We were a little north of Taipei and had the afternoon free so we decided that we would make a trip up to Tamsui (淡水 dàn shuǐ). Since we were already at the Beitou (北投 běi tóu) MRT stop and it was not much further up the line. And on account that we always intended to go to there, but just never got around to it.
So up we went, not to do the full on tourist thing, just to have a peek. We didn’t even bring a guide book on this trip. So I didn’t exactly remember what we were supposed to see, eat, or do. Besides a few hours in the afternoon is not really enough time to do anything other than dip your toes in.
So we walked around a bit, took in the sites, and admired the scenery. Generally we were just enjoying the sunshine in the slightly crisp, cool air of winter. Then we grabbed a bite to eat, 油飯 yóu fàn and fish ball soup to be exact. After which we walked about a bit more.
All the walking around makes one a tad peckish. So we decided we better head back over to the Old Street to grab a drink and a snack before heading back to Taipei.
For a drink I had a hankering for some 白甘蔗汁 bái gān zhè zhī, sugar cane juice. Which is not really as sweet as you might think. It is only mildly sweet has a sort of mild grassy flavor.
For eats I settled on 香酥鳥蛋 xiāng sū niǎo dàn, fried quail eggs on a stick that you slather in sauce. It is simple and fairly light. Just enough to tide me over.
All in all, I would have to say Tamsui was rather pleasant. It has a nice atmosphere, and there is a lot of old stuff to see. We will definitely have to come back sometime and give it a proper look see.
Back in Taipei I was trying to make myself a “regular” at the place just down the alley from the Wing Motel. Years ago when I first came to Taiwan the Wing was the first place I stayed. When you walk out the front door of the hotel and take a couple of steps towards Nanmen Market a strong odor smacks you square in the face. Quite an introduction to a new land.
That odor emanates from the 臭豆腐 (chòu dòu fu, stinky tofu) simmering away at 咕咕麻油雞，麻辣臭豆腐 Gū Gū Má Yóu Jī Má Là Chòu Dòu Fu located on the corner of Nanchang Lane #31 right behind the Nanmen Market (台北市南昌路一段31巷19號).
Stinky tofu has a sort of a reputation and still it seems a lot of Taiwanese are impressed when they find a foreigner who eats it (though it seems most I know do). I don’t find it particularly hard to eat, sure it is rather pungent, but if you put some heat to the cheese cooler down at your local Whole Foods it would probably smell fairly similar. The same umami rush you get from an aged cheese hooks you on stinky tofu. The deep fried version of stinky tofu seems to be the most well known to the foreign crowd, and oddly enough even though it can be smelled blocks away, it does not seem overwhelmingly pungent while eating it. This trip at least, I am more drawn to the braised versions of stinky tofu. Which is where this place comes into play. A place I’ve been meaning to go to for a long time, just never quite getting around to it. Until now.
The braised stinky tofu may have been what drug me down the alley to Gu Gu, but it was the addition of 鴨血 (yā xiě) that pushed me through the door. 鴨血(yā xiě) is duck blood. Specifically it is coagulated, cooked ducks blood that has been cut into cubes. It has a bit of a minerally taste and a wonderful squeaky, “Q” texture. I’m a big fan.
First time in I had the 麻辣鴨血臭豆腐 má là yā xiě chòu dòu fu, the hot and spicy ducks blood and stinky tofu. Served in a oily broth with a bit of pickled veg to add some sour notes and some chopped scallions to cut through the oil. Just one bite and I was hooked. A little hot, a little spicy, a little funky, and a bit of Q chewyness. So good.
The second time around I had the 紅燒鴨血臭豆腐 hóng shāo yā xiě chòu dòu fu, the red braised ducks blood and stinky tofu. The braising liquid in a red braise style contains a assortment of chinese herbs and spices making it wonderfully fragrant.
We were pretty obviously dog tired from a long day on this particular visit and the lady who runs the shop was concerned that I would not be getting enough to eat with just the red braised duck blood and stinky tofu on its own. So she insisted that I get the red braised duck blood and stinky tofu with NOODLES. I was far too tired to argue.
But I wanted to say. “Lady, c’mon do you have any idea how many times I eat in a day? I feel like I eat all the time when I am in Taiwan! How much do you think I can eat?!”
But I didn’t.
So I got the big bowl and of course I finished it. And it was great! And if I am honest I felt a lot better after.
Why oh why had I not stopped in years ago?
Just a side note. The 咕咕 gū gū in the name of the place which lists 麻油雞 má yóu jī sesame oil chicken as their first specialty, well that “gu gu” is the onomatopoeia for a chicken clucking….it’s a small joke.
If you are in the area you simply must take a walk through the Nanmen Market. The MRT Chiang Kai-Shek stop exit #2 is literally right in front of the place. So you can’t miss it. Inside it is a dizzying array of sights and smells. Everything from fresh meat and produce, grains and other dry goods, candied fruit, confections, cured meats, to prepared food. Even if you are not in need of anything it is something you have to experience.
Next up, heading south.