鈺善閣, Yu Shan Ge, Taipei 2010

yushangeYu Shan Ge is a 100% vegetarian restaurant that serves kaiseki ryori 会席料理–multi-course dinners– found in Japan. The menu consists of 7 prix-fixe menus, each increasing in price and number of plates. The most expensive set menu is over $100. My Auntie Xia was generous enough to treat us to one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in Taiwan. I’ve returned to this restaurant every year I’ve visited Taiwan since then.

Each meal starts with washing your hands in a bowl of rose petals, lime, and water. Then a shooter to cleanse your palate: usually a type of fruit vinegar or hot tea. The uniqueness of Yu Shan Ge is that its mission is for its patrons to leave knowing more about nutritious eating than they did walking in. All their ingredients are organic, local, and fresh. Before each dish is served, the servers are like the sommeliers of healthy dining: the nutritional benefits of each ingredient in the dish are explained, as well as the proper way to eat the dish.

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The first course was a giant plate of hors d’oeuvres: homemade silken tofu with some kumquat jam, konjac tuna sushi, pickled cucumber, black truffle mousse…the list goes on. While it sounds a bit random, it ended up being a pretty cohesive and tasteful walk-through of different textures and flavours.

We also had some 條 ‘fen tiao’, or vermicelli in a shiitake reduction topped off with some light gold flakes and cilantro.

 

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My set had similar foods, but I just wanted to share pictures of it because I wanted to show off the limelight (hehe). It’s a pretty adorable idea, cutting holes into the peel of a lime and putting a candle inside to create a disco ball effect.

 

 

 

yushange4A small 奶黄包 ‘nai huang bao’, or steamed custard bun came with one of the meal sets. A steamed custard bun is traditional dim sum: a soft, white bun with a creamy, sweet egg custard filling. Soooo delicious! The highlight of every meal at Yu Shan Ge, however, is the Lion’s Mane Mushroom Steak. Lion’s Mane Mushroom, (猴頭菇) or yamabushitake in Japanese, is an expensive of fungus highly coveted in Chinese cuisine and medicine. It’s very fibrous and delightfully chewy; you can’t really overcook it and it soaks up flavor pretty easily. The mushroom steak at Yu Shan Ge is unbelievable! And surprisingly, incredibly filling. It’s grilled and marinated in a black pepper gravy that’s absolutely heavenly. MMMMM.

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Each meal set is finished off with some dessert and fruit. For some of us, it was green tea jelly wrapped in a banana leaf. Others had homemade mochi with mung bean filling. More interesting was the sweet and savory 菊 ‘hong ju’ onigiri, or rice ball, with black sesame seeds. 菊 is more commonly known as red chrysanthemum and is a popular “healthy” food in Chinese/Taiwanese culture. 

If any of you seek to experience some Taiwanese vegetarian haute cuisine, I think this is the place to do it. For the quality of service, ambience, and food, paying $30 per person is definitely doable. They have three branches: Taipei, Taichung, and Kaoshiung. I’ve only been to the Taipei one, so I can’t attest to the quality of the others.

Details for the restaurant are here:
Yu Shan Ge website
Address: 台北市北平東路14號1樓 OR 14 East Beiping Road, 1st Floor, Taipei City
TEL:02-2394-5155
FAX:02-2394-5022
On the website, there are also directions on how to get there by transporation if you don’t have access to a car and don’t want to take a taxi. 🙂

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火宫殿, Chairman Mao’s Favorite Restaurant, 2010

Huo Gong Dian–火宫殿 (the “Fire Palace”)–in Changsha 长沙, the capital of Hunan province, was a restaurant that Chairman Mao frequented. Some of its most famous dishes include charcoal-colored stinky tofu, pineapple bread, lamb kebabs, and Changsha doupi (, or dried beancurd). The charcoal stinky tofu tasted just as you would expect something called “charcoal” stinky tofu to taste. It was interesting. huogongWe also had a variety of dim sum-like mochi dishes, a spicy 粉 [‘he fen’, or flat rice noodle] dish, ba-wan (a translucent glutinous rice ball stuffed with mushrooms and bamboo shoot),  and my favorite of them all: pickled cabbage stir-fried in 4 different chilis. It was spicy to the point of tears and incapable of being eaten without rice. But it was mind-boggling-ly delicious. Jalapeno, something like red thai chilis, and different peppercorns. I’ve tried to remake it on my own on several occasions, but I can never get the sour, pickled cabbage taste.

Culturally, Huo Gong Dian is a temple fair that hosted folk shows, booths of local delicacies, and music. The tradition of Huo Gong Dian began in 26-21 B.C. by Emperor Ku (嚳) as a way to control fire disasters. Each character of 火宫殿 represents the Huxiang and Chuwu cultures, which are centered around the God of Fire. They also appropriately describe the unique spiciness of Hunan cuisine and the heat and humidity of Hunan’s climate.

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Our journey through China concluded in Changsha, with a visit to their historical museum, and a garden where scholars used to frequent (though I may be completely wrong about that part). Honestly can’t remember too much about that part.

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I do remember some of the most amazing 饅頭 ‘man tou’, or steamed buns. Reason one: they were really pretty. Reason two: they were so pillowy and soft, but still had the “bounce”/elasticity [ ‘tan xing’ in Chinese] of a Tempurpedic mattress. Omnom.