Forks in the road

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 January, 2012, 12:00am


Quizzing locals on where to go in the central Taiwanese city of Taichung for a memorable meal often garners an answer so long and meandering that you could go hungry waiting for it to end. The metropolis of one million - geared towards entertainment and peppered with vibrant night markets, hotpot diners, cheap sushi and Southeast Asian-themed alleys - simply oozes food.

Those looking for the quick sample platter can visit Ching-cheng Road. To get there from Taichung's high-speed railway station, board bus No 13 to Gongyi Park. The 15-minute ride is free for passengers with high-speed railway tickets.

From the bus stop, follow Gongyi Road left (west) about two city blocks to the intersection of Ching-cheng Road. Colourful signs pack the roadside as densely as the people who come out after work to graze on the internationally flavoured fare.

258 Live Shrimp (258 Ching-cheng Road, tel: +886 [4] 2319 9258)

This open-air spot crawling with traditional Taiwanese culture brings out the hunter in the hungry. For NT$150 (HK$38.50) per hour, customers throw baited lines into an indoor pool to catch live Thai shrimp that warily ply the bottom. Diners then grill and eat their catches, which are limited in size only by the hourly limit - and angler skill. Catching shellfish is harder than it looks. Locals used to living off the sea spend hours by the red lamp-lit pools with friends. About 50 people try their hands every day at the six-year-old shrimp pool.

'Most people go for three hours, and they are patient,' explains chef and co-owner Chen Ke-chi. 'You need experience and skill.'

The 80-seater place is open 24 hours. Diners without the skill or inclination to peel the fiddly crustaceans can consult a menu with 16 types of prepared shrimp.

King of India (226 Ching-cheng Road, tel: +886 [4] 2328 1786)

Taichung has attracted a community of Indian merchants for its lower cost of living compared with Taipei, and with them has come food from home.

Andy Wu, an Uttar Pradesh native living in Taichung for 14 years, opened King of India about three months ago to vie with about 10 local rivals. Unlike other Indian restaurants, Wu says, his uses no oil and no microwave. The food is also halal. Wu makes the barbecued mutton skewers, roasted chicken pita and fish curries himself right after each order rather than reheating precooked fare.

'You must wait,' he says. 'If you don't want to wait, then sorry.'

His dimly lit but festively decorated two-storey venue can seat 52 people and is open from 11am- 2pm and 5pm-10pm. Green au Lait (180 Ching-cheng Road, tel: +886 [4] 2328 1358)

The brightly lit Green au Lait specialises in comforting brews made from milk powder blends.

Its headliner is a Japanese-style green tea with a salty foam layer. Chilled mango and plum teas are sipped from tall cups through straws, and there are oolongs from the mountains near Taichung.

Baristas pump the 48 teas with sweet or sour flavours, serving them in tall plastic glasses within minutes. Typical Taiwanese snacks such as sausages and thick buttered toast go with the teas. Prices per item are under NT$100.

Green Au Lait is open daily from 11am-2am.

Kingdoms of Pa and Shu (343 Gongyi Road, tel: +886 [4] 2883 6494)

Taichung's hotpot craze, said to have started five years ago, converges on this restaurant, which is so popular that a valet works the curb to squeeze customers from cars into seats where they wait for tables.

A red-on-black motif decorated with Chinese art gives the Kingdoms the scent of old Sichuan, a southwestern province known today for chilli-spiced hotpot soup bases. Diners fill pots with platters of raw meats, tofu or green veggies. Also among the 80 items are bean noodles and crab claws, with prices topping out around NT$250.

So many people flock here for dinner, at least 300 a day, that Kingdoms is open from 5.30pm-7am. Lunch is served from 11.30am-2pm.

Tai Ryo (270 Gongyi Road, tel: +886 [4] 2319 8889)

Signature Japanese dishes reached Taiwan before the second world war colonial years, and since then local chefs have reworked them to fit local tastes and ingredients.

The 150 people who eat daily at the 11-year-old Tai Ryo go for that blend of identities. A menu of 400 items is led by fish dishes, many carried in by a sushi train that moves along the expansive bar. Oceanic flavours range from Sapporo in northern Japan to the port city of Taitung in southern Taiwan. Much of the menu is snack-sized 'food that goes down with beer', to quote the evening shift manager, citing a hallowed Taiwanese after-work tradition.

Tai Ryo is open daily from 11.30am-9.30pm.