Food Hiking Taiwan

Spirited Away to Jiufen

Today we took a day trip from Taipei to Jiufen. A place said to be the inspiration for the opening scene of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, one of my all-time favorite films. In the scene, a young girl and her parents unwittingly stumble into an empty, lantern-lined street, full of food stands. Despite the fact that nobody is around, the food stands are piled high with a variety of steaming hot delicacies. The girl’s parents start to gorge themselves on the food and, as night falls, the red lanterns are lit and the parents are transformed into pigs!

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Chiara and I after a day of eating in Jiufen

Jiufen is well known for its red lantern lined streets, countless food stalls selling everything imaginable, and hordes of hungry tourists eager to gorge themselves. Beyond the food street, Jiufen is set in a scenic green hillside that steeply drops off into the sea. As a former mining town turned tourist destination, Jiufen has a magical quality to it that can make one feel spirited away…

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The similarities are striking!

Our day in Jiufen

We arrived around lunchtime and spent the afternoon exploring Jiufen Old Street and its maze of lantern lined alleys full of food.

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Clockwise from top-left, fried seafood, meatball dumplings, grilled snails, and tea-eggs

We played it pretty safe food-wise, grazing on dumplings, noodles, bubble tea, and ice cream. Taiwan is famous for its “stinky tofu”, which you can smell from a mile away, but we have not yet had the guts to try it.

After eating, we decided to work off the calories with a hike to the top of the nearby Keelung Mountain. As we approached the top, the weather started to turn, but we managed to get up and down before the rain started.

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Mt. Keelung in the distance

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Taking a break…

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View from the top

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We got back down just as the sun was setting, and returned to Jiufen Old Street to take in the nighttime ambiance (and more food of course).

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This was a very popular and interesting dish. A hot soup made with different flavors of taro balls and black beans. Is it dinner or dessert? I don’t know but very tasty and filling nonetheless!

We returned to Taipei that night on the train. Overall, it was a lovely day-trip with a little bit of everything: food, hiking, scenery, culture, and fun!

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Jiufen at night

11 comments

    1. Hard to explain. But, as a foreigner, it is very off-putting. I imagine how really stinky cheese must smell to someone who has never tried delicious stinky cheese.

    1. Not yet! Partly because this is about the time of year that Chiara and I usually take an international trip, so it still feels like we are going home in a week. Also, we’ve been pretty relentless with the sightseeing and haven’t had much time for reflection. I’m sure things will change as the trip goes on but for now we are enjoying living in the moment!

  1. Your side trip looked amazing! I like to see the mix of eating and exertion. When we were in Taiwan, our big sidetrip was to the Toroko Gorge and I think, Lions Head Mountain. It was a mountain that had a circuitous path up (paved) and it went from one buddhist monastary to another. We stayed overnite at one of the monastaries and ate one of the best (vegetarian) meals I have had at a table with the monks.

  2. Whoa it’s so similar to Spirited Away! The hike looks amazing, how long did it take to research the walks/hikes you plan on doing at all these destinations?

    1. We are always reading about the next place we plan to go. Usually we come up with our plans the day before while riding public transit or during happy hour! 😉

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