Homespun Style Makes Diners Feel at Home The Nostalgia of Wafting Aromas and Savory Flavors
In Taipei, the earliest settlement for members of the Hakka ethnic community was around today's Nanjichang Apartments (南機場公寓) on Section 2, Zhonghua Road (中華路2段), in the city's south area. Transportation arteries met in this area, thus bringing business opportunities. A scattered Hakka settlement gradually took shape as ever more members moved in, with Nanchang Road (南昌路) emerging as the enclave's heart, and Hakka setting up shops there and in the adjoining stretch centered on Tongan (同安街) and Jinjiang Streets (晉江街), and Tingzhou Road (汀州路). This explains the choice of location for today's Taipei City Hakka Cultural Park (台北市客家文化主題公園), and why two of the city's most popular Hakka restaurants are also located in this area. Each directly connects with this local historical provenance.
Old Dishes Done in Fresh, Trendy Ways
Jinjiang Tea Room (晉江茶堂) is a restaurant tucked into an old residence inside a narrow, cozy alley. The head chef, Xie Fengming (謝豐明), says that traditional Hakka cuisine can be described in three words: "salty, fragrant, and fatty." Hakka foods were originally considered mere accompaniment for the few bowls of rice in order to have enough strength to work. Modern folk, however, prefer lighter foods, and therefore some fine-tuning on his traditional recipes were done. His bantiao (粄條), a type of flat, thick noodle, is not fried in oil. Instead, a subtler mix of soy sauce, mushroom, and dried shrimp is used, enhancing fragrance while eliminating greasiness. For his "cold spring" oil chicken (冷泉油雞), fresh mountain free-range poultry is first cold-marinated in stock, then removed from the pot to rub with oil and salt for glossy and moist purpose. Eaten with a homemade orange sauce, it is ultra-tender, with a smooth surface texture. Besides these, a variety of new dishes have been added, such as a tomato and fresh fish pot, and a pickled cabbage and sirloin pot. These creations are sure to attract adventurous younger folk. In recent years, water lily, a traditional Hakka vegetable, originally gathered in the wild but now farmed, has become very popular. Quickly fried with ginger slivers, sesame oil, and red chili peppers over a high heat. The result is a mildly spicy dish, highlighted by long jade-green stems that are super spicy. Beyond such staples as dried bantiao , one might choose pork lard rice, featuring piping-hot rice topped with soy sauce and pork lard. With its moist, silky texture, each mouthful is laden with a rich, nostalgic old-time flavor.
Homemade Specialties the Hakka Mom Way
Every mother is her family's kitchen god, magically crafting endless waves of good food for young and old to enjoy. This is especially true of Hakka moms, and you can well imagine how a visit to Gan's Huofang's (甘家伙房) house will regale your five senses with platter upon platter of chicken, pork knuckle, and Hakka stir-fry, each bigger than a washbowl. The owner seeks to recreate the hospitality displayed in her own home when she was young, where guests were plied with culinary wonders and encouraged to eat to their heart's content. Head chef, Gan Ruiqin (甘瑞琴) says that, in the past, the Hakka commonly experienced periods of extreme poverty, and so understand the hardness of food shortage. A wide variety of vegetables were pickled, which extended the storage life of ingredients and limited the amount of waste generated in the making of such items as fu cai (福菜) and meigan cai (梅干菜), which are two type of pickled mustard greens, and pickled sour bamboo shoots. At Gan's, the pork knuckle are stewed with bamboo shoots, with the result that the meat absorbs the savory flavor and the shoot chunks absorb the oil. This dish, a light medley of sweet and sour, free of any greasiness, is an essential Hakka entree when fêting others.
In early days, three sacrificial items were requisite for Hakka worship ceremonies: a whole chicken, pork, and dried squid. The chicken was immersed in stock and simmered over a low fire, then removed from the wok and rubbed with salt, rice wine, and sesame oil. The recipe hasn't changed much today and no dips are used. This is a renowned Hakka banquet dish. Both the pork and dried squid are cut into smaller pieces then stir-fried with green onion. The result is a popular Hakka stir-fry of strong, aromatic flavor, irresistible when combined with rice. The succulent, zesty flavor and rich texture make each bite a gratifying taste treat.