By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Whenever I relive my recent trip to Taiwan, my mouth starts to salivate, I blush to recall <!–more–>my previous silly assumptions, and then I cherish the joyful moments and appreciate all the incredible work of my high school classmates who planned our reunion.
I graduated from Sacred Heart Canossian College, a Catholic high school in Hong Kong (HK).
So why did my classmates pick Taiwan as a part of our reunion?
No, they didn’t pick. We voted on it. Taiwan was the choice, garnering more votes than Malaysia and Europe. Why did we lean toward the island?
No visas are needed for those of us from HK, Canada, the United States, and Australia.
Taiwan is close to HK, only about a one-and-a-half hour flight. (Seattle has a direct flight to Taiwan.) Most of my high school friends have been to China, but not all to Taiwan. My husband joined too, as he had never been there before. Besides, this tour was customized and designed for us. The tour guides were instructed not to take us shopping, wasting time so they could earn extra by getting commissions from our purchases. Instead, we each paid a generous tip prior to our trip.
Taiwan now and then
Even though I have kept up with news from Taiwan through working with the Seattle Chinese Post, it was different than when I actually experienced it again. I thought I knew more than I actually did.
My past two Taiwan trips were dissatisfactory. But that was more than a quarter-century ago. Taiwan is different now. It’s not only that Taiwan has changed, I have changed, too.
The things that mattered to me at the time are not as important to me now.
To make our trip special, we traveled to see the other side of Taiwan, its famous scenic towns. We bypassed Taipei.
Could I discover Taiwan’s culture in just a matter of five days?
My classmates are typical HK Chinese, that is, food first, food second—you get the idea.
We were treated to some of the most spectacular Taiwanese cuisine and restaurants. I wouldn’t mind going back to Taiwan just for the yummy and adventurous food experiences.
The Taiwan-style lodging in the countryside was eye-opening, with hot springs and innovative boutique hotels, and one of the buildings on the water reminded me of Seattle’s Edge Water Inn, except I prefer the one in Taiwan. The River Forest Hotel Villa located in Yilan is beyond anything I could have imagined.
And what can I say about the people of Taiwan? More about that later.
Our blind-sight for the trip was carrying a small amount of luggage, while all my classmates carried gigantic suitcases and bags for only a five-day tour. Obviously, they knew something we didn’t.
What was there in Taiwan that we couldn’t buy in America and HK? I wondered. Well, my initial luggage-planning proved to be insufficient…and we suffered the consequences later.
Food in Taiwan
I will remember our first priceless meal for the rest of my life. An organic restaurant, literally translated as “Big Mountain is Priceless,” is about an hour away from Taipei’s airport. It doesn’t have an English name.
Big Mountain makes its own wine and grows its own vegetables. I don’t usually drink, but I swallowed every drop of their golden date wine. It’s the first time I have heard of that variety of wine. As I enjoyed its exquisite taste, my tongue savored every drop a little longer than I should.
Everything the restaurant served was an art and a show, where we ate with exhilaration and applause. I felt like a queen expecting the best cooking and cuisine in the world.
Most classmates took out their cameras because we witnessed how art and food were elegantly presented to create an adventure for diners. The chefs’ passion for cooking was clearly revealed.
Some of the dishes included tofu and peanuts in wine, king clam in gourmet soup, sashimi composed of salmon, tuna, and mackerel with salad, salty soy milk with chicken drum legs, ground spinach soup, mullet roe fried rice (Taiwan’s famous dish), and many more. We were most stunned at the end of the meal when the waitress served the soup with a closed lotus flower in the center of the chicken and lotus seed soup. As soon as she placed the soup on the table, the flower just opened one layer at a time, blooming right before our eyes.
From the beauty of Big Mountain’s presentation to the choice of the ingredients, to its inventive menu and serving utensils for each dish, I was impressed even though I am a foodie and have tried many fabulous dishes around the world during my travels. Its daily menu is different depending on what’s fresh in the market, and the owners don’t announce their menu in advance.
Despite its top-notch food, the bill was reasonable, only $1200 Taipei currency, about $40 US a person. This was the most expensive meal during the whole trip. I would have been glad to pay more. Thanks to my classmate Pauline who actually made a special trip to Taiwan to test out Big Mountain before our reunion.
The other fun restaurant we visited featured a roast chicken eatery. So what’s the big deal about roast chicken? It is a big deal when it is roasted inside a gigantic urn (which could probably hold two men inside) with special herbs. The flavor was fantastic. The restaurant also has no English name.
Oh, the buffets at the hotels were fabulous! Nine out of 10 meals were unforgettable and delightful. I have never experienced anything even close to this in my life. I would highly recommend tourists, especially gourmets, to travel to Taiwan just to experience its food culture.
The only average meal was the Cantonese dinner we ate. When you go to Taiwan, don’t ask for Cantonese food. Be bold and go for local Taiwanese cuisine and you will enjoy it much more.
Hotels in Taiwan
In the countryside, there is an interesting variety of hotels. I couldn’t translate the exact definition, except to use the term, “boutique.” It’s called “people’s lodging,” started by people “for the people to live.”
The hotel we stayed at was called River Forest. Its total number of hotel rooms was small, even though the property lot is huge. I referred to them as units, rather than rooms because they were more than just a room. There are about three or four units in each building. Each unit had two floors, consisting of a bed and amenities, with a stairway connecting to each floor. Our unit was built in the middle of the pond with swans and koi fish, which we could see through our tall glass windows, as well as the balcony. It was breathtaking, especially when you get up in the morning and look out the window.
The last hotel we stayed at was the five-star Hotel Royal at Yilan with hot springs and Japanese-style management. I love this hotel, too. Every detail was perfect inside. From its breakfast to dinner buffet, its bedroom installed with a hot springs tub and outdoor hot spring facilities to enjoying sunset on the hill, I could not think of one thing that the hotel was lacking. At night, our classmates played ping pong in the hotel’s recreation room, and even rented its karaoke room to sing.
When I raved about the hotel to my former Taiwanese classmate, a University of Washington alum who now lives in Taiwan, he said, “We have even better ones than the Hotel Royal in Taiwan.” (end)
(More Taiwan love next week!)
Assunta Ng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.