It's Monday, so it's Restaurant Review time:
NOMM visited southern Taiwan this weekend, and reviews of two restaurants in Pingtung County (屏東縣) will follow in future. On the way back north we stopped in Dajia Township (大甲鎮 or is it now a District 區?) in Taichung County, thinking the streets around the Zhenlan Temple (鎮瀾宮) might offer rich pickings.
This temple is the centre of the Mazu (媽祖) pilgrimage around neighbouring counties that celebrates the seafarers' deity's birthday in the 3rd lunar month each year. At that time the town is completely overrun with visitors, but there is probably never a quiet Sunday, but 3:30 yesterday afternoon was perhaps as tranquil as it gets.
Perhaps too quiet, even. The streets behind the temple have at least half a dozen vegetarian restaurants, but two were shut for a week's holiday, one only opens mornings, and one more had, perhaps not surprisingly more or less run out of food.
Early morning diners will do well at the stall outside No. 108 Zhenlan Street. It sells a variety snacks usually only available in meaty form: "steamed-fried dumplings" (水煎包; NT$7), steamed ravioli (蒸餃; NT$5), rice tamales (飯糰; NT$25), congee (粥; NT$25) &c., all washed down with soymilk (豆漿; NT$10) or rice milk (米漿; NT$10). 7am~11am.
NOMM had to make do with two of only three items still available at the "30 years in business" Qianqi Sushi (千奇素食; "Thousand Wonders Vegetarian Food" but no English sign) just around the corner at No.70 Guangming Rd. 光明路. Based on the admittedly small sample of wanton with rice noodles (餛飩米粉; NT$45) and sesame paste noodles (麻醬麵; NT$40), the taste was bland and too salty, the NOMM processed food/fake meat index was high (7, both dishes contained small amounts though they could be removed), but the noodles were deliciously light and chewy. The manageress put this down to their freshness and, in particular, to their not having been refrigerated.
Vegetarian versions of meat noodle dishes (素葷; "veg and non-veg") are available further south at No. 55 Zhenlan Street. (photo)
A final treat did await outside No. 77 Jianggong Rd. (蔣公路) heading back towards the railway station, where people queue for Ming's (明) "red-bean cakes" (紅豆餅). Eponymous red-bean flavour are, of course, available, but also sweet potato (地瓜), turnip (菜蒲), taro (芋頭; Dajia's most famous local produce), green bean (綠豆), and custard (奶油), all at NT$8. The "vegetarian" (素) sign is important since even though these traditional desserts can easily be made meat-free, their original recipe calls for lard.
Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011