Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Shenkeng Old Street (深坑老街) - The Tofu Capital @ Taipei [Taiwan]

I am a meat eater and would rather spend my money on prawn crackers than vegetable ones. Exceptions do exist and one of them is tofu but even that, my affection is heavily skewed towards stinky tofu! 

In Taiwan, the best place to have stinky tofu was said to be this rural town at the outskirt of Taipei known as Shenkeng (which means deep pit by the way). Its tofu was so renowned in the country; the town is also known as the 'tofu capital'!

I intentionally planned a trip to this place as "smelly tofu" was actually one of the motivating factors encouraging me to buy my air tickets to Taiwan! Furthermore, i totally dig old streets / towns as more often than not, they represent traditional architecture that encompasses both culture and history. 

Everywhere, it was tofu, tofu and more tofu! Visitors to Shenkeng are aware that tofu is the biggest selling point and came prepared to dine in all sort of tofu and tofu-related meals! My main priority then was to take advantage of the sunlight and snap as many photographs as i could! 

Food, no matter what, can wait. 

Well, it can be hard to resist with the delicious aroma of stinky tofu tempting me every few steps although i must add that my eyes were also in their alert mode to identify potential smelly tofu shops where i could eventually satisfy my craving! 

For a street that spanned less than three hundred meters, there were a lot of things to see! The street actually went through a major renovation from 2010 to 2012; however, what you see now is still a realistic remake of the original buildings from the past. 

A temple in the middle. 

I didn't check out who was the patron saint for the temple (my purpose to enter its premise was to use the washroom) even though i was smitten by the 3D wall panel featuring the famous eight immortals in Taoism. 

To make full use of your trip to Shenkeng, visit with an empty stomach! Like Jiufen, there were so many things to buy and snack along the way! How not to get fat!?

There was indeed a healthier option; snack on dried fruits! I am glad i didn't bring my mom to Taiwan. Knowing her, she would bring back a few kilograms of these dried fruits and i am pretty sure my eventual 80-kilogram luggage would be insufficient. 

Okay, i think it's unfair to say that about my mom. No one can be worse than Alex as he is the kind of shopper who would grab a dozen of one product even if the level of liking it is marginal! In the case of these flavoured sea bird's nest (which i blogged before), he bought like ten packs in one go! 

I admit i did contribute to the 80-kilogram luggage but my contribution was far more nuanced. For example, the powdered nuts sold in this shop were healthy stuff that might benefit my parents. Key questions i ask myself are: Would they eat it? How heavy are those things? Is it worth my effort or could i just buy them in Singapore? 

Being allowed to try is always a good gauge on whether my parents would like it, or not. My argument is that even if they don't enjoy it, i could still eat on their behalf! Always remember - you don't like it, don't buy it unless you have been requested to do so! 

One of the specialties in Shenkeng - tofu ice cream! Served in a container similar to silky tofu sold in local supermarkets like NTUC, it was unlike our typical ice cream which was much sweeter and there was an obvious tinge of familiarity; that of tau huay (soya beancurd in sugary syrup) in ice cream texture form.

Food aside, there were quite a number of quaint little stores selling items that could bring back memory for many of the older Taiwanese. As a Singaporean, i could only relate to some of the items.

For instance, the boxing puppets! 

Dogs made of crystal beads! It's funny how people react so different when they are out of their country. These crystal-beaded figurines could be found in Singapore yet we had to travel a few thousand kilometers to feel they were worth paying for. In the first place, we were not even sure what the market value was! 

Sad to say, should this be in Singapore, we would wonder when it would eventually close down as the specialised items sold in the shop are no longer in high demand as they were a few decades ago.

Packets of biscuits for sale on a trolley??? 

The end of the street and it's time to make our way back to the start just in case i have missed out certain shops in my haste to take pictures. In addition, i had in mind a few food outlets where we could indulge in some tofu!

A metal cover to the sewage / drainage. 

From the Chinese characters from the signboard, i knew i wouldn't quite fancy the products inside which were like picked tofu, vegetables, sauces etc. The items in the basket on the right, however, piqued my interest!

Claiming to be the world's hottest chilli sauce, i am smacking my head now for not buying this so that i can dare my chilli-crazy friends to take a spoonful!!! If it is really as hot as it proclaimed to be, i bet i can win a few scoops of ice cream and a number of free meals. 

Bottles of XO scallop sauce, plates of dried anchovies with three grades of spiciness and spicy / garlic flavoured sakura prawns!

Umbrellas for sale; such shops can be found all over Taiwan and even though they had quite nice designs with better quality, prices can go beyond S$50 for just a simple brolly!

不倒翁 in cute animal designs! In the past, i could not really find a directly translated English word for 不倒翁. At the moment, appropriate translation is somewhere along the line of roly-poly toy, wobbly man, round-bottomed doll etc. 

Corridor along a shophouse which would lead us to an entirely different world. 

The mountainous area! Tofu is not the only attraction for Shenkeng as there are quite a number of hiking trails dated from the Japanese colonial period which were used by anti-Japanese guerrilla fighters. 

Back to the old street again. This time round, we were ready to placate our stomachs! 

First item: the fragrant toasted tofu from this stall that never seemed to have a queue of less than five persons at any one time! For my review, click here

Second and last item in Shenkeng; the epic stinky tofu!!! They were so marvelous; second helping was a must! For more pictures, check out my post here

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Map
As above.

How to Get to Shenkeng
You can take bus 679 from Muzha MRT Station or the bus station outside Taipei Zoo. Taking the cab is another option which is definitely way faster! 

Many visitors would disembark at Shenkeng so it wasn't a big problem for us. If in doubt, just check with the friendly bus driver! :) 


For an overview of my 9 Days, 8 Nights Taiwan Trip [Cingjing (清境) - Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) - Taichung (臺中) - Taipei (臺 北)], click HERE.

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