Monday, October 29, 2007

Oceanic khanas

Out of grief over Miki's loss, Ate Rosie and Kuya Jack decided not to spend the rest of the day in their home last Friday. After hours of trying to calm themselves, Ate invited me and Jade to go with them to the seashore somewhere in Taoyuan. They prefer to keep themselves busy to help them somehow forgot what just happened earlier. Taking this opportunity to see the place, I said yes right away.

On their last visit to the place, Ate gave me a share of the squid she bought from the wet market in Taoyuan. She boasted about the handful yet cheap seafood varieties they saw in the place and her thought of buying one basin full of different fishes. Asked by her husband how she'll consume them all gave her second thoughts though so she shrugged off the idea from her mind. When she told me about it, I told her she should have just bought them all and we could share among our other friends and pay her back. Knowing that we were interested, she planned bringing us to the place two weeks from now to match her hubby's day-off from work. Somehow, the waiting time was shortened.

Taoyuan is a county located in the northwestern part of Taiwan, next to Taipei County. In Chinese, "Taoyuan" means "peach garden," since the area used to have many peach blossoms. One of the main reasons this county is popular is because the Taoyuan City is home to the then called Chiang-Kai-Shek International Airport, the gateway to Taiwan. The airport's name has eventually been changed to Taoyuan International Airport. So it's not really our first time to set foot on the place because we have been in and out of the airport several times already. That also prompted me to tell them to drive us straight to the airport instead of tagging us home back to Taipei after visiting the wet market.

Anyway, on our way, we saw the usual huge waves by the sea - the highway was beside the Taiwan Strait. I only knew now that the body of water is called Taiwan Strait - earlier during our trip, I asked Kuya if it was part of the China Sea - being sensitive to China-Taiwan things - he looked at me and uttered seriously "this is no China - this is Taiwan!" I should be very careful next time. Locals here are sensitive about this issue nowadays.

The drive to the place was around one hour - I guess it was less than an hour. We headed to the port right away and from today's research, I found out that the place we went to is just one of the ports in Taoyuan and it is called Jhuwei Fishing Port. At the back of my mind, I remember seeing a sign "Taipei port". I captured some excerpt from Taiwan's Council of Agriculture website to tell a little more about the place.

Jhuwei is located in the Dayuan Township near Bali Township in Taipei County. Because of its beauty, it has become one of the top recreational areas for Taipei residents. Tourists go there for the glorious sunset and the grand splashing of the waves against the northern bank. The Jhuwei Tourism Fish Market, the most famous and the biggest fish market in northern Taoyuan, opens all-year round. It has an area of more than 25,000 sq feet (700 ping) and packs 77 stalls. Tourists can buy fresh seafood on the first floor or eat seafood on the second floor. The chefs on the second floor are more than happy to cook the seafood bought on the first floor. (BTW, ping is the unit of measurement they use for floor areas. One ping is equivalent to around 36 sq. feet or 3.5 square meters.)

One of the significant things I noticed as we entered the market place is the absence of foul odors or in other words, fishy smell. The other thing is that I expected the floor to be wet because I am used to going to the fish market that is literally wet, but no, the floor is dry. The first stall that we saw was selling huge fish varieties. All I uttered is "wow" and of course, click click click went my small camera.

We went from one stall to the other looking for the items listed in our minds - salmon, shrimps, squid and anything else (that could be a lot huh!). We surveyed the place first before buying.

Ate and Kuya kept talking to me as I also kept asking them what kind of fish is this or that or what part of a fish is that, is that really part of the fish, etc. etc. Of course, Jade also looked around with curiousity and followed me saying "wow". In one stalls, the owner was talking in a loud voice, I thought he was fighting with the customer but noting that there was no air of fight, I asked Ate why his voice is that loud. I figured out he was just reacting that way because nobody wanted to buy the fishes in his stall. You know why? It's because they're so huge and bunched up in a basin where one contained around three pieces of huge fishes and they are sold not by piece but by bunch. My, I wouldn't by one myself. We can't consume them all. We passed through stalls that sell any of the these - fishes alone, fish varieties, shrimp varieties, squids, crabs, seashells, seaweeds, lobsters, clams, combination of them all, sashimi, octopus tentacles, fish egg, etc. There's this fish meat that looked like a jelly - silky and very white - I was told, it's a part of a fish stomach wall - could be of a shark's. I also saw a quite ugly fish and Kuya told me it's from deep water - the uglier the fish is, the deeper it came from. It reminded me of one show I saw on TV about the discovery of grotesque fishes on one part of the ocean somewhere around the world.

Anyhow, the sea wonder that amazed me most was the humongous crabs that were even bigger than my face. Ate and Kuya kept telling me about it on our way to the stall. At first, I couldn't believe when they told me about its size, and especially its cost - 3000NTD per piece - that's around 4000PHP based on the current forex rate. My, who buy that? I already saw the biggest lobster around the market but was yet to see the largest crab in my entire life. When we reached the stall, I was finally convinced about its size because I saw it myself. They had something like thorns on their shells. I unit thought the length of the legs I saw was just it only to be told they're folded so when I looked closer, I realized how huge they really are. In Taiwan, the common unit of measurement is by 600grams or jin as it is locally termed. Thus 600 grams would be i-jin while 1200grams would be er-jin. "I" (pronounced as "ee") and "er" mean one and two respectively. The stall owner informed us that i-jin of the crab costs 680NTD, Ate and Kuya said it's cheaper this time of the year compared to its price during the Chinese New Year where i-jin would cost more than 800NTD. The couple had already tried this kind of crab and they described it to be very very delicious - I am convinced merely by their facial and verbal expressions. I could put exclamation point at the end of their statements. They told me the shell is very soft and the crabs are from the deep waters of Japan. That time, I learned further that not all seafoods sold in that market are from Taiwan itself but most are imported from Japan.

After seeing most of the place and ending in that humongous crab stall for several minutes, we bought the bunch of shrimps from the ladyowner - it costs 380NTD - we shared it with our other friend. We decided it's time to do the "fishing" but before that, Ate asked me to call our friend Juvel to check what she wanted us to buy for her then off we went to get our shares. We bought squid, crab legs (I prefer the legs because it's meaty compared to the crab body), shrimps, fresh dilis, clams and sashimi. We couldn't find a desirable salmon meat and we didn't want the head part this time so we took it out from our list. I wanted to buy even more but thinking of how small our storage bin is stopped me from getting more than planned. There'll be another chance anyway.

Outside the market building, cooked and ready to eat varieties were also sold. At the entrance/exit door, they were selling cooked small crabs at a price of 100NTD for three pieces. Other than that, the rest includes fried varieties and the popular spiced seashells (bisukol). I asked Ate if she tried that and she said yes and it tasted good. I wondered how they suck the meat out without cracking/biting the tip - the procedure I knew since childhood. They kept asking me what I liked them to buy among the cooked ones but I told them seeing the variety of seafoods inside the market was enough for me. We just went to the store to get hot coffee which we finished outside the store while Jade run around the place.

We strolled further along the shore and I saw that there are other stalls there as well but more of the real wet ones where the fishes are scattered on the floor. I guess it's cheaper there. We didn't stay long because it was too windy. Again, there'll be another chance anyway. We decided to head back home and on our way, Kuya bought us hot sugarcane juice which he said is good for our coughs. We also dropped by a store in Bali to buy salted eggs. We arrived home just before dinner giving me time to cook the first dish out from our "fishing".

I have the complete set of pictures taken inside the market in an album HERE.


lovelyn said...

Wow sea foods! We are a family of fish eaters. From my side they prefer meat but my husband's, they would love to live eating

Nice photos and the place looks clean. Sea foods are expensive here considering we're surrounded with bodies of water. Its because there are few fishermen. they dictate their price specially if its freshly caught. Would you believe, some of the shrimps we buy are imported from Asia and some were artificially breed somewhere else?

Sunday and Monday no fish, nobody went to catch that's why.

jane said...

i'd say we're in between - both meat and fish/seafoods will do. i'd share how i cooked what we bought in a latter post.
i wouldn't be surprised to hear about the costs of seafoods there because even here, they do cost a lot and as you mentioned, even considering we're surrounded by seas and oceans.
i'm thinking that if they sell tilapia there, frozen ones that is, it may have come from the philippines or anywhere else in Southeast Asia.

lovelyn said...

yeah, noeda buys the frozen tilapia from the filipino store. its not from the philippines, its thailand if i remember it right.