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The color of the bountiful ocean off of Lanyu; home to big schools of flying fish!

In Taiwan, if you want an amazing seafood meal, you need to go the source: the harbors. Next to the big busy warehouses where the fishermen unload and auction off their catch, small eateries attach themselves like limpets. Their humble appearance (tiny stools, sticky tables, cooks and waitstaff in Disney character tee shirts and rubber boots) belies the unbelievable quality of the food you can get there. Are you ready for some serious foodie writing?

In Chenggong Harbor on the east coast, we ordered four red and pink squirrel fish, their eyes a-goggle. Two were cooked in a savory sauce of brown bean, wine and chile with plenty of garlic and white pepper, garnished with crispy sweet slivers of green and red peppers. The other two fish were seethed in a delicate soup flavored with a hint of garlic, ginger matchsticks, and baby basil leaves.

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The weatherbeaten but colorful boats of Chenggong harbor. This photo from http://tour.taitung.gov.tw/en-us/Travel/ScenicSpot/619/Chenggong-Fishing-Harbor

Dad also grabbed a plate of ‘whatevers’—scraps like heads, eyeballs, a golden wad of fish eggs, mysterious bony fish bits, handed it to the cheerful, pretty cook, and asked her to do her best. Her best was delightful: the odds and ends were stirfried in a sweet dark umami sauce redolent of brown beans and garlic; the meat fell off the bones, the eggs melted in your mouth, and even the tough head pieces became flavorful and fun to pick apart for small savory rewards. We needed two bowls of fragrant sticky Taiwan fonglai rice to soak up all the sauces.

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Flying fish, sacred to the Yami People of Lanyu (Orchid Island), are hung out to dry in the fresh sea air.

Next, we travelled by ferry to the tiny island of Lanyu (Orchid Island). There we encountered the evolutionary and culinary wonder that is flying fish! After we sweatily dragged our bags to an indigenous lodging house, we hit the streets at twilight looking for dinner. A busy little local joint served us one crispy fried flying fish each. Their winglike fins and pretty tails were so crisp they shattered in the mouth and the flesh was firm, fresh, nutty, and delicious.

Side dishes included tender strips of pale white and pink raw clam meat on a bed of fresh cabbage, topped with handmade mayo and sprinkled with chili flakes; sea cucumber shreds in a salty black bean and soy sauce; and tender green ferns (a new species to me, curled like baby fingers) lightly braised with garlic and more chilis. Alongside was a bowl of delicately flavored algae broth and a savory dried shrimp omelet finished with fresh scallions. Oh what a dinner! For both of us it was just over $7 US.

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This is a public domain photo–they look exactly like this! So pretty, beyond words really.

On the ferry ride home Dad and I stood on the back deck in gale force winds, reveling in the clean air and huge beautiful rolling waves like dark blue glass. Lo and behold! A flying fish burst from the waves, wiggling like mad, its glassy fins blurring like a dragonfly’s. It seemed to float above the waves, a tiny miracle of evolution, before vanishing again. Underneath, a big predator — probably a swordfish — was chasing them. The flying fish continued to zing above the waves in silvery flocks, soaring for hundreds of meters. In these choppy seas when they hit a crest they somehow ‘skipped’ themselves to add another flight just like I would skip a pebble on a pond. Exquisite! Dad, I and several Taiwanese passengers whooped as each flock took to the air!