Our travels through Taiwan had so far seen us move through all the big 'T' towns - Taipei, Taichung, Tainan. It was time to spend a part of our trip somewhere smaller before we rounded it out with New Years Eve back in the capital. Lukang (or Lugang, depending on the translation) seemed the perfect place.
Getting there was a straight bus trip from near the train station in Taichung, alternatively you can catch a train to Changhua and get a bus.
Lukang is a town known for it's temples and the starting place of the Matsu festival, a nine day pilgrimage to honour Matsu the Chinese Sea Goddess. The town has a real old town centre with winding lanes and hidden temples that comes alive on weekends as Taiwanese and Chinese tourists throng through to visit temples unlike anything still in existence in Mainland China.
Most of Lukang is just a regular old town with some light industry and busy streets, just how we like it.
Accommodation is a little scarce for the independent traveller who doesn't speak Chinese and wants to stay in the town. Beside the big pilgrims hostel, the only place we could find was the Lukang B&B or LK B&B right in the heart of it. The owner Yu Yu Lin is a wonderful, wonderful, high energy lady. She picked us up from the tourist office in her electric golf cart with two golden retrievers. A big thanks to the volunteers at the tourist office who called the hostel for us and made us cups of tea.
Driving in Lukang with goldies is like this:
Xiao Hu (Little Tiger) and Mo Mo were two of the loveliest dogs we met on our trip. Their life consists of riding in golf buggies, chasing the neighbourhood no-good-nik other dogs and waiting for scraps of toast at breakfast.
Dragging ourselves away from our furry hosts we set out for an afternoon exploration around town.
We pick a resto at random up around Sanmin Road.
Are we ordering food or placing a bet on the GGs?
We order by pointing at the lovely pot of goop soup at the counter.
It's dang good goop soup too. Seems the worse this stuff looks the better it tastes. This one is a rippa, filled with shredded bamboo, popcorn chicken (little deep fried bits of chook), pork, a little dumpling and small pieces of squid. Light and refreshing.
Ye olde Lung-shan temple.
Ye olde tourists.
Just outside the temple we see a lady selling snacks on a bicycle - must try.
Oh my, this is insanely good. A super fresh, crunchy sweet cracker biscuit with soft toffee in the middle, topped off with coriander leaves.
Around the centre of town there's food galore. Different shops and street stalls open at different times of the day. Our guest house host later draws us a map of where to find the good food and when. We make it to the markets in the centre of town just as they are winding down from lunch and priming for dinner, but there's a few more snacks to be found.
We'll try a bit of that...
Mmm, deep fried scallion pancake. There was an option of chilli sauce to be added but it was better without it.
Clothes stalls are of no interest to gourmet travellers like us. Gimme the food.
We pick a brown fried thing at random...
It turns out to be one of the most memorable morsels of the trip. It's deep fried taro. Simple sweet and perfectly cooked. Only a nanna could make it this good.
Sugar cane hawkers. This man stood on his pile of left over cane shred and peeled it by hand with just a super sharp knife. You could then pick up a bag of neatly packed sugar cane stripped and ready to crunch down on.
Sausages made and cooked on the street. These were nice and meaty, like a cross between a Chinese and hearty European sausage.
We believe that's Taiwanese for "G'day".
On Saturdays hordes of local tourists descend upon Lukang, it's madness.
Deep fried yabbies (or mud shrimp) with fried basil, a local specialty.
This little pie was so purdy we had to try one.
It's sweet like pumpkin pie, oh my.
Super salty (and pricey) dried cod roe for sale.
Knick-knack vendor hard at work.
Fishball hawkers. We tried 'em, they were excellent. A good plain soup with a fishy flavour and a few well made fish balls. Enough to get you through a cold afternoon.
Mmmm, porky bits for sale, we try these later in the trip.
We stumble upon one of our favourites, blood rice cake.
The rice cakes are mixed up with sweet sauce and shallots. So good.
Grinding fresh almonds to make into a milk drink, another popular snack here.
This is our all-time Engrish shirt: It is always the same elephant... We considered renaming our blog after this sage advice.
Pussycat in the wet markets at the end of the old town area, we wonder if he's in charge of a fish stall.
Closed wet markets are beautifully spooky.
Lukang family restaurant.
Celebration time. The old town area has a huge temple dedicated to Matsu, the sea goddess. Once a year there is a huge celebration and a pilgrimage across Taiwan.
In the afternoon is a loud parade of colourful gods and shady characters, see it for yourself here:
Vicious attack hound.
It's getting really packed now... we head home...
Street food pizza, a truck with a wood fire pizza oven built on the back. No tummy room for this unfortunately.
Courage the cowardly dog.
It was cold our first evening, we mean Canberra icy wind chill-you-to-the-bone cold. We only walked to the end of our street and decided to go into the first place we could find to get out of the freeze. We stumbled into one of the only places we found on our trip where there was beer and spirits drunk with meals, more like an izakaya than a restaurant. It was destiny.
No English menu meant a point and order off other peoples tables system. First dish up was tofu triangles cooked with black pepper.
Warming up our cockles was a namesake soup, we love this style of simple clam broth with the fun of picking out the meat from the shells.
Grilled split fish with a generous topping of spring onions, very much like the mackeral or sanma we've had in Japan. It was served cold and the salty flavours of soy the fish had been steeped in made it an excellent beer partner.
Oyster omelette, without the splodge of sweet chiili red sauce.
The patrons here had settled in for the cold evening over beers and whisky. We're sad to leave.
The owner's living quarters at the B&B, it's serious retro 1970s designer chic. We want to move in.
As a rule we general don't eat at hotels, we even skip free breakfasts to find better stuff outside, but here there's traditional Taiwanese style breakfast cooked up by awesome aunties. Momo assists.
It's too good to resist.
It's laid out buffet style and it's awesome. A mix of congee (rice porridge with flecks of shredded sweet potato), veggies, pickles, pork floss, salt or fried eggs, tofu, fresh fruit and more.
Serving suggestion. The juice was freshly squeezed tomato juice mixed in with a little plum powder, incredibly refreshing.
We head out to walk off our breakfast, but find a second breakfast instead.
We get a bit of soup with bits of pork crackling and radish and rice with pork mince, lightly cooked cabbage and eggplant in oil. Once again, so simple but so good.
A bit of pig skin in soy with chili sauce on the side. The skin was almost jellied, an incredible texture. Look for this place in the morning at 58 Fusing Road.
Mrs Mangle arrives as we leave.
We head out of town and walk over the river to Wanggong in search of a noodle factory the B&B owner tells us about.
We get lost and can't find the noodle factory, but we see this tops, ancient looking alley with friendly dogs and cats. We discover the next day that the noodle factory is just at the end of this street, turn right at the last pussycat. Doh!
We get more and more lost, the further we go, the more rural and ramshackle it gets.
We try to lure these friendly looking doggies in for a pat. But the cute doggies turn into a mean, growling pack and follow us down the road with menace in their eyes. We start thinking about rabies shots. They don't back off until we threaten them with a big stick. Shook us up a bit...
There was some beautiful decay amongst the factories and farms.
After a bit of a scare we've never been seen so happy to see a 7 Eleven in the distance, somewhere have a sit and a cuppa. Come to mamma.
Back in Lukang there's more beautiful decay.
Tops old alley.
A fancy house goes up in the middle of an ancient alley.
Apparently this guy was famous for his soup. Less so for his charm.
Mr Grumpy was famous for his duck blood cube and tripe soup. One for Alison (she loved it!)
As we hit the market area of town the restos are either packing up or just getting ready. Just our luck again.
It's a bit dead on a cold Sunday afternoon.
This biscuit shop has been here since the 1930's. It was full of boxed up cookies ready to take back home as proof you had travelled to Lukang. The owners didn't mind us looking around even though we probably were unlikely to buy. On a slow Sunday, anything is exciting.
These soft diamond shaped biscuity things were amazing. Filled with green paste inside and a fluffy flour on the outside.
We think this might be the guy that we were told did good fishballs, so we try them out.
Fishball variety soup. Once again, so simple, so good. Four types of dumplings. Most were soft but one had a little crunch of radish.
Random resto wall. We love the still life of prep areas in these places, usually filled with an assortment of calendars (not necessarily current), rubber bands and implements.
Lovely hand drawn signs in a fruit shop.
More ye olde alley.
We love the low rent feel on the edge of town near were we were staying.
We take a random punt on this hotpot restaurant on Fusing Road called Old God.
It's usually busy... we're just here at an odd time of the day...
We decide on a serious vegetable fix, helped out by one of the waiters we manage to order blood cubes, mung beans noodles, green veg, cabbage, fishcake, fish balls, tofu skin, tofy cubes and muchrooms. On the side is a serve of thinly sliced pork.
The hot pot has the ying and yang of spicy and plain. There were side sauces available of sesame bean paste and garlic in oil if you needed any further flavouring. Also free drinks, a super super super sweet tea and a thankfully plain cold green tea. The sugar levels in drinks in Taiwan are astounding to us.
Fancy pants tea shop. Oh how we would love to try some...
Classy looking local wines... Would you go for super white wine or lucky white wine? Or maybe 'the best choose' is the one with a pretty lady on the label.
We head back to the markets later in the night to see lots of different stalls open.
We try a baked or steamed rice dish with braised pork, add a little squeeze of spicy sauce for extra flavour.
Hand painted shoe shop sign in the markets.
We decide on another dinner at this busy stall.
It's mostly a few locals around tonight, the rush of tourists have headed back to Taipei or another big town.
Noodle soup with three kinds of dumplings, they had some wonderful crunch inside like water chestnut.
Tongue slices with hoisin sauce. The tongue is a whole piece on the serving counter, you point to what you want and they slice and serve to you with bamboo and sauce.
Braised pork chop on a bowl of rice, soft and soy and spice flavoured. Real homestyle.
The view from the back of the serving stall, so much action.
When we get back to hotel the owner is having tea with friends and invites us to join in - woohoo! - a real Chinese tea party. One bloke had a selection of teas, selecting different brews to suit the mood, it was amazing how different the teas were. Strangely, the experience reminded us of a good old teenage bong session, with the brewmaster being the packer, handing out little cone size cups of tea around the circle, fiddling with a stash of dried leaves in the meantime. In keeping with the bong theme, our host asks if we would like to try the best fried chicken wings we've ever tasted, yeah!
We pile into the electric golf cart and hoon through the tight twisty streets around midnight. Locals' jaws drop at the site of a golf cart with two gweilos and two galumphing golden retrievers driven at top speed by a chatterbox purple haired lady.
We stop at an all-night street stall for chicken and man, they were the best chicken wings we've ever tasted. Plump and moist and fried to a golden crunch, the batter being given some red colour and a flavourful oomph with (we guess) some fermented tofu and a sprinkle of plum powder.
The dogs got the left over bones, everyone was happy.
On our last morning in Lukang the B&B owner, Yu Yu, is disappointed we didn't make it to the noodle factory so takes out for a little tour on her golf cart to see the attractions we couldn't find on foot, there's no charge, she's just a friendly lady. The first stop is this amazing temple made with seashells.
Our biggest regret is not recording the music played over the PA, it's like a crazy mashup of traditional Chinese and 1970's American slide guitar country'n'western. Well that's how we remember it anyway, wonderfully warped. If anybody goes out there can you record the music for us?
Some dude with a serious amount of time on his hands built this over 20 years.
Each decoration was hand made with shells and painted in wild colours, or the colour of the shell was used as a natural pattern.
He also has a mega aquarium set up out the back where he breeds and sells fish. There were a few reptiles and birds as well, a strange little homemade zoo.
Yu Yu couldn't believe we weren't able to find the shell temple first time around, but this was the turn off. Simple, yes?
Our last stop was a 150 year old building where noodles had been made for nearly as long. The noodles are made by hand and left to dry in the open courtyard.
Stretching the dough.
More stretching. There was flour on the floors to keep the noodles clean and they flicked and flew in the wind.
The makers had been here for sometime, they carried on their business amid camera wielding tourists and golden retrievers running around through the noodle strands. We thought the dog was going to destroy the lot.
The noodle factory had a bit of a name as a tourist spot but was not yet over run, there was a camera club visiting as were there.
It was time to bid farewell to Xiao Hu and Momo and head off back to Taipei via a quick bus trip to Changhua.
We love Taiwan. Thanks Yu Yu for making out stay so extra special.