this is long overdue – but better late than never!
hualien is.. a frequent stop on the taiwan travellers’ circuit, but it’s both unassuming and pretty indistinct. it feels more like a pit stop before going through the pretty darn cool taroko gorge (coming up sometime!), and I’ll be frank – if you’re not doing the latter, this place might not hold too much charm for you.
there’s some decent food to be had though (hence better gastronomically than cingjing), but it lacks the picturesqueness of the former, or the bustling draw of taipei – and is essentially a small, old town.
Zhiqiang Night Market
this is one of the biggest attractions in hualien, a market laid out on two short streets, selling a mix of local food and imported delights (like the pizza that very chinese dude is doling out a very italian oven). hualien was our first stop on our taiwan trip, and so this was my introduction to the whole night market shebang they have in taiwan.
and it was a good one – I loved, loved, loved that slightly spicy grilled squid up there in photos, as well as being able to choose a selection of skewers for some grill-on-the-spot action. it’s definitely worth a dinner visit if you’re in the city.
Wang Ji Teahouse
this was a recommendation by the lovely receptionists at our hotel, and what a good one (we ended up returning twice). a modern remake of a teahouse, it’s beautifully furnished inside with wood and concrete, a double-storey establishment with old exteriors that belie the modern gorgeousness inside. service is a bit brusque, and almost hostilely taciturn if you have a weak grasp of mandarin (ahem, as I) – but the food is fantastic.
the lunch sets are worth it, most an iteration of meat with rice served up like a bento. we had the fish, sauteed pork and fried chicken – all of which were pretty good, as were the pickles and clear soups they were served alongside; the fish was my favorite though, silkily dory-like, with a caramelized-type sauce.
tea is good – but do specify no sugar if you go for that.
so apparently, watermelon is a key produce in this town – and you can get your share at this place, which is stacked to the rafters in giant, and I mean GIANT watermelons. order up a plate or two of the melon, as well as whatever else they have on offer (we got pineapple too) – and sit down for a quick refreshing bite.
you’ll notice, possibly, that the flesh here looks almost a little anaemic, and not very red or dense as you’d normally want – it was worrying, until we had a first bite of the sweet fruit. no need for worry at all.
and to finish,
explosive spring onion biscuit
which is a direct translation of the name of this place. essentially a very greasy fried cruller rolled up with sliced spring onions, this place draws long queues and huge crowds. it’s almost mesmerizing the way the women work – one rolls out the dough and dunks it in the hot oil, another watches it so it gets just past golden brown, and the last cantankerous lady efficiently whacks it in a paper bag with your seasoning of choice before it gets handed over to you.
you have the choice of adding an egg – do it, just so you can watch her crack an egg directly into the vat of oil, then adhere it to the pancake, before it turns into a greasy state-fair mass of fried dough.
not to my taste – it probably needs a little more salt/ seasoning, and I certainly couldn’t abide that much grease (but then again, I don’t eat donuts for the same reason).
worth a try, in any case.
I’m not including directions here as you’d be better off asking locals to mark it on a map for you – it’s a small town where everyone likely knows nearly everything there is to do (and also prevents me from giving you any wrong information).