Shuang Yue Food’s signature dish of glutinous oil rice is beloved by many, but it is also the dish that ironically draws the most complaints — mainly from disgruntled customers who come in the afternoon only to find it sold out.
“We are not making limited quantities on purpose, but we’re limited by our space constraints and the intense preparation process of this dish. From start to finish, it takes about 16 hours,” explains chef-owner Lai Yong-sheng. “We do hope to serve and satisfy more customers, but not at the cost of quality.”
The seemingly simple and humble bowl of glutinous oil rice characterises the establishment’s food philosophy perfectly. To prepare it, a mix of new and aged glutinous rice is soaked for at least eight hours the night before and steamed the next day. Sautéed dried shrimp, pork, shiitake mushroom and shallot oil are then added to the steamed rice and the mixture is stir-fried till fragrant. The process is labour-intensive and the small size of Shuang Yue’s kitchen results in a limited daily output.
After returning to Taipei from the United Kingdom eight years years ago, Lai founded Shuang Yue Food to create a space for his mother to pursue her passion for food. He eventually took over the reins of the business.
Despite not being trained as a chef, Madam Lai's love for food goes way back to her childhood, according to Lai. A stickler for detail, she would choose quality over the cost and effort involved, opting to make from scratch every dish, such as dumplings and rice cakes. Friends and family showed their appreciation of her efforts by coming from far and wide to savour her cooking. Mdm Lai's belief in fine food is integral in shaping the way Shuang Yue Food operates today.
”My mother handled every aspect of the ingredients, and naturally, we followed suit. It’s the only way to control the quality and ensure the flavours are intact." shares Lai. For example, the restaurant buys lard to fry its own shallots for cooking and requests its suppliers to freeze the ingredients immediately at its place of origin before sending them over daily, in order to keep the produce at its freshest.
Having a meal at Shuang Yue is like taking a food tour around Taiwan. Top quality ingredients from all over the island are laid out on the table: oysters from Dongshi Township in Chiayi County are seasoned and dried; burdock from Jiangjun District in Tainan are used for brewing pig heart soups; and sesame seeds from Lukang Township in Changhua county are made into sesame oil to flavour lean pork soup.
While sourcing produce for his restaurant, Lai discovered that much of Taiwan’s top grade ingredients are actually exported overseas rather than consumed locally. For instance, top grade burdock is exported to Japan. "I do not understand why we have to travel to Japan to buy things that are grown in Taiwan,” he says. "I want Taiwanese people to experience the best ingredients produced locally through Shuang Yue."
Shuang Yue is known for its simple, homespun fare. Its signature chicken soup with cockles is brewed from freshly slaughtered free-range chicken and cabbage sourced from Taiwan's mountainous regions. The herbal variety of the soup with he shou wu (knotweed) is considered a health booster. These cooking methods can be replicated at home, but Shuang Yue's renditions stand out for their use of top grade ingredients and attention to detail throughout the cooking process.
Shuang Yue received its first MICHELIN Bib Gourmand recognition in 2018. Lai recalls that back then, the whole restaurant would be packed, with a queue forming outside of the restaurant all the time. Besides preparing the food, some staff had to help with managing the crowd. These days, the quaint restaurant still sees a full house during peak hours.
Since then, Shuang Yue Food has expanded its business to selling packaged products as well as opening its first branch in Taichung with a second in Taipei in the pipeline.
This article was written by Hsieh Ming-ling and translated by Tang Jie. Click here to read the original story.
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