One of the highlights in my Taiwan trip during Christmas was the 10 course tasting menu at the Shi-Yang Culture Restaurant. A hidden tea house and zen restaurant, Shi Yang Tea House celebrates the tradition and nature in its food and setting. In order to get to the restaurant, we had to drive up a mountain surrounded by mist and trees. We were completely removed from the concrete jungle in Taipei and submerged into mother nature. I find it easy to adapt to society’s obsession to constantly build more and make our spaces more dense and packed, but it was also easy to forget the city when you’re placed in a serene setting surrounded by mother nature’s beauty.
We made our way down from the car to a steep cobble stoned path, surrounded by bamboo. The tea house was entirely black with large glass windows that give it both a traditional and modern feel to the area. We took our shoes off before entering and was led to our private tatami dining space with two large cold steel table. We situated ourselves on the floor and was lost in the moment of tranquility.
Shi Yang Culture Restaurant opened in 1996 in Xindian City by a former architect, Lin Pin-Hui. From Xindian City, Shi Yang has moved from mountain to mountain before reaching XiZhi City. When it came to food, there were no menus and everything was seasonal. I remember reading an article about a monk’s diet and the food at Shi Yang Culture Restaurant reminded me of the photos that I saw in the article. Most of the dishes were vegetarian with some of the freshest seafood from Keelung Harbour and occasionally some other poultry added in.
The entire tea house and restaurant were made out of private rooms where people could enjoy a cup of tea or food underneath the mountains, mist and trees.
The only glimpse of modernity in the entire room was the electric kettle attached to a wall plug. You practically feel removed from modern life when you’re at Shi Yang Culture Restaurant.
Vegetable Soup with Flying Fish Roe
Starting off with a thick vegetable root soup served in a tiny bowl, this was a great starter to our healthy zen meal.
The soup had very rich vegetable and fish flavours. After one sip, I wish they served it in bigger bowls because it was very savoury. However, despite the thick texture of the soup, it didn’t make me feel full or thirsty from the savoury flavours. It was opening and healthy.
Peanut Tofu and Corn Soup
I was a bit taken back about this appetizer. I thought it would have been soybean tofu but when I took a bite, the texture was quite thick and it tasted very “clean”. The peanut flavours were distinct and it tasted healthier with the bits of almond.
Since everything was a bit less conventional than the average foods I eat, I assume that this was some sort of corn soup. It was cold and very thick but also very cleansing. These two dishes were very simple, clean and healthy to start off the meal.
Scallop with Pine Nuts and White Asparagus
The scallops had minimal seasoning because the everything else gave it so much flavour. The way this was served allowed me to taste the freshness and savoury flavours in the scallop.
The white asparagus was delightful. It was crispy, chewy and refreshing with the black ear fungus.
Lavender, Guava Juice with Passion Fruit
Midway through, we were a served a delicious and thick guava and passion fruit juice to cleanse our palettes. The texture was as thick as soup though.
Meat and Vegetable Cold Platter
Where do I start with this? From fresh abalone on thin tofu sheets to salmon roe rolls, everything in the cold platter was amazing and so fresh.
Some of the bites were stronger in flavour, such as the rolls, but once in awhile, you’ll get a crispy piece of carrot with mashed radish on top that was absolutely amazing with its natural flavours. I loved everything about this cold platter and its uniqueness.
Grilled Prawn and Kabocha
The grilled prawns had a diced tomato and garlic topping nestled inside the body of the prawn. Grilled to perfection with savoury flavours from the seasoning and sweetness in the meat.
The kabocha was a bit too dry for my liking, but it went quite well with the prawns.
Glutinous Rice with Wood Ear, Local Mushroom and Vegetables
Their glutinous rice ball reminded me of winter in Japan. It warm and savoury but not too much spice so you can taste the other fresh ingredients.
Nestled in the middle of each rice ball was a piece of vegetable and to me, it was just a friendly reminder that Shi-Yang is all about eating healthy and fresh.
Boiled Chicken Soup with Blossoming Lotus Flower
Everyone had to prepare their cameras for the big show.
As the server placed the lotus flower into the soup, it slowly blossomed as its essence seeped into the boiling soup.
To my disappointment, I didn’t find the soup that amazing as its presentation. It was definitely rich in many natural ingredients but I still prefer my grandma’s traditional homemade soup.
Lastly, to wash down all of the savoury flavours, everyone had to take a sip from a cup of vinegar tea. It didn’t taste like vinegar but it definitely was a bit more sour and bitter than the other traditional teas that I would drink.
Mashed Taro with Barley
Pretty much after the soup, the food went downhill. Besides a plate of fruit for dessert, we were also served a mashed taro with barley dessert.
I’m not a fan of taro or barley, let alone mashed up together. This was pretty dull and unexciting for my choice of desserts.