In the movie “Good Morning Vietnam”, Robin Williams’ character and is taken on a trip to eat some local street food. His new friend Tuan cheekily orders fishball soup with a hot chilli sauce. “I didn’t know they had balls,” Robin Williams quips.
I often think of that somewhat naughty response whenever I eat fishballs. Rather unfortunate because fishballs, when made well, are delicious. And at the Kekou snack shop we visited in Danshui, they so good they need very little adornment. We didn’t even use the hot chilli sauce they provided.
Yesterday, Mr Taiwanxifu took me on a day trip to Danshui. It was a nice way to go on a trip over the Christmas/New Year holiday without having to go too far. Now that the red line of the MRT has extended down to Elephant Mountain, it has become easier for us to travel north to the mouth-of-the-river ‘town’ of Danshui (also spelt Tamsui). It still took almost an hour, but other than changing trains at Beitou station it was almost direct. Taipei is, as locals like to say with pride, very convenient.
The sun started shining not long after we set off and it was a perfect day for cycling along the river. More about that in another post: Mr Taiwanxifu took me to a special, secret place that I am guessing very few people even in Taipei know about. And then we capped it off by another special: fishballs at Kekou (可口魚丸, Kěkǒu yú wán).
The first time I visited Danshui back in 2008 I was almost overwhelmed by the crush of people and the carnival atmosphere along the ‘old street’. I kept wanting to stop for a bite to eat at one of the local places along the river. But Mr Taiwanxifu kept leading me along the packed laneways, away from the river, until we found a nondescript, ordinary looking hole-in-the wall place.
The place we ended up at is a 40 year old shop that USED to be along the riverfront. It was one of the first to start the Danshui fishball craze. Now nearly every shop nearby seems to sell the same thing, part of Taiwan’s copycat mentality. As the rental on the foreshore went up, the owners moved back away to a location that no longer has river views. But those in the know know where to find them.
Kekou do brisk business. Other than fishball soup (NT$30 or around US$1 for a bowl of soup with four large fish balls), they also sell meat buns (NT$10 or around US33c each) or steamed buns (also NT$10). You can also order a fish ball and wonton soup for NT$30.
But most people order a bowl of fishball soup, with one or two meat buns on the side. Ready in seconds, it cost us NT$80 in total (US$2.60). I’m a cheap date and proud of it.
The soup is simple, not overly salty and topped with finely chopped shallots (but not many). The broth tastes almost buttery, yet is not oily. A bite into the bantam-egg sized fishballs reveals a savoury meat filling. This is rich, soft and melds well with the slightly springy fish ball outer layer.
I was too full to eat only a bite of my meat bun, but the little I tried was also soft and fluffy. They were not the best meat buns I have eaten, but they are a good product at NT$10 each. And they paired well with the fishball soup.
Kekou Fish Balls are at No 232 Zhongzheng Road, Danshui. You can dine in (if you can get a table), or take home a generous bag of meat buns and fishballs for NT$100 each (around US$3.30). We bought a bag of each, and regretted not buying more. Perhaps it is a good excuse for another day trip to Danshui.