Nothing will hook you in quite like DIY shrimp fishing, 24-hour “catch-your-own-shrimp bars” that are a more off script approach to the Taiwanese food scene, requiring you to put in some work before dinner is served.
If you want to eat, you are going to have to earn it. Welcome the Taiwanese take on The Hunger Games. It’s a more literal equivalent rather than an episodic, fight to the death but I’m not kidding when I say that I whispered “…and may the odds be ever in your favor” like a solemn prayer before casting my line. Indoor shrimp fishing is a popular form of entertainment in Taiwan, transforming food into sport. Huddled around a shallow rectangular pool, seasoned anglers and wannabe fishermen attempt to catch the freshwater shrimp lurking in the murky depths below. When it comes down to shrimping, you’re submerged in a painful waiting game for your next meal. An underground urban phenomenon that’s been around for the past three decades, shrimp fishing been gaining traction within tourist circles due to the likes of Anthony Bourdain, Vice Munchies, and my good friend, Sonny of the Best Ever Food Review Show (who finally convinced me to go on this mission). I’d liken this recreational exercise to the Taiwanese version of bowling. This pastime is ultimately a combination of Taiwan’s strong affinity for fellowship and its deep-seated maritime traditions.
WHERE TO GO SHRIMP FISHING IN TAIPEI
The large majority of indoor fishing pools are clustered around the Shilin MRT Station. Most blogs state that the pools are an easy hunt away, but in actuality, the pools are a bit hidden and more of the beaten path than others would suggest. After about 20 minutes of walking and entering a more residential area, we flagged down a taxi and asked for the spot made popular by Bourdain. Honestly, if we never hopped in the cab we wouldn’t have found it!
LOCATION ChuenCheng 春城釣蝦場
ADDRESS No. 471, Section 2, Zhishan Rd, Shilin District, Taipei, Taiwan
HOW TO GET THERE
Take a taxi and show them the address in Mandarin below to avoid any confusion although most taxi drivers will know what you’re taking about. You can also take the buses 1, 13, 18, 19, and 255 and get off at the Waishuaxgi Bridge Stop. Cheung Cheng will be two doors down to your left.
至善路二段471號 士林區, 台北市 111 Taiwan
HOW MUCH DOES SHRIMP FISHING COST?
The price is fixed. One hour starts at NT$350 (~$11.50 USD) and you get one fishing rod, a net and a plate of chicken liver and some dried baby shrimp for bait. There is no limit as to how many shrimp you can catch and how long you can fish for, so feel free to just linger. If you find yourself rather unlucky, not to worry, the site doubles as a seafood restaurant specializing in *dun-dun-dunnnn* SHRIMP. So don’t worry about going home with an empty stomach.
HOW WE MADE OUT WITH SHRIMP FISHING
This shrimping arena is housed in a somber warehouse with the harsh light of day giving seeping in from massive steel frame windows. The establishment is sectioned off into three main areas: the pool where the catching commences, the dining area where revelers munch on their shrimp skewers, and at the back end of the warehouse is the cooking station. At the entrance, you’re invited to look at the price board while the staff puts together the necessary gear. In no time, you’ll be walking towards the pool. Make sure to grab a drink from the fridge, alcoholic or non-alcoholic. We’re not judging. But it was 1 p.m. when we arrived, too early to get drizzy-drunk, although shrimp “bars” tend to be a place where people keep the party going long after the Shilin Night Market stop, Taipei’s most popular night market.
As a fishing virgin, I easily messed up untangling my line however, I found out I have a knack for baiting hooks. Tim and I started shrimping but my endless fidgeting and the drifting of my line seemed to have caught the attention of a middle aged Taiwanese man named Oscar, who took an instant liking to Tim. I’m not sure if he came to our aid simply because of the Taiwanese affinity for helping or if our pathetic selves won over his sympathy— either way, I was happy to be in his company. He put special bait on Tim’s hook, the secret being shrimp intestines, and left us to our own devices but not without keeping a watchful eye out on Tim. After Tim lowered his line, he caught one immediately! He threw the first catch of the day into his net securely fastened onto the faucet hanging from the pool’s inner wall to keep the shrimp wet.
After 50 minutes of fidgeting on the uncomfortable plastic chair with my line swaying and my patience growing thin, Oscar came over again and gave us some more of his special shrimp intestines. It’s a bit tricky to slide the intestine on the hook, which should be approached as if you’re lining the hook, but when that’s done, it makes for a quick win! When I lowered my line down with the fresh bait, I felt a small tug on my line and the bobble lowered once. Oscar motioned me to wait a minute for a second tug, which is the time when you should reel it in. After the bobble dipped underwater again, I gently tugged on the line and out came my little bottom dweller. These freshwater shrimp are much bigger than I expected and flail around miserably with their multifarious ligaments going each and every way. But it’s hard not to admire their bluish ochre exoskeleton when holding them up close. Head’s up: you have to be up to the task of pulling out the hook deeply lodged in their mouths. It was pretty grim, not gonna lie. We were almost at an hour and a half into fishing so I attempted another score with the newly learned strategy. Booyah! Got it! All in all, Tim and I made out with three hefty shrimp. But another surprise of the day was being presented out of the blue with a net of about a dozen shrimp from a veteran shrimper. The guy parked directly across from us came over and just handed Tim the net and then walked back to his seat. He was a man of little words but the gesture spoke volumes of this incredible kindness that reverberated throughout the city. I love how we came into this feast thinking we weren’t gonna eat and now we made off with more then we could chew!
HOW TO COOK THE SHRIMP
When you’ve caught your fill, head to the back of the warehouse to start cooking process. The sizzle of the grill becomes louder as you near your destination. Feel a bit intimidated? You could just copycat the process or better yet, ask someone to walk you through the process!
WATCH THE VLOG OF OUR SHRIMP FISHING EXPERIENCE!
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