Taiwan's Shrimp-Fishing Bars

No 75

Tiny, circular “fishing floats,” attached to baited lines, bob on the water like wayward mini-beach balls. Plastic lawn chairs scrape against the concrete floor, as would-be fishermen shift and wait for the slightest tug. Tinny Mandarin music accompanies the bubbling of large water filters. But the most evocative sound reverberating through Taiwan’s catch-your-own shrimp bars is the sizzle of prawns on the grill.

Heat from the gas-powered grills transforms tasty Grand Duke shrimp from bluish ochre to coral pink. No need to order off the menu here. Instead, a fisherman sits patiently by the pool, then brings his catch over to the cooking station once he’s decided there are enough of the plump crustaceans in his bag to make a meal. He declaws them after catching them; adds salt, soy sauce, and wasabi; then eats with a side of cabbage stir-fry. His cold beer will be delivered in conventional fashion.

This is indoor shrimping, an all-ages pastime that’s found a following in Taiwan over the past three decades. It combines the after-work conviviality of bowling with a reverential nod to the island nation’s pre-industrial marine culture. Even practiced in a contemporary urban setting, fishing here is a throwback to simpler times—never mind the fluorescent-lit warehouses and clockwork stocking of the shrimp pools.

It’s not just nostalgic pensioners sitting poolside. Young, middle-class city-dwellers have also taken to the ‘sport’ in recent years. Many of them can easily afford it. The cost of renting a pole and bait for an hour, without limitation on how many shrimp you catch, is about $10 USD. Succeeding at this type of shrimping (where lines are baited with chicken liver or shrimp parts) is harder than it looks. Experienced shrimpers measure the depth of the pool to determine where exactly to dangle their bait. They resist the impulse to jerk the line on the first tug.

Most of Taiwan’s shrimp bars are situated on the outskirts of large cities, rather than near the center, because of the proximity to springs. Just a 40-minute drive from downtown Taipei lies a strip of these enterprises, built under mountains and over freshwater sources. Not all shrimp bars are created equal. At one in Taichung, an industrial city on the west coast, the water quality is dubious and the slow-moving shrimp compete with the distracting movements of exotic dancers—a different type of sizzle.

Credits

  • Director - Tim Cheng
  • Producer - Oliver Hartman
  • Cinematographer - Vadim Aynbinder
  • Editor - Matt Schaff
  • Color - Carlos Flores
  • Sound design & audio mix - Josh Wilson
  • Text - Greg von Portz

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