Sunday, June 15, 2014

Jiufen Old Street (九份老街) @ New Taipei [Taiwan]

When Mr Xu, our engaged chauffeur for the day, stopped along the above tarred road and told us that right ahead was Jiufen Old Street, you should have seen the puzzling expression on our faces. 

Where the heck was the century old street again? It couldn't have been within this whole chunk of modern buildings by the hillside! Truth is; it is. 

This narrow inlet betrays what lies along this famous street that lost its glory back in the 1950s. Its fortune was only rekindled in 1989 after it was used as the setting for an award winning movie! 

Since then, tens of thousands have thronged upon its cobblestone pavements in order to get themselves submersed in the era that has long passed. And of course, to check out the many snacks you can find along the way. Fans of "Spirited Away" might also find Jiufen familiar; the director of the highly acclaimed anime actually drew inspiration from this town!

Our first step was this A-Zhu peanut ice cream roll (阿珠雪在燒); there wasn't any queue but i remember it was one of the recommended things to have in Jiufen. Furthermore, the way this was prepared was somewhat identical to the popiah we can find in Singapore!

At NT$40, it was a layer of freshly grated candied peanuts topped with two scoops of ice cream and a sprinkling of refreshing Chinese parsley on two pieces of popiah skins rolled up into a wrap that was surprisingly, very delicious! Forget about mundane ice cream on a hot day; this would be a much better alternative! 

Unlike streets in Singapore, which seldom have any unique items for sale (seriously, the ridiculously high rentals in Singapore would have to bear some responsibility for a declination of the local entrepreneurial spirit), you can find some pretty good handicraft shops in Jiufen. 

One of which was selling ocarinas (陶笛)!

They came in all shapes and size; one was even in the shape of a baby milk bottle. Prices was quite economical with the cheapest model costing around NT$100 (less than S$4). I bought one for my younger sister and it was sadly a repeat of my golden pig's history. Our dear Jovyn has rendered it to be in pieces form.

Back to Jiufen, it was still drizzling (in fact, the rain never did stop totally that day) and the street wasn't as squeezy as i saw in some online pictures. Note: never visit on weekends unless you are prepared to jostle with the crowd.

Given the dense concentration of buildings in the area, there were many sidewalks and quiet alleys. I believe some would bring you to off-beaten paths that could open up to some interesting finds. Time wasn't on my side; if not, i would have checked out the gold museum down the staircase.

Anyway, it was noon and we were quite famished! That little peanut ice cream roll we had wasn't sufficient to fill our tummies! Mr Xu had earlier passed us some recommendations and i thought it would not be nice if we didn't even attempt to try them out! 

Found it - 阿蘭草仔粿 at number 90 of Jishan Street. Do keep in mind that Jiufen old street is actually made up of two main streets, Jishan (基山街) and Shuqi (豎崎路). Starting from the entrance is Jishan street while Shuqi street cuts across Jishan somewhere in the middle. 

Okay, i didn't quite like it. It was like the ang ku kueh we can get in Singapore and had a texture that was nice and soft; the only problem was the taste of the filling. I got the salted green bean paste at NT$20 and it had a bitter aftertaste that was quite off putting for my taste buds.

For a street said to have a lot of character, i was at this point not impressed with what i had seen so far. On comparison, the old streets at fenghuang town were so much prettier.

My honest reflection on Jiufen held for only a while; when i got to Shuqi road, i was taken aback by its quaint little beauty. More on the road later as i think we should continue with Jishan street until the end. 

Time for one of Jiufen's signature food; taro balls! Yet again, it was suggested by Mr Xu and this time, i was prepared to lower my expectation. Just in case. 

Grandma's Lai Sweet Taro Balls (赖阿婆芋圆) - helmed by the third generation, it was interesting to note that it used to sell only uncooked yam balls. As it gains popularity over the years, they now offer cooked taro balls in soup and also introduce green tea, sesame seeds (among a few others) flavoured taro balls. 

Quite ridiculous to see so many ingredients for just one bowl of taro balls soup! However, more is better than less; definitely no complaint from me on that. 

In that cold, rainy weather, this hot bowl of taro ball soup was a godsend! The flavour of the sweet soup was rather special; like a mixture of both green bean and red bean soup! The balls were a bit bland in my opinion but they were still winners for having a soft texture that didn't stick to our teeth! 

Some sections of the streets were not covered and you may benefit from bringing along an umbrella! Oh my gosh, i just realised the uncle in the middle of the pic was holding on to the umbrella from CityInn hotel. I am aware they have umbrellas that you can bring out at no extra charge; Alex insisted on not taking one and throughout the day, had to squeeze with me in my tiny little brolly!!! Asshole. 

View from Jishan street - we had in fact climbed higher than we started from the main entrance. I so want to stay one night in Jiufen the next time i visit! 

Need a place to rest? Walk into the 九份旅客休息站 where you can rest your feet, bring in food bought from outside and use the power points to charge your mobile! Feel embarrassed? Then buy some souvenirs from the shop which only cost from NT$100 to NT$500 each! 

There were still quite a number of places i have yet to explore but i was more keen in Shuqi road and we had spent more than a hour already (my arrangement with Mr Xu was to take two hours in Jiufen). Lunch was also still a question mark. 

In addition, the road ahead of me appeared to be flanked on both sides by cafes. Not that i didn't want to relax in such a nice environment; it's time that i really needed!! 

Just a random picture of an altar we walked past on our way back.

Truthfully, the essence of Jiufen could be found along this Shuqi road. To term it as a road is a bit pushing it as it was literally a staircase that can be very slippery in wet weather. 

On both sides were entrances of commercial entities; i would have imagined this would be a vibrant place in the old days, possibly brothels / teahouses where rich and influential men came for entertainment. 

I wasn't far from the real story; there was indeed a theatre! Originally built with wood in 1914, Sheng Ping Cinema Theatre (昇平戲院) was at one time the biggest in the whole of Taiwan. I didn't manage to enter as the place is closed on Mondays! 

At the foot of the staircase was also the place where we had our lunch. For my review, please click here

Opposite the restaurant was this shop that i initially thought was a traditional Chinese medicinal hall. The rain got so heavy; i had to take refuge and only then did i realise it was a shoe shop in disguise! Check out their shoes; they were cheap and comfortable! 

Clouds streaming in; i bet this would be damn eerie at night. In the daytime though, it felt incredibly mystical. As if i am entering into a realm few humans have entered. 

I mentioned that Shuqi road cut across Jishan street; we have only walked one side of Shuqi. Time to explore the other side. The only issue was that we have to climb all the way up! Never mind, it's beneficial to take a walk after a heavy lunch. 

With such an alluring doorway, i could not resist entering! It led to this teahouse known as 芋仔蕃薯茶坊. Those with time should consider tea-drinking in the many teahouses in Jiufen; charges are based on per person and although quite expensive, the experience is unlike ordering a cup of tea O from the coffeshop or a mug of spearmint from Starbucks. 

Alex felt that this covered walkway (seems more like a tunnel to me) leading to the teahouse would be a great setting for a zombie outbreak!

Another attraction in Jiufen; the ghostly mask museum (泥人吳鬼臉館)! For a person who loves the paranormal, i know i should have purchased the tickets. I didn't and i am regretting my decision... 

Whatever the case, there were a few masks outside that acted as a teaser of what you can expect inside the museum. I purposely took the pictures of these two masks above because they do represent me; i am a gluttons and despite my normally polite self, i am a veteran when it comes to screaming in vulgarities. 

Quite astonished to find something so liberal in such a historically rich place; condom world!

At the end of the staircase was another taro ball shop which was crowded even though it wasn't as convenient as Grandma's Lai shop. No, no, no, i could not stomach another bowl of taro ball soup! Time to walk back to the entrance of Jiufen where we were supposed to meet Mr Xu.

Golden century egg!?!?! Why didn't i just grab a few of them?! Argh!!!

That delicious buttery aroma brought us to the front of this stall that sells cheese milk sticks (起士牛奶棒). Although they didn't look appetising (a bit like breadsticks), Alex went ahead to buy three!!!! 

One for NT$40 and three for NT$100.

It was really good and the best comparison i could make was its similarity to churros albeit a crispier version. Put it this way, delicious enough for Alex to walk back and buy another three more! 


Location Map
As above.

How To Get There? 
Seriously no idea unless you are talking about engaging a chauffeur like we did. You may refer to the wiki-travel page here if you are looking at public transportation options. 

For details on engaging Mr Xu as your driver in Taipei, 
check out the last few paragraphs at this link

Additional Information
There is a traditional pastry shop opposite the main entrance called Li Yi (李仪饼店) that offers pineapple cakes, sun biscuits etc. Sampling was allowed and you should check it out if you have spare time. p.s. i didn't quite enjoy their sun biscuits and pineapple cakes.  

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.


  1. Anonymous12:37 AM

    This little town also inspired the japanese anime movie 'spirited away'. (千と千尋の神隠し) Went there several times while studying in Taiwan. :-)

    1. thanks for your comment! how could i even forget about this as i did enjoy the anime! Haha. had added this piece of information to the post.

      once again, thanks!

      p.s. lucky you to have studied in Taiwan!