Taiwan a Sneak Peek
I had no idea how much I would love Taiwan till I visited. I was approached by the Taiwan Tourist Bureau and asked if I’d like to visit the Culinary expo in Taipei this year with a best of Taiwan food tour thrown in for 10 whole days. I said yes. Of course.
As well as the excitement of the expo the tour covered as many food experiences as could be squashed into 10 days. The three of us Sally, Gordon and I were taken on visits to Taiwan’s world famous whisky distillery, Kavalan in Yilan County. Stayed at Hotel Royal Chiao Hsi Spa where hot springs run into your bath tub in your gorgeous suite in the North West of the same county. We ate food from some traditional Chinese dishes , we visited fresh noodle restaurants and devoured seafood in a seafood mad country. There was innovative vegetarian and crazy modern Taiwanese street food as well as the new “no menu” degustation style organic fare that is a huge new trend. We got to make the locally famous Pineapple Cakes by hand at a cooking school and bake them before hoping on to a bullet train to Tainan, the ancient capital where food is as much a part of the religion as the beautiful temples dotted around the city.
There are so many things to share with you about this country but one of the most memorable was the day we tagged along with a Chef . His restaurant Shen Yen Interactive Teppanyaki in Luodong, Yilan county is everything visitors and locals love about eating Taiwanese Food. There’s no menu. The Chef will have a chat to you before dinner and tailor the experience to you from the fresh seafood he has found at the market and the vegetables picked from his parents farm. Everything is local, even the soy sauce is made here by his family.
To the Markets…..
We travelled to two markets with him where we met the boats coming into the port, watched the fish being auctioned and the workers going about their day. The heat and the boats and the crowds are all memories now except for these photos. After the market we waited at the restaurant for the fresh fish to arrive and then sat in front of the chef while he cooked.
Nan Fang Ao is a small working market easily found along the Coastal highway from Yilan, it’s often called the tourist market. Its a great place to visit, its easy to get to and there are lots of food stalls in the small streets surrounding the dock. Seafood pancakes and squid dishes are local favourites. After circling the stalls and displayed fish the Chef looked a bit disappointed. This market didn’t seem to have the quality or quantity he was looking for, so he asked if we would like to visit a bigger market about 30 minutes further away. He warned us that this was a busy market that didn’t usually see many tourists and that he would need to wait for the boats to come in. This made us even keener to go, so we assured him that we would be fine. The Daxi market is one of the busiest in this Provence with the boats coming in as they have finished fishing after about 2-3 pm.
The catch is off loaded and auctioned after it is sorted, but our Chef got the first choice as it was unloaded even before it was auctioned. It’s mid-summer in Taiwan and the heat is oppressive even in the shade. Everyone lounges around if they can, even just concentrating on searching out a vantage point to catch a breeze makes you sweat.
After all of the fish is sorted and arranged it is auctioned off in what looks more like a football ruck to me.
It’s so hot now, we are leaning against the waterlogged concrete at the back of the wharf. Moving just brings on too much sweating and so we are still, just people watching. There we are Sally, Gordon and I red faced and exhausted from all of the looking and wandering and taking photos, sitting on a big empty icebox along with a white dog, waiting for it’s Master.
Chef wants to wait for just one more boat to come in. He sends us back to the restaurant so we can sit at the bar and have a beer while he packs up the van and we don’t argue with this suggestion. When the flattop arrives it has Eski’s and buckets on the back and he leaves the apprentices to sort through the days catch while he decides what he will put on the menu tonight. It’s a bit hard to leave the air-conditioning again but I head back outside to capture these pictures of the guys sorting through the sparkling fish and huge lobsters.
And now it’s dinner time and I can’t tell you how excited I feel. Here we are, sat up on high stools at the Shen Yen Teppanyaki bar. It’s odd to be drinking a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but very welcome so I have a few. I need the liquid!. Chef starts cooking and his smiling face never wavers through 10 or 12 courses. The restaurant has two or three areas where customers sit on high seats in front of the grill, there’s also a bar area and a few regular restaurant tables.
Our Chef looks fresh and relaxed even though he has spent most of the day hunting for the perfect seafood at the steamy hot markets. That’s all forgotten now, for us anyway, as we watch him deftly cook and shell seafood, presenting it plate after more delicious plate. Not too much is done to most of the seafood besides grilling or cutting here and there. A plate of mixed sashimi of sweet prawns and local fish is brought from the kitchen as well as a rich broth with a truffled fish dumpling and a light salad with a rosey slice of locally smoked duck breast. Paper thin slices of Wagyu are lightly grilled on the Teppanyaki flattop and rolled with tongs and a spatula until they are a small neat roll. We are given a small roll each, the tender beef is juicy and studded with sea urchin.
Scampi on the grill and Lushan Eel with homemade soy.
Lobster roasted with a Sea Urchin Butter. Abalone with cognac, Scallops and a 3 kg lobster.
The 3 kg Lobster we saw unloaded from the truck, was baked and topped with sea urchin butter and divided between 5 of us. There has never been another occasion in my life where I can say I couldn’t eat another bite of Lobster, but I am ashamed to say this was THE time. After Chef made sure we had eaten enough seafood, we were encouraged to move to more comfortable chairs on a table where we sat and looked at each other in a seafood daze. A staff member wheeled a trolley over to us. It had lots of clinking glasses and a large container with a liquid that looked like thick plum juice. I really did not want juice now, I couldn’t fit it in, but she insisted on giving me a tiny sherry glass full of the reddish pink liquid. Instead of it being a sweet thick juice it was a sweet and sour thick organic plum vinegar used to aid digestion. Plums grow in abundance here and are made into vinegar and preserved. As soon as they reset our digestion they placed a Sponge and fruit cream roll onto the table to finish us off, literally. The organic vinegar was made in house along with the small bottle of organic soy sauce that was also given to us, this was carefully wrapped and brought home.
What an amazing day.
MKS travelled as a guest of the Taiwan Tourist Bureau