Lush, windy mountain roads led to series of restaurants near Zhuzihu, aka Bamboo Lake, farmer-run spots, many in quonset huts, at 650 meters, about 30 minutes outside Taipei City. My group ultimately selected Ji Yuan Pu Restaurant (吉園葡餐廳), a lively restaurant with stone slab tables and seats and a menu that showcases local vegetables, bamboo and free range chicken.
Ji Yuan Pu Restaurant has a patio with vine-covered trellises, befitting the loose translation of the restaurant’s name to English, “good grape plant.”
Taipei native Zer Kao opened the restaurant 17 years prior to our arrival.
San Soo starred in our first native Taiwanese dish, a multidimensional winner. Kao’s kitchen crew sautees the sturdy fern shoots with black beans, ginger, mushrooms, julienne carrots, tiny dried fish, and a tart pitted caper like fruit that goes by cordia cichotoma, pink pearl or Indian cherry, depending on where you are in the world.
Cool, tender bamboo hearts (NT$ 200 ~ $7) came with savory soy and creamy mayo dipping sauces.
My favorite dish (NT$ 200) was pungent, spicy, crunchy and consisted of dried shrimp, red chilies, scallions, basil and garlic. Zer Kao sources the shrimp from a friend’s plant, which purifies the crustaceans on nearby Jinshan (Golden) Mountain.
Squid (NT$ 200) joined tofu, scallions, red chilies, soy and pork belly. This is a traditional Hakka dish from one of the island’s four tribes, the others being Aborigine, Mainland and Fukien.
It was difficult to rein in the temperature on tabletop Chicken and Mushroom Soup (NT$ 450), which featured local free-range bird that quickly overcooked due to the intensely high heat. The broth was tasty, and took awhile to cool.
Almost every restaurant along the main road that cut through Zhuzihu sells steamed bread. We ordered a steamer that came with sweet potato, black sesame and dried radish, green tea, white, and a final bun flecked with orange corn seed. The buns are fluffy, and pack pretty subtle flavors, but but certainly make a good visual impression.
Our guides felt obligated to order plates of Fried Rice and Chow Mein (NT$ 50 each), which were pretty much standard issue. We concluded our exploration of local ingredients with Coffee and Tea. When in Taiwan, it’s generally a good idea to choose tea over coffee, since island-grown leaves are of consistently high quality.
At Ji Yuan Pu Restaurant, avoid the kinds of dishes that are readily available at restaurants worldwide, stick to dishes featuring native ingredients, and enjoy your surroundings, which isn’t hard to do at rustic, bright green Zhuzihu.
Note: My meal at Ji Yuan Pu Restaurant was part of a government sponsored tour to promote Food Culture in Taiwan.