Hsinchu is known as the windy city of Taiwan. Because of the unique weather, they are famous for one product – vermicelli.Hsinchu vermicelli 新竹米粉 is part and parcel of everyday life in Hsinchu. Rice noodle manufacturers in the Hsinchu area took advantages of the strong winds of this fall’s first frontal system to dry the noodles in the wind on bamboo slats.
The northeast monsoon in Taiwan is strongest from October to December. It particularly affects Hsinchu City, which is situated on the leeward side of the Xueshan Mountain Range, with more wind than rain, and therefore making the place the best natural drying ground for rice noodles.
In addition to the local residents’ daily dish, Hsinchu rice noodles are also tourist’s favorite food and a must-try when visiting the city.
Extremely thin yet pliable, Hsinchu vermicelli is featured in myriad preparations of noodle soup. But they also hold up well to a lot of tossing in the pan without breaking. Hence, it is the perfect base ingredient of the marquee street food of Hsinchu.
Another distinction is the heavy use of white pepper and black vinegar as seasonings. What might have been an utterly bland-tasting tangle of noodles becomes nuanced and memorable with these unique ingredients. Ground white pepper is sprinkled throughout the noodles while tossing them, invisibly adding nose-tingling flavor throughout. Black vinegar (an aged rice vinegar that’s less acidic and slightly sweeter than clear varieties) is doused liberally on the noodles once they’re off the heat, as the vinegar flavor will weaken if cooked. Soy sauce and salt are added also, and cooks can add more or less of any of these seasonings to their taste.
These are pork meatballs the size of ping pong balls. 贡丸汤 meat ball soup is so simple, just boiling the meatballs in clear soup and served with a dash of Chinese parsley and pepper. This is the perfect accompaniment to the fried vermicelli.
And there’s 蚝仔煎 oyster omelette. Although it can be found all around Taiwan, the specimen here has a liberal amount of sweet tangy sauce on a lot of omelette. Most other places use more rice starch.
Lat but not least, 肉圆 bakwan “meat ball” which is a misnomer as it really a glutinous rice ball with a little meat and bamboo shoot filling. The same sauce used for the oyster omelette is used here.
The best place to try all of these delicious street food is at 城隍庙 Temple of the City God.
Hsinchu City God Temple 新竹城隍廟
The City God, or Cheng Huang Ye (城隍爺) is an interesting figure in Taoism and is an important gods in the hierarchy of deities within the religion. His importance seems to me to be very Confucian in nature and is quite representative of ancient Chinese ideas of political ideology and methods of urban development. In the past, cities in China were walled and there were generally four different gates to enter the city with guards stationed at each gate for protection – These ancient gates are actually still visible in many cities throughout Taiwan and China and the gate in Hsinchu near the temple is pretty cool itself.
The function of the City God was to act as a supernatural magistrate of sorts that would make decisions about the city (along side human colleagues), keep it safe and make decisions regarding the final judgement of citizens who lived within the borders of the city. Currently there are over 95 of these temples in Taiwan and each one “presides” over a administrative region of the country. A few centuries ago, these temples would have been off limits to the public and would only be available to local magistrates and people of power. Today however things are quite different and people visit regularly to pray and make offerings to Cheng Huang Ye for keeping them healthy and safe.
The temple is extremely important to Hsinchu and is one of the city’s main attractions. There is a traditional wet market next to the temple that is open in the mornings and afternoon and a night market surrounding it. Within the temple complex there is a strange cafeteria-like set up offering all of Hsinchu’s finest street foods making the temple a one-stop shop for all things “Hsinchu”, something you don’t often see with the majority of the temples in Taiwan – especially since most temples only provide vegetarian meals. If you visit the temple, I highly recommend you stop at any of the stores offering Hsinchu’s fried rice noodles (炒米粉), Pork ball soup(貢丸湯), Taiwanese meatballs (肉圓) and braised pork rice (滷肉飯).
Date Visited : Oct 2014