Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Taiwan Day 9: Childhood Memories of Stewed Pork Rice / 懷念三元號圓環老店 (Taipei: Datong District / 台北市: 大同區)

When my aunt finally had some time to hang out, I asked her to bring me somewhere that she and my dad used to eat when they were younger.  She led me to a restaurant that used to occupy a space within the central ring of shops at the intersection of Chongqing North Road (重慶北路), Nanjing West Road (南京西路) and Tianshui Road (天水路).  It has relocated just off the roundabout (圓環) due to the municipal government's mandated renovations, which many of the older generation locals in the area gripe about.  How often have you heard the elders mention that things just aren't the way they used to be?

The location may not be the same, but the flavors of its stewed pork rice (滷肉飯) have remained constant.  The stewed pork rice is old school here.  It is easy to see.  The meat is minced, ground, or chopped into bits and pieces and stewed in a sauce of soy and sugar.  When it is spooned atop the rice, it seeps into any space that it finds.  It is fully incorporated.  The meat is nowhere close to the glossy chunks or gleaming cubes of pork belly that are found in restaurants elsewhere.  The pork used here is lean ground meat.  It is far from greasy, but still... this is a hot mess.  It is saucy; it is soupy.  It is home style.  It is the way my dad, my aunts and uncles ate when they were little.  It is delicious.

It is hard not to imagine the thoughts, goals, and ambitions that ran through my father and his siblings' minds when eating a bowl of this messy, saucy pork rice.  Back then there was silence during meal time for my parents.  Not only was the pork stewing away in the pot, but the burrowed desires of a better life were stewing away in their heads as well.  Even to this day it is not easy for the elder generation of Taiwanese to express or communicate their emotions explicitly.

The only time a hint of their childhood memories come to light is when my dad makes this saucy, sliced garlic pork (蒜泥白肉).  This is another dish that elicits family history whether it is happy or painful.  For me, I only know this dish when cooked in our home kitchen in America, but my dad his siblings know of this dish the way that I experienced it.  The thin cuts of blanched pork are laid out on a platter before being drenched in sweet soy sauce paste, minced garlic, and a mound of freshly shredded ginger.  The raw biting garlic will undoubtedly leave a lasting taste on your tongue for a while... much like the memories of eating at the roundabout shops have left for the Lin family.

If this strangely emo post has not already turned the glories of pork upside down for you, continue reading... there's more! Not everyone is fond of their childhood memories, and not everyone appreciates the lingering garlic flavor on their tongue.  Fortunately, there is a pork spare rib soup (排骨湯) available to cleanse your palate and wash away bad memories.  The deep fried pieces of spare rib sink down deep into the depths of the soup, adding flavor and substance to the mild broth brewed from daikon.  A hearty yet mild flavor, the broth is substantial enough to rinse away any flashbacks of which you are not fond but just subtle enough to remind you that there were no regrets.

Oh, wow, that was a cliff of a conclusion.  Until next time, let's dream of getting S.O.F.A.T.

Read the post on 三元號 by TaiwanWalker in Chinese here.

三元號 (San Yuán Haò)
No. 11, Chongqing North Rd., Section 2, Datong District, Taipei City 

ML - 20130708

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