penghu: cactus – stick it to me!

Last summer, we visited the small island community within Taiwan known as Penghu – a small step in our goal of seeing more of Taiwan than we did when we were last here. Penghu, being very arid and wind-swept, grows a lot of dry-loving plants, namely cactus, peanuts, and aloe. Their specialties reflect this – you can find a lot of cactus-flavoured things on the island, and they’re quite good (peanuts will follow in a later post).

We tried as much cactus food as we could while there. The cactus ice cream was probably our favourite, especially when paired with aloe ice cream. Aloe is put in a lot of drinks here as a ‘health’ additive, and I’m not a big fan of that, but the aloe ice cream was divine, especially when paired with the cactus ice cream. I’m still drooling writing about it six months later.

The cactus ice was also pretty good – this was shaved ice (a popular snack or dessert in Taiwan) with cactus jelly and juice poured over top. A nice treat on a hot day. We had this outside of a quiet temple that had a courtyard covered by two enormous banyan trees (though they were still smaller than the huge tree under which we ate the cactus ice cream – there are some amazing trees on this island!)

The cactus wine was not nearly as sweet as we thought it would be. To be honest, it was interesting but only mediocre. Probably our least favourite cactus-flavoured thing from the island. We did also try aloe wine while we were there (backing up my reason for avoiding aloe in beverages – blech) and pumpkin wine, which, surprisingly, Christine enjoyed more than I did. I think, out of the three, the pumpkin was our favourite, with a surprisingly light flavour (though writing this so late on, I’ve forgotten exactly what that flavour comprised) and a hint of sweetness.

Mochi (or muaji, as it is pronounced) is a squishy rice-flour confection that is made all over the island, though it is most famous up north, in Hualien. On the island, the two flavours sold are cactus and black sugar (as brown sugar is known here). They were both pretty tasty, the black sugar one especially – it wasn’t too sweet, as you might think a black sugar candy might be. I enjoyed these when we took them home, but a whole box for the two of us was too much, and I ended up giving some away to students.

Shortly after we got back, I discovered that a shop next to my regular tea stand sold imported Penghu food items, and we’ve stopped in for a bit of Penghu ice cream since then, amongst other things. Yum!


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