My family had a lot of delicious meals during our trip to Taiwan, but the one we like to discuss the most is the meal we had at Shiyang Culture Restaurant, which no one enjoyed other than my mom.
I was actually surprised. I’m used to my siblings being very picky, but I’ve always prided myself in having a very open palate. But for some reason, our meal just consisted of ingredients I didn’t quite care for.
The restaurant is quite well known in Taipei. It’s located in the mountainside of XiZhi City. Reservations must be made well in advance and there is no a la carte menu. Instead all guests dine on the prix fixe menu which changes depending on the fresh ingredients available. The price is approximately $60 USD.
The story for the restaurant experience startswith the drive. Windy, narrow mountain roads are never fun, especially in the rain. In addition, we encountered a strip of road where there appeared to be many wild dogs roaming. The dogs would sit in the middle of the road, and when a car approached they would move out of the way, only to chase the car, barking ferociously after it. We passed by at least 20 of these wild dogs on our way to the restaurant, making me feel like I was in the middle of a horror movie.
Once we arrived, someone greets you at the top, and you have to give your reservation name. The person then radios down to check that you do have a reservation before letting you drive down to the restaurant. The restaurant is located in a lush green forest-like environment. It provides some breathtaking views. We couldn’t truly enjoy it because of the rain, but I did have an idea of just how beautiful it would look on a clear day.
The restaurant consists of several private Japanese style rooms. You remove your shoes and sit down on the benches of the long table. The clear glass walls allows you to enjoy the view while dining.
One thing that bothered me right away was the lighting and table set up. The dim lighting made it hard to take good photos to properly convey the beautiful presentation of the dishes. In addition, rather than have a tablecloth, a long piece of orange construction paper covers the table. The color made my photos even worse and it also made the table quite ugly because there would be stains all over it from the condensation of the various dishes. I really wished they had either left the table bare or put a proper table cloth on it.
The cuisine is a fusion of Japanese and Chinese. They concentrate on using organic local ingredients, with a lot of vegetables and fruit.
The first dish was a cold cup of guava puree and passionfruit topped with some passionfruit seeds, to open up the palate. The juice was quite mild, with no additional sugar added. The fruit used wasn’t very sweet either.
As you’ll see, most of the dishes would be decorated with some sort of flower.
Next came a trio of appetizers. On the far right was a piece of fried vegetable tempura. The middle was homemade tofu. And the end was abalone. I usually like homemade tofu but this one had a thicker, grainier consistency I didn’t quite enjoy. The item I liked the most was the abalone, which was pretty much left by itself, no fancy preparation.
I was very excited to see this cold platter filled with sashimi and raw vegetables. Unfortunately the only item I really enjoyed was the fresh uni. There was also this thick crisp vegetable that looked like a large plant leaf that I enjoyed crunching on. The rest of the platter was filled with shrimp, oysters (which my siblings and I don’t eat), a fish which I didn’t really love, and squid pieces filled with black ink that stained your teeth once you bit in.
After a few courses, there would be a course of house made vinegars for you to drink to cleanse the palate. I don’t particularly like drinking vinegar, but I enjoyed these. Each course of vinegars had such unique flavors, many fused with fruits.
The plate consisted of stuffed prawns, sandwiched between slices of squash and tofu skin sushi stuffed with mochi. I enjoyed the savory mochi sushi and the prawns but I think the filling was a little bland.
Fried rice balls, topped with thin slices of meat, and king oyster mushroom stems next to them. I loved the presentation but found the fried rice too healthy tasting. Not enough oil or salt.
This was probably the prettiest dish of the night and one my mom raved about after her first visit to the restaurant a few years ago. A steaming claypot of chicken lotus root soup is first brought out. Then a single dried lotus flower is placed inside. The flower is initially closed, but the steam opens it and it blooms inside the soup before your eyes.
Wonderful presentation and we all love chicken soup so we happily indulged in this. We were sad it arrived so late into the meal though because by this course we were pretty stuffed with all the other food.
Guava, pear, and papaya
One final vinegar cleanser
The final dessert was a taro mash with some barley. I think I remember enjoying this but in small amounts.
Now I don’t want to come off as sounding ungrateful. My mom’s friends generously treated my whole family to this meal when they learned how much she loved this restaurant. And my mom also knows how we felt about the experience. I’m very grateful to have the experience and see the presentation even if I didn’t enjoy the food. And since my parents raised us right, we ate every single bite even though we didn’t enjoy a lot of it. Looking back and writing this post, I think my palate has been filled with foods that are much richer and heavier, whereas this place focuses on a much lighter fare, which was hard to adjust to. While it wasn’t a meal we loved, it is one that created a lot of memories and family bonding.