February 5, 2014

Day trip south

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It's been 2 years since I last saw my friend B in Shanghai, and she's been away from her Swiss home for a long time.  This time I'm seeing her in her hometown Kaoshiung, and I finally have a local showing me around.  I've only ever been to Kaoshiung on short business trips so this would be my first chance to do some sightseeing.

I took the high speed rail down and changed to the local subway to meet up with B for lunch.  She was taking me to Old Tsai's Milkfish Congee (老蔡虱目魚粥) for some local eats.  We arrived kinda late and some of the items had already sold out...

Braised milkfish belly with pineapple (滷鳳梨豆醬魚肚) - all the fresh bellies were sold out, so we had to settle for the braised version, done in a light soy bean sauce with cooked pineapple.  Milkfish is classic local fare here, so we're definitely doing as locals do.  Very soft and tender.

Fried bean curd puff (油豆腐)

Shrimp roll (蝦卷) and sausage (香腸) - the shrimp roll was OK, but I loooove Taiwanese sausage for their sweetness.

Oysters (蚵仔)

Mixed fish soup (綜合魚肉湯) - interesting this has pork and oysters, but nice and light with seafood goodness.

Chicken rice (雞肉飯) - Taiwanese chicken rice is made with shredded lean meat and doused with a sauce made with chicken fat.  I usually prefer rice with minced pork (滷肉飯), but this is more the norm down south.

We also had some veggies like cauliflower and water spinach (空心菜).  Since they kinda ran out of water spinach, they decided to mix in some sweet potato leaves (番薯葉).  As is typical in Taiwan, the restaurant ladled on some braised minced pork (滷肉).

This was a lot of food, but the weather was warm, we were down south, and we had to have some traditional shaved ice (剉冰)!  So we walked a few blocks to a place I've visited once before - the famous Po Po Ice (高雄婆婆冰).

I prefer the more traditional toppings instead of all these mango and fresh fruits, so I chose the eight treasure shaved ice (八寳冰).  You got your grass jelly (仙草), glutinous rice balls, red azuki beans (紅豆), kidney beans (大紅豆), sweet potato balls (地瓜圓), tapioca balls (粉圓) and other goodies.  This was perfect, although my stomach almost reached the bursting point after I finished this...

With my belly on the verge of bursting, it was time to do some sightseeing!  B decided to start by taking me to the Pier 2 Art Center (駁二藝術特區), which I think is still pretty new.  This used to include a pier and warehouses storing sugar and other dried goods, and you can see the network of interconnecting railroad tracks running through the area.  The warehouses were abandoned for years, and restoration work started in the early part of the last decade.  I'm still seeing additional warehouses being renovated and converted into either art exhibition space or food and beverage outlets.  There was even a Star Trek exhibit!

This pair of figures appear all over the entire area, and different artists paint over them much like the way CowParade is done.  You can see this pays homage to both the industrial as well as the agricultural elements of the region.

After looking at one of the current art exhibits, we stroll along one of the railroad tracks towards the Love Pier (真愛碼頭), with views of Kaoshiung Harbor and landmarks like Tuntex Sky Tower.  We cross the river and briefly stop by the Holy Rosary Cathedral Minor Basilica (玫瑰聖母聖殿主教座堂), whose history dates back to 1859 and the present structure was constructed in 1929.  Considering the era when this was first built, it's weathered the times amazingly well.

We needed to move on to our next destination, so we flagged down a taxi and headed to the British Consul Residence at Takao (打狗英國領事館), which sits on top of a hill overlooking Siziwan (西子灣) and all of the Port of Kaoshiung.  The historical consulate is actually on flat land near the port, and this brick structure was really the residence, but for decades there was confusion and the hilltop residence was thought to be the consulate.

Part of the building now houses historical documents and photographs on the history of the port, which had originally been named Takao (竹林) in the aboriginal language, and was later phonetically translated by the Hokkien Chinese as 打狗.  After the Japanese occupation, the name was again phonetically translated in Japanese as Takao (高雄).  At the end of WWII, the Chinese characters of the name remained, but in Chinese the name would become Kaohsiung.

We need a place to sit down and relax, and got ourselves a table at the Rose House (古典玫瑰園) on the second floor of the consulate building.  It was getting a little late and we eventually got a table out on the covered balcony, which enjoyed great views over the entrance to the Port of Kaoshiung, and chilled out while watching the sun drop below the horizon.

It was very warm today, so I ordered a pot of rose lychee iced tea (玫瑰荔枝冰茶).  Rose and lychees just naturally go together... just ask Pierre Hermé!  This was actually pretty nice, with some slushy hidden inside the canned lychees.  Slurp.

Night has fallen over Kaohsiung, and it was time for dinner!  B took us to Ah Chong Seafood (阿忠海產料理), known for serving quality seafood at reasonable prices.  As is customary, we ordered our food right at the entrance where the seafood was either swimming in tanks or laid out on ice, then sat down and waited for the dishes to come.

First came the cuttlefish, which was blanched, chilled and then served with a sauce that was sweet, sour and a little spicy.

Next up was the fried vermicelli with pumpkin (南瓜炒米粉), which should have been served last as the carb dish.  This tasted fine, but was just too soggy.

Sautéed Manila clams (炒海瓜子) were classically done with basil and chili peppers.

Interestingly, these scallops were cut up, battered and deep-fried along with strips of burdock (牛蒡).  This had to be the biggest surprise tonight, and the yummiest dish.  I just can't get enough of deep-fried burdock, and the deep-fried scallops were pretty good, too.

The first plate of blanched prawns (海鱸蝦) we got were sent back.  They weren't bad, but they just didn't have the sweet taste of really fresh prawns - they were just bland.  The second batch was much better.

I love stir-fried bird's nest fern (炒山蘇), especially when it's done with dried whitebait and marinated manjack berries (破布子).  I miss the crunch of the fern.

Finally there was the steamed garoupa (蒸石斑).  Unfortunately, we didn't get to the fish for a while - since all the food arrived in quick succession - and the fish got overcooked.

Great food at a great price... that's what Taiwanese cuisine is all about.  But it was getting late and we all needed to go back to our respective homes, so I bid farewell to my big sister B and thanked her for showing me the sights.

On the way back home, I passed by the Formosa Boulevard Station (美麗島站) on the subway and stopped to check out the interior.  The Dome of Light (光之穹頂) is a beautiful piece of glasswork by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata, so I made sure to spend some time here to snap a few shots with my fisheye.

It was past midnight by the time I got home.  I am ever thankful for the chance to meet up with B, and for the first time I actually got to see a little bit of Kaohsiung.  I really need to get around and see a little more in Taiwan...

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