I studied Chinese in college and learned Chinese using pinyin pronunciations but being in Taiwan pinyin ended up confusing me a little more. Many of the landmarks and names show a different English form or name. One example is 淡水; the official pinyin form is Danshui but it is Tamsui is Taiwan. Tamsui is the way it is pronounced in the local Taiwanese dialect. And because of that I will be referring to it as Tamsui in this post (but I really did go back and forth for a while).
This was our only day in the sun! (It was gloomy and rainy every other day we were in Taiwan) We ended up spending a lot more time here then we had originally anticipated because the sun made us so happy. We ended up spending a lot of time at Tamsui Old Street and Waterfront 淡水老街 and the Tamsui Fisherman’s Warf 淡水漁人碼頭.
Tamsui Old Street and Waterfront 淡水老街
Its a little walk from the Tamsui MRT station to the Old Street and Waterfront. At first glance the area looks like almost any other area in Taipei with color signage.
Tamsui Old Street and Waterfront are actually parallel to each other but pretty much the same place. We spent a little over an hour just wandering and chilling at the Tamsui Waterfront and Old Street waiting for my friends boyfriend and his family. (My friend stayed in Taiwan a little longer to spend time with her boyfriend and his family.) The really didn’t seem that long for us mainly because we were just so happy it was a sunny day.
We actually spent even more time in Tamsui Old Street later in the day to shop and snack. The old street is like many other night markets in Taiwan with plenty of shopping, games, and course street food. There are a few specialties that are specifically famous at the Tamsui Old Street; Iron Eggs 鐵蛋, and A-Gei 阿給. Can you even imagine what these things are?
Street Food: Iron Eggs 鐵蛋, A-Gei 啊給, Red Bean Cakes 紅豆餅, Fresh Fruit Juice, Hot-Star Large Fried Chicken Chop 毫大大雞排
When it comes to street food, we sure did have to learn to pace ourselves. There are so many options to choose from. It’s good that there are three of us, and we’re open to sharing everything.
Iron Eggs 鐵蛋
Iron Eggs 鐵蛋 are quail eggs (or any other small egg) stewed in a special sauce for long periods of time and then air dried. The iron eggs look dark brown on the outside, egg whites have turned into a rather hard chewy texture holding all of the flavor from the sauce, and ending with a nice creamy egg yolk inside. From the package of iron eggs I bought, it said it was spicy flavored but there really was possibly a tiny tiny hint of spice to it. Instead a nice sweet after taste just lingered in my mouth making it rather fun to eat.
They sell these on a stick, in a a bowl, or in vacuum sealed packages. The vacuum sealed packages made it easy for us pick up a few to bring home as a souvenir (or just to eat later). We didn’t go the original place that created the iron eggs 鐵蛋 in Tamsui, instead we went to Tihu Dashi 醍醐大師. This place looked pretty famous too.
A-Gei 阿給 is a fried tofu stuffed with cellophane noodles and ground pork, sealed with a fish cake paste then topped with a sauce and originated right here in Tamsui. We stopped at a little street stalled 老本港快餐 (Lao Ben Gang kuai Can) and tried the famous A-Gei 阿給.
We ordered our A-gei 阿給 with a side bowl of fishball soup and a small fried rice vermicelli for the three of us to share. They say the fishball soup goes perfect in the winter and on a hot summer day cold soy milk is a good compliment.
This is very much a fusion dish. The name A-Gei 阿給 actually comes from the Japanese dish aburaage which is a the tofu that is being stuffed. In Japan the aburaage is often used for sushi or added into miso soup. But here, it’s stuffed with noodles.
Red Bean Cake (Imagawayaki) 紅豆餅 / 車輪餅
Taiwanese culture is quite unique with a blend Chinese traditions, Aboriginal Taiwanese culture, Western colonial influences, and Japanese culture. These red bean cakes are actually a very popular Japanese dessert/snack in Japan called Imagawayaki. I’ve always know it as 車輪餅 (literally translated at wheel cake). At home these things can be found at our local Taiwanese grocery store (99 Ranch Market) or Little Tokyo Los Angeles.
It’s made with a special stove/iron/pan thing where you fill it with the batter, add the filling (traditionally azuki red bean paste), then close it with the other layer on top. We actually opted to get the vanilla custard filling instead of the azuki red bean paste filling, that’s why I try not to call it a red bean cake (even though that’s what the sign says). So can I say it is a 沒有紅豆的紅豆餅 (A red bean cake without red beans).
Fresh Fruit Juices
Fruit stands and fruit juice stands happen to be everywhere in Taipei, and it was just so tempting to see fresh fruit stacked up on display. That’s how you know you’re getting the real thing.
We ordered two juices for the three of us to share: bitter melon honey juice 苦瓜蜂蜜 and strawberry orange juice 草莓柳丁.
I was actually really excited to try the bitter melon juice, my friends were not very excited. I mean who would be excited to eat or drinks something that pretty much describes the taste: bitter? Well, I interestingly grew up eating bitter melon and actually really like it. The honey was a nice touch that helped with the bitter taste, but either way, I don’t mind the bitter taste of the bitter melon.
Bitter Melon actually has a lot of health benefits to it. It’s supposed to reduce blood sugar levels, fight cancer and infections, prevent leprosy, alleviate eye problems, cleanse the liver, increase the immune system and remove toxins from the body. Sounds like some miracle melon.
I was told that bitter melon is considered to be a “half life melon” which means that people only like bitter melon for half their life. I’m in my mid-20’s now and I still like it, that means I have a pretty long life ahead of me.
I actually can’t say much about the strawberry orange juice 草莓柳丁 because I don’t like strawberries, so that one really for them.
Hot-Star Large Fried Chicken Chop 毫大大雞排
This really big fried chicken chop did not originate in Tamsui, it was actually from another night market in Taipei but has now gone international and has locations in the Philippines, Singapore, Australia, etc. But I guess trying in at the Tamsui Old Street is close enough to Shilin Night Market (which we went to later in our trip). Check out their website for locations in Taiwan.
At first glance it doesn’t seem that big, but it really is pretty big. I put my hand over to compare-ish.
Tamsui Fisherman’s Warf 淡水漁人碼頭 and Tamsui Lover’s Bridge 淡水情人橋
We took the ferry from Tamsui Ferry Pier to Fisherman’s Wharf to go see the “Lover’s Bridge.” Tickets were NT$50 per person (This ferry also stops at Bali and Guandu, ticket prices are a little higher). And note, that if you are sitting outside on the ferry you may get wet (but it wasn’t like we got soaked or anything).
The ferry is not your only option if you don’t like boats. You can always just take the bus. We actually decided to take a bus back to the Tamsui Waterfront from the Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf.
The main attraction at the Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf is the Lover’s Bridge. The Lover’s Bridge is a single slanted tower cable pedestrian bridge named Lover’s Bridge because it was started on Valentines Day. I guess that also makes this a really nice date place. And why not make it even more romantic with a big “Love” sign at the end of the bridge.
The bridge was pretty crowded the whole time we were there. I guess we really should not have gone to Tamsui on a weekend.
This area also felt much more touristy with lots of coffee shops and over priced seafood restaurants. There are some seafood restaurants near Tamsui Old Street that looked like a better deal.