I have just celebrated my 40th birthday. Unlike my 30th birthday (why is it that women often feel the need to have achieved success by 30?), this anniversary felt both grownup and relaxed. And one of the highlights was enjoying some of the freshest seafood that Taiwan has to offer during a weekend trip to Wai’ao, a surfing beach along Taiwan’s north eastern Coast.
Before I get to the juicy seafood bit, let me begin by saying that Mr Taiwanxifu organized amazing, beachfront accommodation for us. We stayed at the Wai’ao Beach House, a bed and breakfast (minsu) run by Tina and Jackie from the Toucheng Leisure Farm. Our four story beachfront accommodation, which we enjoyed with my Dad and two other Taiwanese families, was comfortable in a unique Taiwan-meet-Greece kind of way. Mr Taiwanxifu and I spent the evening gazing out the water at the lights of the fishing boats bobbing about from one of our cornerside windows. And many of us woke to enjoy the sunrise over Turtle Island from our balconies (not me, I was enjoying a rare sleep in with the baby).
Tina and Jackie recommended that we eat at a seafood restaurant favoured by locals — Geng Sin Seafood Restaurant. As soon as we walked in past the many tanks filled with fresh seafood and sat down at our plastic covered table we could see that this was a no-frills, seriously good seafood place. The many posters of fish species also added to our confidence that this thirty-year old establishment knew a thing or two about seafood.
Mr Taiwanxifu did the ordering, and went slightly overboard. We often lightheartedly chide him for his over exuberance in menu selecting. Being a special occasion, he lived up to his reputation for going over the top: eight dishes including sumptuous seafood for three adults and one toddler. While we initially baulked at the volume, somehow most of it disappeared with the rest packed up in a doggie bag to take home. It was simply too good to refuse.
First dishes, which arrived simultaneously, were freshly cooked prawns served with a soy wasabi dipping sauce and pippis (clams) stir-fried with basil. Basil is often used in Taiwanese cooking; back home, we used to refer to this variety as ‘Thai’ basil, but it is also used extensively in Taiwanese cuisine. Both of these dishes were so fresh, especially the bright pink fresh prawns, that the soy sauce dish remained virtually untouched. Why use a dipping sauce when there is no need?
Instead of rice, Mr Taiwanxifu ordered a simple dish of stir-fried egg noodles with sliced pork and vegetables. It was good. Very good. ‘Why is it’, he mused out loud ‘that seafood restaurants always make such good noodles?’ I am not sure of the answer to this, but I suspect it may be because the seafood is so good that people avoid filling up with rice.
The other non-seafood dish that graced our groaning table was stir-fried bamboo shoots with chilli in a light egg batter. Bamboo shoots are common in Taiwan in the summer months; but these were no ordinary bamboo shoots. I am not exactly sure the name of them, but they reminded me a little of a cross between sugar cane stalks and bamboo. While light and succulent, they were also more stalky than typical bamboo shoots.
The waitress appeared suddenly with a large gas burner carrying a broth made from fish head and other parts. Usually these types of soups are a little skimpy on the fish, but this light and flavoursome soup contained decent-sized mackerel steaks. Then the rest of the fish appeared, poached lightly and served with a sweet-soy mixture and topped with shredded shallots and carrots. The white flesh was soft yet still firm, falling away along the grains of its concentric rings.
One of our oddest, yet most appetising dishes, was grilled cuttlefish. There is a rather macabre art to eating them. First you grab their head and pull it off. You can eat the tendrils that protrude from the head if you like, but it is okay to discard them. The main edible bit is the narrow tubular body, which you consume after poking out its black-ink stained innards. This may sound gross, but the end result — tender, calamari-like tubes — is worth the effort.
The best dish came last, after we thought our feast had finally come to an end. But wait, there’s more! Fresh king crab, stir-fried with egg and shallots. This was serious crab, of the kind that you rarely see nowadays except in expensive five-star restaurants. My father declared it was the best crab he had eaten in twenty years, and he has singled it out as one of the highlights of his trip. The best bit was hidden under the shell; a thick rim of bright golden crab roe. This might seem like an odd thing to indulge in, but Taiwanese consider it especially nutritious — especially for mothers during zuo yuezi (the month of confinement directly after giving birth).
Geng Sin is located on the main highway, just north of Wai’ao at No.16, Sec. 3, Binhai Rd., Toucheng Township, Yilan County (更新海產 蘭縣頭城鎮濱海路３段１６號, telephone 03-977-5443). It is open daily from 9.00am to 9.00pm.