A few days in Kaohsiung, our favourite city in Taiwan.
After a week of cold, wet weather in Taipei, Hualien and Dulan, the sun finally shines for us in Kaohsiung. And it feels great to be back in a big city. We get off the train and the city is alive and buzzing around the main train station area. Apart from this central area Kaohsiung never feels crowded or rushed, it feels like a big friendly, laidback country town of nearly 3 million people.
Being mad urban walkers we fell in love with Kaohsiung's big wide streets that go on forever. We could really stretch our legs here.
Folks often ask us why we stay in backpacker hostels, even though we are old farts who can afford hotels. We love hotels as well, but there's something about a good hostel. A good hostel has a local flavour, character and connection to the community that a hotel can never match.
The Old Taiwan \ Liouhe Hostel in Kaohshing is an absolute corker: it's in an old style Chinese building and tastefully decked out with kooky vintage charm. Viola, who runs the place, is exploding with energy and smiles, what a host! This is one of the best hostels we've ever stayed in.
After checking out the Liouhe Tourist Night Market we pick this restaurant at first because we have no idea what is going on or what's in those big pots of mystery (we must know!). We're given a menu which looks like a Chinese bingo card. We have a pencil but no clue. A nice waitress helps us do our homework.
Noodles in a good plain chicken broth ease us in.
A medicinal tasting soup with hunks of chicken. The soup had a strong herbal flavour that was disquieting and comforting at the same time. Shawn loved it. Alison, not so much.
Greens. Alison just pointed to two different bunches of fresh vegetables and they were stir fried with large hunks of garlic and a simple soy based sauce. Our favourite way to eat them.
More greens. Because you can't just have one plate.
Violet from our hostel recommends this tops place for breakfast around the corner from the hostel. It's been running since 1966.
This is another great thing about hostels. Hostel stuff will recommend great local places where they eat themselves. Hotel staff would recommend McDonalds.
Seafood congee with fish, fresh oysters, chicken and chopped you tiao (breadstick). This is their speciality and we see many a breakfaster dreamily slurping up a bowl before heading off for the day's business.
We also try a small bowl of minced duck on rice with fresh pickled ginger, together they form an unbeatable flavour pact.
Glamorous interior, just the way we like it and probably little changed since 1966.
Looks like they're getting ready for lunch, we could eat here all day.
Back out onto the wide streets of Kaohsiung.
Local menswear shop Pants Kingdom suggests that even the biggest of birds can fit in their pants. Little do they know us Aussies pack emus.
'Even the biggest birds' became a psuedo jingle for the rest of the trip, guaranteed to send us into peals of laughter. We couldn't stop thinking about Stacks of Slacks in Melbourne.
Taiwan is crazy about bubble tea, it's not too much of an exaggeration to say there's one on every block. Nor even an exaggeration to say there would be two or three. We counted over twenty in one block in central Tainan, with three in a row in one spot.
Our lime tea from Foxtail, (with the motto 'Tea House Tea Connoisseur of Life') was incredibly sugary and quickly ended our bubble tea explorations, which is a shame as there are some amazing flavours around. We learnt later that you can ask for less sugar in your tea, though this is close to impossible if you don't speak Chinese. How do you mime 'no diabetes please'.?
Random restaurant - Good Morning Beauty Castle.
Ah this is more our style.
Security guard dog. Steal a shirt and he'll lick your arm off.
We head off to Zuoying to walk around the fabled Lotus Pond. Of course, instead of catching the very well sign posted and popular bus that would drop us off in front of the entrance, we walk around the long way. In front of one side of the pond is a local market in full swing.
Lotus Pond is the biggest pond we've ever seen. It's more a lake than a pond. It's indeedy pleasant to walk around the pond on a sunny day. There's a few old blokes fishing, and a few dozen groups of old blokes sitting around having a morning beer. Kaohsiung felt so much more 'Chinese' than other Taiwanese cities we loitered.
Lotus Pond is popular with tourists.
And dogs. We passed this way again an hour and a half later and the hound hadn't moved an inch.
We've got some half-arsed map with some famous places to eat in the streets around the lake. We only manage to find a couple out of the dozen or so listed. And they're closed.
Maybe this is one of the famous places, who knows, we give it a try. There's another restaurant one door down that serves the same food, but it's modern and fancy. So of course we go to the dodgy looking restaurant. So do the locals.
Most of the cooking is done outside on the footpath and the eating is done inside the shop, we see this a lot in Taiwan.
Side dishes galore.
Fill up your tray then pay.
Interior deluxe. It doesn't look this shabby in our memories.
The beef noodle soup is outstanding, wonderful aromatic broth and loads of pickled veg to add in to taste.
A side dish of piggy innards. You select it whole from the window and they slice and dice it up for you.
Tofu skins, hard tofu and a potato cake from the cold selections.
Bright purple slender eggplants chopped with chilli sauce and two brightly coloured scoops of potato drizzled with mayo, one plain and one sweet potato.
We walk all the way back to the main part of the city, passing lots of good looking places to eat.
As we walk along the footpaths we end up walking through the middle of some sidewalk kitchens.
Kaoshiung has some excellent bike paths, CNN listed Kaohsiung as one of the top five cycling cities in Asia. We walked through a pleasant walking / bike track for a few kilometers encountering very few mamils along the way.
Those streets are made for walkin...
We stumble upon this great looking roadside food court type place but we're too early. Keep on walking.
Wholesale\retail clothing strip next to the main station.
Kaohsiung's Love River. It's a bit quiet on a wintery weeknight, looks like a romantic place to get mugged.
For din-dins we backtrack to this amazing looking 24 hour economy rice joint.
What a spread, nearly every vegetable and variation of how to cook it.
It ain't pretty, but dang it's good. Milkfish, tiny fish, fried fish and veggies.
Pointy fish, squid and veggies. The tiny little squid were quite crunchy, the texture was a little too crunchy like they hadn't had all their insides removed.
Everyone together achieves more team. Too right, ETAM. Must have been the local Reynholm Industries office.
Breakfast menus around town seem to feature toast a lot, there's not a lot of soups, congee or noodles.
Random fast food menu, at least there's some soup on the menu here with the burgers.
We hit a fast food joint called Dain Dain Burger for breakfast. Why a fast food joint?
Because they have floss and egg sandwiches.
And floss porridge. Eaten to the sound of 'My Bonnie lies over the ocean' over the sound system. Floss for the ears too.
Purdy. The Love River is a different sight in the day.
We head to the Liouhe Sewage Exhibition for some romance but sadly it's closed.
Down by the port we see a guy fishing in a drain.
We get lost looking for a ferry and stumble upon this old port area that has been turned into a big open art space. Not a casino.
Shawn's kind of art...
For today's adventure we get a ferry to the Cijin island, a small island just a hop skip and jump across the harbour. A local ferry runs across from the mainland every few minutes, or you can take the super long way via a bridge.
A specialty on Cijin Island is this dunky tomato dish. Simply fresh quartered tomatoes stabbed with a toothpick and dipped in a sweet, gingery sauce. So simple yet one of the most memorable dishes we had in Taiwan.
Tomato dipping action. There are a few different stalls on the corner of Miacian Road near the temple, the main street from the ferry port that heads down to the sea parks.
Sweet potato stall.
Drink stall. There's small stalls lined up all along the streets leading down to the beach.
This super lovely lady is serving up fried cabbage, oyster and prawn discs. The ingredients are mixed together into disc like patties and deep fried to golden deliciousness.
The beach. There's one brave soul out surfing the one foot freezing slop.
By the beach is a little shopping centre full of food stalls for day trippers and tourist coaches.
Nougat is a bit of a thing in Taiwan. This three tier version was sesame and nutty.
Dried squid stall. There were at least 20 of these stalls all selling exactly the same thing.
We saw this super salty dried fish for sale on roadsides all over Taiwan, possibly cod roe.
Our sole mission on Cijin Island was to try the fish noodles (yes, noodles made of fish) that we read about on EatingAsia. We found the restaurant but it is was closed. We sulked around the backstreets instead.
We didn't pick this restaurant for lunch. It picked us. When there's not much open sometimes we go for the place that is keen to take our money, rather than the places that simply looked confused or afraid of a couple of big hokey gweilos like us.
Love the wall paraphernalia in these little places, functional and homely. And surprisingly clean.
We end up with a simple pork soup, which is excellent but nothing lives up to the mythical promise of fish noodles. We head home with our fish noodles between our legs.
We get off the ferry at Gungshan and spy this busy dessert bar.
English menu - joy!
We go for mixed fruit on smooshed ice, drizzled with condensed milk. Wahey.
Nice way to spend an afternoon.
Is it a seal or a labrador?
That's definitely a pussycat.
Many ye olde buildings around the port have been restored and look fantastic. Kaohsiung is a hipster town waiting to happen.
This disused train line has been turned into a park. The government does some fantastic stuff for the people here.
The locals bring their own lounge suite to the park.
Wander aimlessly around Kaohsiung and you'll stumble on lots of different interesting and varied neighbourhoods.
We meet a guy stir frying chicken on the side of the road.
We try a can of 'sparkling chardonnay' for a laugh, Kath'n'Kim would be proud. Turns out the stuff isn't too bad, like a Japanese West Coast Cooler, sweet but not uber sweet. These have a nice kick and become our official sundowner of the trip. The bummer is that not every convenience store stocks the buggers...
Merry Christmas to you too.
We survived chardonnay in a can so we give salty sarsaparilla and asparagus juice a try. The salty sarsaparilla tastes pretty much like regular sarsaparilla, maybe just a little saltier. Asparagus juice in a can tastes like asparagus in a can, only better than you might think.
We've seen a million footpath kitchens in Taiwan, but this is our first footpath beer fridge. This one has magical contents...
Taiwanese beer is crap. Except for this rare 'only 18 days' version which is wonderful. Apparently it is meant to be consumed within 18 days of bottling. The bummer is that we couldn't find it anywhere in all of Taiwan, except the magical footpath beer fridge of Kaohsiung. And trust us, we looked.
People really love their dogs here, they get around with them on pushbikes, motorbikes, whatever way possible.
Breakfast adventuring takes us through many possible contenders.
Roadside breakfast sticky rice rolls under construction.
Roadside dimmy steaming.
Our ultimate destination was this place we had to try after seeing it on EatingAsia.
There's a few specialties here, including fresh made bao and savoury tofu.
Savoury tofu joy. This is one of our all-time favourite Tawainese dishes. (Sydney-siders can find a fairly good version of this dish at Mother Chu's Taiwanese Gourmet in the Dixon Street Mall.)
The steam buns are moist and the bottoms crisp. The shallot, vermicelli and egg one is our favourite, the cabbage was wonderful too. Spoon on sauce mix of shallots, sesame oil and soy for extra flavour.
We have sweets here as well, crisp, small, flaky pastry balls. One was quite salty with little bits of ham and mushroom, another filled with red bean paste. The coffee was hot and typically sweet.
Next door was cooking up radish cake and omelettes, the breakfast options were overflowing.
We walk around after breakfast and still find more great food. Not time yet for this veggie spread.
We walk across the city in another direction, towards Kaifong Road. We love stumbling on these old style dark arcades of mystery that begged to be explored.
A small intestinal garlicky pick-me-up soup. Shawn isn't always a fan of the innard but these ones met with his approval. In fact this was one of his favourite dishes of the trip - so simple yet perfect.
Intestine soup lady, we salute your simple soup goodness.
The markets on this side of town were more like covered back alleys with tiny shops repairing watches, selling a few meals or just passing the day away.
Eating places set up in front of shops waiting for a few customers.
Stop in and have a chat, something medicinal to drink perhaps.
This lady has a few last bags of pickled veg to sell us, they are like hard slices of Chinese guava mixed with vinegar and sugar and chilli.
There's some more grazing to be done.
A bowl of the goop, brown soup with noodles and pork intestines with a side of Taiwanese sausage and fried tofu. Afternoon snack sorted.
The pot of goop. Tastes far, far better than it looks.
While we sat having a refreshing Heineken and a Lemon Fruit beer outside a Seven Eleven (hey, this was on Christmas Day after all!) a lady comes up to Shawn to with him Merry Christmas with great gusto. Shaking him by the shoulder she repeats 'Merry Christmas, I love you!' then breaks out into a dancing rendition of Jingle Bells. After running off, she comes back a few moments later with this gift of tea bags and a sachet of McDonalds BBQ sauce. Yes Virginia, Santa is a crazy lovely Taiwanese old lady.
There's still some eating to be done this day. Off on the train to Fongshan, a busy outer suburb. And we mean busy, this place was intense, quite a change after the relaxed streets of inner Kaohsiung.
The main streets here are choked with traffic and food stalls.
We find this place selling popiah, rice paper wraps. These babies are like little super fresh, light crepes filled with lettuce, sausage and shredded omelette.
The inner workings. A little chilli sauce helped cut down the sweetness from added sugar, we needed to work out how to ask for less sweet food.
Inner workings of the popiah and bun stall. These ladies were frantically busy making up some large orders.
Used street stall stand market.
Vicious guard hound.
Market cat. Looks like someone lost a fight once and the top of their ear.
Random Fongshan side street.
We head back to Cijin Island to see if the fish noodle restaurant is open.
This fine hound lapped up the attention as giggly girls lined up for photos with him. But he looked like wanted to rip Shawn's head off, must have been is big stupid Bazza Mackenzie style straw hat.
A pineapple beer in paradise.
Alas the fish noodle restaurant isn't open We're not sure if it is closed for good or just for the season, the folks that run it are getting on in years.
Instead of fish noodles we give this place a whirl.
Seafood noodle soup. Plain and simple.
Pussycat helping with the washing up.
We get the ferry home fish noodle-less once again.
We try this specialist braised pork rice joint.
Friendly braised pork lady.
Pork rice with googie eggs and soup on the side.
For our final breakfast we head back to the tofu soup joint.
We go for the chili version of the tofu soup, it comes with a splash of chili oil. We think we like the plain version best.
We also get an egg pancakey omlette.
We love how everything is done on the footpath in Taiwan, even frying up bread sticks in burning hot oil.
On our way to the train station to head off to Tainan we stop to get a lunch box each for the journey. These pick'n'mix places have the best range of fresh veggies and cooked fish and chicken for your lunch. You can buy lunch boxes on the train or at the station, but these get a bit samey after a while, self catering is the go.
Coach class is pretty comfy. Tickets are issues with reserved seating so there's no problems finding your seat.
We cracked open the lunchtime veg boxes just after the train takes off around 10.00am, just couldn't wait. Fish'n'veggies. The little sugar snap peas were a delight.
Popcorn chicken. Yes, popcorn chicken. Plus fish and veggies. Shawn can't resist a spoonful of egg and tomato too.
Next stop, Tainan.
We love Taiwan.