“Food” was the name of the restaurant we went to…I believe?? I attempted to find this “Food” restaurant in Wu Lai just now, by furiously Googling various permutations of “Wu Lai Food restaurant” and “Wu Lai restaurant by river” to no avail.
“Food” serves kaiseki meals (the Western version is prix fixe). Our family friend brought us here since our favorite activity together is sharing the joy in good food. Even if it means driving a farther distance for it. Wu Lai is about a 1 hour drive from Taipei city and famous for its hot springs and aboriginal culture. Its name comes from the Atayal 泰雅 [tai ya] phrase, “kirofu ulai”, which means “hot and poisonous”. We didn’t get to explore much of Wu Lai, so I can’t speak for its other assets, but this 休息站 [xiu xi zhan, or “rest stop”] was perfect for a short getaway from busy Taipei.
The restaurant sits on the banks of the Wu Lai river and directly faces a Buddhist temple with a large, golden statue of Guan Yin Bodhisattva–a place of terrific 風水 [feng shui]. Moreover, the glass panels that formed the walls of the restaurant brought in a lot of natural light, adding to the serenity of the atmosphere. Seating was very open; only sheer curtains separated sections of diners. Soft tatami carpeted the floors–no shoes were allowed onto them. You were given sandals upon entering the restaurant.
We got a table with a view of the river and sat down for a calm 2 hours of dining. We started with some genmai cha [玄米茶 xuan mi cha, which is green tea with roasted brown rice] and a shot of watermelon slush.
Then came the appetizers: umeboshi [梅干 mei gan, or pickled plum] and a crispy nashi pear [黄金梨, huang jin li] and guava [芭樂 ba la] salad with 和風醬 [he feng jiang, japanese salad dressing]. We were also served what could be the best tofu I have ever had.
Handmade silken tofu [嫩豆腐 neng dou fu].
So delicate and fine: like slicing through softened butter. Light and airy. There was a faint sweetness, the kind you taste in homemade soymilk. In short, it was divine. They topped it with a dash of vegetarian tentsuyu broth (dashi, mirin, soy sauce) and a fresh gingko nut and dollop of greens for color. Such a simple dish, yet wonderfully layered and complex.
The main course was hot pot: rice noodles, kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), buna-shimeji mushrooms, fresh corn, bok choy, tomato, mochi cubes, and 百页豆腐 [bai ye dou fu, a soft, spongy type of bean curd]. Healthy and a beautiful arrangement of colors.
A cleanser was served after the hotpot: some fruit vinegar (can’t remember what) on ice. Refreshing and just tangy enough to get our taste buds ready for the rest of the meal.
Another small sampler was brought in: stir fried buna-shimeji, shredded nagaimo [山药 shan yao, a type of mountain yam] served on a shiso leaf, and two small rolls of 紫色番薯 [zi se fan shu, or purple yam] with string beans, pickled daikon, and some vegetarian pork sung, all wrapped in a QQ mochi skin.
Nagaimo–if you’ve never had it–is one of the few (? or only?) yams that can be eaten raw. When you cut them apart, you’ll notice a gooey strands of mucus-like stuff. But don’t be put off by it! When blanched or shredded, nagaimo has the mildly sweet flavor and crunch of jicama. So tasty. You can try eating it with blueberry sauce too (that’s how they eat it in Gansu, China). Purple yam is equally different from the orange and white yams most of us are familiar with. They’re white-skinned and have a deep, purple hue; when cooked, they’re velvety (but not mushy) and sweeter than the orange yams. They are by far my favorite type of yam.
Then came a small plate of stirfried broccoli with oyster mushrooms and gingko nuts, followed by the cheesiest baked zucchini. Mmmm.
We finished with one of my favorite dishes: 合葉飯 [he ye fan, or lotus leaf rice]. It’s so rare to find vegetarian 合葉飯, even in Taiwan, so I always treasure it when I do come across it. Sticky rice with shiitake mushrooms and crispy veggie ham, steamed and wrapped in lotus leaves. What could go wrong? I found this recipe online that gives a pretty good overview of what 合葉飯 is. :)
All in all, one kickass and unforgettable meal. Have any of you been here? I’d would LOVE to be able to revisit this restaurant again, but neither my mom nor I remember where it is/what it’s called.