Monday, May 5, 2014

Opening Up Taiwan's Clam Heartland (Travel in Taiwan)

Taiwan is - no exaggeration - a paradise for lovers of seafood, with clams being a particular favorite. They appear in soups and stir-fries, and can also be grilled or pickled. Curious why Taiwan enjoys such an abundance of clams, and eager to sample some of the island’s best, Travel in Taiwan recently headed to the southern city of Tainan in search of answers.

Clams are found around the world, in freshwater as well as oceans. An Arctica islandica clam found in the sea off Iceland in 2006 turned out to be 507 years old, making it the oldest individual animal ever discovered whose age could be accurately ascertained. Clams, like trees, have annual growth bands, although the ones enjoyed in Taiwan’s restaurants are seldom more than two years old.

For as long as humans have been living on the island, clams have featured in Taiwanese cuisine. Clam shells have been discovered in middens around the island. Even now, at many points along the coast, some members of the older generation still gather and cook wild clams. But the vast majority of clams eaten in Taiwan nowadays are cultivated in coastal ponds along the southwestern coast. With over 100 hectares devoted to raising clams, Tainan’s Qigu District (台南市七股區) plays a major part in local shellfish production.

Outside Taiwan, Qigu is best known for Black-faced Spoonbills and other migratory birds which spend each winter here. The presence of so many birds is no coincidence. The mild conditions in which clams thrive also support shrimps, snails and small fish, staple foods for waterbirds.

Qigu’s clam-raising heartland is utterly flat. Compared to other parts of Taiwan the absence of buildings and greenery is striking. The region is criss-crossed by long straight roads and utilities poles; at least three quarters of the surface area is covered with water...

This article also appears in the May/June issue of Travel in Taiwan, and on the magazine's website.

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