Jīnguāshí 金瓜石 is a historic mining town on the far side of Jiǔfèn 九份 from Taipei 台北. Unlike Jiufen—which has become insanely popular and rather overdeveloped in recent years—Jinguashi maintains a small town charm that belies an unusual concentration of historic sights, rewarding hikes, and offbeat attractions. One great example is the funky restaurant perched on the hillside to the right of Cyuanji Temple 勸濟堂 (pinyin: Quànjìtáng), easily identified by the huge gold statue of Guān Gōng 關公 perched on the rooftop. The restaurant, as I have learned, is simply named for their signature dish: báidàiyú mǐfěntāng 白帶魚米粉湯, a kind of fish and rice noodle soup.
I wandered by this quirky little shop more than once after moving to Taiwan but did not venture inside until I knew enough Chinese to ask for their most popular dish. Not really knowing what to expect I was soon presented with a warm bowl of soupy goodness with big chunks of taro and some kind of fried fish with lots of soft little bones inside.
What kind of fish is that anyway? I had no idea until doing a little research for this piece. Google Translate calls it “white octopus” (which it obviously isn’t) whereas Patrick Cowsill suggests it is ribbonfish. Searching for báidàiyú 白帶魚 reveals that it is Trichiurus lepturus, known in English as the largehead hairtail, beltfish, or maybe even Japanese cutlassfish. Patrick isn’t necessarily wrong either—ribbonfish is another name I saw bandied about. Whatever it’s called, I’ve never heard of it, but it was tasty enough to put up with the inconvenience of picking out the bones.
The inside of the shop is decorated with driftwood, fishing lures, charms, and several framed photographs from around Jīnguāshí 金瓜石. I don’t recognize every scene but it’s easy to pick out photos of the Ōgon Shrine 黄金神社, Golden Waterfall 黃金瀑布), and Teapot Mountain 無耳茶壺山. Needless to say, if you’re in the area and enjoy authentic Taiwanese food I suggest stopping for a bowl of soup at the funky shack on the hill!