Sunday, June 25, 2017

Chinese scallions with cilantro

A crummy cellphone-photo of a delicious indigenous dish I enjoyed in a thinly-populated part of Hualien County. On the left, cilantro (aka coriander leaves); on the right, raw Chinese scallions (Allium chinense, known as rakkyo to Japanese speakers).  The former is wrapped around the latter, then dipped into soy sauce to which a sliced chili pepper has been added. The scallion bulbs had an excellent crisp texture combined with a strong onion-like flavor, while the cilantro added a texture somewhere between lettuce and cooked greens. The largest scallion bulbs were about 4cm long. 

Cliantro is used as a garnish in several Taiwanese dishes, including various soups and guabao.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Fresh Facts IX: Taiwanese Living Longer

Life expectancy in Taiwan climbed to 80.2 years in 2015, up from 79.84 years in 2014, according to government statistics. The life expectancy of Taiwanese males averaged 77.01, while that of females reached 83.62. While life expectancy for Taiwanese men is slightly lower than that in Europe's most advanced nations, the average lifespan of Taiwanese women is three years higher than that of women in the US, and very similar to that of Canadian, British, German and French women. Longevity in Taiwan is lower than in Japan, South Korea and Singapore, but higher than in China or Malaysia. Probably because the inhabitants are better educated, have access to better medical facilities, and are more likely to do moderate exercise (walking to/from MRT and bus stops rather than riding motorcycles everywhere), Taipei records the highest life expectancy of any city or county in Taiwan. 

According to the CIA's World Factbook, the infant mortality rate in Taiwan is lower than in the US and New Zealand, and almost identical to the rate in Australia and the UK. While very few people travel to Taiwan specifically to give birth, these figures should give confidence to potential medical tourists.    

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Mataian Wetland and Shin-Liu Farm

Almost all of Taiwan’s wetlands are located on the coast, and their ecosystems are influenced by flows of brackish water. A freshwater exception is Mataian Wetland (馬太鞍溼地), sometimes spelled FaTai’An or Fataan, at the base of the Central Mountain Range in Hualien County’s Guangfu Township. About 13km of land - not to mention some significant mountains - separate what is officially known as Mataian Wetland Ecological Park Area from the Pacific Ocean.
The place name derives from the Amis word for pigeon pea, of which a lot used to grow hereabouts. This food is credited with sustaining the local indigenous community during years of feuding with another Amis clan. Descendants of the latter now live in the village of Dabalong (太巴塱), where Highway 11甲 crosses Road 193.
Several businesses catering to tourists have sprung up, with Shin-Liu Farm (top eight photos with this post) being one of the most prominent. The farm's website is Chinese only, but has photos of the rooms which visitors can stay in and some of the dishes they can order. One of the farm’s signature delicacies is waffles flavoured with wetland watercress and smeared with roselle jam (shown above). This combination works surprisingly well. The watercress comes from the farm’s own ponds and is therefore super-fresh, while the roselle is slightly crunchy and chewy without being cloyingly sweet.
As you can see, our lunch consisted of several delicious dishes. One of the most interesting was fish cooked in a large section of bamboo by heating stones in a fire, then dropping them into the water already in the bamboo. 
Shin-Liu's food here is highly (and rightfully, in my opinion) regarded, as has been enjoyed by at least two of Taiwan’s presidents as well as visiting dignitaries from the country’s diplomatic allies.
The wetland and its hinterland attract a lot of cyclists. Conventional bicycles and oBikes can be hired near Guangfu TRA Station, which is less than 3km away. The latter are easy to recognize thanks to their yellow wheel rims; renting one means first downloading an app from the company's website (the initial page is in Chinese, but the app itself comes in English), then paying a deposit. Finding the wetland park isn’t difficult. There’s no admission charge for the wetland park nor set opening hours, so you can explore this area at dawn or dusk if you wish. The wetland is inland of both Highway 9 and the railway tracks; there are bilingual signs but these are rather small.
We were also fortunate to meet and listen to the accumulated wisdom of local Amis elder Lalan Unak (pictured below), who runs a homestay (Chinese-only website here) and restaurant. He also gives short tours during which he demonstrates the palakaw fishing method; a specimen palakaw fish trap is displayed at Shin-Liu Farm (immediately above).
The palakaw doesn't merely trap fish and eels, however. It also nurtures freshwater shrimp, a delicacy which appears on many menus in the region.
More than 100 bird species have been spotted around the wetland, which also has diverse turtle, snake and dragonfly populations. Well over 100 plant species are found in and around the water, but some of these are invasive. According to this official website about Taiwan’s wetlands, two creatures found here deserve particular attention and protection. One is Dolicheulota formosensis, an endemic land snail species, and the vividly green Sauter's Grass Lizard.

This visit and blog post were sponsored by the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area Administration.