February 29, 2008
The Strawberry Fields of Dahu
Taiwan is an incredibly agriculturally rich country, producing everything from rice to tea to fruit, and an amazing range of fruit at that. With the sub-tropical climate and diverse geographical topography, many species have found their roots in Taiwan. I'll go into the different kinds in another post, but for this post I want to focus on one kind of fruit that is not often associated with Taiwan, the strawberry.
Strawberries are not indigenous to Taiwan and were introduced by xxx in 1958. From humble beginnings and experimentation with different varieties, the strawberry industry in Taiwan has grown steadily grown, especially over the past 20 years when “agrotourism” was first introduced. With annual production at around 6,000 tonnes, that's a lot of strawberries!
Strawberries are seasonal with the picking season being from around November to March, and the great thing is that you can go and pick your own.?
Dahu Township in Miaoli County produces around 90% of all the strawberries in Taiwan and is probably the place to go for your strawberry experience. The best way to get there is to hire a car. It's only around 1.5 hours from Taipei taking Highway 3 south (it's a much nicer drive than Highway 1). Get off at the Gongguan exit then drive on to Dahu (which means “big lake” in Chinese). From Gongguan to Dahu the road is literally surrounded by strawberry fields, and in many of these you can stop and pick your own.
It's in Dahu itself though that you know you are in strawberry capital. Apart from the large crowds (go early to avoid the masses), the Strawberry Cultural Hall with a large strawberry outside will tell you that you have arrived. An American friend complained that the “giant” strawberry isn't actually giant when compared to similar places in the States, but it's still large enough to ensure there is a steady stream of people taking photos with it.
The Strawberry Cultural Hall consists of a shop selling all kinds of strawberry goods, a small museum and restaurant. The museum floor is modest, but it does explain the history of strawberries in Dahu and a bit about the surrounding area.
Behind this building is a courtyard with the winery and coffee shop. Both strawberry and plum wine is made here, but you cannot actually go into the winery, rather just watch the process through large windows. Just as well as we were driving I suppose.
Other products you can try are strawberry soda, egg rolls, candy, cosmetics, jam, noodles, tofu and more. It can get a bit silly, but if you get in the strawberry mood it's still fun.
There are also some food stands, and I do recommend trying some of the strawberry wares. Although I have to admit strawberry sausages sounds, unusual, they are actually really good and are a must have in my book. You can also get strawberries and cream (eat our heart out Wimbledon), ice cream, and another one of my favorites, shaved ice. Basically this is where you take a large block of ice, put it in a machine which literally shaves it. Add some strawberry flavored condensed milk and fresh strawberries and you have strawberry ice. Again a must have.
If you don't have access to a car, then you can take a bus from Miaoli to Dahu, and there are still plenty of pick your own places nearby. You can also just buy them of course, but the pick your own aspect is fun.
The weather can be unpredictable at this time of year, but that shouldn't put you off. You might well have a gorgeously cool but sunny day, but then again you might have a chilly damp day. Either way, you will be able to borrow boots to wander around the fields in, so just bring a waterproof (cheap ones are available at our old friends the convenient stores) and off you go.
When you pick, choose firm strawberries that are all red. Although it's tempting, don't load up the boxes too much or the ones at the bottom will be crushed. They are quite sensitive wee fruits you see.
Don't be put off by the fact that the strawberries are small and not perfectly formed. This is actually good as they haven't been messed with, and they are absolutely delicious.
When you have finally satisfied your strawberry cravings, try one of the Hakka restaurants on the way back. I'll write more about the Hakka ethnic group in another post, but if you head back through Gongguan, you will see a number of restaurants that are worth checking out.
Although there are many Hakka style dishes, my favorite is the lamb fried with ginger. Delicious.
On a final note, I hope you don't intend to lose weight on your trip here!
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