Taiwan: Variations in the key of sea

sorry, couldn’t help myself.being an island, taiwan offers a wealth of fishy delights. some areas (kaohsiung, for instance) are more known for their seafood than others, but seafood makes it all around in one guise or another. while way down south in jialeshui, we ate at one of the waterfront establishments inside the national park. asians are obsessed with the freshness of their seafood, hence the stocked aquariums at your local (perhaps more reputable) chinese restaurants. they had the tanks down there with some more unusual specimens. these guys, for example,

are almost golfball-sized, and when cooked,

acquire a rubber-band-like texture (which we actually kind of like). they’re quite bland, except for the odd one that would have an intensely bitter appendage.

the taiwan strait is filled with these lobsters. ours became soup. but first

the critter’s blood is drained and offered (uncooked) to diners (complete with antenna thing as a garnish). my relatives urged me to try it (because they didn’t want to?). i felt like a small, slanty-eyed version of anthony bourdain. not into the lobster blood — it’s remarkably viscous, almost a stiff gelled consistency, with a barely (almost un-) palatable bitterness. yech. interesting to try though. and i think it impresses the locals.

this was my favorite dish, fish intestines, stir-fried with basil and chile peppers. chewy and rubbery like the snails, but with an excellent meaty flavor. almost as good as my aunt’s pork intestines (not a fair comparison perhaps, as these benefit from porkiness). fish aren’t just eaten fresh here, but processed into a fishy version of that deep-fried, dried shredded pork sung, but instead of being called ba hu, it’s called hi hu (‘hee hoo’), ‘hi’ for fish. or, it’s turned into

fish balls, like these fish balls at this great little storefront in danshui, a former fishing village and now outlying neighborhood of taipei. i’d never had fish balls stuffed with pork before, but i hope i have them again. these might very well have been the best fish balls i’ve ever had. but if the stuffed kind isn’t exciting enough, there’s always

these. a veritable baskin-robbins of fish balls. this is a stall at the day market in douliou. one of several, actually, which i thought was notable, given this isn’t exactly a huge place or anything. i dunno what’s up with the striped, spotted and pastel argyle kinds and i wasn’t really that psyched to try them. but the range is impressive, no? fish balls are basically like a sturdier, firmer fish dumpling, like those classical pike quenelles, made with egg whites and other binders and processed quite finely, but with a more pleasing bite and less paste-y texture. and they generally taste better.


2 Responses to “Taiwan: Variations in the key of sea”

  1. 1 foo January 24, 2006 at 1:23 pm

    You can get pork-stuffed fish balls in Chinese supermarkets in the US, although I am sure the ones you had are way better.

  1. 1 The gastronomic wonders of a tiny island « Fat is flavor Trackback on March 23, 2010 at 3:58 pm

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