Monday, March 30, 2009

Noodles made by Hakkas

I'm writing from Taichung, Taiwan's third largest city, a couple of hours drive from Taipei. Though the distance is the same as Bombay-Pune, about 180 km, the drive could not be more different -- we simply drove in silence on a highway that runs straight as an arrow until after two hours we could see my hotel on the right side.

Taichung itself won't win any beauty contests but it's a pleasant enough town with a nice park at the centre. There's also a Confucius temple and a jade market, both alas closed on Mondays. But today's highlight was a drive to Sheng Shing. This, apparently, was the highest railway station in Taiwan (at 400 m). The station and railway line became defunct after a bridge collapsed in an earthquake, but the place is utterly charming, a green, forested, quiet escape from town. The railway station is lovingly preserved and one can even walk into the railway tunnel confident that the Virar fast or its equivalent will not mow you down.

Sheng Shing attracts mostly local tourists, and on a Monday this turned out to be mostly elderly couples with their grandchildren. So I was one of the few people there between the ages of 7 and 70! A teaching assistant at Tunghai university, who calls himself George (Taiwanese who speak good English, as George does, typically have a Western/Christian nickname) was kind enough to take me in his car to this place. We conversed on and off during the drive.

George suggested we sample the local cuisine in Sheng Shing or the neighbouring town of Sanyi. It's different from usual Taiwanese food, he said, but not totally bizarre. I said that was a good suggestion, and we drove in silence for a while. Then he said "the local people come from a tribe called the Hakkas. I myself am a Hakka." Another long silence and then he said "they make a special kind of noodle". Some more silence, until my brain which was relaxing in standby mode finally whirred into action, performed a few flops' worth of computation and I said "oh you mean Hakka noodles?". George sounded disappointed. "You already tried them?". "I'm sure they'll be best when made by the Hakka people" I assured him.

In the event, they turned out to be wide flat noodles, similar enough to what we call Hakka noodles in India. But the soup that they came in was mild and pleasant, and very unlike the curry-chilly-soya-oil mix that usually adorns Hakka noodles in India.

When I blog, I often try to learn something about my subject from Wikipedia. And their entry on Hakka cuisine is an eye-opener. Apparently much of Indian Chinese cuisine was originally made by Hakka Chinese and therefore this type of food (the curry-chilly-soya-oil mix I was referring to above) is also known in some quarters as Hakka cuisine. The Wiki entry has a concluding paragraph about this and rather sternly warns you not to confuse it with the real thing! One can imagine a Hakka visitor to Bombay sampling the local Chinese food and fuming (or perhaps steaming, since they are gentle people).

Of course, as my friend Debashis points out, at least Hakka people don't have wanton lifestyles...


Rahul Basu said...

I must say in defense of Indian Chinese that good and I mean good Chinese restaurants in India no long have the curry power/chilly powder/soya sauce/tomato ketchup versions of Chinese cuisine any more. BTW one of the best japanese reataurants in India outside of five star places is in Chennai - ask your (fussy :)) friend Debashis!

Vivek Malewar said...

Do visit the Sun-Moon lake while you're there. You'll find an interesting Indian connection there. (I wrote about it a while back-

Sunil Mukhi said...

Vivek: Your blog posting about Hsuan-Tsang was interesting. I remember learning about him in my school history class (and also from my mother who taught history). Alas I won't have the time to visit Sun-Moon lake on this visit.

Can't help pointing out another "Indian connection" though: from the net, I learned that in the middle of Sun-Moon lake there's an island called "Lalu"!!!

Vivek Malewar said...

Hehe, yeah. :)