Apparently shrimping is so culturally interesting there’s been tons of information about it everywhere, but I had personally never heard of it until my dad, who lived in Taiwan for a year to learn Chinese, took my brother and I to a place outside the city for the night. By then I’d already been living in Taiwan for six months. Shrimping is an incredible experience, but it’s much like fishing in the way that you sit for a long time and might not catch anything.
My first experience shrimping was in a larger place outside of town, or rather on the fringe of Taipei. Shrimping is 24/7 there, so when we finished with Shilin night market (not on my list of favorite places), we simply took a taxi.
For me, the shrimping experience needs bait, friends or family, and a Taiwan beer (no other brand will do it for me despite the fact that I usually don’t drink beer at all, and Taiwan beer is the cheapest beer in, well, Taiwan). Chips, sweets and snacks are also good to have, especially for long-term shrimping. My favorite is to simply buy that sweet Taiwan sausage from the nearest vendor, or snacks from the place itself, though 7-11 is almost always an option.
From there, I pretty much sit. Since I’ve caught at least one shrimp before that part of the experience is finished for me. (I was very serious the first time, you should have seen it). I don’t care if I catch any, and I’d even say I’m terrible at it. Then we cook what we (didn’t) catch and eat it, smothered with sea salt.
When my dad went shrimping with friends, he claims they didn’t catch anything, but the manager gave them sixteen free shrimp! One time when I was out with friends, we caught about four, and were given about three as a present from what I assume was an employee. He told my friend that the manager asked him to give us shrimp when he caught one. I guess he just liked shrimping! But it’s also possible to buy the shrimp if you don’t catch much. Hint: groups of foreigners are more likely to get free stuff. It’s a discrimination we actually enjoy.
Snacks are available to purchase, usually, and drinks and beer, too. Some places serve food as well. Sometimes vendors will be outside, and other times there will be actual meals served inside like a restaurant. We went to one place that was playing (bad) live music, and wished we hadn’t. Another place, on the outskirts of Xindian, outside Bito, also had lobster fishing (and buying).
Everyone says that the trick to shrimping is to watch the bob on your pole and then if it starts to dip down or float gently to the side, a shrimp is on it. Now, these are veined, shell-on shrimp, so be prepared to work for your food. When you see the bob acting funny, pull up as fast as you possibly can. You want to snap it so the shrimp gets caught. Me? They don’t even bite. The bait just sits in the water for two hours! (You should change your bait if none are biting, since it gets a lot less succulent sitting in dirty shrimp water).
When you catch one, get it off the water as soon as you can in case it drops. Then snag it in the middle so the claws can’t get you and toss it into the basket provided. There are little nets you hand there so your shrimp stays in the water as you continue.
After you shrimp, you’ll probably be expected to cook it for yourself. That means handling live shrimp and cooking them alive as well, so if you’re sensitive I suppose it’s not a great activity. First you stick the shrimp in a bucket in a big sink and wash them with water. Pop them in a grate (provided) and sprinkle the sat nearby onto them, to taste. Then you close the grate and stick them in the fire, claws, head, and all. Alive.
Make sure you turn your shrimp! Usually you can do so by simply taking the grate out, flipping it, and sticking it back in. They are double sided.
When your shrimp are ready, you can eat them with some refreshing cold Taiwan beer at a nearby table!