Eating My Way Through the Town of 'Spirited Away' in Jiufen, Taiwan

I Spent a Day Eating My Way Through the Real-Life Town of ‘Spirited Away’

Try Jiufen’s Taro Balls, Jinzhi red meat dumplings and peanut ice cream rolls!

Do you remember the Japanese animated film, Spirited Away? I remember watching it for the first time as a child, trying to hold my breath with Chihiro as she crossed the bridge to Yubaba’s magnificent bathhouse, feeling the chills as she tried to walk along the ledges of the high-raised building to get around and feeling touched when with the help of good friends, she saved her parents and returned to the land of the living. 

Imagine my surprise many years later, when I learned that such a town existed. Only it’s not in Japan — but in Jiufen, Taiwan. 

Nearly two hours away from Taipei by public transportation (take the train from Taipei Main Station to Ruifang Station and a bus to go up to the town), you will find authentic, old houses set up on hilly terrain. 

As beautiful as it is to see the lighted-up lanterns, teahouses, and steps, alike that from Spirited Away, remember to be there way before sunset as my siblings and I arrived around 8pm only to find out that most of the shops were closed. 

Yet, even at that hour, we got a taste of the famous taro balls. (And yes, if your only goal is to eat that in Jiufen, it is worth the trip.) I will admit that I have never liked the taste of this dessert back home in Singapore but upon trying it, I  could not help falling in love with it there. 

Chewy, yet melting deliciously in your mouth, it feels light to the palate with a burst of sweet red bean paste to complement it. You can even watch some stalls prepare the dessert first-hand Nowhere else in Taipei does it the same, so be sure to savour the experience. 

As we had reached there quite late, we stayed overnight in a little bed and breakfast, walking distance from the town. We even had a little balcony overlooking the town to take pictures from. As the town is near Keelung Mountain, we woke up to mist and clouds engulfing the town, giving you a sense of the ethereal. 

There are many viewpoint balconies around the town for you to enjoy the view of Taipei from as well and if you are up for adventure, you can walk through tunnels made for gold mining in the past. 

As it has been years since I last watched the film, my siblings and I tried multiple delicacies that looked unique to the eye but that, we did not realize were actually the food we have seen in the film. One memorable street food is Jinzhi’s red meat dumplings, which is mashed pork meat encased in yeast covering, and which gave off a distinct vinegar taste that I will have to admit is not to my liking. 

Image credit: Yukki Aikko

We also casually walked into a teahouse which had the Jiufen Art Gallery in it’s basement (on the left in the picture below) and was free of charge to view. The shopkeepers also kindly gave us some tea to try. 

Another popular dessert is the peanut ice cream roll which was frankly, a bit too much for this writer’s stomach. But there is always a next time right?

Image Credits: Honeyrove

For fans of the movie like myself, you can consider buying some adorable pens which only cost me 40NTD/pen, and 100NTD for three. 

Also read: 25 Taipei Souvenirs that You Should Definitely Buy & Bring Home With You

So, foodies if you are looking for a new place to travel to, do consider Jiufen in Taiwan and be ready to be Spirited Away!

All images credited to Alicia Chong, unless stated otherwise. 

About Author

Alicia Chong
Alicia Chong

Besides dreaming of far-fetched locations, Alicia enjoys training herself and others on ice in figure skating.