Understanding DanshuiDanshui Township (now called TamSui on maps and the MRT) is a booming township situated near the mouth of the Danshui river stretching from near Bei Tou District in Taipei City to the coast to the north. It can be accessed by the MRT which terminates at the southern edge of the tourist market bearing the same name. In recent years this market has become a favorite for families on the weekend, and Taipei City's younger more affluent families are flocking here to live which is spawning another mass of building developments.
While the area has changed significantly and the authors of this blog rarely go, visitors will appreciate a walk along the river front, shopping in the many stores which line the alleys spreading northward (and seaward) from the MRT, and taking advantage of some great photo ops. Try to avoid the weekend unless you like swarms of people, but there are plenty of quieter, out of the way places just waiting to be explored down an alley or up a flight of stairs from the main market areas.
Danshui was once just a small fisherman's village which sold fish downriver to Taipei City and was not connected by the original MRT. As the MRT expanded into the township, the number of weekenders seeking to "get away" increased and the market flourished. Today there are only minimal reminders of the small village that was. The waterfront near the MRT has been completely redeveloped into a public park and on weekends the streets are packed with throngs of families. Traditional seafood vendors have in many cases been forced out by the increase in rents and the growing shortage of fresh seafood. While some stands still exist, the main streets of this market are now populated with clothing and discount goods stores, craft stores, or stores catering to children.
This main market area is often compared to Coney Island, where families go to get away from the city and have some fun for the weekend. Along the waterfront walkway there are many stalls which have traditional Taiwanese market games, and they are just as addicting and hard to win as American carnival games. Sprinkled between these stores are many of the remaining vestiges of "mom and pop" vendors selling area specific food. Usually these stores sell grilled squid, stinky tofu, hard boiled quail eggs, muscles, fish, and watery ice cream. The other area which is surefire to find market type food is at the start of the "main" street which sits between a Starbucks and a fried chicken place. This food area is rather small now with most vendors selling ice cream, fried chicken, sausages, durian and fruit cakes, sugar cane juice, and the famous "iron eggs" which are found in many stores throughout the market.
Iron eggs 鐵蛋 are hard boiled eggs which are flavored and packaged for sale. The price and flavor of the eggs can vary significantly company by company and there is really no way to know which tase you want unless you try them. Locals often will buy these eggs as a gift if they are visiting Taipei, and take them to family in the south. The larger chicken eggs are more expensive, sold in lesser quantity, and are actually less delicious than the smaller quail eggs. Because the quail eggs are harder to find in most western countries, trying a package of these eggs out might be worth a try. It's certainly a gift worth taking home for your own family!
Ice cream 冰淇淋 is generally served from soft serve machines, but compared to western style (or even Korean) soft serve, there is a true lack of milky richness. The basic flavors are vanilla, chocolate, tea, mango, strawberry, and tarro/yam. Foreigners generally find the less-traditional flavors to be more satisfying because the chocolate and vanilla aren't creamy enough. Stores sell from two or three machines, with each machine offering two flavors plus a mix option. Every store offers vanilla/chocolate twist, but the tea-mango-strawberry-tarro combinations vary store by store. Just walk along until you find the combination you want to try. The final notable ice cream option is a Turkish ice cream stand near the boat docks which is famous for the silly games the owners play with their customers. Its a fun show to watch and buying ice cream isn't mandatory, but the ice cream is a bit creamier (and more expensive) than its soft serve brothers.
Seafood was once at the top of the list in DanShui, but now it is likely the third most popular thing to eat here. Squid is found at small stands sitting half-cooked on a tray which allows you to choose your squid by size and then pay for it. At that point the owner will grill it for you, offer to cut it, spice it, and then serve it to you nice and hot. Some stands offer muscles and snails for sale by weight, usually with a spicy sauce and eaters just need to suck the meat out of the small shells. It is a favorite of many mainland Chinese, but most tourists shy away from the black conical treats.There are a few seafood restaurants selling fresh fish below the McDonalds white storefronts that face out to the water. Reports on these places vary between eaters, and while these stores seem to do a good business prospective eaters should know that just because its seafood at the "fisherman's village" doesn't promise low prices or high quality.
Several stores offer a kind of plum juice which most foreigners find to be too sweet, too salty, too bitter, or too SOMETHING. This juice is sure to make the average person's mouth pucker and leave you more thirsty than you started. This juice is bright orange and usually has the character 梅 written on it. If you are one of the people who like this stuff, you'll be thrilled to know its sold island wide.
The other juice some foreigners don't like is sold at the same type of store - winter mellon tea 冬瓜茶. This tea is extremely sweet in a "too much sugar" kind of way, and while some people love it, others hate it. Both of these teas are found as "cheap" options for free drinks around Taipei city, but if you like the taste the quality of the Danshui versions makes them worth buying in their own right.
Eaters looking for a good night view are usually encouraged to go to the Red House 紅樓 which is accessed by road or a long staircase situated behind the temple on the main through street of the market. There is a newly opened water overlook opposite the same temple, so those strolling along the water front can pass through the new over look, out onto the street, and up the stairs. Meals at the Red House restaurant are a bit fancier, pricier, but offer nicer views of the river. The top floor has a bar/lounge which serves drinks at a reasonable price. Other options are the small range of up-market restaurants and cafe's past the north end of the market's water front. There is a Starbucks with a balcony and good river view here, a small boat inlet, and then the fancy restaurants begin. Those who want a free view can sit outside of the restaurants on the many public benches lining the walkway.
Take the time to enjoy this ever changing area and give yourself a chance to explore. The best time to go is before dusk, and leaving after it gets dark. There are boats to BaLi, a smaller town across the river, which leave from a boat pier in the middle of the seaside promenade. Expect to take the boat two ways - unless you wish to catch a bus from BaLi to GuanDu MRT station - and to find many of the same night market foods in BaLi as you can find in DanShui.