TAIPEI, June 17 — Visiting a wet market can be enjoyable but perhaps better if one is wearing a pair of waterproof galoshes. What’s a splash here and there if we get to savour the freshest seafood, right?
In Taipei, seafood lovers shop for their fish in style thanks to the comfortable and contemporary Addiction Aquatic Development (or Shàng Yǐn Shuǐchǎn in Mandarin).
Built on the site of the former Taipei Fish Market (now relocated next door), the space looks like a wet market designed by a hipster, complete with EDM beats replacing the bellows of fishmongers.
Our first stop is the aquamarine warehouse where “live” seafood from around the globe can be found in temperature-controlled tanks. Every tank is a trove of underwater treasures. There are squids and octopi, surf clams and oysters. Abalone abound, both harvested locally in Taiwan and sourced from Australia.
For lovers of shrimp, there are kuruma prawns and spot prawns. Want to level up? How about king crabs from Norway, hairy crabs from China or horsehair crabs from Hokkaido? For the ultimate indulgence, “live” lobsters from South Africa await you.
Conch (sazae in Japanese) is best eaten raw as sashimi or grilled over charcoal. Fish is seasonal: one can find mild-tasting monkfish, prized for their liver, or the delicate splendid alfonsino (kinmedai in Japanese), instantly recognisable by its bright red colour, so full of umami.
If you detect more than a slight hint of Japanese influence here, especially with the choices of seafood, it’s arguably by design.
Addiction Aquatic Development is meant to be Taipei’s younger sibling to Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market, albeit with fewer language barriers. The use of Mandarin is inviting to many Asian visitors, in particular the well-heeled travellers from China, and many servers speak English too.
The price doesn’t hurt either. Where nearly everything at Tsukiji commands a premium, Addiction Aquatic Development positions their offerings as just as fresh yet very affordable.
Convenience is another attraction: while you can get the staff to clean your fish for you to take home, you can as easily bring your purchases to one of the bars or restaurants next door to be prepared according to your preference.
Indeed, slipping into the dining area is akin to entering a world of (seemingly) infinite possibilities. There is a 12-metre standing sushi counter headed by an experienced itamae, Chef Tadashi Takeda. There is a seafood bar serving fresh raw oysters and all manner of crabs — snow crabs, scylla crabs, red frog crabs, even Irish brown crabs — that will delight crustacean junkies.
We explore a well-stocked supermarket where imported and local fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood are on offer; the uni (sea urchin) and karasumi (mullet roe) tempt us like sirens. Around another corner, we find grab-and-go bento sets to rival any found in Japan.
Cookware and cookbooks here, a flower market there. You can recreate an entire scene from A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Seattle-based chef Renee Erickson simply by shopping here! Outside, barbecued seafood enthusiasts make a beeline for the charcoal grill.
So many choices but the real highlight is hidden upstairs, where the Hot Pot restaurant is nestled away from the crowds below. The best of everything we’ve seen below — the catch of the various catches of the day — is gathered here as a smörgåsbord to end all smörgåsbords.
Vegetables such as corn and cabbage go into the first boil to sweeten the stock made from seaweed. Then the fun starts: the order of seafood and meat going in is entirely up to us.
Sliced wagyu sirloin and beef short ribs; mud crabs and lobsters; deep-red cardinal prawns and abalone; scallops and clams — everything goes in the pot. A large kinmedai fish head, stunningly scarlet and googly-eyed, is the crowning glory.
Green onions, mushrooms and pumpkin are added later to further sweeten the stock, now full of umami flavours. The last thing to do is to add some steamed white rice and break a couple of eggs over the now thickened soup to create the most delicious congee we’ve ever tasted.
The hot pot experience is a communal affair. There is nothing lonelier than dipping food into bubbling broth and having no one to share it with. Which is probably why every table reverberates with the sound of laughter and gossip; Taiwanese hot pot is how locals catch up with friends and family.
We remember our reverie long after our meal has been digested; our repast as fresh as the sea, as fresh as our memories.
Addiction Aquatic Development
No. 18, Alley 2, Lane 410, Minzu East Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan
Open daily 6am-12am [Hot Pot restaurant: 11am – 12am]
Tel: +886 2 2508 1268