Tue, Sep 20, 2011 - Page 16 News List

The good, the bad and the ugly

It may be rough-and-ready, but if you know where to look Dasi Fishing Harbor offers lovers of seafood excellent quality at very good prices

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff Reporter

Fishing boats are moored at the dock of Dasi Fishing Harbor.

Photo: Ian Bartholomew, Taipei Times

The northern coast of Yilan County offers many attractions for tourists, and now that the Hsuehshan Tunnel (雪山隧道) has cut travel time from the capital to less than an hour, it is an ideal location for a day trip, especially on weekdays, though be prepared for heavy traffic. The inviting autumn weather called me forth on just such a venture, and I set my sights on Dasi Fishing Harbor (大溪漁港), a small port much talked about among seafood lovers, that has, as yet, escaped the attentions of Taiwan’s tourism authorities.

On a previous visit to the area I had stopped at Wushih Harbor (烏石港), well known as a seafood haven, only to find that its fish market and associated restaurants were undergoing extensive renovations. I feared for its fate as the Wushih Harbor Visitors Center (烏石港遊客服務中心), a modern structure of glass and steel with about as much atmosphere as a disused bus terminal, had recently been completed. The bored staff offering trips to Turtle Island (龜山島) and the video about the harbor playing on eternal loop may well serve a purpose, but they did not make the blood quicken in anticipation of a wonderful adventure.

Dasi Fishing Harbor, located about 10km further north, is quite a different proposition. I had heard much about Dasi, primarily in the context of surfing. I had, therefore, never felt inclined to visit. But when people started waxing lyrical about the freshness of the shrimp and squid available at the fishing harbor nearby, my response was much more positive. I got in the car and headed east along the National Highway No 5, hung a left at the Toucheng Interchange, and a 20-minute drive along the Binhai Coast Road (濱海公路) later, I was working my way between stalls selling marinated sea snails and deep-fried squid to a parking spot at the entrance of the ramshackle little harbor.

Although a new and spacious parking lot off the coast road has recently been completed, this old fishing harbor has yet to acquire the veneer of a full-blown tourist destination. Past the small harbormaster’s office, stairways in various states of disrepair lead down to the docks. A high concrete embankment is covered in weeds, made all the more unappealing by the paper and plastic wrappings thrown there from above, where a row of food stalls hawk seafood snacks.

My visit to Dasi Fishing Harbor had been carefully timed. I had been told that boats start coming in at around 2pm, and when I arrived, punctual to the minute, I found that this was indeed the case — the very first boats were coming in. But the market at the bottom of the embankment would not actually hit its stride until closer to 3pm. This left time to explore some of the cooked food options before I ventured down to the dock.

On the trip up from Taipei I had stopped off at one of the many seafood restaurants located along the Binhai Coast Road, only to discover that most catered primarily to larger groups. I was made the tempting offer of some steamed whole perch, but backed off when I was told that the price of that dish alone would be around NT$1,000. High quality fish served at restaurants here sells from NT$70 for 30g, with a preponderance of larger fish suited to groups of four or more.

At the entrance to the fishing port, I picked up a paper bag of mixed deep-fried crab, sardines and squid for NT$100. The crustacean was described as “one-mouthful crab” (一口蟹), diminutive little creatures about the size of a thumbnail, fried, shell and all, to an explosive crispness. The squid was so tender that it couldn’t have been anything other than fresh and was much more tender than calamari rings eaten in restaurants claiming higher aspirations.

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