Taking a Moment to Appreciate Rice
A young restaurant in Taipei is on a mission to revive Taiwan’s rice culture by creatively introducing quality home-grown rice to Western-style foods and beverages.
Text: Quyen Tran
Photos: Maggie Song
It’s easy to overlook humble rice. After all, it’s easy to find, and fairly cheap to buy. Like many commodities in the grain category, rice seems ordinary. However, the simple rice grain is in fact one of the oldest and most important of crop species, its cultivation key in propelling humankind into the agriculture age. The ancient Chinese were able to domesticate rice around 10,000 years ago. No doubt this singular achievement was central in fueling the incredible advancement and far-reaching influence of China.
If you travel around Taiwan, you will find that many rural areas are dominated by rice fields. Rice, or fan in Mandarin Chinese, is featured in many traditional dishes; it’s almost impossible to find a menu without it. Even the Mandarin terms for cooking and eating, zhu fan and chi fan, include the character for rice, though it doesn’t necessarily mean that rice is being cooked or eaten. Much to the surprise of most Western visitors to Taiwan, the locals often eat rice and rice variations for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Today, rice is consumed well beyond Asia. Over half of the world’s population regards it as a staple. Whether in the Americas, the Caribbean, or Europe, rice is now a common denominator in many different cuisines. It has become synonymous with simple dishes prepared at home and in modest eateries all over the world.
However, eating habits in Taiwan have been changing in recent times. The younger generation, especially, seems to be more interested in modern Western-style foods, notably fast food, and is eating less and less rice.
One person who feels that it’s time to reverse this trend, and that rice should return to its glory days, is Gabriel Chang, owner and executive chef of the restaurant Rice Moment. Witnessing the declining appreciation of rice in Taiwan, he has set out on a mission to raise its profile by reimagining it for the modern-minded diner. To Gabriel, in Taiwan rice possesses special historical and cultural significance, and should also be recognized as a source for quality consumption.
“As with other agricultural products, Taiwan’s rice is exceptional. However, as it’s not well-known internationally, coupled with the fact that Taiwan’s diet is increasingly Westernized (and thus local people are eating less and less of it), I am hoping that Rice Moment can promote Taiwan's rice culture, and with it, help local rice farmers.”
Rice Moment, located in Taipei’s Dazhi neighborhood, just to the north of the Keelung River, has only been in business since 2014, but Gabriel began his journey with food at the tender age of ten, learning to make desserts before he went on to study baking as a major during his three years of senior high school. At nineteen, he began venturing into Western cuisine. Now 30 years of age, Gabriel is the one teaching others.
He encourages his chefs to experiment with rice, and to incorporate it in dishes not previously known to include it. For instance, in Rice Moment’s burgandy beef with mochi cakes he teams the French classic boeuf bourguignon with traditional glutinous-rice cakes. Though crispy on the outside, the mochi is chewy on the inside, and eating it stimulates comparisons with cheese. The result is not only an interesting texture mix, but also a perfect complement to the strong taste of the red wine-infused beef. By creatively combining rice with Western cuisine he hopes to entice his diners, especially young people and those visiting Taiwan, to better appreciate and more enthusiastically and consciously consume home-grown rice.
Gabriel is very serious when it comes to the quality of his main attraction. His research on rice began a few years ago, and he consults Taiwan’s China Grain Products Research & Development Institute on rice-processing technologies. He buys first-grade rice from Miaoli and Taitung counties, regions known for their quality grain production. He also uses quality 10-grain rice, a healthful mix of rice and wheat with sorghum, oats, millet, and even lotus seeds and Job’s tears.
“I have kept trying different types of rice. That’s the only way to know what I should cook with. I eat and eat until I understand the product!”
The effort he takes to ensure the quality of his foods can be observed and tasted in his simple bread appetizer. The ground rice grains sourced from the township of Chishang in Taitung County are mixed with plain flour, allowing the bread to keep its elastic quality and to carry a light rice flavor at the same time. Gabriel stresses that he doesn’t add artificial preservatives to his bread. As it has a chewier consistency than most, it is served with a dipping sauce made with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, much like how it’s done in Italy. To complement this with another flavor/texture dimension, Gabriel adds another sauce made with porcini mushroom to the set.
Beyond his lunch and dinner offerings, Gabriel invites diners to also try his set brunch menus, or simply enjoy a light snack of waffles and drinks – all of which incorporate rice. And in a further effort to provide the widest possible range of culinary experiences for his visitors, he changes his menu seasonally. Complementing this cosmopolitan approach is Rice Moment’s European-inspired interior, which sets the ambience for diners looking to have a comfortable and enjoyable meal with friends and family.
Rice Moment’s signature rice-flavored coffee is something guests should definitely try. Brewed using a combination of coffee, rice milk and, interestingly, peanut paste, the drink comes topped with milk foam and popped rice. Appreciators will discover a subtle yet lingering fragrance of rice as they enjoy their coffee.
Despite Gabriel’s ambition to enhance rice appreciation amongst his younger and foreign patrons, he hasn’t forgotten the time-honored food of his homeland. The menu also features traditional Taiwanese rice-based dishes, including old-style lunchbox sets called bian dang. His restaurant has a delivery service, and does not charge for extra servings of rice. It is clear that his comprehensive menu is drawing in a varied customer demographic, for on any visit you’ll see younger, older, local, and tourist-visitor diners alike.
Rice bread appetizer
Rice Moment (米時)
Add: No. 5, Lane 397, Mingshui Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei City
Hours: Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30am-2pm; weekend brunch 11am-2pm; dinner Fri-Sun 5pm-8:30pm
Tel: (02) 2533-1215
Website: www.facebook.com/RK0418/ (Chinese)
Traditional Rice-based Dishes
Zongzi – Glutinous-Rice Tamales
Of all the rice-based delicacies available in Taiwan, zongzi, or rouzong, perhaps hold the greatest cultural significance for those of Chinese heritage. Zongzi are made of glutinous rice and filled with an assortment of meat, vegetables, the occasional salted egg yolk, and other goodies. The materials are wrapped in large oiled leaves before being steamed or boiled. Zongzi are best known as a traditional must-eat during the Dragon Boat Festival, one of the most important annual festivals in the Chinese-speaking world.
If you happen to travel along Taiwan’s north coast, make sure to stop at Liu Family’s Rou Zong, a shop well known for delicious zongzi.
Liu Family's Rou Zong
Liu Family’s Rou Zong (劉家肉粽)
Add: No. 58-18, Kanzijiao, Shimen District, New Taipei City (新北市石門區崁子腳58-18號)
Tel: (02) 2638-0888
Website: www.liujiarice.com.tw (Chinese)
Wange – Rice Bowl Cake
Akin to rice pudding, only savory, wange is a simple mixture of rice flour and water steamed and served with salty condiments such as onion gravy, meat, and shiitake mushroom. Though the texture draws comparisons with that of local radish cake, it is served steamed, not fried. Though a little difficult to find, this very traditional and homely light snack is well worth trying.
The city of Tainan in southern Taiwan is a great place to indulge in traditional snack-food dishes. A well-known eatery selling wange is Fu Sheng Hao Rice Cake.
Rice bowl cake by Fu Sheng Hao
Fu Sheng Hao Rice Cake
Fu Sheng Hao Rice Cake (富盛號碗粿)
Add: No. 8, Lane 333, Sec. 3, Ximen Rd., Zhongxi District, Tainan City
Tel: (06) 227-4101
Hours: 7am-5:30pm (closed Mon)
Migao – Rice Cake
Migao seems to be a random selection of all favorite Taiwanese foods combined together. Layered with meat, soy-braised minced pork, mushrooms, sometimes dried shrimp, and sticky glutinous rice, it can be served with pork floss, cucumber slices, or coriander and drizzled with sesame sauce, or a delicious red sauce with ingredients no one seems to be sure of. Hearty, rich, gooey, and filling, the mysterious spices and ingredients in migao make it a tantalizing treat.
One of Taipei’s best-known migao shops can be found in Taipei’s Nanjichang Night Market – Xiao Di Tongzi Migao.
Xiao Di Tongzi Migao (曉迪筒仔米糕)
Add: Lane 307, Sec. 2, Zhonghua Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City
Lu Rou Fan – Taiwanese Braised Meat Rice
No matter where you go in Taiwan, you will find yourself in places where you’ll see people eating bowls of white rice topped with a glistening gravy of pork-belly mince. This is the epitome of Taiwanese home-style street food, eaten as a meal or as a snack. Despite its simple appearance, locals here are fussy when it comes to the seasonings used in the mix. One of the most famous for it in Taipei is Jin Feng Braised Meat Rice, near Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.
Jin Feng Braised Meat Rice (金峰魯肉飯)
Add: No. 10, Sec. 1, Roosevelt Rd., Taipei City
Hours: 8am-1am daily
Zhu Xie Gao – Pig’s Blood Cake
For many visitors, the idea of eating rice mixed with pig’s blood and molded into a cake is nothing short of off-putting. However, the pig’s blood is more for texture, and has no offending flavor. The cake is great for those who enjoy chewy, mochi-like consistency. For taste, zhu xie gao is seasoned in a soy-sauce stew and, when served, slathered in more sauce topped with finely crushed peanuts and coriander. Served steamed or fried and placed on a stick, it makes a filling street snack. You can find it in virtually every night market.
English & Chinese
bian dang 便當
chi fan 吃飯
China Grain Products Research & Development Institute 華穀類食品工業技術研究所
Dragon Boat Festival 端午節
Gabriel Chang 張傳卿
Keelung River 基隆河
lu rou fan 魯肉飯
Nanjichang Night Market 南機場夜市
zhu fan 煮飯
zhu xie gao 豬血糕
- Travel in Taiwan © copyright reserved