I love a good welcome sign. Something that declares more than the name of the town/state you have just entered/left. Something with personality. Something unique. Like Delaware's dual achievements of "THE FIRST STATE" and "Home of Tax-Free Shopping."
- Tamsui welcome sign uploaded by yawei2009 on Flickr.
The welcome sign for Danshui (or Tamsui, but I prefer the former) is a sign to remember. If you drive up to Danshui from Taipei City, you'll whizz by the sign, which is painted on the side of a wall hugging the main road. The wall is some meters high and the sign runs...[counts on fingers]...many more meters long. But as you're probably driving past it quickly, that doesn't give you much time to process it. I'm guessing I mentally responded with something like, "Did that sign say...what?...wait... [turns] oh shit it's gone now." I would've forgotten what the sign said if I hadn't tucked away a mental note to myself that I had to look up the sign online because something about it made it worth treasuring forever. Thanks to Flickr member yawei2009, I can recount what the sign says:
Welcome to Tamsui!
Don't Do Drugs
Don't Drag Race
That sign is just one of many things I came to treasure about Danshui.
- Food stalls and stuff.
- Extreme soft serve.
- Juice! Healthy!
- Dear Ireland: I found your potato.
- Cute lil' key chains.
- "Couples Key Ring" featuring a rose and a poop. Perfection.
- "FEELING GOOD? EVERYONE'S SHOUTING BLACK MUSIC!" Kind of wish I had bought this, yeah.
The tourist-friendly, waterside district of Danshui sort of feels like the Jersey Shore of Taipei, featuring a long walkway along the Danshui River lined with food stall after food stall after souvenir shop after food souvenir shop. Except I like it way more than the Jersey Shore. It caters better to my interests, particularly in the areas of Chinese food, cute knick knacks, and Engrish. (Admittedly, my memories of my sole visit to the Jersey Shore are marred by it taking place during high school, an era I'd rather forget.)
As much as I love cute knick knacks and Engrish, it's the food that won out here. Danshui is where I ate my favorite meal of the whole vacation.
Behold, mussels bathing in super garlicky basil sauce/broth. Brain. Splode. Delicious. But also...
Fried, battered oysters topped with shatteringly crisp fried basil and shrimp chips. Brain. Reassemble. Brain. Splode. Again.
Mussels and oysters are two foods that sit in my "Don't Dislike Them But Would Rarely Think To Eat Them" category. These dishes sit in the "WANT AGAIN FOREVER PLEASE" category. I suppose it's the sauce and the frying that most appeal to me—I could eat anything dunked in that sauce, and I could probably eat anything fried—but briny mussels seemed like the perfect pairing for the sauce, and the fried oysters were just a really good version of fried oysters.
Another major thing this restaurant has going for it is its no-frills open air seating on the second floor. Red, plastic patio chairs and wood paneled tables lit by a soup of different artificial lights—it's a charmingly comfortable, laid-back atmosphere, made better by the riverfront view (...even if you can't see the water at night). I was a bit jealous of the neighboring table of a dozen boisterous eaters. It made me think, "This is where I want to bring all my friends and just hang out and fill up on mussels and Apple Sidra and get stinky burpy garlic breath and have a good time into the night."
If I were just eating with my dad, we would've left the restaurant forever wondering what was in the sauce. Thankfully, Lee Anne is infinitely more inquisitive than I am. When we were at the counter paying our bill, Lee Anne simply asked what was in the sauce. The man at the counter, conveniently also the chef, happily wrote down the ingredients for her. The translation, from my mom (question marks are hers):
- Hot pepper
- Ginger, ground
- Soy sauce: 2 tbsp (?)
- Dark vinegar: a little
- Soy bean paste/with rice (?)
- Spicy soy bean paste (brand: Haha)
- Sauce (for hot pot)
- Sugar: 1 tbsp (?)
As far as I can tell from Googling (as someone who doesn't know much about Taiwanese food), quite a few restaurants specialize in this mussels dish in Danshui and Bali, a district located across the river from Danshui. I'm not positive what the name is of the restaurant we ate at. The sign says 孔雀蛤 150, literally "peacock clam," or green mussels English, followed by the price (apparently now 180), which sounds more like self-promotion than the name of a restaurant. But I don't know what's written on the sign on the 2nd level, so whatever. It's next to this more famous mussels restaurant.
After dinner, we roamed around Danshui's shop-filled streets. Some snapshots below:
- Candy store! I don't eat much candy, but I love looking at it. The more overflowing and artificially colored, the better.
- Still at the candy store.
- I'm not positive what this is. Dried fruit in sweet goo (maltose)? A treat for simpler times.
- Mm, Hot Star, creator of my favorite fried chicken slab.
- Street lined with shops and restaurants.
- This store specializes in prawn crackers. Buy 'em!
- MUCH CRACKER.
- MUCH STREET.
- How long had Lee Anne gone without bubble tea? Too long. She replenished herself at CoCo, a big Taiwanese chain that has a few locations in NYC as well.
- OK Mart, a major convenience store chain in Taiwan.
- Temple break.
- I noticed this pastry being sold by many bakeries in the area. Never having seen it before, I'm not sure what it's called. Looks like a flaky pastry filled with rice cake and red bean? With impressive stretching qualities?
- More stretching, plus a nice dose of Engrish: "Sugar-free healthy new concept are manual production Uses the low sweet low fat protosalt." Excuse me as I lick my lips in anticipation.
- Do not try them with other parts of your body. Please.
- WAX APPLES! This used to be one of my most favorite fruits. I've never seen it in the US. [describe]
- FRESH GUAVA JUICE! I LOVE YOU, TOO!
- GUAVAS...I like you better as juice.
- "WOW Frog eggs"
- An obanyaki vendor with cute mascots to further the cause of red bean-stuffed cakes.
- More street.
if you've never eaten a suncake before, be sure to pick some up while you're in Taiwan. They're one of my most favorite pastries ever. I don't have much to compare them to, although at first glance they may sound similar to hand pies: a single-serving, patty-shaped flaky pastry with a sweet filling. But that's not all.
With just four easy payments of $19.95 The pastry is feathery light, powdery soft, a bit crisp, and so delicately flaky it sheds skin-like flakes at the slightest disturbance. From my experience, biting into a suncake should unleash a poof of flakes—eat over a plate or a trash can. The maltose-based filling has a mild, pleasant chewiness that pairs perfect with the soft crust. If you're eating a suncake with a hard filling, something's wrong/old. Send it back to hell.
The suncakes I bought from Maison Kyosai were awesome. Next time I'm in Danshui, I'll be buying more. The make great gifts...or you can eat 'em all yourself, as I was tempted to do.
For the rest of you, there's the option of making them yourself.
I ended the night with one of those gravity-defying soft serve super-towers. It's the kind of excessively bad food that screams, "Robyn, you shouldn't eat this, but YOU MUST EAT THIS." After one bite it was easy to see why they were so cheap. The soft serve is truly terrible, the most bland and watery I've ever tasted, perhaps the most watery it could taste before it could no longer be recognized as soft serve. Ah well. My curiosity about what a novelty soft serve cone tastes like, simultaneously satisfied and unsatisfying.
But still a great memory of Danshui.
Taipei 2011, Day 3: Taipei 101 Food Court and Dim Sum Dinner
Taipei 2011, Day 2: Shaved Ice Two Ways, 7-Eleven, Shilin Night Market, Etc.
Taipei 2011, Day 1: Fried Crullers, Bear Head Doughnuts, Scallion Pancakes, Etc.
Belated Intro to Taipei, or "What's That Smell?"
Taipei 2011, Day 4: Keelung River Bikeway, TAS, Beef "Pie," and Din Tai Fung
Peacock Clam 150/180/?
Next to 251, Taiwan, New Taipei City, Danshui District, 中正路55號 (map)
No. 133號, Zhōngzhèng Rd, Danshui District New Taipei City, Taiwan 251 (map)
+886 2 2623 2008