Monday, 9 January 2012

Restaurant Review: Beipu (北埔)

Two decades ago there were no Hakka restaurants in Taiwan. Or rather, there were Hakka restaurants, there just weren’t any “Hakka restaurants.”

This is to say that before the explosion in domestic tourism (partly the result of a switch from six-day working week to five), they weren’t promoted as such, but were simply restaurants in predominantly Hakka towns and villages.

Much tourism is based around local cuisine, and the Hakka township of Beipu (北埔) in Hsinchu County is no exception, with the streets in front of its historic temple and merchants’ houses filled with stalls selling everything from salted greens to orange sauce, behind which restaurants do good business catering to tour busloads and independent travelers.

The rediscovery (some say “re-invention”) of leicha (pounded tea) and its adoption in the forefront of Hakka tourism means there are also shops offering “authentic” DIY experiences in Beipu and elsewhere.

Finding a vegetarian restaurant is not easy however, but after a great deal of searching, NOMM found one tucked in a side street off the main tourist route. Nameless, it merely has a sign saying 素食 (“vegetarian”). In business for a couple of decades, it predates the tourist boom and is perhaps truly authentic, selling basic dishes to local people (and not a grain of leicha to be seen).

Actually, the Hsinchu specials such as bantiao (rice “plank” noodles) and gongwan soup, boiled greens and marinated tofu and seaweed might not be considered “traditional” Hakka dishes because they are neither oily nor salty (the designated characteristics: oil for energy and salt to replace that lost in sweat in the fields), though they are adorned with shredded ginger and sliced coriander.

NOMM had wanton dumplings with bantiao (NT55) which came with soup, as well boiled greens (NT$40) and a mixed portion of “vegetarian stomach” (素肚, actually a kind of dried tofu) and seaweed (NT$30).

When pushed, the boss said she is a follower of the Yiguandao religion. (The Indonesian restaurant/store next door is not vegetarian but sells tempeh.)

Text and photos copyright Jiyue Publications

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