From our archives, Compass Magazine, Nov. 2001
By Victoria Augustine
A Delicious Taste of Hakka Hospitality
If big city life in Taichung is getting you down and you’re longing for the bygone days of small towns, simple pleasures and familiar faces, then Mei Nung Hakka Restaurant might just be the cure.
After four years in the restaurant business, owner Tze-Juen Cho has not only perfected her kitchen skills, but also acquired impressive hostess skills. She recognizes nearly every face that walks through the door and is able to greet many customers by name. However, the greetings don’t stop at the door. The owner seats customers, then sits right down beside them to introduce the menu and suggest special items–of which there are plenty. Mei Nung’s quaint decor features a red brick entryway with big pots of stewed meats and vegetables bubbling away. Inside, the restaurant consists of two floors filled with simple wooden tables and chairs and lots of happy people eating, drinking and enjoying each other’s company.
Owner Cho explains that, although this is a Hakka restaurant, the food is a different style from most Hakka places. For example, at Mei Nung no beef is served or used to season any dishes and there is no stinky tofu on the menu. The lack of beef is due to the fact that, in the southern areas of Taiwan, farmers needed the cattle to plow fields so they seldom included them in their diet. Pork was considered a much better option for the dinner table.
Pork is definitely Mei Nung’s specialty and a must-try for anyone who ventures into the restaurant is the Hakka-style pig leg. It is guaranteed to be the most tender meat you have ever tried. Served with strips of bamboo in a dark, rich sauce, the large hunks of pork will fall apart in your mouth. Another special dish is the stewed winter melon. Owner Cho says that she starts with a huge piece of melon, wrapping and steaming it until it has shrunk down to a fraction of its original size. The result: a light, somewhat sweet, somewhat salty delight that will simply melt in your mouth.
Also great is a cabbage dish that is nothing like the fried cabbage “kao li tsai” that you may be used to. Stewed cabbage is cooked down for hours in large pots over a constant flame. By the time it’s served, the cabbage has lost its acidity but absorbed a rich flavor and tenderness unlike other cabbage dishes.
While the above three items are exquisite, the great thing about Mei Nung is that first-time customers can’t go wrong by randomly picking menu items. All of the dishes are served fast, fresh and delicious. Although the menu changes slightly from month to month, there is always a large selection of meat dishes, a variety of fish, vegetable dishes such as Hakka eggplant, various types of soup and, of course, the specialty dishes like those described above. Also worth mentioning is that Mei Nung brings in fresh Hakka-style rice noodles and vegetables from Kaohsiung daily.
Instead of the typical white rice, Mei Nung offers customers white rice with chunks of sweet potato mixed in. Another interesting feature is their “Wu Mei Tang”, a strong plum drink that is served in a large pitcher of ice that naturally dilutes the drink as it melts. The result: a more mellow drink that’s perfectly chilled and both sweet and sour enough to be a refreshing break from the slightly salty dishes.
While Mei Nung only has one outlet in Taichung, Cho’s brother recently opened a second branch in the Kaoshiung area. So stop by either outlet and take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
137, DaDun 12th St