I’m so excited to share with you guys about Hualien, because this was one of the major highlights of our Taiwan trip! If you are looking for the other posts in the series, click for Part I, II, IIIb, IV, and V.
You will notice that I don’t have the Our Favorites” section in every food place I mention, because either the place specialized in a few items, or because there were too many things I enjoyed that it was impossible to pick favorites. “Always save some room” was the advice imparted on us by Uncle E, and after regretful too-full situations from our GaoHsiung trip, we changed our ways in Hualien. Our new strategy for lunch and dinner was to order only 1 or 2 small items to share, then move on to find the next good food place 🙂 With that said…..
After some belly stuffing in Gaohsiung and an amazing breakfast of tang bao, shao bing, and dou jiang, we took a 5 hour ride via the Taiwan Railways Train to Hualien. It was gorgeous the whole way there- mountains, farmland, beaches and ocean, wherever you looked. I especially loved looking at the fields and trying to decipher if the trees I saw were coconut, papaya, betel nut, or banana trees! (Our awesome tour guide, Maggie, told me how to tell the difference, but I forget now..)
Disclaimer: Please double check that these places are still open for business before you visit! English names are provided if/when there are no English translations already provided by the business (or Google) itself.
Lunch Boxes on the 台鐵 (Taiwan Railway Administration)
An interesting story…
Around 11:15 or 11:30 (we got on the train at 8:40 AM), a lady came down the aisle pushing a lunch cart, selling 便當, or boxed lunches. My aunt Rae had been telling me that these train boxed lunches were famous! So, we had to get some. I wasn’t very hungry, but Tim was eager to try them, and he got the following for 60 NT (2 USD)
I figured that there would still be lunch boxes around when I got hungry. Ten or 15 minutes later, that hungry time came, and I got up to walk towards the front of the train, in the direction that I had seen the lady go. I couldn’t find her! I asked a couple of people where the lunch lady went, during which I met one of only 2 “mean” people that we encountered in Taiwan. He probably was more gruff than mean, but I would count that as mean, considering how friendly everyone was. Turns out the lunch lady was chatting with the train operator, so I knocked on the door. The lady looked sad and told me that there were no more lunch boxes! Then I was sad 🙁 But, she told me there would be a stop later on called Chi Shang, where a lady would sell lunch boxes on the train platform, and it would cost 70 NT.I was vigilant about listening to the city name that she told me about, and was at the train doors at the right time. I wish I had taken my camera, too! The lady was holding a supermarket basket with lunch boxes stacked to the brim, and had not only swarms of people around her, but 100 NT bills shoved in her direction- she kept saying, wait a second, hold on! Luckily, I had exact change, so I spoke up telling her so she would serve me, gave her money, got my lunch, then scurried back onto the train.The fight for lunch was totally worth it- sorry, T- I should have gotten 2! He was sad that mine was better than his. I guess good things come to those who wait.
Updates as of 11/2015- Chi Shang no longer does lunch boxes. You can, however, get them at the GuanShan stop, but in my opinion, they aren’t as good..
Once in Hualien…
If you are going to get around to certain touristy places (Taoroko Gorge, Seven Star Lake), you’ll definitely want a car. Who better than to take you around Hualien than a tour guide?
I’m not getting any sort of payment or commission for recommending her, but Maggie was seriously the best tour guide ever! I have to put a plug in for her because she was an important part of our Hualien trip. Not only did she take us to the gorge-ous Taoroko Gorge, Seven Star Lake, and beautiful hiking trails, but she showed us some of Hualien’s culinary treasures, which I’ll mention later. She brought us to both the Hualien aboriginal restaurant, the goat’s milk cafe, as well as the live shrimp stand.
Jeng-Sing Tea Store
Zhonghua Rd, No. 105, Hualien City, Hualien County, Taiwan
Update- Feb 2016- How could I forget this?! I saved it for last because I wanted to dedicate a big section to it..but then I ended up forgetting 🙁 🙁 Sorry, Ah M and Ah Bei!
Ah M and Ah Bei treated us to their tea plenty of times, but regrettably, I have no pictures of the brewed tea itself. We hauled back plenty of oolong tea, and some red tea as well. Yum! We drink it sparingly and savor every drip, because how will we get more if we run out?! Alas, we learned that it is not good to hoard tea, because its shelf life is ~2 years old..better drink up.
Ah M and Ah Bei’s tea is fragrant. You can smell the cup after you drink the tea, and it is like smelling edible perfume! It does not a bitter mouth feel. It is good. Just drink it. The best thing about Ah M and Ah Be i’s tea is that it doesn’t cost you “an arm and a leg” like my dad would say. But, it i still great quality and so good that they have international customers that they ship to regularly! 🙂
Oh, they also sell locally produced honey, so look for that as well!
ShanDong Soymilk King
Hualien County, Hualian City, Bo’Ai Street, #263
Overall comments: Our friend Ingrid, grew up in Hualien, and her parents still live there, and own a tea shop. We call them Ah M and Ah Bei, which mean aunt and uncle. More on them later! Anyway, I recommended this place for breakfast. We seated ourselves, and found a clipboard on our table with a stack of Chinese order sheets. Prices were more than reasonable, and as with all Taiwanese breakfast places, you would stuff yourself silly and be full of regret before you even approach $5 USD per person. We enjoyed everything that we got here, and loved it so much that we returned for breakfast the next day.
Favorites: 肉餅（meat pie), the “breakfast sandwich” up there, northern Chinese goodies like the 2 vegetable varieties of potstickers, soymilk, their house relish of spicy salted radishes (蘿蔔干）
Dageeli Inventive Studio
96 Chongde Village, Xiulin Township, Hualien County at the 180.5km mark on Prov. Hwy 9
Disclaimer: First, if you have hypochondriac tendencies, don’t come here. This restaurant is not enclosed, meaning that it’s pretty much on the mountainside, and has more open space than anything else. No HVAC system here, obviously! The weather was great when we were there, but I’m not sure what happens in the summer..Because it is located in a very uncommercialized area, you will see dogs and cats running around in the restaurant, and maybe even trying to beg for food while you eat. The bathrooms are not very clean, so just brace yourself.Overall comments: It is probably a testament to how good the food is, that I would overlook anything in the disclaimer section. The prices are set, and you choose between a 300, 400, or 500 NT meal per person. We chose the 400 NT/person set, which was about 10 courses. To give you an idea of what the portions were like, we had recently finished hiking and were really hungry, we always try to finish our food, but yet….we had leftovers! We didn’t bat an eye at the “expensive” price of ~13 USD, obviously.
I started making a list of favorites, but realized that it would be pretty much everything we ate with few exceptions. One dish I was not a fan of was a dish of blanched vegetables with sweetened mayonnaise. Apparently, it is a more common food concept in Taiwan..I was also disappointed by the dessert. While it was very pretty with orange and purple, it was sweetened squash but had a smell that was kind of herbally, or woodsy, and maybe it was the fragrance of the leaves it was steamed in. Anyway, I didn’t really like the infused flavor of whatever that was.
Overall comments: Ah M and Ah Bei took us here, and we loved it! Some of the dishes showed Thai influence, but not enough to be confused- just enough to be tasty 🙂 The dessert (not shown), was a black sticky rice porridge with coconut milk (Thai influence)! You could definitely see the Taiwanese side fighting back, however, because there was no salt in it. A Thai would definitely add some salt to that!