Do you remember the Master Chef featured in the Taiwanese movie, “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman?”. The opening scene of the movie absolutely enthralled me. What seemed like a series dishes prepared for a banquet ended up being the everyday meal for a family of four! In the movie, the protagonist was a semi-retired Master Chef of Taipei’s Grand Hotel who has been responsible for showcasing Chinese cuisine to local and foreign dignitaries for decades. The movie went on to tell the story of his three daughters garnished with lavish food scenes in between.
Now, after watching the movie, wouldn’t you wish that you could experience a banquet prepared by this Master Chef?
Well, that was precisely the reason for my trip to Taiwan! I had specially made the trip to interview Chef Yen Yung Yu who had recently come out of retirement to be the executive chef at the newly opened Chiang Fu Yan in Taoyuan. Chef Yen had recently retired after 40 years at the Grand Hotel where he started as an apprentice in 1966. However, it did not take long before he was back in the kitchen again!
During his time at the Grand Hotel, Chef Yen had the distinction of having served five presidents of Taiwan; from the founding president Chiang Kai Shek who, together with his wife Soong Mei Ling started the tradition of hosting foreign dignitaries at the Grand Hotel. He then went on to serve his son Chiang Ching-Kuo and subsequently Lee Teng-Hui, Chen Shui Bian and Ma Ying-Jeou. It was so interesting to learn about how each president had their own style which reflected not only their own character but also the period of their presidency.
Chef told us that Chang Kai Shek loved lavish banquets and each meal must include luxury items such as whole braised sharks fins and abalone. In those days, every meal had to go through strict security checks, so they used to have the secret service in the kitchen to inspect each part of the meal preparation! When his son, Chiang Ching-kuo took over, he took a more austere approach and insisted on meals which were simple and unadorned. President Ma Ying-jeou also advocated a simple and plain style but placed special emphasis on using local ingredients in order to decrease the carbon footprint of the meal. Aside from these presidents, Chef also recalled serving our late PM Lee Kuan Yew on several occasions. His favourite food were fried pine nuts which he would always order every time he visited!
With such a wealth of experience, it goes without saying that the food at Chiang Fu Yan is excellent. We were treated to a wide variety of Zhejiang dishes ranging from a meltingly unctuous Dong Po Rou which had been cooked over three days to an incredible “Buddha Jump over the wall” which I have to admit tasted better than any of the ones I have had before. Chef Yen is very careful to use only the best ingredients and specially selects traditionally made sauces and the quality of the dishes is self-evident. The best thing is that the restaurant prices are well within reach of most Singaporeans as prices in Taoyuan are generally much less than that of Taipei. You can eat a simple meal at Chiang Fu Yan for as little as $10 per pax or one that would be appropriate for royalty for less than $100 per pax!
蔣府宴 Chiang Fu Yan
325, Taiwan, Taoyuan City, Longtan District, Gaoyuan Rd, 891號, 號
+886 3 471 7211 ext 241
The only thing a little unusual about Chiang Fu Yan is that it is located inside of the Window on China theme park and you actually have to pay park admission in order to eat there. They have located the restaurant there because it is close to the resting sites of two presidents, so it is a convenient place to have a meal here after visiting these historic sites. The theme park features miniatures of famous sites around Taiwan and China and they also have an amusement area with rides for the little ones. Leofoo Village is also located nearby which has rides for older children and teenagers.
Daxi old street is a good place to head to for history buffs interested in architecture from the Qing Dynasty, the Japanese colonial government, and Western culture. This is also where Feng Fei Fei fans head to to view the old house of the late songbird who spent her childhood years singing atop a concrete platform along the street in front of her house to the delight of her neighbours. Foodies only know of Feng Fei Fei as the name for traffic aunties would probably find the non-descript little house with dated photos of the late singer a little under-whelming. But not to worry, all you need to do is to take a short walk down the main street to Huang Re Tofu house to find something for the foodie soul. This little shop sells various snacks made from tofu as well as a smouldering cauldron of braised tofu which will make the trip to the old street worth the while.
The Hakkas are the 2nd largest dialect group in Taiwan and Zhongli district is one of the areas where they congregate. We were introduced to the Hakka vegetable pau at the most famous Hakka pau shop in Zhongli district. This is my first time trying these these “pau” which I don’t think are available in Singapore. The skin is made from glutinous rice flour and is sticky and chewy. They were filled with a vegetable filling very much like our local Soon Kueh. In fact, they are very much like our Soon Kueh, except that the skin is a lot more chewy. I can’t say that I thought much about them after my first tasting. However, my impression of these paus would change later in the trip when I had the opportunity to learn how to make them from an old Hakka grandma! Aside from the vegetable paus, the stall sells a wide array of traditional hakka pastries, so it is well worth a visit especially if you are Hakka!
Continued in Part 2
Our trip was sponsored by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, Singapore office