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Food Tales

At Shifen Old Street, We Bypassed the Sky Lanterns and Went Straight for the Street Food and Shopping



In Shifen, we missed the waterfalls because we didn’t have raincoats. But at Shifen Old Street, we had a lovely time tasting food and shopping.

Just how in heaven’s name could we miss Shifen waterfall?

A short story about raincoats. Or, rather, the lack thereof.

It was drizzling when we boarded the tour bus to Shifen. Yes, we joined a tour for Shifen and Jiufen. The only tour I booked for the Taiwan trip. And only because the directions for taking the train all the way to Shifen were too confusing. Easy enough to get lost in the city but up in the mountain…?? I don’t think so. A tour was my solution. No wasted time, no chance of getting a panic attack.

So, it just kept drizzling. On my phone, I had Accuweather open on Safari all the way from Taipei to Shifen. It said the rain would stop at 2.00 p.m. Why was it still drizzling? I was hoping (stupid me) that the skies would clear by the time we reached the waterfall but, instead, the drizzle turned into a light rain. As the bus slowed down to unload the passengers, the other members of the tour group started putting on their raincoats in preparation for the walk to the waterfall. Those who didn’t put on raincoats pulled umbrellas out of their bags.

Speedy and I stared at each other wondering what in the world we we would do. We didn’t have raincoats. We didn’t have umbrellas. I don’t like raincoats. I absolutely loathe umbrellas. But, if we wanted to see the waterfall, well… Some fast thinking was in order.

On the way to the entrance to the waterfall, I had earlier noticed a Family Mart and some cafes. We could backtrack on foot, get raincoats, walk back to the entrance to the waterfall and rejoin the group.

Why not, right? Well, it was raining. Not hard, really, and I do like walking in the rain anyway. Except that we were in the mountain, there were no sidewalks and walking down the road to Family Mart took over ten minutes. We could have walked faster if we didn’t need to dodge the occasional tour bus, car and motorbike. And the puddles courtesy of the rain.

What? No photos of such an interesting part of the trip?

Are you kidding? It was raining, I was in dire need of the rest room and we were walking on a narrow mountain road side by side with gigantic tour buses. Of course there are no photos.

We reached Family Mart, I went straight to the rest room while Speedy searched the shelves for raincoats. He was holding out two when I found him. Were they the correct sizes? Better larger than smaller, I said, so we went ahead and paid for two raincoats. It took another five minutes or so putting them on. The way the buttons were placed was confusing. But we managed and, by the time we stepped out of Family Mart, we were waterproof.

We started the walk uphill. It wasn’t all that hard. We could see oncoming vehicles so it was easier to avoid them.

No photos of the walk back either?

Here, I’ll oblige you.

Shifen-Jiufen Tour Bus

That’s Speedy climbing up the tour bus. By the time we reached the parking lot, we already knew it was too late to rejoin the tour group. And we didn’t miscalculate the time. We were in the bus less than ten minutes before the other members of the tour group started showing up a few at a time.

It stopped raining. We felt silly wearing raincoats so we took them off. It felt even sillier that we bought raincoats just to walk on a mountain road. Well, at least I had a chance to go to the rest room. Were we going to bring the raincoats while exploring Shifen Old Street? Naaahh.

Shifen Old Street

To be truly honest, missing the waterfall was not really a big deal. I heard it was scenic, especially the walk to the waterfall, but we were on a food trip and the scenery was secondary. We were looking forward to what Shifen Old Street had to offer.

When we got off the bus at the entrance to Shifen Old Street, the sun occasionally peeped through the clouds. The humidity, however, had invaded Shifen in full force and it was a killer. A reeeaaalll killer.

Sky lanterns in Shifen

Most go to Shifen for the sky lanterns but we had already decided we weren’t going to indulge in that. The sky lanterns I like are the small lighted ones that are released during the mid-Autumn Festival. Those sky lanterns are part of a ritual in a centuries-old festival that is imbued with meaning. It’s something that’s experienced with awe and reverence.

Sky lanterns

In Shifen, releasing sky lanterns is a tourist attraction rather than a truly culturally significant event. You buy a lantern from one of the countless stalls lining the street, you paint your wishes on the lantern, you pose with the lantern, this way and that, and more photos are taken as you release the lantern to the sky. It’s just too… ugh… We’d rather eat.

Sky lantern night lamps. Shifen Old Street.

But before we started with the food, we did buy a couple of night lights shaped like sky lanterns. For our daughters. Because they adore pretty things like that.

Sky lantern night lights for Sam and Alex Veneracion

It took a while choosing one for Sam and another for Alex. They had to be the right color without too many flowers. In the end, we chose one with owls for Alex and one with dragonflies for Sam.

Chicken wings stuffed with sticky rice

We started hunting for the street food that has become associated with Shifen. We walked, searched and the moment we saw them, I could almost forget the terrible humidity.

Boneless chicken wings stuffed with sticky rice. Shifen, Taiwan

Boneless chicken wings stuffed with sticky rice. They’re pre-cooked but when you order, the wings are reheated for you.

Stuffed chicken wings on the grill, Shifen, Taiwan

The wings are placed on a hot grill and heated just long enough to char the skins to give them more flavor and better texture. In the stall where we ordered our chicken wings, they were garnished with sesame seeds and furikake. Very Japanese.

Inside a stuffed chicken wing. Shifen, Taiwan.

We stood beside the railroad and ate on our feet. It’s street food and it’s okay to do that there unlike in Kyoto where eating that way is frowned upon. I saw neither tables nor chairs next to the food stalls in Shifen Old Street, so, there was really no other way to eat the chicken wings. And just how were they? The chicken wings? Delicious. Quite filling. Probably shouldn’t be surprising considering the amount of sticky rice in the cavity where the bones had been removed.

As I stood there eating my chicken wing, I thought about a night long ago in Manila’s Chinatown. It was the height of the popularity of the eateries along the estero and my father brought me there. One of the dishes he ordered was stuffed chicken wings. Unlike the chicken wings that have put Shifen in the world food map, those chicken wings I had with my father were stuffed with vegetables and they were served doused with a thick sauce.

In Shifen I wondered, just I wondered back in Manila’s Chinatown, how in the world a chicken wing could be deboned and stuffed without breaking the skin. I still have no answer.

We explored Shifen for two hours. We spotted a stall with ice cream rolls like the ones we enjoyed at Tamsui. There were cold fruit drinks, stalls selling mochi and pineapple cookies… We browsed but ate nothing more.

Teacups with koi at the bottom
Imagine drinking tea and finding koi inside the cup…

Before leaving Shifen, we bought two more items for our daughters that turned out to be a big deal. But that has more to do with our next destination. We were looking forward to Jiufen, the next stop, and the tea and teacakes at the world famous Amei Teahouse. But that’s another story.