Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Shin Liu Farm - Hualien, Taiwan

Healthiest Meal in the History of the Puff List?
I rarely do the things I should. Back in my youth I used to exercise, smile, make new friends and eat vegetables.  I've grown up to be an old, lazy, scowl-faced carnivore.  I like to think of myself as a work in regress.  That's not to say I don't enjoy a plate or two of veggies from time to time, I just don't go searching for them.  Our Taiwan guide, a colleague of Dodo's, was something of a health nut.  She drove us south of Hualien, into the east rift valley to Shin Liu Farm for some greenery, both the viewing and eating kind.
Shin Liu appeared to be less a working farm than a wetlands museum.  A lattice of elevated walkways sat above waterlogged fields and ponds while bamboo fish traps slowed the flow of a small river that bisected the property.  Their small store sells locally produced goods like honey and rice and is a stone's throw from the larger restaurant, where I sat in front of plate after plate of local "water vegetables."  After trying to get some translations, I gave up.  A lot of these veggies were regional specialties and everyone was having a hard time coming up with the English for them.  I have to admit, I enjoyed them - after all, they were very fresh, lightly steamed and made me feel like I was doing something good for myself.
Then the fermented tofu arrived.  When something is described as "an acquired taste" you know what's coming....  This was no exception, after a mouthful (which I quickly chased with a swig of beer) I left this to the experts.  They swooned and ahhhed and closed their eyes so I think it was a good version.
The next dish was probably caught in one of the bamboo fish traps.  We'd driven an hour just for him, our guide explained.  He'd swum his entire life in fresh mountain water and then taken a wrong turn through a one-way bamboo gate and now here he was, side-up, for all to see on a dopey food blog.  I was feeling a bit sad about it all until I chopsticked a hunk of his flesh into my mouth.  It was much lighter than I expected given his rough appearance.  Very tender and slightly sweet, quite nice though maybe not one-hour's drive nice.
"Hey what'd they add to the rice?' the idiot asked.  "Nothing, that's how natural, rough rice looks" they answered me.  Really cool.  Asia's equivalent to whole wheat.  Tasted just like regular rice though the texture was a bit firmer.  Not bad at all though I wanted to bomb it with a few tablespoons of butter.
Then a miracle!  The waiter put down a plate of preserved salty pork.  It was like getting lost in a desert for a week and stumbling upon a glistening pool of water.  I dove in, a split second reflex, happy that I was dating a like-minded carnivore.  She'd anticipated an hour of vegetables and broke up the party with and order of fatty, salty, sinful pork shavings.
After our meal we walked the planks, taking in the natural beauty.  Before long, two dogs joined us, they seemed happy to have company.
When the braver of the two jumped off the walkway and began to frolic in the deep vegetation, his friend hesitated at the edge, not able to make the leap.  He whimpered and whined and looked up at me but I didn't know how to help.

It's a beautiful, green, peaceful place.  I felt my city pulse slacken and fade and wished for a nap that wasn't allowed.

Our guide was pushing us onwards, to the next site and now, reflecting on it, I'm glad she did.

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  1. Got to say this is definitely one of the healthiest meal I had for a long time.... and that does not imply that the meal is not yummy. On the contrary, it was a yummy meal. Fish was fresh... sweet and juicy even though it was bbq, which usually makes it dry.

  2. Glad you ordered the pork, dopedope!!