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Forget Bowling: Taiwan Has Shrimping Alleys Instead

Catch-your-own shrimp bars are one of Taiwan’s tastiest trends

Want a fun way to relax with friends on a Friday night in Taipei? Don’t bother with a bar or a bowling alley. Instead, you’re just as likely to see groups of young people heading to a catch-your-own shrimp joint.

Jungles In Paris recently released a mini documentary on the culinary phenomenon of indoor shrimping, which has captured the hearts of a growing number of Taiwan’s urban residents over the last several years. The concept is simple enough: Grab a lawn chair, rent a pole and some bait and catch ‘em all, then enjoy a meal of the fish you catch and drink some beer while you’re at it.

Shrimping has long been a staple of Taiwan's culture. For hundreds, if not thousands of years, shrimp were caught and raised in the country, John F. Wickins and Daniel O'C. Lee note in Crustacean Farming: Ranching and Culture. Around the mid-20th century, Taiwan then became a pioneer in modern marine shrimp aquaculture. But by the '80s, the environmental impact from these activities led to a near collapse in the country's shrimp farms.

Nevertheless, shrimp remains a staple for locals, with a 1999 survey finding it to be "the most frequently consumed non-fish seafood in Taiwan."

According to Ralph Jennings for The Los Angeles Times, the novelty of outdoor shrimping as a sport began to catch on in southern Taiwan in the 1990s. The activity then moved indoors to fit the needs and lifestyle of city dwellers. The phenomenon has caught on so strongly, writes Jennings, that it has inspired shrimp fishing websites and shrimp dates. "Internet dates, organized groups and even contests come here, like seven or eight, ten people together. They might even charter the whole venue,” one owner told Jennings. "And a lot of people who come here get to know one another as they cast."

As Lauren Sloss writes for Vice, visitors are expected to clean and cook their own shrimp, which are sold in bulk. The fresh catch can be found in warehouses on the outskirts of towns like Taipei, and places like Taichung feature variations on the theme like exotic dancers.

While indoor shrimp fishing joints are open during the day, they really come alive at night. That’s not exactly surprising given the country’s penchant for vibrant night markets and bumpin’ night life—or given that each person in Taiwan eats an estimated 71 plus pounds of fish and shellfish each year. Besides, bowling isn’t anywhere near as delicious.

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