Taiwanese banquet cuisine—or, jiu jia cai—originated during Japanese colonial rule between 1895 and 1945, and was extremely popular in the 1950s and 1960s when tycoons and influential figures discussed business at these restaurants, alongside intellectuals at the next table critiquing current affairs. Entertainment accompanied the feasting with women serving wine and performing nakasi, a traditional singing-style from Japan.
But the most extraordinary element was the food. These dishes were created by former private chefs of the wealthy and they recreated the extravagant dishes for the masses at public restaurants. Most of these called for expensive ingredients, long cooking hours and complex techniques, and made use of fancy foreign ingredients and expensive dried and canned goods—all to create a new and spectacular banquet cuisine specifically for customers to impress their clients and friends. Alcohol and entertainment flowed, and dishes were elaborate and flavor-packed to suit the occasion.
This sophisticated fare can still be found at three restaurants recommended by the MICHELIN Guide, preserving a memory of those good old days for modern diners.
The roots of Golden Formosa extend all the way back to the heydays in the hot spring district of Beitou. The establishment is now led by its third-generation successor in a location elegantly decorated to accommodate large groups.
The signature dish here is the deep-fried pork rib. Every day, the chef follows the original 70-year-old recipe. His only tweak—trimming the Taiwanese baby back ribs into consistent sizes. The meat is then marinated and twice fried, best eaten right off the bone with bare hands. Other technique-driven items like the Buddha Jumps Over The Wall, poached free-range chicken and steamed mud crab over rice are all great that invoke a sense of nostalgia.
What Our Inspectors Say: “In the 1960s, the family started serving heavily seasoned 'bar food' to go with alcoholic drinks. The third-generation owner still follows the same family recipes from the old days. Their signature deep-fried pork ribs are made with local pork, fried twice to seal in the juices and to crisp up the crust. Try also Buddha Jumps Over The Wall, a chicken soup with 10-plus gourmet ingredients for ultimate richness and an array of complex flavors.”
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One of the must-try dishes on Ming Fu's menu, Buddha Jumps Over The Wall, is of Fujian origin. The small restaurant has only six tables and its understated interior is a fascinating juxtaposition to the luxuries in its signature dish. In it, a lavish mix of conpoy (or, dried scallop), pig’s trotter, gingko nut, bamboo shoot, shark’s fin or abalone is tied together by a clear rich broth, every mouthful a sensorial delight.
What Our Inspectors Say: “Reservations are vital as this tiny restaurant has just six tables. The signature dish is traditional braised chicken with pickled gourd, which comes with a tasty chicken broth. The dense and gelatinous soup Buddha Jumps Over The Wall is simmered for five hours with dried gourmet seafood, chicken and pork. To avoid disappointment, pre-order the soup when you book.”
Veteran chef Dong cut his teeth at the most distinguished restaurants in Taipei’s golden era and today presents his repertoire of intricate banquet dishes at Mipon. One example is the fried shrimp cake—something that is rarely found nowadays. The dish uses more than three hundred catties of lard from black pigs, which is shaped, cut into 0.1-cm slices and then further bisected into half that thickness. These paper-thin wrappers of fat are then used to envelope shrimp and water chestnut and deep-fried into golden medallions on the plate.
What Our Inspectors Say: "Crystal chandeliers and sumptuous stone trimmings contrast starkly with the rustic faux-bamboo chairs in this bright dining room with its high ceiling and full-length windows. With over 40 years of experience, chef Dong aims to impart finesse to Taiwanese cuisine while breaking some rules. Re-invented classics include three-cup chicken and braised fish skin with bok choy. Innovative dishes such as egg omelette eel roll also impress.”
This article is written by Liu Liang-yin and translated by Vincent Leung. To read the original story, click here.