as the "Red Headed Fort" by locals, a reference to the red haired Dutch. In 1868 the English took it over and it was used as the English. The fort sits on the top of a hill, with spectacular views of the oceans, and the islands across the way.