Tick. Tick. Tick. The government-sponsored tour bus was set to depart from Kaohsiung’s Grand Hi-Lai Hotel in an hour and my clumsy side street explorations could only last so long before the group might leave without me. The first stop on my hit list was Old Li’s, located just east of Kaohsiung’s central park since 1971, and best known for sparerib soup. They had a big metal bowl filled with dry spareribs, and the owner was selling bags for people take home to their families, but wouldn’t start ladling soup until 9:30 a.m. I passed time at Kuo’s and returned to Old Li’s just in time to try a steaming bowl of sparerib soup.
Old Li’s set up tables in my absence and made bowls of sparerib soup (50) to order. I later learned Taiwanese people call this dish ro ghou tan (meat bone soup).
The owner dropped soy-marinated, deep fried pork spareribs in to the broth at the last second, so the batter coats stayed crispy at first, before breaking apart into the peppery, soy kissed pork broth. The bowl also touted scallions, a hint of ginger, and two types of gourd, one which practically melted, another firmer, but still with higher water content than a cousin like daikon.
Old Li’s also had sticky rice with what looked like braised pork, boiled vegetable, noodle/rice noodle/bean noodle, and fried tofu, but really, it was all about the sparerib soup.