I think you’d agree that any activity which has an element of food involved becomes at least ten times better. So when I was able to feast on a gourmet course meal at the end of my tour of Nanliao Community, Penghu (Catch up on Part 1: Masked Girls, Fu Ji Fish Stove and Caizhai and Part 2: Traditional architecture, ox ploughing and unique sights), well, I couldn’t quite believe it!
Fine dining in Nanliao Community
I knew there would be a dinner at the end of the tour, but I couldn’t have imagined it would be so extravagant. It was set just minutes away from the field which I hilariously failed to plough with an ox just an hour before, and it couldn’t have been a more stark juxtaposition.
So you’ll understand why my jaw dropped when I saw this in front of me:
So much care was taken to provide such a memorable table setting and atmosphere. It would only get more ridiculous when night descended, as we ate under the moonlight and the warm glow of the red lanterns placed atop each table.
But it wasn’t just the set up that was meticulous, the food was also exquisite. I would normally be hesitant to use such a grandiose adjective in reference to food, but it really is a fitting one to describe all that was placed in front of us.
Hudong Community (湖東社區)
Although the meal was set in Nanliao, the meal came courtesy of the neighbouring Hudong Community (湖東社區). Before we ate, some of the cooks from the community took the time to talk to us about the meal and Hudong. They explained how all the food was locally grown, and prepared fresh by their community members.
Although I couldn’t understand it all as it was in Mandarin, the expressive way this woman spoke clearly conveyed how much it meant to her to share her community’s talents and produce with us all.
As is a necessity at any good dinner party, drinks were delicious and free flowing. As soon as we arrived, we were handed a stunningly pink drink. I knew exactly what it was, because after being in Penghu a couple of days, there’s no mistaking that colour for anything than sweet, sweet cactus.
I may have had two. And by two I may mean three. Hey, if you tasted how refreshing it was you’d find it hard to hold back as well. This drink was alcohol-free, but on the other hand…
… this cocktail above was generously topped with the nectar that is vodka. It was so pretty to look at, especially when it was just made and the red and blue liquor were slowly blending together.
There was even a bar we could go up to to top up our drinks, as many times as we wanted. The cocktails were made custom for each person, so we were able to make any requests regarding flavor and even the strength of alcohol.
Mantou, pickles and cauliflower stirfry｜饅頭, 泡菜, 炒菜花
Mantou (饅頭), commonly referred to as Chinese steamed bread, is a pillowy bun that’s somehow firm and fluffy at the same time. The main ingredients are flour, yeast and water, and in its original flavor the bun can be quite plain. However, flavours (and subsequently, colours) are often added to give the taste an extra kick.
We were presented with three flavours: pumpkin, original flavour and brown sugar (pictured on the left, middle, and right respectively). They were paired with two appetizers: a mix of pickles and some stir fried cauliflower. This little plate may not look like much, but it was bursting with flavor. I especially liked the combination of the pickles and the pumpkin mantou.
Salad with Cactus Dressing and Green Pancake ｜仙人掌醬沙拉和綠煎餅
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a salad quite like this one! It looks more like a very modern piece of architecture than a meal, don’t you think? In the center was a big head of lettuce topped with none other than a creamy pink cactus sauce and two flower-shaped cactus jellies.
Around the lettuce head were fancily arranged cucumber and baby corns, and slices of cucumbers. There was also a green pancake, which owing to its thick texture had quite a nice bite to it. I’m not sure what exactly the flavour was as it was quite subtle, but to me it had a slight green vegetable taste. As if that wasn’t enough, a bright orange bowl of pumpkin soup accompanied the dish. It had a lovely natural sweetness, and was very hearty with bits of soft pumpkin mixed throughout.
Prawn, seaweed and noodle appetizers
Presented on a banana leaf were these bombshell appetizers. A single prawn wrapped around with silky, thin noodles, placed on top of a bed of seaweed. Although it was a bit of a maneuver to eat, it was absolutely mouthwatering.
Sometimes I don’t like this variety of seaweed as it can sometimes be quite slimy, but in this dish it wasn’t at all. The texture matched well with that of the noodles and the prawn was naturally flavoured.
Clams Stuffed with Rice
Oh, what a sight these clams were, wrapped in a thin thread and scattered with a cheerful yellow flower. I assumed that the presentation was the only thing special about these clams.
I never expected they’d be stuffed with rice and mushrooms as well! Here, take a look at the inside of the clams:
The rice was stewed in what I assume was a soy sauce mixture, and different varieties of mushrooms stirred in. These one-bite-wonders were a hit, and we all wished we could have more.
The clams came along with another platter of freshly shucked oysters and dried squid.
I must admit, I didn’t try either the oysters or dried squid. I don’t eat raw oysters, and while I do like squid, the dried form isn’t my favorite so I thought I’d save my stomach space for what was to come. While I obviously can’t comment on their taste, judging from the other people on my table, both went down smoothly. All wasn’t wasted though, my friend was more than happy to take me up on my offer to eat my portion!
Tuochu and Braised Pork and Rice with Sweet Potato Shreds
Tuochu is a type of octopus, and although it’s nothing too special in it’s original form, once it’s dried and braised in soy sauce with fatty pork, it becomes something else. In fact, so remarkably delicious is this flavor combination of tuochu, soy sauce and fatty pork broth that it became a local Penghu delicacy.
When made properly, only the best pork is used to make the stew which serves as a base for the flavors. The secret to giving an extra punch to the octopus, and also other seafood and meats, is to add garlic before taking the broth off the stove.
I am a huge fan of fatty pork, so I couldn’t wait to dig in when it was placed on my table! It was so succulent due to the length it was cooked in the braise, which meant despite the fat it wasn’t chewy at all. While also not chewy, the octopus had a nice bit of firmness to it. I really liked how this special local sauce was a bit salty and it seeped well into the meat and octopus.
Let me tell you about the history of the Rice with Sweet Potato Shreds. A long time ago, when rice was a pricy commodity, elderly locals in search of an addition source of nutrition added sweet potatoes to their rice. Penghu’s traditional way of making this tasty rice is very unique. Sweet potatoes are first shredded, and then sun dried before cooking. This results in a duller appearance, which presents as a distinctive grey-white color.
Cactus Sauce Pudding | 仙人掌醬布丁
Contrary to what you may assume after touring Penghu’s islands and seeing cactus growing abundantly in the wild, cactus is not native to Penghu.
It was introduced by stationed troops as a natural barrier, and sweetly, it became a popular fruit for local children. The most popular form of cactus as a food in Penghu is the wonderfully flavorful Cactus Ice, which was invented about twenty years ago.
After falling in hard for Cactus Ice during my short Penghu, I was very excited to find out this final dish also featured cactus. You’d think that perhaps after the cocktails and the salad dressing you may get sick of it, but as they were all presented in such distinct forms it really didn’t feel repetitive at all.
The pudding was gorgeously creamy and a similar texture to a creme caramel. On top was a very sweet cactus sauce. Perhaps it was a little too sweet, and I say that as a sweet tooth, but that didn’t stop me from making sure I left not a skerrick behind. It was just so addictive, that I may have nabbed another one that someone left behind. I couldn’t possibly let it go to waste, could I?
Eating under the moonlight and clouds
I can honestly say I’ve never had a dinner quite like the one I was fortunate to experience in Nanliao. When we started at 6pm it was still quite bright, but gradually the sky began to fall and clouds appeared. It was a spectacular sight when the sun started to set.
Two and a half hours later, when the night drew to a close, my head buzzed with all the wondrous things I had learned and experienced that day. To not only have the opportunity to develop an insight into some of the traditions the Nanliao Community retain, and also be treated to such an extravagant meal at the end was surreal to say the least.
Want to find out what else you can do on the tour?
- Part 1: Masked Girls, Fuji Fish Stove and Caizhai
- Part 2: Traditional architecture, ox ploughing and unique sights
Why should I go on this tour?
You should consider this tour if you’re heading to Penghu and want to:
- Learn about the customs and practices of a local Taiwanese community first-hand
- Enrich your Penghu trip with local perspectives
- Witness how food is traditionally prepared by locals
- Sample a variety of traditionally prepared foods
- See traditional housing, structures and systems
- Experience ploughing a field with an ox
- Eat a delicious feast of local delicacies (Please note that if you go on the tour, the food will be the same, however the setting will be different. Contact the agency with the details below for more details)
Can I visit Nanliao Community by myself?
Yes, you’re welcome to visit the community by yourself without going on the tour. You can have fun navigating around the area, and you might even get lucky and get to meet some locals. But needless to say, you won’t get a chance to partake in any of the experiences above.
Interested in the tour?
If you would like to inquire about the tour please contact:
The tour is NT$2500, and includes all the activities, food, and a dinner feast very similar to this at the end. It is conducted in Mandarin, so if you don’t know it be sure to bookmark or print off a copy of this series for your reference!
Please note: Bookings must be for a group of 10 or more people. Unfortunately, the organizers currently do not have the resources to make booking for smaller groups.
If you’re going to Penghu, and have a bit of time to spare, I’d recommend without hesitation for you go check out what Nanliao Community has to offer. Even if you don’t go on the tour, I think if you’re interested in uncovering a different side to Penghu, you’ll find at least a part of it here.
I’d like to thank the Council of Agriculture, Taiwan once again for inviting me on such a wondrous tour. And of course, a big thank you to the Nanliao and Hudong Community members for their hospitality. It was incredibly eye-opening to see first-hand about the traditional practices of such resourceful communities, and partake in so many unique experiences and sensations.
Well, that’s it from me! I hope you’ve enjoyed my little series on Nanliao. It’s been really nice reliving the experience again. I only wish I could taste all those delicious things again…
Thanks for following along on the adventure!
What would you like to experience most if you had the chance to head to Nanliao Community? Leave a comment below!