We carry on with our China trip today, searching for lunch in the fishing village of Tai O, we stumbled upon the dried food market after visiting the pier and the small museum. On our way towards the downtown core where the restaurants were, Peter pointed out the boats with the striped roofs were for hire, they were very popular with the local tourists, quite a few of them were whizzing up and down the river channel.The view of downtown from across the water, a few minutes ago the ramp was full of tourists, we could only imagine the restaurants would be packed too. A close up of the welcome sign by the gateway to downtown Tai O, what a nice way to greet visitors! On the bridge looking down the river, houses were built next to each other over the water. In the distance the white one with the earthy red roof looked brand new... ... but most of the homes were older. For an area that was known for its slower lifestyle, it seemed congested, homes crowded together as far as you could see, zigzagging off into the distant following the waterfront. But the view on the other side of the bridge was much quieter, the houses here faced the open sea and would not be as sheltered from the coming storms. As we crossed the bridge, we noticed some fishermen were selling their catch of the day from their boats, could the food be more fresh! Continuing on towards downtown, ladies with movable carts along the sidewalk offered a large variety of seafood. Each bubbling pan revealed a certain delicacy, I spotted shellfish, fish and shrimps. A closer look at one of the most colorful variety of soft shell crabs, its white spots against the blue and brown body was sure pretty. A live pomfret, a favorite fish in my parents' kitchen, I remembered numerous dinners with it steamed, deep fried or sweet and sour, none fit my simple taste, I much prefered cod or snapper. More ladies selling fresh seafood, the air was pumped into the water by a portable battery. The baskets below appeared mostly empty, business must be good for this merchant that day. After looking at all those swimming fish and crustaceans we began to imagine a most delicious lunch. Captured below, freshly butterflied fish of some sort, sticks were skewered through the flesh to prevent curling when drying. Off to the right, more of the same kind of fish drying in the heat, one was hung on the pole, there were also pans of dried shrimp and scallops. This brought back memories of Singapore where the air was so humid, it would take shrimp crackers or salted fish days to dry under the sun before they were ready for frying. Walking on, we stumbled upon more shops of dried seafood, packages with prices were clearly marked on the bags. The prices seemed lower than the ones on this post, but the goods did not look as fresh. There was even prices on the salted fish, now we have a good idea on cost. There was no lunch to be found, but we discovered stores with hanging curiosities, the one below had a shark. This one had a giant carp and next to it a bigger fish of unknown variety. And the biggest award went to this butterflied shark pictured below. The smell of coals drew us down this street, hawkers were barbecuing dried seafood, the combination of burnt squid and soya sauce was most unique. Once in a while a customer would yell out their order and the item would be grilled before their eyes. I did not think it was not the most favorable of scents, I also could not imagine its charbroiled chewiness, but this local delicacy was popular with some folks. Not all stalls were barbecuing dried foods, this man was selling fried chicken legs, it was a welcoming sight not to mention the smell was delightful but there were no buyers. A rare sighting in Tai O, fresh fruit! Only 2 kinds of vegetables for sale at this stall, bok choy and mustard greens. As usual there was no lack of souvenir shops, we said goodbye to the pile of straw hats and headed for the nearest restaurant. Alas lunch was a disappointment, the fish was overcooked and previously frozen, so we loaded up on rice and carried on with our exploration of Tai O, stay tuned next week for another episode of China escapade!
We escape to China today! Continuing our way through Tai O, a small fishing village on Lantau Island, after visiting the pier and the small museum, we made our way towards the dried foods market. Pictured below, a glimpse of life by the sea, a small view of what was to come on this day.A shot of the tight alleyway behind the living quarters by the market, there was room for bicycles and air conditioners, even some potted plants. Laundry hung out to dry on the edge of the residential area as it gradually gave way to the commercial quarter. The first shop we came across, a man selling traditional Chinese cakes, I could not recall what the names were but they sure smelled good. My eyes wandered onto the large jade bangle on his wrist, it looked very thick and heavy, the Chinese believe jade, especially antique jade, has the power to protect the body and spirit. Walking on we came to the market, the bustling sound drew us in, under the shady canopy of plastic tarps were shop after shop selling dried seafood. Below a typical stall where several plastic trays displayed various fishy goods. There was lots of bargaining, some customers reached for the package to get a good feel. Some even reached out to touch the product with their bare hands. Others placed it against their nose for a sniff test, I wondered if they could tell the difference, everything smelled so fresh. Amongst all the haggling, some business deals were made, below the smiling customer proudly handed over her chosen item to the merchant... ...who promptly bagged it, returning any change resulting from the cash sale. The market was getting very crowded, it was sure warm under the plastic roof, the little fan pictured below did little to cool off the air. Regardless one could stay cool with sunglasses, like this shop owner. There was so many different types of dried seafood, I could not tell what most of them were but a familiar item was the hanging row of salty fish. I was told the better ones had 3 teeth, their heads would be wrapped in paper to hide this unsightly bit. On closer observation I recognized the dried shrimp on the bottom right, but these were a very healthy size. Its briny scent brought back memories of picking through, cleaning and later soaking the reddish morsels. After chopping them to bits, my mom would add them to pan fried vegetables as an added source of calcium. Below one of the neatest booth at the market, all products were neatly packaged in bags, I was impressed with the folded and stapled edges. There was dried scallops, sea cucumbers, fish stomach, salty fish and on the top right, dried sharks' fins. At the same stall by the weighing scale, plastic bags of all sizes were accumulated to suit all your shopping needs. But not all products were from the sea, I spotted some dried duck parts on the bottom row, second from the right, they looked like giblets. Not all merchandise was edible, this lady was selling strings of pearls and seashell accessories. This colorful fabric caught my eye, its Chinese patterns added a festive touch to the place. Outside the hanging wall of fabrics on the edge of the market, a patient partner stood waiting for his mate. It was past lunch time and we were hungry, we followed the scent of cooked food and headed towards the restaurants. Join us next week as our China adventure continues!