I am not sure if it’s true or not but Yilan has a reputation for having some of the best duck in and around Taipei. But frankly speaking duck is not a Taiwanese delicacy, it is more of a Chinese delicacy inherited by the Taiwanese and enjoyed as a luxury or celebratory food.
So we get into a small van and drive one hour or more to a village in the southwest of Taiwan. The ride was comfortable, traffic was smooth as we cut our way through Taiwanese mountains travelling through tunnels to find a small village described by our host as going back 30 years. Rushing to get to the restaurant to get there on time, we are stressed by traffic. We are all worried given there are only two seatings at the restaurant, and we were told, ‘if we don’t arrive soon and before 19h30 – no duck.’
Finally arriving to the hotel, we rush to the six floor and walk through lobby of the Silk Palace, a spa hotel with onsen and restaurants. This duck restaurant is considered to be one of the best for pecking ducks in Yilan.
The restaurant is what I expected more or less, but not what’s shown on the internet. This seems to be a common practice in Asian countries except in Japan. Restaurants look much better on the Internet, even glamorous but once you’re there, you’ll find them worn-down, not well-kept and sometimes dirty. This doesn’t seem to discourage Asian clients because their focus is more family and food and having a good time together. When we went to Hong Kong we had a real surprise at Celebrity:
The menu at Red Lantern is typical and as usual bound in cheap plastic – and accompanied by pictures so we can see exactly what we are going to eat. Our host orders duck and shows us set menu options and some à la carte choices. The menu offers duck flippers, tongue, etc, and other parts of the duck, but I am not keen to eat duck accoutrements. We are here for duck skin, meat and the soup.
The first course of duck is one of the worst duck combinations I’ve ever seen and this is an example of a Taiwanese chef’s “nouveau riche” mentality. There is no doubt this idea never crossed my mind, so I try to understand why a chef takes duck skin and adds more fat to it.
Above is the photo of the cheese nigiri, served on a spoon with dark fatty duck skinned wrapped around the rice and inside cheddar cheese. The thought of cheddar cheese and duck is a combination I could never imagine. I’m not sure what the chef is trying to say, but it is clear that Taiwanese people do eat a lot of processed foods bought in 7-Eleven. But that’s not fair to say about food in general because the food in Taiwan is seems to be mostly made with fresh produce. See Tua: https://mesubim.com/2016/12/19/tua-by-calvin-chen/
Well you could argue cheddar cheese is another type of fat, and I have no issue with that except this duck is fat enough. I am still digesting the idea, the combination of a Yilan’s natural duck skin mixed with industrial processed cheese. That weird and silly even stupid one chef told me when I asked him.
I guess the chef needs some added “panache” to differentiate himself from the duck pack. However in some strange way, I was intrigued why a chef would pride himself by adding cheese to duck. This taste was so artificial and grotesque, however cheese is considered an oddity – so who knows why. Let’s leave this subject alone and move to the next course which is the duck itself in the meat.
This duck that originates from the United Kingdom and his fed cherries. I’m not sure exactly why but maybe to sweeten the duck, or to give it some special enhancement. The Yilan duck is definitely much different in shape and size or what I’ve eaten in Hong Kong or Japan. This was a broader type species that is raised locally.
The skin was thickish and I can’t say it was crispy, yet it seemed to be in keeping with what I expected. The preparation continued on and on, service was prompt, and we were served the twisted leg, in the classic preparation of duck with pancake scallion. The pancake was not typical and was dull and almost tasteless and cold – yuck!
Taiwan is mostly rural and after visiting the local vegetable market, I see there is a culture for freshness. The other foods served are considered normal fanfare and included small tomatoes marinated in plum sauce that were sweeter than normal – mundane if you have any idea about tomatoes.
The Dongshan jelly fish head served with some picked vegetables and was medium quality. We missed the Toucheng rock candy water chestnuts but instead we had ma-po tofu made with duck meat. That was a twist – though in Taiwan we find ma-po tofu rather commonplace.
The lettuce with duck meat was served with sprouts (classical) with the sauce already mixed with the duck meat. It was a feast of duck meat served in every which way but what did would you expect at a duck restaurant.
The duck’s leg twisted off by the duck carver, a good twist to an already strange setting, and it was the first time I ate the thigh because usually it is removed and kept for meat or soup.
I cannot say that I would drive more than one hour for this kind of duck again, and certainly not for this kind of setting. It’s difficult to compare what I’ve tried in Hong Kong, and or in Japan because in Japan the quality is impeccable, and there’s a focus on cleanliness matched by elegant interiors.
On the other hand in most other countries the ambience and setting is almost secondary, and the food shared with family and friends is the primary interest for many consumers. I conclude Yilan duck is just too fatty and oily – nothing special but we had good company and had fun 🙂