We spent the next morning hanging out in hot springs inside our guest house. There were hot and warm ones surrounding by big leafy plants and very old trees. Since we were the only guests, we got to enjoy all the different ones freely and peacefully. My sister bought us some silky warm house-made soy milk and savory sticky rice rolls made with glutinous rice, Chinese sausage and pickled vegetables for breakfast, from a shop on Jinshan Old street where we had dinner the night before (see last post), so in between dipping into different hot springs, we enjoyed the most tasty local breakfast with absolute joy!
After a few hours of pampering, we were ready for our next journey. We headed east and drove to our next destinated city – Hualien, the second largest city in the east coast of Taiwan, a very popular tourist destination where the famous Taroko Gorge and Taroko National Park is located. There are number of small fishing ports in Hualien county situated along the coast of the pacific ocean where freshly caught fishes and seafood are sold in their local fish markets. We wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to experience such an event when all the fishing boats come back to the port at the same time and fill up the fish market with their catch of the day. So we drove to one of the smaller ports, Su-Ao where my sister has been a few times and highly recommended.
When we arrived, fishing boats were just started docking after the morning fishing trip. We saw buckets after buckets of freshly caught were unloaded to the market and we were over the moon that we got there just in time. At one corner of the market, fishermen and market vendors negotiating the prices over the larger fishes that were caught literally couple of minutes ago; on the other side of the market, some vendors were just getting all their fishes laid out on their stalls. The smell of petrol from the just-docked fishing boats and of the salty sea water dominated the port. We walked gingerly on the awash market floor and tried to figure out which seafood we would like to buy for our lunch. We were shown to all kinds of seafood, swimming fishes, squids and piles of fresh water crabs by the market vendors. Competition among those vendors are tough, so it is always wise to go around the market once and compare prices. But it didn’t take long for us to decide which foods to go for, we finally settled with a variety of fish and seafood and we headed to one of the more popular kitchen/restaurants inside the market where they would prepare the seafood for us for a fraction of cost.
It was definitely one of the most interesting eating experiences we had had during our Taiwan trip: one first purchases the seafood or fish (main ingredient) from the fish vendors at the port, then brings them to the kitchen/restaurant inside the market, and the kitchen will provide all sort of vegetables and other ingredients to cook up some delicious dishes right there according to one’s choice. We had cuttlefish sashimi (the cuttlefish was still swimming when we bought it at the port! It had to be eaten raw for its unbelievable fresh taste!) served with wasabi soy sauce as starter. Main course consisted of fried clams with ginger and chili, quick-fried sea snails with bell peppers and spring onion, deep fried baby oyster served with five-spice salt, king prawns stir-fried in ginger and garlic, clams and Chinese marrow cooked in a light ginger broth, some Chinese greens, rice and noodles. All the dishes tasted so fresh and deeply authentic, all ingredients and flavours worked brilliantly together. We all thoroughly enjoyed every single bite of our meal, it was heavenly! (we loved the food so much that when we were on our return journey, we stopped at Su-Au port again and had another lunch in the same restaurant!)
We took a blissful walk around the port after the hours long lunch, it was much busier than when we arrived. Cars were double parked on the street letting people off to the fish market while pedestrian were trying hard to walk between those parking cars. When we were walking along the sea down to the other side of the port, we saw fishermen were repairing, organising and packing their nets, looking rather tired but still in good spirit. Some local people were sitting by the port enjoying the warm and pleasant weather, a group of young tourists were busy taking photographs of themselves, others were buying spring onion pancakes from a street vendor near a local temple. Needless to say, we joined the queue for one of the most popular local street snacks on the island, the aroma of the crispy dough and spring onion browning on a hot steel plate greased with lard was irresistible, even though everyone was still full from the lunch! When we finally reached the end of the fishing port, we got on our car feeling rewarding that we had come to experience what the local people experience in this small fishing port somewhere on the pacific ocean, but at the same time we felt sad that we had to leave this wonderful place behind us with only delicious memories to hold dear to.
This clams and courgette recipe is inspired by the food we ate at the fish market, I love clams and the simplicity of this dish with only a handful of ingredients but yet the flavour is truly delightful. Of course, fresh ingredient is a must as all great dishes require. The coriander and ginger work gloriously with the clams, chili gives a little kick to the overall taste, but if you don’t like it spicy, skip the chili and it will still taste wonderful.
The key to make this dish amazing is to work quickly, cooking will only take couple of minutes, so prepare all the ingredients before hand. I love some steamy jasmine rice on the side to soak up the broth, the way we Chinese usually do. Or eat it as part of a bigger meal. Most importantly, have your guests ready around the table because there will be no time to waste.
Notes: just a little tip for preparing the clams, discard the ones that are open or broken, wash the good ones a few times in a large bowl to removed most of the sand. Then cover the clams with fresh water, add 1 heaped tablespoon of salt, keep the clams in the fridge for at least 3 hours. Change the water, wash and rinse the clams until the water runs clear. Drain in a colander and set aside until use.
Sautéed Clams and Courgette with Ginger, Coriander and Chili
serves 2 generously (or 4 as part of a larger meal)
- 1 kg of clams (prepare as per notes above)
- 1 thumb-size root ginger, peeled and julienned
- 1 bunch of fresh coriander, leaves picked and stems chopped
- 1 Chili, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1 medium courgette, halved and then cut into half moon shaped pieces
- 200ml white wine
- Salt and pepper to taste
- vegetable oil
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok or heavy bottom sauce pan. Add ginger, coriander stems and a small pinch of salt, fry about a minute or until fragrant. Slide in the courgette and fry for another minute.
Add the clams in the wok and stir with a spatula until the clams are coated with the ginger and coriander, then add the chili. Pour in the white wine and then cover immediately with a lid, shake the wok couple of times. After 3 minutes, removed the lid and stir the clams once. Add half of the coriander leaves, have a taste and season with salt and pepper. By now, all clams should be opened and cooked. Discard any unopened clams.
Transfer the clams into warm bowls and ladle some fragrant broth over, garnish with more coriander and chili just before serving.