I love bathing in the hot springs in Jiaoxi (礁溪) (near Yilan), especially during early springtime. Soaking in the hot springs really works up an appetite, a good excuse to try some local food.
While there are many fine restaurants in Jiaoxi’s luxury spa resorts, I often prefer local, street-food options. On a recent Jiaoxi day trip we discovered a particularly good snack shop: ‘Eight Treasures Glass Noodles’, (八寶冬粉- bābǎo dōngfēn), a local-style eatery right next to a temple along Zhongshan Road in central Jiaoxi (中山路二段131號).
The main specialty at Eight Treasures is a thick soup known as ‘gēng’ (羹). Deliberately thickened with starch, it is more like savoury semi-set jello than soup. But don’t let the texture put you off; the thickened soup provides a good stage for the flavors and textures of the soup. The geng comes in four different flavors, including prawn ball, combination, pork & mushroom and squid. The meat and seafood remind me a little of fresh, semi-formed quenelles, which play hide-and-seek in the noodles and thick geng. A generous bowl of geng costs only NTD40 to NTD50.
The appetizers (小菜 –xiǎocài) at some restaurants can be a bit ordinary, but at Eight Treasures they are as good if not better than the geng. You must try their golden eggs (黃金蛋 – huángjīndàn), which showcases the Jiaoxi technique of boiling eggs in the mineral rich, odorless local spring water. The outer layer of the egg is lightly stewed in soy sauce, while the inner yolks are still slightly soft in the middle.
Another house specialty is Eight Treasure’s smoked duck (鴨賞 – yā shǎng), heaped in a large mound in their service window ready for serving. Bright pink and tossed with fire-truck red chilli, it looks and tastes like freshly-baked leg ham, only Chinese-style Another smoked specialty is shark (flake) (沙魚煙 – shāyúyān), which consists of thick slices of mildly smoked fresh fish, served at room temperature topped with finely shredded ginger and a soy and wasabi dipping sauce. But not everything is for carnivores. We also ordered a fabulously fresh vegetarian roll filled with fresh cilantro and vegetables (香菜捲 – xiāngcài juǎn), which made me feel instantly healthy and virtuous.