Shenkeng – the tofu capital
By Petr Janda, Special to The China Post
June 12, 2008, 12:00 am TWN
It often seems to me that Taiwanese do not travel really to see places, but rather travel to various eateries to taste the local delicacies. As an indication, guidebooks in Taiwan dedicate at least half of their content to delicatessen and popular restaurants; cities and countries gain their renown based on their cuisine, rather than on their history or beauty. Taiwanese tourists always return home loaded with bags full of "local snacks" to present to their friends, family and colleagues. If there are historical buildings or amazing natural scenery, all the better, but if not — well, what the heck!
A trip to Shenkeng is a Taiwanese trip to be done in a Taiwanese way. Thus, one Sunday I decided to go with my friends to the "Tofu Capital" of Taiwan. It was not really that difficult, either; Shenkeng is a Taipei suburb just past Muzha, and there are quite a few bus routes from central Taipei (e.g. 236, 251, 660).
From the bus stop, walk towards Old Street, where your level of localization will be tested. I must admit I am not a big fan of tofu myself, and there are varieties that I definitely need not have tasted. Despite that, walking down the street is quite fun, for every step gives another example of what can be made of the stuff.
There is regular tofu, stinky tofu, dessert tofu, fried stinky tofu, BBQ stinky tofu, tofu cheese, and tofu cake. Let's also not forget tofu drink, dried tofu, as well as tofu ice cream — you name it, they sell it. If you fail your courage test and stay away from all the tofu (To be honest, tofu ice cream or tofu cheesecake do not sound very appealing to me, either), there are still loads of other snacks to try. I would strongly recommend the numerous peanut snacks made and sold on the spot.
Should you walk all the way through the market and reach its other end, there is a stall selling Xinjiang-style BBQ, which is a heavenly manna combined with beer, to be enjoyed on the lawn opposite the stand.
Even though most people go to Shenkeng for the food, there are other things to do. There are several fairly well-preserved traditional houses, the most remarkable of them being Yong'an Ju (永安居), which is open to visitors for a fee of NT$60.
Furthermore, there are some garden restaurants and teahouses where one can enjoy a tranquil break. Renting a bicycle and exploring the rural surroundings of the town is also a possibility. Furthermore, as Shenkeng lies just a stone's throw away from mountains, there are also paths that will lead you into the mountains to allow you to taste a few gulps of fresh air.
All this said, the main reason for going to Shenkeng is the food — namely tofu. Even if you are not exactly crazy about the stuff, the trip is definitely worth it as a great cultural experience in a pleasant, almost rural area.